Miss Mercy, the Frank Zappa muse and style icon who co-founded GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), has died at age 71, according to a social media message that fellow GTO Pamela Des Barres posted Tuesday. No cause of death was given.
“My beloved sister for most of my life, Miss Mercy has just passed,” Des Barres wrote. “Words don’t work for me at this moment. I can’t imagine my world without her in it.”
The GTOs were only an active band from 1968 to 1970, releasing their sole album, the Frank Zappa-produced Permanent Damage, in 1969. The band was also famously featured in Rolling Stone‘s “Special Super-Duper Neat Issue” in 1969 — in a photo spread of “The Groupies and Other Girls” by famed photographer Baron Wolman. The issue is widely considered to have propelled so-called “groupies” and other women associated with the behind-the-scenes world of musicians to style icon status.
“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,” Wolman said (via the New York Times). “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.”
According to the 1969 article about the band in Rolling Stone: “The GTOs are a sociological creation of Frank Zappa’s. He didn’t create the GTOs; he merely made a ‘group’ of them … and now is presenting them. … The GTOs in all their freaky splendor are … outasite. Each has a personality all her own, and together they are not to be believed — tummeling, chattering, laughing, telling stories, leaping about. The visceral reaction is full freak, but once you get into it, you don’t even notice.”
Miss Mercy was born Judith Edna Peters in L.A. County, California, on February 16th, 1949. Rolling Stone reports that she moved to Haight-Asbury at age 16 and remained there until 1967, where she immersed herself in the music scene. She spent six months in juvenile hall in 1966. “All the things my parents thought I would avoid by being in jail, I learned in jail,” she told Rolling Stone. “My parents didn’t care; they thought jail’d be good for me. So I was in with dykes and junkies and the rest. I finally left the Haight when it lost its magic. Besides, I couldn’t see being a hippie the rest of my life.”
She wound up living in room 229 of the Landmark Hotel in L.A. with fellow GTOs Miss Christine and Cinderella. “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,” Rolling Stone reported. Mercy preferred the descriptor: “I’m the Mae West of 1968.”