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An Outrageous GTOs Christmas

’70s Teen Pop author, Lucretia Tye Jasmine, tells us about her favorite Christmas performance: the first GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) concert on December 5, 1968. Here she tells us the GTO story and how they came to personify the intersection of Second Wave feminism and music.


During the late 1960s in Los Angeles, a troupe of dancing teenaged friends formed one of the first all-girl performance art rock bands. They experimented with music, clothing, sexuality, drugs and living arrangements. They hung out at Frank and Gail Zappa’s Laurel Canyon log cabin home, where Girls Together Outrageously coalesced around several mainstay members:

  • Christine Ann Frka from San Pedro, CA (1949-1972)  
  • Cynderella aka Cynthia Sue Wells from Los Angeles (1952- 2007)
  • Lucy aka Luz Selenia Offerral from Puerto Rico (d. 1991)
  • Mercy Fontenot aka Judith Edra Peters from Burbank, CA (1949-2020)
  • Pamela Ann Miller from Reseda, CA (b. 1948)
  • Sandra Lynn Rowe from San Pedro, CA (1949-1991)
  • Sparky aka Linda Sue Parker (b. 1948)

Their carnival self-presentation and theatrical antics commanded attention: Tiny Tim anointed them each as Miss; Beatle, George Harrison, said he was looking forward to hearing their album; and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant remarked that the GTO’s gave as good a looning as they got. John Mayall name drops the band in his 1968 song, “2401,” and Gram Parsons asked Miss Mercy and Miss Pamela to sing back up on “Hippie Boy” for The Flying Burrito Brothers’s 1969 album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Miss Christine influenced the iconic eye make-up of Alice Cooper. The 1969 Rolling Stone groupie issue that featured GTOs saved the music magazine from bankruptcy.

Miss Mercy, Rolling Stone, issue 27, “Groupies and Other Girls,” February 15, 1969
From the Groupie Archives
Photo by Lucretia Tye Jasmine

GTO, Miss Pamela, told me, “I wanted to ignite people’s imaginations and make life a playground.” And she has: Pamela Des Barres has written several books, including the best-seller, 1987’s I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, a memoir oft-cited as one of the best rock memoirs of all-time, including by Billboard charts, and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Onstage, Exene Cervenka from punk band, X, credits GTO’s for trailblazing; Courtney Love wants to play Miss Mercy in a film about GTO’s; and Hole drummer, Patty Schemel, reveres GTO’s.  For a band that did three concerts and one album, their influence lingers long.


Their first concert was during the Christmas season, on December 5, 1968, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, opening for Wild Man Fisher, Alice Cooper, and The Mothers of Invention. Pauline Butcher Bird, Frank Zappa’s assistant, worked with the GTOs, shepherding their rehearsals for the Christmas concert. Pauline told me that after a period of disbelief, she realized that the wild girls had talent. Preparations for the Christmas concert were six weeks of “frantic, nightmarish rehearsals,” according to Pauline’s memoir, Freak Out: My Life with Frank Zappa (2011). “Piling eels into a basket would have been easier.” The band rehearsed at Lindy Opera House, they wrote their own lyrics, there was drug abuse (that Pauline didn’t know about) and in-fighting, and Sandra was pregnant. Plus, Miss Lucy quit the band.

On the night of the concert, “a night I thought would never arrive,” said Pauline, “I stood anxiously on the side of the stage…as wound up as if they were my own daughters.  Hours and hours and weeks and weeks of struggle and torment had left me shattered and drained,” she wrote. “Then on went the girls, who flung themselves into their quirky dance routine with such flourish, passion, and ingenuousness, I could have hugged them all. Mercy…swayed to the music like a showgirl while the others stomped, shook, gyrated, whirled and twirled around her. They looked fabulous in their colorful, outlandish outfits on which they worked so diligently, and…they got all the words right. When Jimmy Carl Black said in my ear, ‘Who cares if they’re flat and can’t carry a tune in a bucket,’ I didn’t mind – the whoops and cheers said it all.” (pp 223-225)

The concert was more like theater with its vignette performances amidst the songs. Rodney Bingenheimer dressed as Santa Claus, and each GTO sat on his lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas. The GTOs wore vintage frocks of satins and lace, flowered dresses threaded with silver, their hair wild with feathers and adornments. Miss Pamela sang in fake snow to a fake snowman. Miss Cynderella, dressed in scalloped gold, sang atop a trash can, her red boots tied with bows. Their make-up was heavy and theatrical, glittering and vivid and rich. Photographs from that night convey the sense of thrown confetti and the scent of lipstick. The show was such a success that the GTOs immediately went to work on what would turn out to be their only album, 1969’s Permanent Damage.

When the GTOs signed their record contract, each signed with a different color pen. Musician and record producer, Frank Zappa, believed the GTO’s could be rich, famous, and culturally radicalizing. He paid each bandmember thirty-five dollars a week. But then…two GTO’s fell in love with each other and got married, leaving the band because of its commercial ambition. And when a few other GTO’s got busted for drugs, Frank Zappa put the kibosh on the band’s financing. By 1971, the band had fallen apart.

