|The Ace of Cups debut studio album will be released on High Moon Records in November 2018|
Time marches on, however, and over the years I have considerably upgraded my information, so I am presenting here a more complete history of Ace Of Cups performances from 1967 onwards. Thanks to the Big Beat cd and the general wonderfulness of the band's music, there has been a considerable amount of attention focused on the band. Indeed, in their most recent reunion, the Ace Of Cups embarked on a worldwide tour of Marin County, as they played two shows in Marin on May 13 and 14, 2011. The relentless frenzy of activity has continued, with the band recording a new cd scheduled to be released on November 9, 2018.
What follows is a list of Ace Of Cups performances known to me. This post will deal with the band's performances from 1969 through 1972. The first post dealt with the band's formation in 1966 and their first year of performing in 1967, and the next post focused on 1968. Anyone with additional information, insights, corrections or recovered memories (real or imagined) are encouraged to put them in the Comments or email me directly. Thanks to everyone who has helped over the years, especially Ross and all the members of the Ace Of Cups.
the individual members of the future band all made their way to San Francisco as aspiring musicians and proto-hippies, working formally and informally with various musical aggregations. Bassist Mary Gannon and pianist Marla Hunt met drummer Diane Vitalich, and they started playing together in 1966. When guitarist Mary Ellen Simpson came on board, they knew they had the makings of a band, even if it was not fully formed. Denise Kaufman came along in early 1967. The lineup of Ace Of Cups was
Denise Kaufman-guitar, harmonica, vocals
Mary Ellen Simpson-lead guitar, vocals
Marla Hanson-organ, piano, vocals
Mary Gannon-bass, vocals
Diane Vitalich-drums, vocals
|A clip from Ralph J Gleason's SF Chronicle column on January 13, 1969, indicating that Ace of Cups were going to play a Tuesday night Fillmore West audition (on Jan 14)|
|A listing from the Teen Age section of the March 26, 1969 Oakland Tribune, mentioning a concert at Pauley Ballroom featuring the Ace Of Cups on April 3, 1969|
The ASUC Building was built in the mid-1960s, and its basic layout remains the same today as it was then. Pauley Ballroom is a 9000 square foot ballroom, used by the University of California for a variety of events (for internal pictures, see here; in a concert configuration, the shades would be drawn, and I'm not certain where the stage had been located). The university rates it as a capacity of 999, so probably a few more than that could be squeezed in.
Generally, rock shows at Pauley Ballroom were on Friday nights (April 3 was a Thursday, but it was the night before Good Friday). Groups like the Grateful Dead and Country Joe and The Fish had played Friday nights at Pauley back in '66. This show featured 4 West-Pole bands. The idea was that the students would come because they couldn't go to bars and there wasn't a local Fillmore. It wasn't a bad booking strategy.
All UC Berkeley rock shows in the 60s were "benefits." This show was a benefit for Cal Camp, a program for underprivileged kids. I know why every UC Berkeley show was listed as a benefit, but it's too long a tangent to go into here.
|The Ace Of Cups opened for The Band at their SF "debut" at Winterland in April, 1969|
Polte's old pal Nick Gravenites organized a concert in Chicago that tried to merge classic blues players like Muddy Waters with their younger, white disciples. Gravenites' role accountied for the peculiar mixture of Chicago blues and San Franciscan transplants. Some of Muddy Waters set was released on the Chess album Fathers And Sons. Muddy was backed by Bloomfield, Butterfield, Otis Spann (piano), Duck Dunn (bass), Sam Lay, Buddy Miles, Phil Upchurch and others.
This was also one of the very few 1969 Quicksilver performances. Whether QMS played as a trio, or was joined by Nick Gravenites or someone else. remains a mystery. Since Ace of Cups was managed by Polte, they got on this prestigious bill. To my knowledge, Chicago was the farthest Eastward performance by the Aces.
|The SF Chronicle for the June 13, 1969 opening of Cheth Helms new Family Dog on the Great Highway (formerly Playland at the Beach). Ace of Cups played a pre-concert party outside the venue|
This Monday night Fillmore West show was meant as a fundraiser for the Wild West organizers. Note two West-Pole bands (Aces and Phoenix) playing with the Airplane, along with jazz rock pioneers The Fourth Way. The unreadable poster (above) also advertised a similar benefit across town at The Family Dog, with Joan Baez and It's A Beautiful Day. It all seemed like such a great idea--but that isn't what happened.
