Sure, go ahead and laugh at those seventysomething silver-haired biddies recording rock music in the image above. Those seventysomething silver-haired biddies are the seminal Summer of Love musical act The Ace of Cups, a long-forgotten four-year phenom credited as being San Francisco’s first (and only) girl band of the late 1960s. The Ace of Cups shared stages with Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, The Band, and even opened for Jimi Hendrix at Hendrix's personal request and single-handedly destroyed a number of stereotypes of what girl groups were supposed to be before eventually splitting up in 1972. But with Summer of Love remembrances flower-powering at full blast, KQED reports that the Ace of Cups have reunited to record the debut album they never got around to recording during their heyday hence their quick slip into obscurity.
Girl bands were treated as something of a novelty in the 1960s. While no one could argue with the influence and legacy of Motown hit machines like The Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas, women in rock bands were still expected to dress in matching outfits and shoehorn themselves into a Phil Spector formula of looking cute and performing songs written for them by men.
As we see in the KQED documentary above, Ace of Cups wrote all of their own songs and never intended to be a girl group. It just so happened that all five of them were women women who could play instruments and were in the right place at the right time.
The Ace of Cups started the Summer of Love mostly playing benefits for the Haight-Ashbury Clinic, or whomever they knew who’d gotten arrested lately. But the weekend after Jimi Hendrix performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix personally requested that Ace of Cups open for him at a free Golden Gate Park concert. Of course they obliged, and were immediately on the shortlist as a sought-after opening act at The Fillmore and The Avalon. (The Ace of Cups also performed at the notorious 1969 sh*tshow trainwreck known as the Altamont Speedway Free Concert, where guitarist Denise Kaufman was hit in the head with a full beer can and required surgery to remove bits of her skull from her eyeball).
Record companies were lining up to offer contracts to Ace of Cups. Manager Ron Polte who also managed Quicksilver Messenger Service insisted they were worth more than they were being offered, and kept holding out for a more lucrative deal.
The Ace of Cups would never get signed to a record deal. Some had kids and left the band, being replaced by male musicians, and the act never generated the same appeal.
“Our brother bands, they were having children too,” Denise Kaufman told KQED. “But they had wives and girlfriends. They could still go out and play and tour and do whatever they did.”
A 2003 release called It's Bad For You, But Buy It! cobbled together whatever random recorded bits the band had ever done. The Cuppers then reunited in 2011 for a party called Wavy Gravy's 75th Birthday Boogie, paving the way for their reunion album.
We do have one video from the Ace of Cups’ upcoming album. “Basic Human Needs” is seen above and is surprisingly good despite the involvement of Wavy Gravy thanks to some magnificently engineered Ladysmith Black Mambazo-style African gospel choralia in the background.
The full Ace of Cups triple album is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2018. Meanwhile, Denise Kaufman (the one who got hit by the beer can!) is appearing on a 5:30 p.m. panel tonight at the San Francisco Public Library event called The Gender Revolution.