The GTOs

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The GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) were an acapella girl group from the Los Angeles area, specifically the Sunset Strip scene. Only active for two and a half years (1968-1970) with a single reunion in 1974,[1] their only album, Permanent Damage, produced by Frank Zappa, was released in 1969.

Personnel[edit]

  • Miss Pamela, born Pamela Ann Miller (later Pamela Des Barres) on September 9, 1948 in Reseda, California, is the best-known and most commercially successful of the GTO's. Prior to joining the group, she had been a member of Vito Paulekas' dancing troupe, when Frank Zappa hired her as a babysitter for Moon Unit Zappa. In the 1970s, she pursued an acting career and appeared (credited as "Pamela Miller") in several films, including Zappa's 200 Motels, and TV series, including a yearlong role on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow.[2] Des Barres is the author of five books. The first, I'm with the Band (1987), is based primarily on a diary she secretly kept from her high school years all the way through her marriage, due in part to the encouragement she received from her group's future producer, Frank Zappa. The book spent several weeks in the US top ten best sellers list. The book contains different perspectives on the author's life during the 1960s and, in particular, the groupie scene – a scene which Des Barres defends in her 2007 book, Let's Spend the Night Together, a collection of interviews with fellow rock groupies. Miller was married to British actor/musician Michael Des Barres for fourteen years (1977-1991). Together they have a son, Nicholas Dean Des Barres (NickRoxNRX), who is now an editor for a video game magazine in Tokyo, Japan, where he currently resides.
  • Miss Mercy, a.k.a. Mercy Fontenot, was born Judith Edra Peters on February 15, 1949 in Burbank, California. She has been referred to by Pamela as "the human facsimile". Having moved around the country, the family eventually settled in the Bay Area. When she was 15, she dropped out of high school and told her parents she was ready to become legally independent. Despite their disapproval, she filed for emancipation, becoming a ward of the court within a couple of weeks. Peters went to live with a group of friends in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Some of their neighbors included members of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and a young Charlie Manson. Eventually, Miss Mercy and Miss Pamela heard that Los Angeles was the mecca for meeting entertainers and especially rock & roll musicians. In addition, Miss Pamela wanted to pursue her acting career in Hollywood, and in early 1969, they moved south, immersing themselves into the local scene. Then, one of Miss Pamela's childhood friends, Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart), took the girls to a large castle-like compound in Laurel Canyon where they were introduced to musician Frank Zappa. Soon after the breakup of the GTO's she became romantically involved with blues guitar prodigy Shuggie Otis, the son of rhythm & blues pioneer Johnny Otis. They married and had a son, Lucky Otis, who became a world-renowned multi-instrumentalist / musician in the likeness of his father and grandfather. A few years later, Miss Mercy and Shuggie divorced. For the next 15 to 20 years she moved around northern and southern California, living a life of heavy drug use and sporadic public appearances. Miss Mercy quit all hard drugs and cigarettes. She has been clean and sober ever since. Miss Mercy currently resides in Los Angeles and works for Goodwill Industries, a thrift store in Hollywood. A chapter of "I'm With the Band", entitled "Miss Mercy's Blues", is an account of her life. She has worked for five decades in magazines, books, radio and television, and contributing to award-winning feature-length documentaries. She had a ten-minute segment dedicated to her life in the movie Mayor of the Sunset Strip starring alternative rock pioneer KROQ disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer, who was a close longtime friend of the GTO's. Miss Mercy and Miss Pamela remain close friends. As of 2015, Miss Mercy is hanging out at Canters Deli every week and working closely with an author / biographer to help document her life. She has many stories to tell.
  • Miss Cynderella (sometimes Miss Cinderella) was born Cynthia Sue Wells (later Cynthia Cale-Binion) on January 26, 1952 in Los Angeles, California. She married John Cale of Velvet Underground in 1971, but the marriage was rocky, and they divorced in 1975. Cale's song "Guts" opens with the line, "The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife" (referring to Kevin Ayers' sleeping with Cindy in 1974).[3] Cindy died under “mysterious circumstances”[4] at age 45 on February 19, 1997 in Palm Desert, California;[5] however, her death was not widely reported until 2007, when Pamela Des Barres mentioned it in her book Let's Spend the Night Together (where she inadvertently listed the wrong death year).
  • Miss Christine, born Christine Ann Frka on November 27, 1949 in San Pedro, California, also babysat Moon. She is shown on the front cover of Frank Zappa's 1969 album Hot Rats emerging from an empty swimming pool on the infamous Errol Flynn estates in the Hollywood Hills. She dated rock and roll singer Alice Cooper (she’s credited with creating his stage persona).[6] She also dated Todd Rundgren from Utopia fame, and Chris Hillman of The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, where she inspired the song “Christine’s Tune” (“She’s a devil in disguise, you can see it in her eyes.”) Frka died on November 5, 1972, of a heroin overdose in a house in Cohasset, Massachusetts, which at the time was being rented out by musician Jonathan Richman and his original group, The Modern Lovers.[7] She overdosed shortly before her 30th birthday after spending nearly a full year in a body cast to correct a crooked spine.
  • Miss Lucy (born Luz Selenia Offerrall[8] in Puerto Rico[9] (date unknown), better known as Lucy Offerall, later Lucy McLaren) appeared in Frank Zappa's films Uncle Meat, 200 Motels, Video from Hell, and The True Story of 200 Motels. In 200 Motels she had a moderately-sized role portraying a promiscuous groupie. She dated Jeff Beck in 1969.[10] In 1975 she married Gordon "Gordie" McLaren (bassist for the New York City group called, coincidentally, The Groupies). They divorced in 1981, after producing a son, Coleman.[11] Years later, she was impregnated by a close friend and bore another son named Dallas, only to find that she had contracted AIDS, still a fairly new and little-known disease for that time. Lucy McLaren died in 1991. Her son Dallas died later the same year, having been born with ARC (opportunistic diseases related to HIV).[12]
  • Miss Sandra was born Sandra Lynn Rowe (later Sandra Leano, Sandra Lynn Harris) on January 18, 1949 in San Pedro, Los Angeles. She was in the group only a short while before becoming pregnant by Cal Schenkel, Frank Zappa's official artist-in-residence. In publicity photos for the band she is shown late in her pregnancy, with a big star painted on her belly. She moved back to San Pedro with her infant daughter named Raven, and after The GTO's broke up she met and married Bradley Harris. They had three more children together. Sandra died of cancer in Albion, California on April 23, 1991 at age 42.
  • Miss Sparky (born Linda Sue Parker, sometime in 1948) was renown for driving a Hudson Hornet in the late 1960s on the Sunset Strip.[13] She recorded a vocal track (credited under the pseudonym "Sharkie Barker") on the song "Disco Boy" on Frank Zappa's album Zoot Allures (1976), and was once employed by the Walt Disney Corporation. She was reported still alive in 2012 but didn’t give interviews.

History[edit]

Pamela Miller and Linda Parker met around 1966 while attending Cleveland High School in Los Angeles. Christine Frka traveled to Los Angeles from San Pedro with Sandra Rowe, and both lived in the basement of Frank Zappa's Log Cabin at 2401 Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills[14] in 1968. Christine was the live-in nanny for Zappa's eldest child Moon Unit, before Pamela took over the position the following year. Judith Peters had emigrated from the Haight Ashbury hippie scene to LA due to "boredom", alleging she "couldn't be a hippie forever." Cynthia Wells was brought into the group by Judith after the nucleus of the group had already been formed. This accounts for Miss Cynderella's presence in some, but not all of the GTOs' publicity shots. Lucy Offerall was also not an original member, but joined after the recording of Permanent Damage.

The group initially called themselves “The Cherry Sisters” but soon changed to "The Laurel Canyon Ballet Company.” When Frank Zappa took them on he changed their name to The GTOs. The new name was described as an acronym which, as Stanley Booth wrote, could mean "Girls Together Outrageously or Orally or anything else starting with O."[15] On their album the acronym is also defined as "Girls Together Occasionally", "Girls Together Often" and "Girls Together Only".[16][17] Miss Lucy stated in a filmed interview that the latter name is what it stood for, though it is understood by most that the name on the album, Girls Together Outrageously, is the name of the group.

The members were connected by their association with Zappa, who encouraged their artistic endeavors despite their limited vocal skills. The group performed live “only 4 or 5 times”,[18] although they created a strong impression at their December 1968 performance at the Shrine Auditorium opening for The Mothers of Invention, Alice Cooper and Wild Man Fischer. A mix of theatrics, singing, dance and wild costumes were staples of their act. Their only album, Permanent Damage, (Straight Records) was produced in 1969 by Frank Zappa with the assistance of Lowell George and Russ Titelman (tracks 7 and 11). The latter track also features Titelman's brother-in-law, guitarist Ry Cooder, both of whom appear on Captain Beefheart's Safe As Milk album. Track 5 "The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes" is a GTO comment on Beefheart's taste in footwear (his cousin Victor Hayden had introduced him to Pamela Des Barres). The songs are mixed in with conversations between the members of the group, friends, and others, including Cynthia Plaster Caster and Rodney Bingenheimer. The album features songwriting contributions from Lowell George, Jeff Beck and Davy Jones. A young Rod Stewart (Jeff Beck's singer at the time) pops up track 14. Permanent Damage was re-issued on CD in 1989 by Enigma Retro.