|Shady Grove, the third album by Quicksilver Messenger Service, released on Capitol Records in December 1969. Denise Kaufman wrote two songs on the album (one co-written with Dave Freiberg), using her married name, Denise Jewkes|
From July to September of 1969, Quicksilver was in Wally Heider Studios and then Pacific High Recorders trying to make an album. Once and future Grateful Dead soundman Dan Healy was the principal engineer. Uncredited producer Nick Gravenites played a part, too, but he wasn't really going to join the band. Ultimately, who joined was Nicky Hopkins, the go-to piano playing session man for every great English band (starting with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Jeff Beck and on and on). Hopkins gave Quicksilver a great sound, but he didn't write or sing either.
Thus it's hardly surprising that Shady Grove, the third Quicksilver Messenger Service album, released in December 1969, was a total mess. It's unfortunate, though, since everyone who grooved to Happy Trails must have been totally let down by it's follow up, and it was all downhill for Quicksilver after that. It's a largely forgotten fact that Denise Kaufman contributed two songs to Shady Grove, her own "Flute Song" and "Words Can't Say," co-written with David Freiberg. Denise used her married name, Denise Jewkes, so her contribution passed by largely unnoticed (Denise's then-husband Noel Jewkes, a jazz musician, presumably played the flute on "Flute Song"). Ace of Cups may have contributed some vocals to Shady Grove as well, but they aren't credited.
Thus it's not surprising to find out that Polte was trying to find a working stage configuration for Quicksilver. Their album was a hit on FM radio, and they were working on a followup, so they had to be ready to tour. Polte lined up some out of town bookings for Quicksilver, and Ace of Cups shared the bill at just about all of them. On this July weekend, the bands played an old movie theater in the town of Seaside, near Monterey. In general, the theater was now a burlesque house that provided entertainment for soldiers at nearby Ft. Ord. Over the years, a few memories have bubbled to the surface about these long-forgotten shows.
In a lengthy David Freiberg interview in 1997, Freiberg remembers that while Gary Duncan was on ‘hiatus’ they only played one gig with Nick Gravenites. They were considering having him join the group. The date is inferred because Freiberg remembers that the band played Monterey and the next day the band members went to Big Sur and watched the moon landing on television. Freiberg recalled that he did not remember how they were billed, but it was not as Quicksilver Messenger Service. Nicky Hopkins did not play, according to Freiberg. However, a commenter on the Ace Of Cups guestbook clearly recalled the band billed as Quicksilver (and said that he had the handbill), and he remembered Hopkins playing, albeit badly miked. Its possible that Freiberg is confusing this gig with the one they played at The Committee Theatre (in May of 69).
|A brief article from the SF Chronicle of July 24, 1969, listing a benefit concert for the tiny East Bay community of Canyon. The show was held at St Mary's College gym, and featured, among others, Country Joe and The Fish, Ace of Cups and The Crabs.|
Canyon was--and remains--a tiny East Bay community, not even a town, just over the Berkeley hills. It was oddly isolated, and a lot of avant-garde filmmakers lived there. The unincorporated area was small, and had only one business that I am aware of (the General Store), so periodic benefits helped out the community. Canyon remains a unique and peculiar place, as far as I know.
[update] Denise Kaufman recalls
We were supposed to go on this tour and had had meetings about it at the Airplane’s house on Fulton near Masonic. It was going to be a round the world tour with the bands you mentioned above and the last date on the tour was going to be Hyde Park with the Rolling Stones. It was on track to happen and we were all excited about it but then (I am remembering this and think my memory is correct here) there was an issue about Graham Nash’s passport because he wasn’t a US citizen. What I was told was that if he left the US there would be a problem about him getting back in so they decided not to do the tour and it was cancelled.
Another regular commenter, on another forum, found an LA Free Press listing for this event
"The Jefferson Airplane has chartered a jet, loaded it full of light show equipment, the Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead, and the Ace of Cups, and flown off to do a free gig in London's Hyde Park. After the Freebie on September 6th, the entourage will take off for a short five day tour of Scandinavia, then to the Netherlands and finally into Paris's Olympia Theatre. The group is awaiting permission to perform in Czechoslovakia in a series of outdoor free concerts."
