Released in ‘2000,’ Cameron Crowe’s ‘Almost Famous‘ is a story of the world of rock and roll in the 1970s, built upon Crowe’s personal experiences and respect for the music and its creators. There are also real-life inspirations woven into the narrative. Let’s explore the rock bands and events that contributed to the making of ‘Almost Famous.’
Crowe’s Rock Journalism Days
Before his Hollywood journey, Crowe was a young reporter for Rolling Stone. His early assignments involved touring with some of the biggest rock bands of the time, including The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Personal interviews with the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Tom Petty helped deepen his connection to the music world. These real-life experiences form the backbone of ‘Almost Famous,’ with the fictitious band Stillwater echoing many bands Crowe had encountered.
How Did Crowe Craft the Characters?
Russell Hammond, played by Billy Crudup, bears influences from several rockers. While the character is primarily based on Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey, elements of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and The Allman Brothers Band’s Gregg Allman are sprinkled in. For instance, Plant’s ‘I am a golden god’ statement, which he made from the Hollywood Riot House balcony, was directly integrated into the script.
Allman himself confirms the movie is based on The Allman Brothers Band in his 2012 memoir ‘My Cross to Bear,’ recalling a scene where Russell jumps from the roof of the Topeka party house into a pool:
“The jumping off the roof into the pool, that was Duane — from the third floor of a place called the Travelodge in San Francisco. My brother wanted to do it again, but the cat who owned the place came out shaking his fist, yelling at him. We told that story all the time, and I have no doubt that Cameron was around for it.”
Penny Lane, portrayed by Kate Hudson, was inspired by the real-life Pennie Lane Trumbull and her group, the ‘Flying Garter Girls Group.’ However, Crowe’s muse for the character wasn’t limited to Trumbull; other influential women in the rock scene, such as Pamela Des Barres and Bebe Buell, contributed to her characterization.
Musical Tributes in ‘Almost Famous’
‘Almost Famous’ isn’t just about rock’s personalities — it’s also a tribute to the music. Stillwater’s sound was created with help from real-life seventies rocker Peter Frampton and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. McCready even lent his guitar skills to Stillwater’s tracks.
The film’s soundtrack features over 50 songs. Notably, Crowe managed to secure rights to Led Zeppelin tracks for the film — something that hadn’t been accomplished since Crowe used ‘Kashmir’ in ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High.’
Notable Nods and Homages
Several scenes in ‘Almost Famous’ are direct nods to real-life rock events. The scene where Russell gets electrocuted on stage draws from an incident with Stone the Crows guitarist Les Harvey.
Moreover, the airplane malfunction, which sets the stage for a series of confessions, alludes to Crowe’s two near-crash experiences: one when he hitched a ride with a roadie from the Who, and another with Heart and his then-wife Nancy Wilson, when their plane made an emergency landing in Tupelo.
There are also visual tributes in the film. A black-and-white image of Stillwater resembles The Allman Brothers’ ‘Live at the Fillmore East’ album cover. Besides, a shot of the crowd during Stillwater’s concert echoes the cover of Neil Young’s ‘Time Fades Away.’