Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Ace Of Cups Performance History 1967 (Ace Of Cups I)

Festival Of Growing Things, July 1-2, 1967, an outdoor festival in Marin County. Ace of Cups played both days.
Throughout the 20th Century, the Ace of Cups band was a mystery bordering on myth: an all-female "psychedelic" band playing many of the legendary places with all manner of legendary headliners, but with no released recordings, no known history and hardly even a photograph. This changed in 2003 with the release of their CD on the Big Beat label, It's Bad For You But Buy It (Big Beat CDWIKD 236). Historian and producer Alec Palao curated a wonderful release of demos and live tapes from the Ace Of Cups 60s heyday, and completed the set by writing comprehensive liner notes and finding wonderful photos that gave life to what had previously only been legend. Although 36 years late, that record was no less terrific for that, and it made great listening as well. It provided a fascinating window to a hitherto untold 60s story. As a result of It's Bad For You But Buy It, I set out to make a list of Ace Of Cups performances, and the band members were nice enough to post my initial version of the list on their website.

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. 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.

What follows is a list of Ace Of Cups performances known to me. This post will deal with the band's pre-history and shows from 1967, with subsequent years addressed in the next two posts (one for 1968, and another for 1969 through 1972). 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.

It's Bad For You But Buy It, released by Big Beat in 2003, was a cd compilation of demos and live performances by San Francisco's legendary Ace Of Cups. Great liner notes by Alec Palao told the band member's backstory

Ace Of Cups Pre-history
The pre-history of The Ace Of Cups is dealt with extensively in Alec Palao's liner notes, as well as on their own website, so I will not recap it all here. Suffice to say, 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.

Late 1966: Haight A Espresso, San Francisco, CA unnamed band
According to Palao, the four women played a little show at a coffee shop on Haight near Fillmore. I assume this was Haight Espresso at 776 Haight Street. There was an amp at the cafe, allowing the guitar and bass to be plugged in. The "gig" was almost certainly unbilled. The band had no name, even if the band members had plans. The missing piece of the puzzle arrived in the form of Denise Kaufman, who met the band members at a party.

Denise can outsurf all of you, too, but this blog doesn't have room to discuss it

Denise Kaufman
Some people have a natural instinct for what is coming next, and they find it before everyone else. Even by 60s standards, Denise Kaufman caught the big waves while everyone else was still paddling out to sea. As a teenager, she was a folk musician in San Francisco and Palo Alto in the early 60s and learned to surf in Hawaii. After High School she "got on the bus" with Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters (she is in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as "Mary Microgram"), went to UC Berkeley and made an early "garage rock" single, went out with the future publisher of Rolling Stone, and then dropped out to join a band in the San Bruno Mountains who later became Moby Grape, a subject covered in amazing detail by Patrick Lundborg in Shindig magazine. When Denise met the other members of the future Ace Of Cups, she was not yet 21 (I'm leaving out the part about where she became Madonna's yoga instructor, as it is outside the scope of this blog).

Denise was a terrific singer and songwriter, a bluesy harmonica player and a solid guitarist. She was the perfect front person for the band. The five members began to rehearse together in early 1967. For a variety of family reasons detailed by Palao, Kaufman was able to rehearse with the band during the day but not able to perform at night, so the group had some time to "get it together," to use the 60s cliche. By chance Denise met a man named Ambrose Hollingsworth, who had become disabled after a car accident. Hollingsworth had been the manager of the group Quicksilver Messenger Service, but had had to withdraw after his accident. However, he still wanted to be involved in the arts, so he became the patron of The Ace Of Cups. He staked the band to some equipment and a house in the then rural town of Tam Valley where they could rehearse. The lineup of the 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

The Ace Of Cups initial business card from 1967, with the phone number of manager Ambrose Hollingsworth
Spring, 1967:  forgotten venue, Etna, CA: Ace Of Cups
At manager Amborose Hollingsworth’s insistence, the band debuted in a sleepy town somewhat near Arcata, far north of San Francisco.  This gig, as described in the liner notes to Its Bad For You But Buy It, was apparently a shambolic mess, perhaps proving Hollingsworth dictum that it was best to open far from the center of the action.

Palao describes a few smaller early shows in the Bay Area, including the Tamarack Lodge near Bear Valley (see below), a gig near Mt. Shasta, and a fund-raiser on Mt. Tamalpais. The band's history prior to June 1967 remains murky even to me.

Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column,  June 2, 1967
June 3, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Notes From The Underground/Ace Of Cups
The first certain date where I have found the Ace Of Cups booked was at The Matrix on Saturday, June 3, 1967, as mentioned in Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle the day before (above). The Matrix was in the Marina District, and was San Francisco's first  (and principal) hippie nightclub. Notes From The Underground were a Berkeley "folk-rock" band who ultimately released an album on Vanguard. They had a bit of a following, so they headlined the Matrix on Friday and Saturday night, and The Ace Of Cups joined the bill for Saturday.

