Miss Mercy, musician and style icon who co-founded the group The GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), has died at 71. Mercy was a Frank Zappa associate, and her appearance in a 1969 issue of Rolling Stone helped popularize the term “groupies” (via RS).
Her former bandmate Miss Pamela, aka Pamela Des Barres, revealed the news on Instagram. She wrote, “My beloved sister for most of my life, Miss Mercy has just passed. Words don’t work for me at this moment. I can’t imagine my world without her in it.” No cause of death was given.
Mercy was born Judith Edna Peters on February 16th, 1949, in Los Angeles County, CA. At the age of 16, she joined the burgeoning hippie movement in Haight-Asbury, San Francisco. She threw herself into the music scene, and in 1966 the cops threw her into juvenile hall. Of that period of her life, she said, “All the things my parents thought I would avoid by being in jail, I learned in jail. My parents didn’t care; they thought jail’d be good for me. So I was in with dykes and junkies and the rest.” But while it wasn’t a terrible experience, “I couldn’t see being a hippie the rest of my life,” and so she returned to Los Angeles.
She moved into a room at the Landmark Hotel with two other founding members of The GTOs, Miss Christine and Cinderella. It was here that she met Frank Zappa, and it was Zappa who pushed the group of friends to form a band. The GTOs were active from 1968 through 1970, with a brief reunion in 1974. Together, they put out one searing, experimental album: Searing Damage, produced by Zappa himself.
While the group’s musical adventures were short lived, their sense of style was immortalized in Rolling Stone’s 1969 February printing, “Special Super-Duper Neat Issue: The Groupies and Other Girls.” According to that article, “Mercy is a heavy girl, with a predilection for loose-fitting clothing made from antique (sometimes rotting) cloth, boots, and black eye makeup looking as if it were applied with a canoe paddle.” Mercy put it more succinctly: “I’m the Mae West of 1968.”
While groupies later became known for sexually-charged friendships with rock stars, they initially captured the public imagination through their vivid self-presentation. Baron Wolfman, the photographer of that famed 1969 photo shoot, told the New York Times that, “The thing I noticed immediately about these women was that they had spent a lot of time putting themselves together in ways that were so creative, you couldn’t believe it.” He continued, “They mixed together outfits of the day with things from antique clothing stores to create a real vision. They weren’t appearing half-naked to get the men’s attention. They were dressing up to put on a show.”
This has been a year of looking back on the most flamboyantly experimental elements of classic rock. Frank Zappa’s The Mothers of Invention recently received a 50th anniversary box set, and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica hit streaming platforms for the first time.