They didn’t just join the bands on stage, on tour, in the motel room; some groupies, like Cherry Vanilla, GTOs, Pleasant Gehman, Adriana Smith and Cleo and Cookie, recorded their own music
Like an advance guard for the sexual revolution, groupies turned old-fashioned double standards on their heads as they, with daring independence, sought out the musicians they admired. Fans with the band, groupies went further than just going to the shows. Groupies went backstage, sat atop amps onstage, and hung out with the band, sometimes having sex with them, joining musicians in their hotel rooms, their limousines, on the plane, and on tour.
Renowned Rolling Stone photographer, Baron Wolman, had the idea to dedicate an entire issue to groupies, and rock scholar Lisa Rhodes told me the 1969 groupie issue saved the iconic rock rag from bankruptcy.
Groupies, who were mostly women, quickly became almost as famous as their rock star heartthrobs, with publications like Creem, Newsweek, Time, and The Village Voice interviewing them about their lives. In 1973, Star magazine debuted, with a regular comic panel about groupies and interviews with them, along with centerfolds – of men, the rock stars.
Some groupies put their music-making on vinyl: Cherry Vanilla, Cleo and Cookie, Pleasant Gehman, GTO’s, and Adriana Smith.
In the late 1960’s, Cherry Vanilla ordered elegant cards from Tiffany & Co. that read, “You are beautiful, so am I,” demonstrating her knack for sexy PR. In 1961, at the tender age of 17, she began her Madison Avenue advertising career, shortly thereafter moving from her childhood home in Woodside, Queens to Manhattan. By 1965, she was DJing at New York City’s classiest discotheque, Aux Puces. In 1971, she played the title role in Andy Warhol’s Pork at The Roundhouse Theatre in London.
Cherry worked as David Bowie’s PR rep, posed for Helmut Newton, wrote songs and toured Europe with Stuart Copeland and Sting (who were her band members and her opening act, before they had success as the Police). She plastered taxicabs with stickers that proclaimed her name underneath two sexually suggestive cherry-topped ice-cream globes, writing and performing punk pop with revolving back-up bands, eventually naming her band This Week’s Band.
She released two RCA UK albums, Bad Girl (1978) and Venus d’Vinyl (1979) and provided audio tracks for Vangelis in 1980, as well as performing spoken word for her 1993 Blue Roses. Ray Stevenson’s 1977 photograph assures Cherry Vanilla’s iconography, her groupie feminism bold in the “Lick Me” of her tank top.
The title track from Cherry Vanilla’s Bad Girl album:
Cherry told me women read her 2010 memoir, Lick Me: How I Became Cherry Vanilla, word for word. She said: “We should be grateful for groupies.”
An album entitled simply The Groupies was recorded at New York’s Mayfair Studios, and released on Earth Records in 1969. The only credits given were to the engineer (Eddie Smith), cover photographer (Stephen Lorber), producer (Alan Lorber) and public relations (Morton D. Wax). The liner notes were a reprint from a Village Voice article and a “Groupie Glossary” ((e.g. “poxie-physically repulsive”, “kinky-attractively weird,” etc.).
The names of the women who are heard conversing on the album are not found anywhere in the liner notes. The only description of the album’s contents is this notice: “THE GIRLS HEARD ON THIS LP REPORT THEIR ACTUAL LIFE EXPERIENCES, FEELINGS AND OPINIONS WITHIN THE POP MUSIC SCENE.”
Silvery lines on the glossy purple album cover trick the eye: hair-strewn tossings of the nude woman illustrated seem to uncover her breasts in sexual abandon – and cover them again, with privacy. Voices with New York accents talk, in stereo and sometimes with an echo effect, about groupiedom, agreeing that “You’ve got to have a riff,” a gimmick, to attract musicians, and that Supergroupies get meals, songs, and can travel anywhere in the world. They note hierarchies (from “slaggys” to “rock geishas,” “roadies” to “leaders”), sex acts (gang-bangs, violence, sex with pickles/cucumbers/sausages/whips), and diseases (“creamies”), analyzing desire and debasement.
