Harrison, Clapton and their muse
Pattie Boyd's life and images put classic rock era in focus
By Todd Leopold
What: "My Life in Pictures: Photos by Pattie Boyd"
Where: San Francisco Art Exchange, 458 Geary St.,
San Francisco, California
When: February 14-March 19
(CNN) -- It's March 1964 and Beatlemania is inescapable.
A month earlier in America, the group was met by thousands of screaming fans upon arrival in New York; the band soon appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" to record ratings. The singles chart is top-heavy with Beatles songs. By April, they will have the entire Top Five.
In the Beatles' native Britain, the group is the No. 1 act in the country, and excitement is high as the Fab Four prepare to shoot their first film, "A Hard Day's Night."
But to Pattie Boyd, a model just turned 19 who has a bit part in the movie, the Beatles are just so much background noise.
"I have to confess that I wasn't terribly aware of them before I met them," she says in a phone interview from her home outside London.
"I just knew that they were a band. ... I never thought they'd be part of my life. You never know what's around the corner, do you?"
In Boyd's case, quite a bit.
That teen model would eventually become Mrs. George Harrison and then Mrs. Eric Clapton, finding herself part of rock 'n' roll's elite. (Her sister Jenny traveled in the same circles, and was married to Fleetwood Mac's Mick Fleetwood for four years.)
She traveled to India, prodded the Beatles to include "Wild Honey Pie" on the White Album, was the inspiration for much of the music on the Derek and the Dominos record "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" and counted Mick Jagger, Ron Wood and Jeff Beck among her friends.
About 60 photographs she took of that time -- images that include those English rockers, other musician acquaintances and landscapes from her travels -- are about to debut in her first gallery show, which runs from February 14 to March 19 at the San Francisco Art Exchange, a gallery that specializes in pop music-related artwork and photography.
Beatlemania was quite a hurricane to cope with, Boyd recalls -- even before she found herself in its eye.
"At one point in ['Hard Day's Night'] there are lots of girls screaming, and I remember [thinking], 'My God, are they mad?' ... Not realizing this is how fans do behave.
"I had no idea what I was really getting involved with until I was in it," she adds.
Beatle fans could be a possessive lot. Boyd told the British celebrity magazine Hello! that she was chased by Harrison partisans who kicked her and rocked her car. Others sent her threatening notes. "They were furious because I'd bagged a Beatle," she told Hello! "It was so frightening."
But life at home with George -- the two married in January 1966 -- was relatively quiet, she says.
"All we used to do was hang out with the others sometimes -- we'd go and hang out with Ringo and Maureen, to whom he was married at the time. Otherwise we would always stay at home. ... People would come and hang out with us, or we'd go and see our friends."
Boyd and George Harrison were fascinated by Eastern mysticism, which led to the Beatles' trip to India to learn from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, right.
With the Beatles, however, there was always something going on. The quartet was reaching new heights in the recording studio, though Boyd says the wives were generally not allowed in. (She was present for the live worldwide broadcast of the recording of "All You Need Is Love.")
Beatles lore has it that Boyd was with Harrison and John and Cynthia Lennon the night they were introduced to LSD by a Harrison acquaintance who surreptitiously dropped drug-laced sugar cubes in their coffees. And it was Boyd's interest in Indian mysticism that inspired George -- who in turn inspired the group -- to head off to India to learn at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
"Everybody got an awful lot from that trip, and it was a wonderful trip," Boyd remembers. (Lennon might disagree; in interviews he expressed mixed feelings. One of the many songs to come out of the trip was his scathing "Sexy Sadie," originally titled "Maharishi.")
Inspiration for songwriters
Boyd took a number of photographs of the group on the India trip, some of which are included in the show. One of her favorites shows McCartney, in profile, holding a movie camera, Lennon in the background and the Himalayas beyond. Another shows McCartney, Starr and Lennon relaxing on a porch. The images are casual -- Boyd says she didn't devote herself to photography until much later -- but nevertheless evocative.
Indeed, several of Boyd's photos show musicians in repose, away from the spotlight.
"One of my favorites is one of George at the Isle of Skye," says San Francisco Art Exchange owner Theron Kabrich. "It's such an introspective portrait of his personality and conveys his quiet [side]."
Boyd was also a muse to Harrison and Clapton. Harrison wrote "Something" about her, among other songs; Clapton wrote the fiery "Layla" (its title inspired by an Iranian tale of obsessive love) about her, and later "Wonderful Tonight."
She's modest about being the subject of so many well-known songs.
Much of Clapton's work on the Derek and the Dominos record "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" was inspired by his passion for Boyd.
"All I can say is I feel deeply flattered and honored. ... I don't know what else to say. I guess I'm really lucky."
Being a song subject can be a double-edged sword. Her marriage to Harrison, which developed fissures early on, ended in divorce in 1977; Clapton's romantic pain over Boyd pushed him deeper into drug addiction. (Though he later got clean, alcoholism dogged his and Boyd's 1979-88 marriage.)
The 1970 "Layla" album -- considered Clapton's greatest by most critics -- is a 75-minute tale of wrenching emotion, complete with a cover of Billy Myles' "Have You Ever Loved a Woman," a song about being in love with your best friend's wife.
"I think that he was amazingly raw at the time," Boyd says. "He's such an incredible musician that he's able to put his emotions into music in such a way that the audience can feel it instinctively. It goes right through you."
Little time for reflection
Boyd has increasingly focused her creativity on her photography. She says she's been interested since her modeling days -- one of her photographers back then was David Bailey, a model for David Hemmings' character in the classic movie of Swinging London, "Blow-Up" -- but it wasn't until recent years that she's devoted herself to the art.
"I became interested in ... what the photographer was seeing through his lens, and then I got a camera of my own," she says. "I love it. I love it with a passion. I photograph everything, virtually."
Still, she says she was surprised when Kabrich asked her to put together the exhibit.
Boyd remains friends with many musicians, including Ron Wood, here with daughter Leah.
"It was quite fun putting it together because I hadn't really looked at all my photographs for years. Sometimes I'll take them and maybe be excited at the moment, and then shove them in a cupboard and that's it. ... I didn't realize how many I had when Theron first asked me if I'd like to have an exhibition. I thought I might have 20 photographs."
The photos chronicle quite a life -- one spent these days with her partner of 13 years, real estate developer Rod Weston, and actively cooking, gardening, movie-watching and socializing, she says. She rarely dwells on the past, she observes.
"It wasn't until I started collating these images that I looked back. It's not something I normally do," she says. "Once I've taken photographs, I look at them and I get into them and I'm there for the moment -- and then that's it. ... I find little time for reflection.
"I love life," she adds. "There's so much to learn and see all the time, and nothing nicer for me than to wake up and the sky is blue. Because so often here in England in winter, the sky is gray and dull. But it's a blue-sky day today, I'm happy to report."