June 25, 1967: The Panhandle, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA:  Jimi Hendrix Experience/Ace Of Cups
The week after the Monterey Pop Festival (which was the weekend of June 16-18), there were numerous free concerts in Golden Gate Park and around the Bay Area. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was playing the Fillmore the entire week, opening for the Jefferson Airplane and Gabor Szabo. The Electric Flag, who had been rehearsing at The Ace Of Cups Tam Valley house prior to their Monterey debut, recommended Ace Of Cups to open Hendrix's free show on Sunday afternoon in the Panhandle.

David Biasotti, the future guitarist of the semi-legendary band Maxfield Parrish, was fortunate enough to attend the show. As a guitarist himself, he noticed that Hendrix used Mary Ellen Simpson's amp for his performance. Hendrix was impressed with the Ace Of Cups, and mentioned them later that year in an interview with the English music paper Melody Maker.

Festival Of Growing Things ad, July 1-2, 1967
July 1-2, 1967: Mt. Tamalpais Outdoor Amphitheatre, Mill Valley, CA
Thunderheaven Presents The Festival of Growing Things
Ace Of Cups patron Ambrose Hollingsworth presented his "Festival Of Growing Things" at the Mt. Tam outdoor amphitheater on the weekend of July 1 and 2 ("Thunderheaven" was his production company).  According to Charles Perry, everyone who attended received a packet of flower seeds. Apocryphally the June 10-11 festival on Mt. Tam was the last rock concert at the venue, but in fact this event was the final "official" rock concert at Mt. Tam, since it had already been scheduled (at least until the 21st century, when producer Michael Nash brought them back). The Ace Of Cups played both afternoons. The United Artists potboiler documentary Revolution, filmed in the summer of 1967, includes a brief clip of The Ace of Cups performing at the festival, although whether it is Saturday (July 1) or Sunday (2) is unknown.

July 1: Eric Burdon and The Animals/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Blue Cheer/Sandy Bull/Congress of Wonders/Charlatans/Wildflower/Freedom Highway/Melvin Q Watchpocket/Ace of Cups/Lamp of Childhood
Eric Burdon and The Animals were headlining the Fillmore all week, and made a guest appearance. [Early posters included Miller Blues Band/Hugh Masakela/Mt. Rushmore, none of whom likely played]

July 2:  Big Brother and The Holding Company/Country Joe and The Fish/Miller Blues Band/Sandy Bull/Congress of Wonders/Charlatans/Wildflowers/Freedom Highway/Melvin Q Watchpocket/Ace of Cups/Lamp of Childhood [early posters had Mt. Rushmore/Phoenix]
Mary Gannon has said she does not recall Big Brother  playing, and that Quicksilver played both days instead. She recalled the Eric Burdon appearance as well, and Animals guitarist Vic Briggs confirmed it.

San Francisco Chronicle Datebook, August 4, 1967
August 4, 1967: Haight A Espresso, San Francisco, CA Ace Of Cups/Black Swan/Jim Trumbleaux Quartet (noon and following)
The venue was at 776 Haight Street, near Scott. Because the band played this show, I have assumed it was the location of the debut of the proto-band in 1966 (above), but I don't know that for a fact. This seems to have been an all-day event, and I have to assume that the Ace Of Cups played early, as they had a show in Santa Clara that night.

776 Haight Street is currently the location of the Eden Sauna And Tea Garden.

Continental Ballroom, Santa Clara, CA August 4-5, 1967
August 4-5, 1967: Continental Ballroom, Santa Clara, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/James Cotton Blues Band/Congress of Wonders/Ace of Cups.
Although Ace Of Cups had attracted some attention around the Bay Area, Ambrose Hollingsworth was not in a position to be an effective manager. When he had been the manager of Quicksilver in 1966 and had suffered terrible injuries in an automobile accident, he had handed off their management to his friend Ron Polte, a former Chicago labor organizer. By Summer 1967, Polte had helped make Quicksilver one of the top Fillmore bands. Polte also ran a talent agency, West-Pole, who played an important role in booking bands.

In the Summer of 1967, the entrepreneurial Polte booked a series of 8 weekend concerts at Santa Clara's Continental Ballroom, bringing the top psychedelic bands to the South Bay. The Continental Ballroom was a converted roller skating rink, and it was a top venue for the thriving San Jose rock 60s rock scene, which had developed in parallel with the more legendary San Francisco venues. The Ballroom was located at 1600 Martin Avenue in Santa Clara, not far from San Jose.

Polte first heard Ace Of Cups at the Continental Ballroom and was duly impressed. Once again, he took over management of the group from Hollingworth, and again with Hollingsworth's blessing. Polte's connections and savvy accounted for the Ace Of Cups presence at many excellent concerts. However, Polte overplayed his hand with record companies. He had a sound strategy of playing companies off against each other to get a higher bid for his bands, but he turned down so many offers for the Ace Of Cups that they never ended up recording. Nonetheless, without Polte The Ace Of Cups would not have been known at all, and band members still recall him fondly.