Discography[edit]

Permanent Damage (1969)
No. Title Length
1. "The Eureka Springs Garbage Lady" (lead vocal: Miss Christine) 3:47
2. "Miss Pamela and Miss Sparky discuss STUFFED BRAS and some of their early gym class experiences"   2:10
3. "Who's Jim Sox?" (Spoken: A B.T.O. is the opposite of a G.T.O. only they get in there more - sexually, than we do. It means, Boys Together Often, Only, Occasionally, Organically, Outrageously. All those O’s.) 0:18
4. "Kansas and the BTO's"   1:12
5. "The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes" (This is a song about a pair of crazed shoes CAPTAIN BEEFHEART wears.) 1:56
6. "Wouldn't it be Sad if There Were No Cones?" (Miss Pamela & Sparky discuss the manner in which local Hollywood soul brothers make sexual advances in front of the Whisky a Go Go.) 1:11
7. "Do Me in Once and I'll Be Sad, Do Me in Twice and I'll Know Better (Circular Circulation)" (This is a reasonably abstruse love song with a gentle bum in it.) 2:19
8. "The Moche Monster Review" (Miss Pamela gives us an insight into the behavior of “the other breed” who drive “soft cars”… the sexual advances they make toward girls while they’re hitchhiking.) 1:46
9. "TV Lives" (A brief word about television. This song is nearly as absurd as the medium it describes.) 1:03
10. "Rodney" (Rodney Bingenheimer is one of the more unique figures of contemporary social history. The G.T.O.s have put together an unusual piece which includes the voice of Mr. Bingenheimer as he comments on the lyrics which have been written about his peculiar exploits. This “song” might give you a broad view of the scene in Hollywood as it relates to the Sunset Strip’s foremost male groupie.) 3:42
11. "I Have a Paintbrush in My Hand to Color a Triangle (Mercy’s Tune)" (This is a song about a lovers’ triangle which involves Brian Jones, Bernardo B.T.O. and Mercy.) 2:11
12. "Miss Christine's First Conversation With the Plaster Casters of Chicago" (In this episode we find our exotic Yugoslavian maiden explaining her moral viewpoint after reading a short segment of Cynthia Plaster Caster’s diary.) 0:57
13. "The Original GTO's" (Miss Lucy and Miss Johna were the originators of G.T.O.ism two years ago. In this sequence we find them inside a piano kissing each other & having a cosmic-level discussion.) 1:05
14. "The Ghost Chained to the Past, Present, and Future (Shock Treatment)" (Miss Mercy explains her personal philosophy. Lead vocals: Mercy and R.S. (Rod Stewart).) 1:45
15. "Love on an Eleven Year Old Level" (For some reason, the G.T.O.’s are preoccupied by the memory of Brian Jones. In this song they discuss their mutual admiration for an 11 year old boy who happens to look like Brian… and also has a couple of other things going for him.) 1:18
16. "Miss Pamela's First Conversation With the Plaster Casters of Chicago" (Cynthia and Miss Pamela find that they have a “fave rave” in common, and proceed to compare notes on their relationship with him. Some semantic difficulties toward the end of the conversation provide a convenient transition to the next piece of material.) 1:31
17. "I'm in Love with the Ooo-Ooo Man" (In real life, the OOO OOO Man is Nick St. Nicholas from Steppenwolf. Miss Pamela sings the lead vocal on this very special song of love. I have no idea what the rubber chicken suit with the beak is.) 3:27

Notes[edit]

The G.T.O.’s write all their own lyrics & no subject matter covered by these lyrics was suggested by any outside source. The choice of subjects is a reflection of the girls’ own attitudes toward their environment. The G.T.O.’s hope you like their album. — Frank Zappa

Special thanks to: Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, Ian Underwood and Craig Doerge who also played on Eureka Springs Garbage Lady, Ooo Ooo Man, Shock Treatment, and Captain’s Fat Teresa Shoes. Also to: Jeff Beck who played guitar on Eureka Springs Garbage Lady, Shock Treatment, and Captain’s Fat Teresa Shoes; Nicky Hopkins who played piano on Shock Treatment; Frank Zappa who played tamborine on Ooo Ooo man; Don Preston who played on Television Baby; [sic]

Other releases[edit]

Four tracks from Permanent Damage were also released on Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders compilation albums:

  • "Do Me in Once and I'll Be Sad, Do Me in Twice and I'll Know Better (Circular Circulation)" – on Zappéd (1969);
  • "Kansas and the BTO's; "The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes"; and "The Original GTO's" – on The Big Ball (1970).

References[edit]

External links[edit]