Groupies. Mostly thought of now as sad wannabes desperate to cop off with the bassist from a band you’ve barely heard of, in the ’70s they were as famous as the rock stars they bedded.
Pamela Des Barrres, The Sanchez Twins, the gloriously named Trixie Merkin – you just weren’t a famous rocker until you slept with an original groupie.
Capturing their seedy glamour all the way was photographer Baron Wolman.
Having started in photography after being discharged from the military, Wolman went back home to San Francisco after serving in Berlin. A chance meeting ensued with Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason, two unknowns who were planning to start a rock mag. That turned out to be Rolling Stone, and Wolman’s photos helped form the look of both the magazine and the culture it was reporting, and helped define Wolman’s career.
As well as capturing the likes of Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, The Who, Iggy Pop, Hendrix, Dylan and anyone else you care to name from that era, Wolman’s reputation was secured when Rolling Stone dedicated an issue to the rise of the groupie. The February 1969 issue showcased the characters who made themselves into part of the allure and sleaze of rock and roll lore.
Entitled THE GROUPIES And Other Girls, Rolling Stone’s special single-handedly made its subjects famous. As well as Des Barres and co, there were The GTOs – who Frank Zappa turned into a band.
Wolman’s style saw him reject studios and preferred a more natural set-up, which was more sympathetic to his subjects, and this style certainly suited his groupies.
The groupies are celebrated in Wolman’s new book, and Loaded spoke to the photographer about trying to encapsulate such a mythical time in music history.
Loaded: Your photography helped shape the look of Rolling Stone. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
Baron Wolman: The decision was made by the editorial team, of which I was a part, and in particular by the art director who made my photos a centrepiece of the new publication.
L: How did you decide which women you wanted to feature in the groupies issue of the magazine?
BW: Together, the editorial team located the most well-known groupies in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York; I photographed as many of them as possible. Some appeared in the issue, some did not. The ones who were featured were those who looked the best and/or had the most interesting stories to tell…the Plaster Casters and Pamela Des Barres, for example.
L: Were the ladies known to you from the rock scene?
BW: Some were, some were not…
L: Do you think the magazine helped to legitimise the idea of the groupie?
BW: No, I think the magazine simply called attention to a fascinating sub-culture of the rock and roll scene of the late sixties and early seventies.
L: Have you kept in touch with any of the groupies you featured?
BW: I have indeed. One lives here in Santa Fe where I am, others still live in Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco Bay. I’m in touch with several of them.
What is your opinion of the groupie in the 21st century? Is it a subject matter you would return to for a future piece?
BW: From time immemorial there have always been groupies, and there always will be groupies. However, they may not necessarily be identified by the name “groupie” as such. What made our collection of groupies special was their emphasis on personal style and presentation; they were eye candy, endless photo ops. I’m not part of the current music scene, but I sincerely believe the groupies of today are of a different ilk than the ones I photographed. Not as far as intention is concerned but rather in their look. Yet who knows, if I were to research the subject again I might be surprised…
Groupies And Other Electric Ladies is published by ACC.
Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum