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Miss Mercy & The Curious Case Of The GTOs

30 July 2020

Photo credit Robert Altman

“Words don’t work for me at this moment. I can’t imagine my world without her in it.”Pamela Des Barres (07/28/20) 

So far, 2020 is the music world’s annus horribilis. A year which has left artists struggling indefinitely, with incomes delving and diminished, but unfortunately there is the factor of the artists who we have lost. On July 27th, the world lost another illustrious figure, in the California girl Judith Edra Peters aka Miss Mercy. Even though the world keeps turning, it seems to shudder at times such as this, and it is never quite the same. However, it does break down the invisible barrier that exists between the mythical rock star life, and the fragility of being human.

Born in Burbank on February 16, 1949. At sixteen, the young Judith drifted into the very heart of the hippy utopia known as Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. Returning to the womb of Los Angeles in 1967 after a spell in detention (juvenile hall). It was here the street-smart survivor was born. Though, through friendship, and chance, in the surroundings of Laurel Canyon, an unlikely musical group was formed. Together with Pamela Des Barres (Miss Pamela), Cynthia Sue Wells (Miss Cynderella), Christine Ann Frka (Miss Christine), Sandra Lynn Rowe (Miss Sandra) and Linda Sue Parker (Miss Sparky), the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) came into existence. An experimental, avant-garde act, that was in essence unique, offering something unexpected, something that has never been repeated. 

The GTOs challenged the status quo of the music industry. These were powerful women at the forefront of feminism, who understood how to ask questions of the establishment, and hammer their own message into the stone tablets of acceptance. As regulars on the playground of Sunset Strip, the girls became faces, hangers on, and then of course came the tagline ‘groupie’. But, there was so much more to the ambitions at the heart of this gang. With both Miss Pamela, and Miss Christine living in the basement belonging to the late innovator Frank Zappa, a connection was forged. Miss Christine worked as a nanny for the Zappa family, and so gaining a foothold, while making an impression. So much so, that Miss Christine is that illustrious figure that graces the cover of Frank’s ’69 classic Hot Rats. It is not without saying the GTOs had limited abilities, but made up for it with a sense of abstract realism, ingrained in both their style and determination. Obvious from tales of their first eclectic, atmospheric show, opening for the Mothers Of Invention in December 1968. And then came the natural progression into the studio. 

One album recorded in ’69 titled Permanent Damage. That single long-player was enough to leave a mark on the music world, and secure a legacy, creating a legend. With a mixture of psychedelic rock over experimental nuances, the album acts as a time capsule of the late sixties through the eyes of the original ladies from the canyon. Across the album’s 17 tracks, erupts mixes of collage pieces and music. Galvanized by the plethora of talent surrounding the GTOs, that included Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder, Lowell George, members of the Mothers, Nicky Hopkins and one Rod Stewart. It is a mammoth outing, produced mostly by Zappa himself, with Lowell George and Don Preston lending experience. Sadly, within two years, and a handful of shows the band would diminish into the mists of time. 

Looking back, after half-a-century, it is easy to rate this album as a classic. Yes, it is off the wall at times, but then again so is life, and that is what the girls were reflecting. Pulling the pretentious mask off the hippy dream and holding the truth up for the world to see. In that respect, the GTOs were fearless, to a degree, innovative enough to keep control even if they couldn’t keep the band together. Sadly now, Miss Mercy, that ethereal cog and style icon in that psychedelic machine has left us. Following the way of her sisters – Miss Christine (November 6th, 1972), Miss Sandra (April 23rd, 1991), and Miss Lucy (1991). But their memories are kept very much intact from that debut album, and the influence they carved into a male dominated landscape. 

Truly, we now live in a very surreal world that is witnessing as much upheaval as when the GTOs became the dominant act of rebellion. While society is ripped to shreds, the sounds produced then can act as a soundtrack to this moment in time. With comfort found in the inevitable that remains consistently true, rock and roll never forgets, and music fans never let go, au revoir mon cher, Miss Mercy.

“I see all the people I want to see,
I be all the people I want to be.
And find all the treasures I want to find,
Along with the images, they’re so unkind.”