Miss O’Dell

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Miss O’Dell, by Chris O’Dell with Katherine Ketcham

Description (from the cover leaf): “…. Miss O’Dell is the remarkable story of an ordinary woman who lived the dream of millions – to be part of rock royalty’s trusted inner circle. Illustrated with private photographs and jam-packed with intimate anecdotes, Miss O’Dell is a backstage pass to some of the most momentous events in rock history.”

I bought Miss O’Dell online before attending the Beatle fest in Chicago that she attended 2010. I’d read and dug Pattie‘s Wonderful Tonight, and I hoped to enjoy Chris‘ book also.And I wasn’t disappointed. I consider Miss O’Dell one of my favorite Beatle books to read. With other books I can’t help but have running thoughts criticizing what’s written or how it’s written (I’m sorry to be nitpicky, and I’m sure that what I write doesn’t please everyone who reads my work). But I’ve found this book to be a great read, with lots of interesting accounts. Many times I’d planned to read just one section or chapter and then found that I couldn’t put the book down, wanting to read ‘just one more’ part before ending for the night.

I took my copy to the Beatle fest, and got it signed by Chris:

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I don’t remember anything else about meeting Chris or of her presentation at the fest, I’m sorry to say. That’s not to say that she wasn’t worth remembering, but it’s due to my poor memory.

This is the third time I’ve read Chris’ book. What I liked best about it are the descriptions from Chris’ point of view of events that are big in Beatle lore.  These are situations and accounts that might be described in other books, but they’re now told from a different angle, that of another person who was present but who hasn’t been heard yet. So another dimension is added to the telling of these events, and that makes the overall story seem new again.

For example, what life was like at Apple Corp, the day-to-day environment, and descriptions of who was there and what they did, etc, is described in a few Beatles books (my favorite is Richard DiLello’s The Longest Cocktail Party). Chris adds her own take by describing her meeting various people (Beatles, Apple employees, musicians, visitors) and her eventual employment by The Beatles. As she tells it, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, and I can’t help but be a little jealous because she had a great job. Not that being a lunch lady, switchboard operator, gofer is a dream assignment. But working at Apple then would have been pretty cool.

Another account that Chris describes that’s been told before was the visit to Apple by members of Hell’s Angels. Most of what I know about their visit was described in DiLello’s book, and it’s cool to read another take on their visit from Chris’ point of view. Not that she added much new to the story, but her telling of it does kind of make the story seem more real.

Chris begins telling about her time at Apple by describing meeting Apple execs Derek Taylor, Peter Asher, and Neil Aspinall. Each is a person that I think would have been great to meet and know (I did get to meet Asher at a Beatle fest and got his autograph in my copy of The Beatles Anthology). As far as meeting Beatles, Chris’ description of meeting Paul and then running into John and Yoko is pretty charming. I imagine anyone would act just as starstruck if in the same situation.

Chapter 5 of the book is titled James Taylor, describing Chris’ meeting/date with James Taylor, and it’s kind of funny. I wonder what James had to say about this chapter.

Chapter 6, First Session, describes Chris attending, and even participating in, a Beatles recording session. Her description of the atmosphere of the session makes it seem real; I think it’s the most ‘you-are-there’ description of a recording session that I can recall reading in any of my Beatle books.

Going along with that, chapter 11, Up on the Roof, describes her attendance at other recording sessions: “Hey Jude“, the Rooftop performance, Joe Cocker‘s “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”, a Hare Krishna session. The chapter does a great job of describing the excitement of attending a session. And the description, at the beginning of the chapter, of the construction of a song is very interesting to read, as is the joy Chris described feeling while participating, with her visiting mother, in the Hare Krishna session that ends the chapter.

After describing her time at Apple, the book details the time Chris spent with George and Pattie. Chapters 17 through 19 discuss the months Chris lived with the Harrisons at Friar Park. The chapters are titled Friar Park, Pattie’s Birthday Party, and Hare Krishna, and they describe the friendships Chris had developed with Pattie and George. There are two highlights in these chapters, in my opinion. One highlight is the detail that Chris provides about Friar Park. I’ve always thought that visiting George’s house would be cool; the house and gardens and ponds and caves sound fascinating. I don’t care for the spooky aspects that Chris describes, like ghost sightings and eerie sounds and feelings. But it would still be cool to visit once. The other highlight in these chapters is when Chris tells about George beginning to record All Things Must Pass. That’s one of my favorite of George’s albums, so it’s great to read details about its creation.

Chapter 23, Bangladesh, is definitely my favorite chapter in the book. As I mentioned before, Chris provides descriptions of events that are unique point-of-view tellings that add much to what’s commonly known by Beatles fans. This chapter is written in a way that causes the reader to feel as if he’s present at the conception, organizing, and execution of the Bangladesh concerts. There’s a sense of anticipation established wondering if Clapton or Dylan will attend and participate. And the highlight, in my opinion, is Chris’ description of the pride she had in George in his success with the concerts. Reading this chapter is almost a second-best thing to having attended the shows.

Chapter 24, The Rolling Stones, and chapter 25, The Stones Tour, discuss the time Chris spent working for The Rolling Stones. And chapter 30, CSNY Reunion Tour, discusses her time working for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. While interesting, these chapters don’t interest me as much as other parts of the book, parts related to The Beatles. Although I’m a fan of both The Stones and CSNY, I’m more a Beatles fan. References to Mick, Keith, David Crosby, or Stephen Stills aren’t as familiar or interesting to me as are references to John, Paul, George, or Ringo.

Chapters 27 through 29, Maureen, Christmas in England, and Ringo, detail the time when George told Ringo about his feelings for Ringo’s wife Maureen. Chris’ point of view adds a lot to the story. Although it takes the book into a ‘tell all’ direction, I have to say that it is interesting to read. At the very least, it makes the characters all more human, showing human flaws and imperfections, rounding out their personalities. What I really appreciate is how we get to know Maureen. This is the only Beatle book I’ve read in which Mo is given so much attention. Not that I was dying to get to know her, but it’s nice to learn more about a Beatle person that I hardly knew before reading this book.

Chapter 32, George’s Tour, includes an interesting account. Chris was working on George’s American tour in ’74. John and May Pang attended the New York show. After the concert, Chris got a surprise visit by Maureen from London. While the two were chatting in Chris’ hotel room, George and John stopped by to see Mo, and the four visited for at least an hour. Mo’s divorce from Ringo had just been finalized, and she was feeling down and insecure. So, I imagine that George and John’s excitement in her being there must have been encouraging for her. Chris describes the honor she felt at being able to witness what she describes as “the strength and intimacy of the connection that would always exist between them”, “three of the original group”.

The rest of the book describes other important parts of Chris’ life: work she’d done for other musicians (including Santana, Bob Dylan, and Queen), her relationship (and marriage) to a British aristocrat, the birth of her son William. They’re interesting enough to read. At the end of the book Chris describes continuing her education and receiving a master’s degree in counseling psychology. The little bit that I’ve read of her website shows that she seems to be enjoying happiness, which is great to know.

Of course, my favorite parts of the book are the Beatles stories. What I would have liked to have been included was Chris’ thoughts about the Concert for George; her description of the Bangladesh concerts was the best part of the book, so I would have been interested to hear if Chris was able to attend the tribute concert after George’s death or at least what she thought of it. Regardless, what Chris did include in her book is fascinating to read and I highly recommend it to fans of The Beatles and of classic rock musicians overall.

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