‘The Band’s With Me’: A Former Groupie Lays It All Down

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When rock fan Sally Mann was invited to a party by the Dave Clark Five’s Mike Smith in 1964, it suddenly dawned on the teenager that hanging out with rock stars wouldn’t be a bad way at all to spend one’s life. So, for the better part of the next decade, that’s what she did. Mann (later Romano) became what we now call a groupie, and she’s lived long enough to tell her often wild tale.

Part of what makes The Band’s With Me: Tour 1964-1975 so unique is its cast of characters—not the usual suspects like Jagger or Bowie but rather Frank Zappa, members of The Band, Stephen Stills. She married Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden, became Grace Slick’s BFF and enjoyed every minute of it—without a single regret. Sally Mann was so much a part of the California rock fabric that when Rolling Stone published a special Groupies issue, she was its cover girl.

Romano eventually became a successful attorney and runs an animal sanctuary in Texas today, but she’s forgotten nothing of her rock and roll life, and never holds back on the details. She names names–often and happily. What elevates The Band’s With Me above and beyond most tell-all rock memoirs, though, is Romano’s highly skillful, well-crafted writing, and her vibrantly colorful—and often quite hilarious—way with words. The book’s charm is not only in the stories but in the writer’s witty, sometimes exhausting telling of them.

Related: What were the best music books of 2018?

Sally Mann Romano (right) at Woodstock with her best friend Grace Slick

Each entertaining page sparkles with description. Take, for example, her dismantling of the shady first manager of the Airplane: “Inexplicably sporting a truly ridiculous black gaucho hat most likely purloined from an unawares Señor Zorro, the loathsome Mr. Katz—detested by virtually every right-thinking, non-knuckle-dragging human on the planet—made a grave social miscalculation when he suddenly appeared backstage at the Family Dog, a room packed past capacity with San Francisco musicians and thus replete with his victims, and attempted to sashay nonchalantly down the curving staircase into the dressing room, apparently laboring under the delusion it was Odious Alumni Weekend.”

Many of her tales could only happen to rock ’n’ roll kids: An impromptu trip to Alaska with Slick at her side, ostensibly to visit Stills, went on way longer than it should have, and Romano keeps us barreling through the pages to find out just how the thriller ends. Her encounters with the Grateful Dead reveal another side of that crew that sometimes belies their patented “cosmic cowboy” image.

Related: Jefferson Airplane members recall Woodstock

Sally Mann and Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden on their wedding day

Romano, by virtue of her lofty position within the West Coast rock community, often found herself in the room when history was being made (or, in the case of Woodstock, backstage). Known and welcomed by all, she scurried from one band’s scene to the next, not so much collecting musicians in traditional groupie fashion but offering genuine love and companionship.

It’s not all pretty—she was the companion of the Band’s Richard Manuel through some of his darkest days, and spares nothing in the telling—but most of it is harmless and eye-opening. Some of the stories are raw, true, but more than anything, it’s nonstop fun, a vivid, raucous snapshot of a side of the rock world that was once ubiquitous and now seems almost quaint. Romano makes no excuses for any of it, nor should she have to. Admit it, you’re just jealous you weren’t there too.

Watch Jefferson Airplane perform “White Rabbit” at Woodstock

Related: Links for 100s of classic rock tours

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Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been a prolific music journalist for more than four decades. He is formerly the editor of Goldmine, CMJ andRelix magazines, has written for dozens of other publications and has authored liner notes for more than 80 CDs. Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. His first book was 'Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.' He is also the co-author of 'Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.,' with Howard Kaylan.
Jeff Tamarkin
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