The GTOs were a “group of groupies” in the late 1960s, comprising Miss Pamela (Pamela Des Barres), Miss Sparky (Linda Sue Parker), Miss Lucy (Lucy McLaren), Miss Christine (Christine Frka), Miss Sandra (Sandra Leano), Miss Mercy (Mercy Fontentot) and Miss Cynderella (Cynthia Wells, later Cynthia Cale-Binion).
The group hailed from the area around Los Angeles, with most of the girls veterans of the Sunset Strip scene.
Pamela Des Barres and Linda Sue Parker met while attending Cleveland High School. Christine Frka had travelled to LA from San Pedro with Sandra Leano, and both lived in the basement of Frank Zappa‘s log cabin in the mid-1960s.
Christine was the live-in nanny for Zappa’s eldest two children, Dweezil and Moon Unit before Miss Pamela took over the position during the late 1960s.
Mercy Fontenot had emigrated from the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene to LA due to “boredom” alleging she “couldn’t be a hippie forever”. Cynthia Wells was an addition to the group brought by Mercy after the nucleus of the group had been formed.
Originally known as “The Laurel Canyon Ballet Company”, they changed their name to The GTOs on the advice of Frank Zappa, their financial supporter and producer.
The new name is an acronym which, as Stanley Booth wrote, could mean “Girls Together Outrageously or Orally or anything else starting with O.”
The members were connected by their association with Zappa, who was a complex musician who encouraged their artistic endeavours, even though The GTOs were not singers of renown.
Performances by the group were sparse, although they created a strong impression at their 1968 performance at the Shrine Auditorium. A mix of theatrics, singing and dance 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. The songs were mixed in with conversations between the members of the group, friends, and others, including Cynthia Plaster Caster and Rodney Bingenheimer.
Miss Mercy and Miss Lucy were involved with a male version of a GTO – a “BTO” – named Mr. Bernardo, a half-Indian multi-sexual. Interestingly, Miss Christine and Miss Sandra were both of Serbian parentage, while Miss Lucy herself was Mexican-American.
Miss Pamela (born 1948) is the most famous and successful of The GTOs. Prior to joining the group, she had been a member of Vito Paulekis’ dancing troupe.
Des Barres is the author of three memoirs with the first, I’m With The Band, based primarily on a diary she faithfully kept from high school through her eventual marriage, due, in part, to the encouragement she received from Zappa.
All of the books describe life during the 1960s and the groupie scene, which Des Barres’s book, Let’s Spend the Night Together, a collection of interviews with fellow rock groupies, (2007) defends.
Miss Pamela married and divorced musician Michael Des Barres. Together they have a son, musician Nicholas Des Barres, born in 1978.
Miss Mercy has been referred to as “a human facsimile”, by Miss Pamela. They still remain close friends. Miss Mercy’s ‘biography’ in I’m With The Band was expanded at length within the chapter entitled, “Miss Mercy’s Blues”.
After the demise of The GTOs, Miss Cynderella briefly married John Cale of Velvet Underground, but the marriage ended in divorce.
Cynderella died on 19 February 1997 in Palm Desert, California, but her death was not widely reported until 2007 when Pamela Des Barres mentioned it in Let’s Spend the Night Together (inadvertently listing the wrong death year for some reason).
Miss Christine died on 5 November 1972 of an overdose in a house in Cohasset, Massachusetts which was being rented out by Jonathan Richman and his original group, The Modern Lovers.
Her death occurred shortly after she had spent close to a year in a full body cast to correct her crooked spine. She appears on the cover of Frank Zappa‘s album Hot Rats.
Miss Lucy was married to the late Gordon McLaren (bassist for a NYC band called – ironically – The Groupies) from 1975 to 1981. She also appeared in Frank Zappa’s “underground” film 200 Motels (1971).
Sadly, Lucy died in 1991 of complications from AIDS.
During her time as a GTO, Miss Sandra became pregnant by Zappa’s resident artist, Calvin Schenkel, and had a daughter named Raven. She later moved back to San Pedro and eventually Italy after marrying and giving birth to three children.
She died of ovarian cancer on 23 April 1991.
Miss Sparky performed on the song Disco Boy on Zappa’s 1976 album, Zoot Allures (credited under the name “Sharkie Barker”), and has also worked at the Walt Disney Corporation.
Cynthia Plaster Caster (born Cynthia Albritton) died on 21 April 2022 after a long illness. She was 74.