Des Barres' parents were from Kentucky. Just before she was born, her father moved the family to southern California. Her mother was a homemaker and her father worked for Anheuser-Busch and occasionally as a gold miner. Des Barres idolized the Beatles and Elvis Presley as a child, and fantasized about meeting and dating her favorite Beatle, Paul McCartney. Later, upon discovering the Rolling Stones, she daydreamed of Mick Jagger, while growing up in Los Angeles in the early 1960s.
A high school acquaintance, Victor Hayden, introduced Des Barres to his cousin Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, a musician and friend of Frank Zappa. Van Vliet in turn introduced her to Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, which drew her to the rock music scene on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. She started to spend her time with the Byrds and other bands, and when she graduated from high school in 1966, she took various jobs that would allow her to live near the Sunset Strip and pursue relationships with rock musicians. One high school art class assignment was to visualize an object that showed both texture and color. Having fantasized about Mick Jagger's genitals, she made them the subject of her painting, which earned her an "A" grade. After securing a position as the babysitter for Zappa's children, she at last found herself a few years later finding multiple opportunities to compare the drawing with the actual object. She famously paired up as a friend to a lot of old school rockers, as well as with future sexual partners Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Nick St. Nicholas, Noel Redding, Jim Morrison, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Waylon Jennings, and actors Brandon deWilde, Michael Richards, Woody Allen and Don Johnson.
Des Barres was also a member of the GTOs, which was an all-girl groupie "musical" group sponsored by Frank Zappa. The GTOs had only one performance under that name along with the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart at the Shrine Auditorium in the metropolitan area of Los Angeles during the summer of 1969. The entire concert lasted for six hours. The group dissolved just a month after the Permanent Damage album release due to some of its members being arrested and detained for drug possession.
In the 1970s Des Barres decided to pursue a career as an actress, and acted in a few movies, including Zappa's 200 Motels, commercials, and a year acting on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow in 1974. She continued to work as a nanny/babysitter for Zappa, who urged her to continue to keep writing the diary she had begun in high school, in which she had faithfully recorded the important details of her life. When her acting career stalled, she continued to work for the Zappa family as a nanny for Zappa's children, Dweezil and Moon Unit.
On October 29, 1977, she married Michael Des Barres who had been lead singer for Detective (signed to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song Records label) and Silverhead, and who, in 1985, was tour vocalist for Power Station. They have a son, Nicholas Dean Des Barres (GameFan magazine's Nick Rox). The couple divorced in the summer of 1991.
Des Barres wrote two memoirs about her experience as a groupie, I'm with the Band (1987) and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up (1993). Conjecture has been published saying that Cameron Crowe drew from these memoirs to create the groupie character Penny Lane for his film Almost Famous; however, Crowe has written that the character was a fictionalization of events he witnessed as a young music journalist, a composite of a handful of girls calling themselves the "Flying Garter Girls," primarily one named Pennie Trumbull who went by Pennie Lane. The memoirs by Des Barres still have a connection to the film: actress Kate Hudson read them for inspiration as she portrayed Penny Lane.
The March 1989 issue of Playboy magazine featured Des Barres in a semi-nude layout, published together with an excerpt from I'm with the Band. In the captions, she was quoted as saying, "I wanted to be in Playboy when I was younger, but my breasts did not precede me. But now I have semicelebrity tits, so they don't have to be as big."
Des Barres has written two non-fiction books other than her memoirs, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon and Let's Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies (Chicago Review Press, 2007). An updated edition of I'm With the Band was released in 2005.
In 2013, Pamela launched her clothing line, "Groupie Couture;" she also writes articles for online and print publications. She has been teaching writing classes for several years, both in Los Angeles and in cities across the United States, and affectionately refers to her writers as her "Dolls."1969 The GTOs - Permanent Damage (Bizarre/Straight)
1971 200 Motels
1973 Slaughter's Big Rip-Off
1974 Arizona Slim
1975 Kitty Can't Help It
1978 Paradise Alley
1978 Human Feelings
2003 Mayor of the Sunset Strip
1974-5 Search for Tomorrow
2011 The Young and the Restless