(John Carpenter, LAFP 9/5/69, p.34)
I wonder what Carpenter's source was, since this differs in several respects from what Ralph Gleason had reported a week earlier in the SF Chronicle on 8/27/69:
"The Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills and Nash...and Joni Mitchell will be presented in a free concert in London's Hyde Park September 7.
The groups, with some additions to be announced, will be flying over directly from San Francisco. The show is being put on for filming for a Granada TV program and there's a possibility that there will be other concerts in Europe later."
Yet another regular found an eBay listing for a backstage pass:
A "Musicians Enclosure" pass for the aborted 1969-09-06 Hyde Park freebie has just turned up on ebay.
"An original backstage pass for the cancelled free concert which was meant to take place in Hyde Park, London on 6th September 1969. The event was to feature performances by Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead but was cancelled due to Warner Brothers withdrawing their financial support of the event. The orange pass is printed with the event details and ‘Musicians Enclosure’ on the front. It is accompanied by a letter from the original owner which reads, “This was an event that I spent some time staying at the Airplane mansion on Fulton St. organizing. The bill would also have included Quicksilver Messenger Service, Sons Of Champlin, Joy Of Cooking and Ace Of Cups. A late pull out by Warner Bros. who were to underwrite the costs of the London portion of the tour caused it to be called off”. It measures 20.25cm x 10cm (8 inches x 4 inches). The condition is near mint."
Assuming this is all genuine, my guess is Warners were reluctant to commit their money to this event on top of giving the Dead (ie Lenny) a $75,000 advance on their new contract extension (according to Scully). Given a choice between the two, it's pretty clear which option Lenny would take. The mystery organiser says this was the "London portion of the tour" so this was intended to be more than a one-off show. Presumably the Dead and Airplane still had dreams of touring Europe together. The financing of this jape must have been a nightmare to arrange with almost every act on a different record label (who would have paid for the Ace Of Cups?). With CSN(&Y?), the biggest draw for any paying gigs, no longer being available it is no wonder it didn't happen.
|A listing in the August 15, 1969 Berkeley Barb promotes a free concert in Dolores Park in San Francciso|
I don't know anything about this event, other than what you can see in the listing. By 1969, working bands had figured out that playing for free was a way to build up an audience. All the groups were local. Dolores Park is the Mission District in San Francisco.
|A poster for the canceled Wild West Festival at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco on August 22, 23 and 24, 1969. This was supposed to be the biggest rock event that summer, and it all fell apart, with much acrimony.|
August 22-23-24, 1969, Kezar Stadium and Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Wild West Festival (canceled)
The Wild West Festival was supposed to be the week before Woodstock. Nothing ever seemed to work. Festivals cost money, and promoter Bill Graham wanted to make sure the stadium shows paid all the bills. Other forces felt that "music should be free," and objected to any admission whatsoever. All of the tensions between Art and Commerce that had been churning in San Francisco and in the rock market in general collided when it came to the Wild West Festival. It didn't happen.
I made an effort to try and summarize the Wild West Festival in the context of Summer '69. The story of the Wild West Festival, however, is sad, ironic and worthy of more serious reportage than just a blog entry. Fortunately, that has already been done, and I cannot recommend enough Prof. Michael J. Kramer's book The Republic Of Rock: Music And Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture (Oxford Press, London, 2013). Kramer has an extensive chapter on the sad debacle of Wild West, and it's a must-read for anyone interested in San Francisco in the 1960s.
Still, the San Francisco bands came through. Quicksilver, more or less unseen in 1969, headlined the Fillmore West on Friday (Aug 22) and the Family Dog on Saturday (Aug 23), Jefferson Airplane headlined Fillmore West on Saturday, and Country Joe and The Fish headlined Fillmore West on Sunday night (Aug 24). The other big SF bands (the Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin, etc) were on tour, but various local bands opened the different shows. Ace of Cups opened for Quicksilver on Friday at Fillmore West. Quicksilver, in the midst of recording Shady Grove, appeared with Nicky Hopkins on piano and engineer Dan Healy helping out sometimes on bass and guitar.
