The Groupie Chronicles, Part I: An Historical Underview

By John Pecorelli

As Henry Kissinger once said, "Power is the great aphrodisiac."

Like Kissinger would know much about arousing women, right? Think again. Better yet, think Gene Simmons, a man who looks more like Gene Shalit than a cat who's slept with four-digits' worth of women. How, you ask? Fame. Simmons has said it himself: "Thank God I'm in a band. Because I'm the ugliest guy on the face of the planet. But my goodness, do I get a lot of puss."

As long as there's been fame, there have been groupies. For millennia, power players from John the Baptist to Jon Bon Jovi have gorged themselves on the booty of their fine repute. (And it's not just HIStory, either: Catherine the Great had quite an appetite for her admirers. Come to think of it, Mary Shelley wasn't exactly Polly Pure.) But forget all that, because the id-driven pulse of modern pop has been the biggest magnet of hormone-happy fan adulation in human history.

Hell, it wasn't until the advent of rock 'n' roll that the term groupie even came into being. According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the date was 1967, the same year that Frank Zappa penned "Son Of Suzy Creamcheese," the first of many rock odes to girls who give it up for The Cause. Within a year, Zappa was himself married to a self-professed groupie, "a fascinating little vixen" called Gail, who recalls the late-'60s groupie scene in near-Homer-esque prose: "The altar was rock 'n' roll," she told Select magazine, "the guys were the gods, and the women were the high priestesses."

If she exaggerates, it ain't by much. In the late '60s a groupie could get as much media play as the stars she serviced: Groupies were suddenly appearing on album covers (Miss Christine appeared on Zappa's Hot Rats); albums were being written about groupies (Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland); and groupies were even landing record deals of their own (consider the Pamela Des Barres-led G.T.O.'s, partially funded by Zappa). Ladies such as Jenny Dean, Des Barres, Jenny Fabian, Emeretta Marks, Devon Wilson, and Cynthia Plaster Caster (the subject of a KISS song of the same name, detailing her artistic practices, which involved band members' members) practically attained marquee status on the rock circuit.

Yes, it was a real heyday for the electric ladies; New York Times scribe Ann Powers has alluded to the '60s groupie scene as "one of the rock era's liveliest, unofficial conceptual art projects." Des Barres, author of the best-selling memoir I'm With The Band (among other books), agrees: "'Groupie' was not a bad word back then. The bands respected the girls—The Rolling Stones were absolute gentlemen. They considered us temporary muses, inspirations—we took care of 'em, you know. But it slowly changed."

And how it changed: Rock 'n' roll excess defined the next decade. Two words: Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin's outrageous groupie tales alone eclipse all other bands' of their day. To wit: Before leaving for a particular gig, drummer John Bonham handcuffed two female fans to the beds in their hotel rooms (just in case said girls had any funny ideas about bailing before the famished rockers returned from work). Then there was the time he forced a pair of naked groupies into a bathtub with a very frisky octopus. He later took a breather, sitting one out as he watched tour manager Richard Cole "have relations" with a lady via a freshly caught red snapper (Zappa wrote a tune called "Mudshark," chronicling the incident, and further perpetuating historical fishiness). Aquatic endeavors aside, Cole went so far as to kidnap a pair of 14-year-olds, hauling the terrified teens cross-country as a practical joke. It went on and on.

"In those days," writes Cole in his tell-all Stairway To Heaven, "lots of women just weren't timid or self-conscious about anything. We saw no reason to show any restraint ourselves. The flesh was out there for the taking, and it was easy to become a hedonist." John Bonham was markedly less verbose in his explanation: "You can't just go to bed with a cup of hot chocolate."

"The guys were bored to death on the road—and they toured so much," says Des Barres, who had a long (by rock standards) relationship with Jimmy Page early in Zep's career. "The same hotel rooms in every city—you don't realize how boring that gets. And they wanted to get up to something to titillate them. And they did."

It was at this time that a whole new style of groupie emerged. "Fucking musicians and singers is my life," said "Sweet" Connie Hamzy (immortalized as one of the "fine ladies" in Grand Funk's "We're An American Band"). Entertaining everyone from Peter Criss to Doc Severinsen (and claiming Huey Lewis had the biggest schlong of the lot), Hamzy worked part-time jobs only so she could moonlight, in her words, as "a full-time fixture backstage for bands that performed within a 500-mile radius of Little Rock, Arkansas." Meanwhile, other groupies, à la Bebe Buell (mother of actress Liv Tyler, a product of her relationship with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler), Cherry Vanilla, and Sable Starr, were popping up to fill the void left by the likes of Des Barres, who had matured and moved on.

The rise of '80s hair-metal would raise the bar yet again, boasting a level of tactical groupie procurement that'd make Bonham blush in his grave. It went something like this: Roadies and tour managers were sent into the crowd, backstage passes in hand, for the express purpose of finding young women for the bands to ravage post-gig. Recalls a still-incredulous Metallica roadie, Thomas "The Fisherman" Bright: "We had these backstage passes with a little face with a smile on it. When a girl got one of those—that meant she sucked dick. I mean, that's officially what it meant!" And "Diamond Dave" Lee Roth, when not boasting of sex with as many as five women at a time, actually provided Van Halen roadies cash incentives to bring him fresh flesh.

As the decade, uh, progressed, bands grew even more brazen: Poison installed a condom machine on their tour bus. Members of Def Leppard, as noted in a recent episode of VH1's Behind The Music, held "Sodom And Gomorrah"-style orgies backstage during drawn-out drum solos. And Motley Crue's sexual shenanigans alone could fill a book (though members Tommy Lee and Vince Neil apparently prefer the video format). Still, according to metal photographer Rob Jones (who claims he "got more ass than a toilet seat at a diarrhea convention"), it was Warrant, the genii behind "Cherry Pie," who had the most salacious groupies. "I was banging a chick in the back of the [Warrant] bus," Jones tenderly recalls. "It got really hot in there, so I went up front to grab a beer, and by the time I got back, someone else was banging her."

Before long, hair-metal was, mercifully, dead. Grunge bands like Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Alice In Chains sacked the genre like Visigoths invading Rome. This new genre, and the American (sorta) punk revival that followed, deemed all the trappings of '70s and '80s rock excess unfit for the times. Grunge was about anger, alienation—and its anthems, "Touch Me I'm Sick" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," were hardly the stuff of Bacchanalia. As the Chicago Tribune reported in 1995, "Forget groupies, cocaine, and champagne—the clichés of free-flowing rock debauchery do not apply in the Pearl Jam camp."

But the glory days of unfettered hedonism would return anew with the popular acceptance of hip-hop and rap-rock in the mid-'90s. And with an entirely modern twist, to boot: video. The Backstage Sluts series (soon to be a trilogy) features hardcore sex as well as interview footage with some of the top names in new-metal: Korn's Jonathan Davis, Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst, Motörhead's Lemmy, members of Papa Roach, and Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath, all discussing their—ahem—"no-ass, no-pass" exploits.

So, party on, girls. The mighty aphrodisiac of pop power is back in play. But keep in mind the words of Margaret Moser, coauthor of Rock Stars Do The Dumbest Things and former member of the '80s groupie clan the Texas Blondes: "Girls, if you're sucking a member of Limp Bizkit's cock, enjoy it now—because, trust me, no one will care about them in 20 years. At least choose the ones you can remember fondly."