One of the anonymous groupies proclaims: “What happens when you get married? Everything’s over.”
Groupieblog identifies two of the women as Cleo Odzer and Cookie Davidson. (https://groupieblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/cleo-odzer-2/, retrieved 6.2.18) Cleo, a world traveler with a PhD in anthropology, published books about prostitution, hippie culture, and cyberspace. In 2001, she died in India, her body unclaimed.
In the 2007 groupie anthology by Pamela Des Barres, Let’s Spend The Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies, the punk rock zinester from Connecticut, Pleasant Gehman, describes how she met Iggy Pop, whose 1973 album, Raw Power, she’d shoplifted in high school: she interviewed him. It inspired me to think with a groupie’s strategic audacity. Her chutzpah gave me the courage to find and interview for my own zine my most admired groupies and musicians. Pleasant, a belly-dancing tarot reader (aka Princess Farhana), whose Los Angeles-based bands during the 1980’s and 1990’s included Screamin’ Sirens, The Ringling Sisters, and Honk If Yer Horny, celebrates groupiedom: “Groupies were the complement to rock stars. When they walked into a room, everyone would gasp…A groupie is a star.”
From circus-sounds and rockabilly to country, lounge, and spoken word, Gehman’s party/after the party music can also be heard in the 1986 movie, Reform School Girls (which stars that porn star with a rock band and a chainsaw, Wendy O. Williams).
GTO’s, or Girls Together Outrageously, were friends whose en masse dancing in outlandish attire at concerts, clubs, and on the street generated word-of-mouth publicity. They were known as a “groupie group.” Musicians sought them out, absorbing their style. Some GTO’s suggested and designed the iconic appearances of many male superstars: Alice Cooper’s make-up, Gene Simmons’s top knot, Paul Stanley’s star. Miss Pamela made shirts for Gram Parsons and Jimmy Page. “I be all the people I want to be/And find all the treasures I want to find,” sings Miss Mercy, in “The Ghost Chained To The Past, Present, and Future (Shock Treatment).”
“The Ghost Chained To The Past, Present, and Future (Shock Treatment).” from the Permanent Damage album:
Frank Zappa believed GTO’s could be culturally radicalizing. He and spouse Gail (a former groupie), lived in a Laurel Canyon log cabin, where GTO’s coalesced around seven mainstay members. Frank paid the band for their work as musicians until 1971, when some of the members were busted for drugs.
Pauline Butcher Bird, Frank’s assistant, road-managed the band. In 2011’s Freak Out: My Life with Frank Zappa, Pauline describes a visit to a swanky, star-studded club, with GTOs in their thrift store finery, dance-performing. “My girls in their rags outshone the perfectly groomed women in their silks, satins, and priceless gems.”
Miss Pamela told me, “I wanted to ignite people’s imaginations and make life a playground.”
The members of Girls Together Outrageously:
Miss Christine, born in San Pedro, CA. Frank’s 1969 album, Hot Rats, features her on the cover. Miss Christine nannied the Zappas’ children. She dated rocker, Alice Cooper, influencing his look with her own theatrical appearance, and negotiated music contracts between Alice and Frank. After spending at least a year in a spine-straightening cast, Miss Christine died in 1972.
Miss Cynderella, born in Los Angeles, CA. The youngest GTO at seventeen, and the last member to join the band, she met GTO’s through Miss Mercy. Her gift for embellishment captivated listeners. Former husband, songwriter John Cale, wrote the 1977 song, “Guts,” about her. Miss Cynderella died in 1997.
Miss Lucy, born in Puerto Rico. She and her lover, Joanna, talk and moan along with piano chords on the song, “The Original GTO’s.” She knew Frank in NY, and acted in several of Frank’s films, playing a groupie in 1971’s 200 Motels. It was Miss Lucy who introduced the dancing girls to Frank at the log cabin. Unhappy with the commercial ambition of GTO’s, she quit the band, and moved to Reno. She died from AIDS in 1991.
