The Ace of Cups (photo: Carolyn McCoy)
Words by Carolyn McCoy
It was 1966, the psychedelic era was just about in full swing, and rock and roll was becoming the voice of a generation of misfits and freaks. At that point in time, the music industry was a man’s world and it was rare to find women in the rock scene with the exceptions of a few female-fronted male bands. But then the all-female rock group the Ace Of Cups came on the scene with a hellion-fire to bring their feminine angle into ’60s music culture. They played gigs with some of the biggest bands of that time: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jimi Hendrix, and the Band to name a few. Unfortunately, their struggle as an all-female band continued because, well, girl bands just didn’t get record deals or major offers back then. The band slowly broke away from being a band, eventually disbanding in 1972 when the Ace Of Cups went into the closet of “almost legends.”
Fast-forward 50 years later, and the Ace Of Cups resurfaces with renewed vigor in a different world to present the listeners of rock music with their self-titled debut studio album. The sold-out multimedia show at the Mill Valley Community Center was hosted by the Commonwealth Club and honored the Ace Of Cups with panelists, stories, songs and archival videos representing the history of this epic band. Wavy Gravy, Carolyn Garcia (AKA Mountain Girl), and other 60’s icons spoke about the band and their influence on music pop culture.
Now in their 70s, the women of Ace Of Cups — Denise Kaufman (bass/harmonica/vocals), Diane Vitalich (drums/vocals), Mary Ellen Simpson (guitar/vocals) and Mary Gannon (ukulele/vocals) and keyboardist Giovanna Imbesi (who sat in for Ace alumni Marla Hunt) — rocked their vibrant and energetic electric set like they were still 20 years old. The flavor of their music still upholds the “psychedelic vibe” and the band showcased songs such as the rocking “Feel Good,” the awesome and epic “we are poor” romp of “Waller Street Blues,” the folksy-feel of “The Well,” as well as the sweetness of “Mama’s Love.”
The band’s exuberance at playing again shines through — their joy at being in an era that celebrates women in music a little more is apparent. The fact that these women were trailblazers at a time when women weren’t supposed to be shows up in the legacy of female performers who came after them. We have the Ace Of Cups to thank for making crucial changes in the male-dominated music industry, even if it took 50 years to understand how important they were.