Pamela Des Barres told me Frank was a mentor to her, as did the artist, Cynthia Plaster Caster, who appears on their album; they each told me his belief in them was profoundly meaningful. Sparky worked with him on music even after the GTO’s split up. They all stayed true friends with Frank.

Individual signatures of GTO’s 1968 record contact
From the Groupie Archives
Photo by Lucretia Tye Jasmine

The GTOs were known as a “groupie group,” the term, “groupie” operating as terms about women tend to: sexually, and as a slur, dismissing girls and women. The GTOs were friends and sometimes lovers with musicians. Most of the band married musicians. But the GTOs were in the music scene. As GTO, Miss Sparky, told me, “Our group in interviews are depicted as merely gratified lovers of coveted pop stars. This singular topic that is the majority of the interviews reduces the originality and talents to the focus of sexual victories. We were very involved with the city and its artistic blossoming. It was peak music and art scene collaboration.”  

Their album and their Christmas concert reflect girls turning into women within a culture whose zeitgeist demanded liberating social changes that people struggled to make real, and a band working for acclaimed creative expression within a patriarchal system seeking to exploit them. Females shaped the content of the songs even as it was men who arranged, engineered, and played the instruments of each song; social equality is a slow fortune for a band who didn’t then identify as feminists, as musicians, or as groupies, and whose press captioned them as ignorant sluts -one photo of the band at the board in the studio with Frank included a caption that read, “Frank, what does that knob do?”

Nevertheless, the GTO’s, their performances, and their sole album demonstrate the evolution of female empowerment in the 20th century. The GTOs personify the intersection of Second Wave feminism and music, and their Christmas concert the experimental, chaotic and hopeful zeitgeist of that countercultural era. When Second Wave feminism and music merged, groupie legends emerged, with GTO’s at the heart of it.


Lucretia Tye Jasmine earned a BFA, with honors, from New York University, USA, and an MFA from CalArts, USA. Her most recent work includes the Groupie Feminism art series, online writing for Please Kill Me and The Los Angeles Beat, and interviews for Feminist Magazine radio.She’s completed extensive oral histories for her two mixtape zines, The Groupie Gospels and riot grrrl Los Angeles 1992-1995. Lucretia’s currently working on a book about groupies. She is from Kentucky. You can find out more on her website (www.lucretiatyejasmine.com) or follow her on Instagram: @lucretia_tye_jasmine

’70s Teen Pop is part of the Genre: A 33 1/3 Series and is available to buy in bookshops and online (including at Bloomsbury.com). Until Sunday 10th December 2023, you can get it 30% off in Bloomsbury’s Holiday Sale.


Bibliography

All from the Groupie Archives of Lucretia Tye Jasmine:

Des Barres, Pamela. In-person and phone interviews by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 4.23.13; 10.26.16; 3.18,17; 7.13.17; and 10.11.17. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

Des Barres, Pamela. I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie.New York: William Morrow, 1987. Print.

Bingenheimer, Rodney. In-person interviews by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 3.29.16 and 6.20.17. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

Butcher-Bird, Pauline. Freak Out: My Life With Frank Zappa. London: Plexus Publishing Limited,2011. Print.

Butcher-Bird, Pauline. Skype interview by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 4.20.14. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

Caraeff, Eddie. In-person interview by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 6.20.17. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

The Flying Burrito Brothers. “Hippie Boy.” The Gilded Palace of Sin. 1969.

Girls Together Outrageously. Permanent Damage. Los Angeles: Straight Records, 1969. Record album.

Mayall, John. “2401.”  Blues from Laurel Canyon. 1968.

Mercy. In-person interviews by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 3.6.12; 3.18.17; and 10.11.17. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

Nathanson, Andee. Phone interview by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 3.16.18. Print.

Navarro, Juliana. Phone interviews by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 7.29.16 and 8.12.16; Facebook, 5.2.16. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

Plaster Caster, Cynthia. Phone interviews by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 2.4.12 and 10.24.13. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

Rhodes, Lisa L. Electric Ladyland: Women and Rock Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,2005. Print.

Rhodes, Lisa L. Phone interview by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 11.7.15. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

Roxon, Lillian. Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia. New York: A Grosset and Dunlap Original, Universal Library Edition, 1969 and 1971. Print.

Schemel, Patty. In-person interview by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. Feminist Magazine Radio. 12.24.17. Audio, and digital link.

Schemel, Patty. Hit so Hard. New York: Da Capo Press, 2017. Print.

Simmons, Sylvie. “Shhhh…Genius At Work.” Mojo, U.S. Collectors Edition, January, 2004, p. 51. Print.

Sparky. Messenger/Facebook interviews by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 5.23.13 and 3.26.17. Print.

Wenner, Jann, ed. “Groupies and Other Girls.” Rolling Stone. Issue 27, February 15, 1969. Print.

Wenner, Jann, ed. Groupies and Other Girls: A Rolling Stone Special Report. New York: Bantam Books, 1970. Print.

Wolman, Baron. Phone interviews by Lucretia Tye Jasmine. The Groupie Gospels Mixtape Zine. 2.21.12 and 1.10.16. Print, digital link, and audio cassette tape.

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