A unique group of women in the 60s went beyond the usual groupies. This is their story.
Famous Rolling Stone photographer Baron Wolman spent many years photographing musicians but while he was working he also noticed a unique group of women who went beyond the usual groupies. In 1968 this led to a special issue of the magazine called The Groupies And Other Girls. Click through to see more pictures from this Rolling Stone special issue.
Baron believed that he had discovered a “subculture of chic” that was worth writing about, “These ladies were different from all the girls I knew – all the women I knew – and Jann [Rolling Stone editor] agreed it was a good idea; it ultimately became so interesting and extensive that it became an entire issue.”
Producer Frank Zappa was so drawn to the groupies that he formed a band with seven of them called The GTOs, led by Miss Pamela, aka Pamela Des Barres. Their act was a mixture of theatrics, singing, and dancing with a supporting band as few of them could play instruments.
Karen featured on the cover of the special issue of Rolling Stone in February 1969 and about a year after the magazine came out, someone painted her image onto the side of a house on Venice Boulevard. Karen herself went onto marry a Kuwaiti sheik who she had three children with.
Leader of The GTOs Miss Pamela, had a talent for getting the men she wanted and after graduating high school she took jobs close to LA’s Sunset Strip to pursue relationships with rockers. This is where she eventually met Frank Zappa who formed The GTOs.
Miss Mercy was another member of The GTOs and, along with Miss Pamela, was mentioned in The Hammer Of The Gods: The Unofficial Led Zeppelin Story, as “the life of the party” as the band would always call them up when they were on tour in LA.
When he first approached the groupies about the special issue Baron said, “One of the women said, “Oh I’m not a groupie.” “But you’re a beautiful woman who hangs around musicians; call yourself what you want, but that’s why we’re featuring you.” And she agreed to be included.”
The GTOs released their one and only album in 1969 called ‘Permanent Damage’, which Baron describes as “almost impossible to endure” and soon after the group disbanded due to a number of members being arrested and detained for drug possession.
The Sanchez Twins were another two members of Baron’s groupie ‘elite’ who would spend a lot of time making themselves attractive to famous musicians. Baron says, “I loved the ‘groupie issue’ of Rolling Stone, mostly because I love women and am always looking for an excuse to photograph them.”
The GTOs where made up of Miss Pamela, Miss Mercy, Miss Cynderella, Miss Christine, Miss Lucy, Miss Sparky and Miss Sandra. There’s been some speculation over what the ‘O’ stands for but Baron says “They were the ‘Girls Together Outrageously’ or ‘occasionally’ or ‘orally’, pretty much anything starting with an ‘O’.”.
The Plaster Casters of Chicago were a teenage duo who made casts of famous musicians penises, including Jimi Hendrix. In the Rolling Stone groupie issue they were described as “two teen-age art students who recently studied the art of body casting and took their newly learned technique to new highs…or lows, as the case may be.”
Sally Mann was one of the better known and more respected groupies of the San Francisco scene. After marrying Jefferson Airplane’s Spencer Dryden she went to prison for a heroin bust but was a model prisoner, earning a college scholarship, and eventually becoming a successful lawyer in Texas.
To advertise the special groupie issue Rolling Stone took out a back page ad in the New York Times featuring groupie Karen and using the suggestive tagline: “When we tell you what a groupie is will you really understand?”.
Sally Mann wasn’t the only groupie who had a drug problem. “Drugs were so much part of the scene back then”, says Baron, and many of the girls were on them with some never recovering.
Catherine James (pictured here with her son Damian) was another famous groupie who lived an extraordinary life meeting famous musicians and having songs like John Mayall’s ‘Miss James’ written about her. She also published her memoirs in 2007 called Dandelion: Memoir of a Free Spirit.
“I worked very hard on the ‘Groupie’ issue. I shot it like I did the Grateful Dead cover story – seamless, single light, two lights actually, very simple photographs of all these girls.’ Says Baron.
This breed of groupie would work extra hard to get the musician they wanted, says Baron, “During the groupie interviews we learned how they would chase after a rock star and get him in bed in his hotel room or wherever he was staying when he was on tour.”
But besides the chase, the most important element “was when they would pick up the phone in the hotel room, call their friends, and say, ‘You’ll never guess where I am'”. Says Baron, “For them it often had little to do with the guys themselves because they were all moving on anyhow.”
Miss Pamela ended up marrying the Detective and Silverhead’s lead singer Michael Des Barres in 1977 (although they later divorceed) and she’s also written two memoirs about her experience as a groupie, I’m with the Band and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up.
Baron Wolman’s photography exhibition The Groupies is on in London from the 15th to the 27th October at 46/48 Beak Street London W1F 9RJ where you can see all these pictures and more from the landmark Rolling Stone issue.