Groupie

The GTOs by Eamon Donnelly

A groupie is a person who seeks emotional and sexual intimacy with a musician or other celebrity or public figure. ‘Groupie’ is derived from group in reference to a musical group, but the word is also used in a more general sense, especially in casual conversation. The word ‘groupie’ is commonplace, a derisive term used to describe a particular kind of female fan assumed to be more interested in sex with rock stars than in their music.

Groupies became prominent in the music scene in the 1960s and 1970s. This was prior to the murder of John Lennon in 1980, and before security levels for bands increased significantly. Female groupies in particular have a long-standing reputation of being available to celebrities, pop stars, rock stars, and other public figures. Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant is quoted as distinguishing between fans who wanted brief sexual encounters, and ‘groupies’ who traveled with musicians for extended periods of time, acting as a surrogate girlfriend or mother, often taking care of the musician’s valuables, drugs, wardrobe, and social life.

Nancy Spungen, who became the partner of Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols, is one such example; women adopting this role are sometimes referred to as ‘road wives.’ Cynthia Plaster Caster and The GTOs (‘Girls Together Outrageously’), with Pamela Des Barres, in particular, as de-facto spokeswoman, are probably the best known groupies of this type. The GTOs was organized by musician Frank Zappa in the late 1960s. The band consisted of 7 young women: 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 Cale-Binion). Another type of groupie were the young teenage girls who dominated the backstage scene beginning in the late sixties, sometimes referred to as the ‘Baby Groupies.’ These girls started going backstage when they were fourteen years old and set a precedent at the time. The best known of this group were Sable Starr, Cleo Odzer, Lori Maddox, and Geraldine Edwards, who was the inspiration for Penny Lane, played by actress Kate Hudson, in the 2000 comedy-drama film ‘Almost Famous.’

A major characteristic that classifies one as a groupie is a promiscuous reputation. Connie Hamzy, also known as ‘Sweet Connie,’ a prominent groupie in the 1960s argues in favor of the groupie movement and defends her chosen lifestyle by saying, ‘Look we’re not hookers, we loved the glamour.’ However, her openness regarding her sexual endeavors with various rock stars is exactly what has enhanced the negative connotations surrounding her type. For example the article ‘Pop & Hiss,’ in the ‘Los Angeles Times,’ states, ‘Hamzy, unlike the other groupies, was never looking to build relationships. She was after sex, and she unabashedly shared intimate moments with virtually every rock star – even their roadies – who came through Arkansas.’ Hamzy is the epitome of a stereotypical groupie: a young woman who unashamedly slept with any man involved in the music business whenever they desired.

Aside from the sexual aspect of rock and roll that was accentuated by the groupie, the women also played a huge role in the amount of drugs and alcohol consumed by the artists. Chris O’Dell slept with rock stars such as Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Mick Jagger. O’Dell opened up about her life as a groupie: ‘Predictably, the drug consumption soared when she moved to the Stones. O’Dell, who admits that her capacity for drugs was probably as much a factor as her easy-going personality in her popularity with rock stars, rose to the occasion. Keith Richards admiringly told her that she took drugs ”like a man.’ Praise from the master.’ O’Dell goes on to describe the years with the Rolling Stones as her lost years because she can hardly remember anything due to her drug consumption. She also admits that one of the reasons stars enjoyed her company so much is because she liked consuming drugs in large quantities all the time.

Des Barres, who wrote two books detailing her experiences as a groupie – ‘I’m With The Band’ (1987) and ‘Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up’ (1993) – as well as another non-fiction book, ‘Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon,’ asserts that a groupie is to a rock band as Mary Magdalene was to Jesus. Her most recent book, ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ (2007), is a collection of wildly varied interviews with classic ‘old school’ groupies including Catherine James, Connie Hamzy, Cherry Vanilla, DeeDee Keel, Margaret Moser, and Patti Johnsen, as well as modern groupies like Mandy Murders, Lexa Vonn, and the Plastics. Des Barres, who married British rock star-actor Michael Des Barres, also persuaded cult actress Tura Satana, muse Bebe Buell, actress Patti D’Arbanville, and Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark to talk about their relationships with musicians. According to Des Barres there is at least one verified male groupie, Pleather, who followed female celebrities such as Courtney Love and members of the 80s pop group The Bangles.

‘Apple Scruffs,’ from George Harrison’s album ‘All Things Must Pass,’ refers to the Apple scruffs, a group of teenage girls who staked out The Beatles’ Apple Corps offices, Abbey Road Studios, and Paul McCartney’s home, often sleeping outside in rough weather, waiting for a glimpse of a Beatle. The Beatles’ song ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ refers to the day a few Scruffs climbed into Paul McCartney’s house through an upstairs bathroom window and raided his closet for a pair of trousers, which they took turns wearing. They also took a framed photograph, which they later returned at McCartney’s request. The movie ‘Almost Famous’ revolves around the life of groupies (although they call themselves ‘band aids’ in the film). The famous ‘band aid’ comment originated from a statement that Bebe Buell made in an interview in the seventies. Cameron Crowe incorporated it into his screenplay. In 1970 ‘Groupie Girl’ was released by American International Pictures and was written by director Derek Ford and Suzanne Mercer based on Mercer’s experiences as a groupie.

Groupies also play a role in sports. For example, ‘buckle bunnies’ are a well-known part of the world of rodeo. The term comes from a slang term for women (‘bunnies’), and from the prize belt buckles awarded to the winners in rodeo, which are highly sought by the bunnies. According to one report, bunnies ‘usually do not expect anything more than sex from the rodeo participants and vice versa.’ In a 1994 ‘Spin’ magazine feature, Elizabeth Gilbert characterized buckle bunnies as an essential element of the rodeo scene, and described a particularly dedicated group of bunnies who are known on the rodeo circuit for their supportive attitude and generosity, going beyond sex, to ‘some fascination with providing the most macho group of guys on earth with the only brand of nurturing they will accept.’ Similar individuals are seen in other sports, such as the ‘puck bunny’ in Hockey, and the ‘snow bunny’ in skiing.

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