While San Francisco locals may seem a bit jaded about the city’s hippie history, the Summer of Love still has a place in our hearts. Sure, we might roll our eyes as we stroll through Haight-Ashbury, surrounded by tie-dyed socks and Jimi Hendrix magnets. But the truth is, we love our history. Whether it’s that friend who supposedly bought acid from Jerry Garcia’s supplier, or pointing out that tree at Hippie Hill that Janis Joplin may or not have urinated on (or just played guitar under, the myths are endless), we share tidbits of that history whenever we can and to whomever will listen. It is ours, after all, even if a lot of us weren’t there to experience it.
An almost-forgotten portion of that history is the Ace of Cups, a rock band founded on Haight Street in the late ’60s. They were never signed to a label, and they never recorded an album (though they recently reunited and should be remedying that soon). Had it not been for some epic concert footage on the 1968 film Revolution, they might have been forgotten completely. Luckily, their performance was captured in all of its barefoot glory, the band wielding their instruments powerfully with Mount Tam rising up behind them. Considering how much of the ’60s music scene was dominated by dudes, the wild performance by the all-female band must have blown a few minds.
“I don’t think we set out to be an all-girl band, that we want to just collect women,” the band’s bassist and vocalist Mary Gannon told KQED in 2017. “It wasn’t like that. We just came together like that. And then we stuck.”
While the Ace of Cups never reached the level of stardom of some of their peers, they brought their mix of blues, rock, and gospel on stage with some of the most recognizable names of the era: the Band, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead. They even played a show with Jimi Hendrix in San Francisco’s Pan Handle. Hendrix was so smitten with the band, he apparently told Melody Maker magazine that their “The lead guitarist is hell, really great.”
The band was together from 1967 to 1972. They don’t have a ton of recorded material, save a couple concert videos on Youtube. But thankfully, in 2003, the band put together a compilation of live recordings and demos called It’s Bad For You Buy It. Though the record has its fair share of ’60s blues shredding – not unlike another darling of the era — it’s the record’s lighter moments that I keep listening to over and over again. The opening track “Music” is a beautiful a cappella about that troubling intersection between art and poverty, the hardships made lighter by warm, vibrant harmonies and that tried-and-true cliche: “Everything Will Be Alright.”
If you want to learn more about these rockers, you can check out It’s Bad For You Buy It on Spotify and Apple Music. KQED also released an excellent short documentary on the band, which you can check out below. And if you like what you hear, there’s good news! The band reunited in 2017 to record a new album, which will be released later this year according to their website.