Without knowing Chris O’Dell’s employment history, hearing her say that her time working for the Rolling Stones felt like a “climb down the ladder” would consider her a tad on the jaded side. But because Chris worked for the Beatles, her comment rings true. The self-described “American with great organizational skills,” who was an Apple Records’ secretary for the Fab Four from 1968 until their bitter end, now gets her own documentary (Miss O’Dell) set for release in late 2023.
As keyboardist Billy Preston once could claim, Chris can also say she played with the Beatles and the Stones—although her days of playing the field filled with rock ‘n’ roll icons almost cost Chris her life. But before she had a horrendous cocaine habit to kick, Chris was just another teenager besotted with the Beatles. She was working at Dot Records in Los Angeles where she met Beatles PR man Derek Taylor who took a liking to her.
She recalled “He couldn’t drive, so I ferried him around for a month or so, and at the end of it, he said, you should come to London and work for this new Apple (Records) set-up. I lived with an actress named Terri Garr and she talked me into it.” Needing airfare, her father cashed in her life insurance policy. Chris joked: “Maybe he did it because it was the nice clean-cut Beatles and not the devil incarnate Rolling Stones. Oh, little did they know. Working at Apple was like being let go at Disneyland.” She got into the rock, the drugs, and became a lover to some of the scene’s stars. Chris reasoned: “Where there is rock music and drugs, the sex just follows automatically.”
Like her book (Miss O’Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved), the documentary will feature her watching the Beatles play their last concert on the roof of Apple Corps headquarters and her four-month fling with Leon Russell who documented their relationship in his song, “Pisces Apple Lady.”
Leon stated: “We had a little thing for a minute. She wrote an autobiography and she sent me an advance copy. I’m sorry to say, as a young man, I was capable of some actions I’m not proud of. So I was afraid to read the advance copy. I gave it to Jackie [bass player Jackie Wessel] and I said, ‘Will you read this and see if there’s any untoward activity in it?’ He read it and said, ‘It’s a beautiful little show-business autobiography. There’s no untowardness in it.’ So I was happy.”
George Harrison even immortalized her in his song, “Miss O’Dell.” Thankfully, Chris, who admits she can’t sing, did not warble on this but was part of the na-na-na-na choir on the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
When Chris wasn’t singing, she was being sung about; as Joni Mitchell calls Chris out in her “Coyote” tune (“He’s got another woman down the hall”) for being playwright Sam Shepard’s girlfriend at the same time Joni was fighting for Sam’s sexual attention.
Chris, perhaps tired of co-starring in this drama while working as a tour manager on the Rolling Thunder Revue, may have gone to her employer for advice only for Bob Dylan to advise her to start an affair with him. She later said, “He can sit there and have a conversation with you and look you straight in the eye and be totally engaged and then an hour later, he’ll look through you like he doesn’t know you.”
Dylan could have given her the following job reference: “Miss O’Dell takes being a team member to another level.” This was apparent on one night in 1971 at Harrison’s house. O’Dell wrote: “We sat at the long wooden table in the kitchen, Ringo and George on one bench, Pattie [Harrison[ and I facing them on the opposite bench. George turned to Ringo and said: ‘You know, Ringo, I’m in love with your wife.’ Ringo replied, ‘Better you than someone we don’t know.” Chris, being a comforting employee, soon had a three-month affair with Ringo, stating, “It was a kind of rebound thing for him and Maureen [Ringo’s wife] soon found out.”
But it wasn’t just her bedside manner that made Chris appealing to the stars. She was a hard-working tour manager, employed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Linda Ronstadt, Santana, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and Electric Light Orchestra.
When she wasn’t working for the heavy hitters, she was being hit on, as she noted during her time tour managing the Stones in 1972.
“If there had been a job description being employed by the Stones back then, I’m pretty sure it would have included a proviso that went something like this: ‘Sleep with Mick whenever he asks.’”
Another aspect of her job was scoring drugs for Keith Richards. She recalled her drug running days: “I think it was cocaine because I believe that we had some when I got back to the tour. Keith said to me ‘You can do this just like a guy,’ and I thought that was such a compliment.”
In time, Chris realized that her own coke-filled days, which stopped after the Stones’ tour, were like having on-the-job training for her current position as a Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor in Tucson. But woe to a patient who mentions that she was a groupie. She insisted, “I wasn’t a groupie or even a muse, but more of an emotional support. I eventually became a therapist, an addiction counselor…just without a license.”
Photo: Cover image from Miss O’Dell, Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton, by Chris O’Dell with Katherine Ketcham (fair use)