By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It’s Tuesday night at the darkly intimate Backstage Cafe in Beverly Hills, and promoter Punkin Pie is in a panic. What if too few musicians drop by for her all-night jam fest?
”Could you please not smoke in here?“ she snaps at a lanky blond UCLA student. The embarrassed lad walks outside to finish his fag. ”Why do I have to do this?“ asks Punkin. ”California is nonsmoking.“
Suddenly, keyboardist Herbie Hancock arrives, kissing her on the cheek before wading to the bar through the crowd of Hollywood babes. Pie is grinning ear to ear; now all she needs is a drummer. Right on cue, Keith Allison, sticks man from ‘60s pop fabs Paul Revere and the Raiders, appears with drummer Carmine Appice, late of the Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd and King Cobra bands, on his heels. ”Are you going to play tonight?“ Pie asks Appice. ”That’s what I‘m here for,“ he grins.
”He’s a legend,“ Pie says to her bevy of blond friends.
If you saw Almost Famous, the Cameron Crowe movie about his days as a teen writer for Rolling Stone, you may have wondered whatever happened to Penny Lane, the free-spirited groupie memorably portrayed by Kate Hudson, last seen in the film boarding a plane for Morocco. Well, you might think of Penny Lane as having grown up to be Punkin Pie, a groupie-turned-club-promoter who pairs rock legends with unknowns in some of the hottest club nights in L.A.
”I have created a romper room for adults,“ Pie says modestly.
Blond, brown-eyed and 44, Pie is the quintessential California sexpot, minus the boob job and blank stare. Part of her allure is how she makes celebrities feel. ”She‘s a real feeling person and is always trying to put people together,“ says Hancock. ”It’s very refreshing to be in her presence.“
But Pie’s real talent is her willingness to take a chance on beginners. She‘s nibbling on a crab cake when a pretty 21-year-old British girl approaches her and asks shyly if she can sing with Appice, Hancock and his cronies. ”You sure you can sing?“ queries Pie gently. The girl nods. ”Okay,“ says Pie. The girl walks away, ecstatic. ”It’s about giving people a chance. You never know, she may be the next big thing.“
Since starting out five years ago, Punkin Irene Elizabeth Laughlin has made her dream of promoting a reality. ”I wanted a place that would have live music, whether the musicians were famous or not,“ she says. ”A place where people could walk in, pick up their guitars and play with an established band, or bring in their own band and showcase their own music.“
Pie lived in Hollywood until she was 10; her florist parents didn‘t want their daughter going to high school in Hollywood, so the family moved to Medford, Oregon, 50 miles from the California border, where she grew up playing drums, percussion and bass, and dating local musicians. By age 14, Pie was on the road with her neighbors’ band, as the designated groupie. After high school graduation, she toured with her boyfriend‘s band, Wisdom Star Family, ending up in Eugene, hanging out with Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead and Pat Benatar while Wisdom Star opened up for Robert Cray.
Looking to spread her wings, Pie made her way to Marin County in 1980. The day after she arrived, she guessed the name of Jeff Beck’s album There and Back in a radio-station contest and won tickets to his concert. At the show she was invited backstage and ended up dating Beck‘s manager, and spent the remainder of the year touring with the band. ”I would stand in the front row and give them my energy,“ says Pie about her early concert-going days. ”Every single band would focus in on me, and someone would take me backstage. I guess I was really cute at the time.“ Did she party like a true groupie? ”No. I’ve had one one-night stand with a musician in my entire life,“ she says sheepishly.
In addition to her job as a full-time groupie, Pie landed spots on music videos for Rick Springfield, Julian Lennon and Jefferson Starship. She was also Kate Capshaw‘s double in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and a stand-in for Lea Thompson in Howard the Duck.
During her time in Marin County, Pie planned to visit Jeff Beck in London, but he canceled. She decided to go anyway and stay with friends of a friend. ”I was bawling uncontrollably at the airport,“ remembers Pie. ”I was devastated. I didn’t want to go to London by myself and stay with strangers.“ But it all worked out. At the airport, she spotted director George Lucas, whom she had met briefly years earlier, waiting for the same flight. He noticed that she was in tears. ”I wrote him a note on the plane explaining to him why I was crying,“ she says. ”He was so nice. He came back from first class to see if I was okay. Everyone around me was freaking out because I was talking to him.“