Miss Mercy, born in Los Angeles, California. Mercy re-named herself when she was 15, emancipated herself as a minor, and joined GTO’s when Frank said the band needed an “imperative bizarre element.” Mercy gave their album its name, too: Permanent Damage (1969). She married Shuggie Otis (son of R&B pioneer, Johnny Otis), and they have a son, Lucky.
Miss Pamela, born in Reseda, CA. She nannied the Zappa children. Author of five books, including 1987’s bestselling I’m With The Band: Confessions Of A Groupie. Her 2011 vinyl with The Dehumanizers combines passages from her bestseller along with dreamily escalating rock music. Pamela, the groupie scribe who agrees with Captain Beefheart that god is a musical note, is currently writing a new book about the relationship between spirituality, sex, and music.
Miss Sandra, born in San Pedro, CA. She lived in the Zappa household when Miss Christine lived there as a nanny. Miss Sandra’s liner note portrait shows her with a big star painted on her pregnant belly, one of the first pictures to publically feature a pregnant body with uncovered joy, in a photo by Ed Caraeff. She married a carpenter and had three more children. Miss Sandra died from cancer in 1991.
Miss Sparky sang vocals on and provided sound effects for Zappa’s 1976 album, Zoot Allures. She continued recording and touring with Frank. An intensely private artist whose career began with special effects for animation, she became a successful designer and painter for major studios’ architecture, with examples in books about Disney parks.
GTO’s wrote their own lyrics, co-writing some music. Songs, spoken word, recitation, conversations, and diary-reading with astounding lyrics sound like their in-crowd performances must have looked: the GTOs were known to dress up in diapers, and were kicked off stage for breast-baring. Several respected musicians and artists (including Jeff Beck; DJ Rodney Bingenheimer; Lowell George; artist Cynthia Plaster Caster; and Rod Stewart) contributed.
Cultural observations and sexual exploration segue into race, hebephelia, and gender performance. Miss Sparky and Miss Pamela’s “The Moche Monster Review” describes a #metoo moment half a century before the online feminist campaign. But Miss Mercy’s “The Ghost Chained To The Past, Present, and Future (Shock Treatment),” her “I Have A Paintbrush In My Hand To Color A Triangle (Mercy’s Tune),” Miss Christine’s “TV Lives,” and Miss Pamela’s playful and insistent “I’m In Love With The Ooo-Ooo Man” keep playing in your mind even after the song ends, the joy of music-making and collaboration loud and clear.
“T.V. Lives” from the GTOs Permanent Damage album:
The 20th century closed with third-wave feminism heralding a lipstick feminism that emphasized art and sexuality. Adriana Smith announced it with her vocal – and real life – orgasmic sounds on the amazing song, “Rocket Queen,” from the Guns N’ Roses 1987 debut album, Appetite For Destruction. The song, written by the band and dedicated to Barbi Von Grief, a teen madam who says she wrote some of the lyrics and had plans to form a band called Rocket Queen, is my favorite on a perfect album. Adriana may not have the power of words in the song – nor Barbi the power of songwriting royalties – but it is those things, as well as the sounds of Adriana (who went on to form her own band), that deserve thoughtful attention.
“Rocket Queen,” from Appetite for Destruction:
“It weighed on my soul,” Adriana said in the 2009 VH1 documentary, Do It For The Band: The Women of the Sunset Strip, explaining that she got strung out on drugs and felt ashamed. The band took off for a world tour, paying Adriana for her vocals with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Feminist writer Germaine Greer believes groupies demystify sex. And yet, groupies have been insulted and dismissed, often abused for their love and potential for sex. The G-Word confounds because it refers to sexually liberated women who try to have as good a time as men, and with as much freedom. But sometimes groupies are sexually objectified and exploited; the term itself troubles.
An extremely influential and famous feminist refused to share the stage of a talk show with a GTO. A rock star said she wasn’t sure if she should allow Miss Pamela to interview her. Cherry’s groupie poem is a lament. How shall we allow groupies the multi-dimensionality they – and all girls and women, sexual or not – deserve? Let’s seriously listen to the music groupies make. And make more music with groupies, too.