They opened for Jimi Hendrix and were friends with the Grateful Dead but never got the opportunity to release their own music until now
If you were around in their heyday, the Ace of Cups are already legends. They’re the band that opened for Jimi Hendrix in Golden Gate Park in the summer of 1967, just days after Hendrix burned his name into history at the Monterey Pop Festival. They’re the band that opened for the Band during the latter group’s three-night run at Winterland Ballroom in 1968. They’re the band that was friends with and peers of Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and other icons of the mythically heady and musically prolific 1960 s San Francisco scene.
But the Ace of Cups didn’t become icons themselves. Having never recorded an album, the group left little more than a collection of bootleg records and a stack of concert posters on which their name is printed alongside some of the era’s most revered acts. But with the impending release of their debut studio LP, the Ace of Cups- an all-female outfit composed of women now in their 70 s- is course-correcting rock history.
” The timing of this[ reunion] feels so beyond us ,” says the band’s guitarist, Denise Kaufman.” It’s just miraculous and magical and timely .”
It was New Year’s Eve 1966 when Kaufman met Mary Ellen Simpson at “states parties ” in the Haight-Ashbury district. Simpson was in a bedroom playing blues guitar. Kaufman- 19 years old and fresh off Ken Kesey’s bus( Tom Wolfe changed her name to “Mary Microgram” in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test )– grabbed a harmonica. The two jammed as 66 became 67, and Simpson invited Kaufman to come play with some friends. Days later, in the living room of a big house in the Haight, the two women, along with bassist Mary Gannon, keyboardist Marla Hunt and drummer Diane Vitalich, gathered for a jam session.
” I had never heard of an all-women’s band ,” Kaufman says,” and it had never resulted to me that there were all-women’s bands. It was such an unthinkable idea .”
And yet there they were, naturally falling into five-part harmonies, sharing result vocals and playing music that was raucous, rebellious, funny and loud. They wrote their first song that night and then named themselves after a tarot card. The scene’s first and merely all-female act was born.
In 1967, the San Francisco scene was coming into full Technicolor bloom. It was the Summer of Love, and in the Park, anti-capitalist group the Diggers were providing free snacks to hippies flooding into the city from around the US. The Grateful Dead lived at 710 Ashbury Street in a communal house paid for by famed LSD chemist Owsley Stanley. The Haight’s Psychedelic Shop had been raided by police the previous year for selling The Love Book, a collect by beat poet Lenore Kandel that included the censored poem To Fuck with Love. The constricting social rules of the 50 s and early 60 s were deteriorating, and psychedelic rock- louder, looser and grittier than the safe, sweet popular music of the day- was the soundtrack to their disintegration. Everyone there knew the moment was special.
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