Thanks to the ever-reliable Faren Miller's diary entry, we have a detailed report about the Ace of Cups performance. Mary Simpson had left the group by this time. Miller attended and wrote down her usual detailed observations:
|The cover of the first Hot Tuna album, on RCA, released in 1970. It was recorded at Berkeley's New Orleans House on September 16, 1970, and Ace of Cups opened the show for Jack and Jorma.|
October 3-4, 1969 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Ace Of Cups/Mendelbaum
Crockett, CA was a peculiar little sugar town on a distant part of the Bay, 10 miles North of Richmond. The venue is a fascinating mystery, but it does seem like Quicksilver manager Ron Polte tried to make an old movie theater in Crockett into a rock venue. The Grateful Dead played there (Nov 15 '69), and Mike Bloomfield played there (Nov 29 '69) so I assume the Quicksilver show was around this period, probably early 1970
I have been to Crockett, although not recently, and it is a small, out of the way place, even in the 21st century. It must have been quite remote in 1969. The town is on the Northeast corner of the San Pablo Bay, on the Carquinez Straight. Crockett, despite being unincorporated Contra Costa County, has always been the corporate headquarters of C&H Sugar, so the area around Crockett was always an important commercial area. Perhaps the Lanai Theater served to entertain the local workers, maybe during WW2 or earlier, but I know nothing about the venue.
Quicksilver Messenger Service had returned to action on New Years Eve, 1969, when Gary Duncan and Dino Valenti repatriated themselves into the band. Finally Quicksilver toured behind Happy Trails, which had made them an iconic San Francisco band on FM radio. Shady Grove, released at the end of 1969, had been a dud, but Quicksilver was still a live draw. Ironically, however, just as Quicksilver returned to the music scene, parental duties kept the Aces from the relentless touring with them that might have pushed them up to the next stage.
Others lined up with Grunt now are Peter Kaukonen, a musician in his own right who’s graduated from his last group, Black Kangaroo, and the re-formed Ace of Cups, once an all-women band, now eight pieces, three of them men.This tantalizing bit of information puts some shape on what little we know. Ace of Cups must have been practically on hiatus in 1970, since we cannot find much in the way of gigs. By 1971, however, they have "reformed" and some men are included, and they are expecting to record with Grunt. Ace Of Cups had had some sort of extensive booking relationship with the Airplane since 1969, so it makes sense that they might use the Airplane's clout to get their record made.
The September 25 show was a release party for the Airplane's new album, Bark, which most rock fans have long since forgotten. Jeff Tamarkin has written about this event in outtakes to his Got A Revolution book. It was a 10-hour extravaganza, a private party for the band and their friends. The Airplane were apparently much the worse for wear when they came on stage. The show ended with a jam featuring members of the Airplane, Dead, Quicksilver, and inexplicably, the Alice Cooper band. Ace of Cups were on the bill, along with every other Grunt act at the time. The rest of the acts released albums on Grunt--the Aces never did.
After David Freiberg left Quicksilver for good in January 1972, he played bass for Ace of Cups (presumably replacing Mary Gannon) for a few months. Amusingly, Denise does not recall this. She doesn't doubt it, but doesn't remember it. I take that as a sign that there were enough fill-ins and substitutions that Freiberg's presence wasn't that memorable to her. In a 1997 interview with John Barthel (thanks Bruno), Freiberg said:
"Yeah, I worked on Mickey [Hart's Rolling Thunder album], but it is kind of what I did after I left [Quicksilver], and before I joined the Starship. I came back here and I decided I had been playing organ. I wanted to play bass again with the girls from Ace of Cups. A bunch of them had a band together. I said, "I’ll play bass." I went to see them and their bass player didn’t show up, and I had my bass in the trunk. I played this gig with them just off the top of my head. I ended up playing with them for a couple of months."
The Fiesta Del Sol: Mary Gannon, her partner Joe Allegra, their daughter Thelina, Lolly Lewis, and my little daughter Tora and I went to Puerto Rico to play for the Fiesta Del Sol. There was a planeload of people who went - some from California and some from New Mexico. Reno Myerson (brother of Alan who was the director of The Committee) was one of the planners. The Festival never happened. We we there for about 2 weeks. Other people who went: Robbie Long, Laura Allen and Dickens 44 Bascomb, Lisa and Tom Law and some of their kids and more..We did play one gig there at a local club in Puerto Rico. Mary Gannon remembers: we had all our equipment with us but no drummer. The manager of a local night club also managed a “boy band” (like Menudo) there and hired us to play a show with them at his club. Mary recalls that the manager really paid attention to everything about us - what instruments we played, what songs, how we looked, how we presented ourselves.