In the Fall of 1967, Polte started booking Ace Of Cups around the Bay Area. I have not yet had much success at identifying many dates for the second half of 1967. They may have played some smaller places that I have not been able to pin down, but they also may not have played that many shows in late 1967. The Ace Of Cups were booked at the all-day event at Muir Beach Lodge on September 24, 1967, but they did not perform.
Ace of Cups opened for one of the first San Jose area rock festivals, on October 8, 1967 at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. Big Brother and Quicksilver were the headliners.
October 8, 1967: Family Park, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, San Jose, CA
Big Brother and The Holding Company/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Mother Earth/Mad River/Freedom Highway/Ace of Cups/Dr. West’s Medicine Show 
Haight Ashbury Medical Clinical Benefit
This relatively high profile event was an outdoor concert benefiting the Haight Ashbury Medical Clinic. While most Santa Clara County Fairgrounds events were held in the regular Pavilions or Arenas, this was an all-day affair outdoors in the park, an event not to be repeated. About 7500 people attended, nuns took tickets while Hells Angels watched over them. There was no trouble, and everyone had a great time. It never happened that way again.

The bill was heavily weighted towards bands booked by West-Pole, or affiliated with West-Pole in various ways, so Ace Of Cups found themselves on the bill. Remarkably, an audience recording of every single band on the bill has survived, a very rare occurrence for a 1967 concert.

The Scenedrome page of the Berkeley Barb listed every show in Berkeley, and often other shows around the Bay Area. The listings are much beloved by rock prosopographers. This clip is from the Oct 20 '67 Barb, noting the band's performance at New Orleans House on the forthcoming Thursday (Oct 26)
October 26-28, 1967: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA: Ace of Cups/Congress of Wonders
By the end of 1967, some other clubs around the Bay Area had started to join The Matrix in presenting original rock music. The New Orleans House in Berkeley, at 1505 San Pablo, had opened in 1966 as a traditional jazz venue, but it had shifted over to younger music by the end of the year. Although the New Orleans House featured a variety of folk and blues performers (particularly after The Jabberwock closed), by the end of 1967 it was primarily a venue for rock bands playing original music.

The New Orleans House had become the primary gig in Berkeley for music of all types, primarily rock, but also folk, blues and “other.” The club was run by Kitty Griffin, and Denise Kaufman had been friends with Kitty’s son for since high school. The New Orleans House served beer and food, and weekend events usually featured a light show as well.

West-Pole had booked the entire week at the New Orleans House. The mighty Quicksilver Messenger Service played Tuesday and Wednesday (Oct 24-25), supported by Congress of Wonders, and Ace of Cups had the weekend. At this point, almost no one would have heard of Ace of Cups in Berkeley, but Denise herself was probably well-known(thanks to fellow scholar LIA for tracking this date down).


Berkeley Barb ad for The New Orleans House, Berkeley, December 1, 1967
December 1, 1967: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA: Ace of Cups/”Xmas Carol” by Congress of Wonders
Congress of Wonders were part of the West-Pole stable. They were a hip comedy trio, later a duo, who actually ended up releasing some albums on Fantasy in 1970 and '72. The comedy routines were staples of FM radio in the Bay Area for many years, particularly "Pigeon Park." The comedy trio played almost all of their gigs with rock bands, since there wasn't a comedy club circuit, and the group's humor didn't fit the kind of "Las Vegas Lounge" venues available to comedians at the time.


December 2, 1967: New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA: Ace of Cups/Savage Resurrection
The Savage Resurrection were a "garage band" from nearby Richmond, CA. Although the Aces had been opening at the Matrix in June, by the end of the year they were weekend headliners at a comparable club in Berkeley. This was a definite if modest step forward, and the band's future seemed bright.

Ace of Cups likely played many more shows in 1967 than I have been able to identify here. Anyone with additional information, insights, corrections or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to put them in the Comments or email me.

The next post will address The Ace Of Cups 1968 Performance History.

Appendix: Female "Psychedelic" Bands in 1967
After the 1960s, only the lucky fans who had gotten to see Ace of Cups in concert knew what they had sounded like. As a result, much of the band's mythological status stemmed from the fact that they were an all female band.  While the Aces gender makes them stand out, it's important to note that there were many all female rock bands before them--not incidentally usually called "All-Girl" bands. Beyond San Francisco, there were a few: Goldie And The Gingerbreads (who recorded on Decca in 1963), and The Pleasure Seekers, from Detroit (featuring the hard-rockin', troublemakin' Quattro sisters).

What made the Ace of Cups stand out was not that they were all women, but they were all adult women writing and performing their own music. In that respect, they were asking to be taken just as seriously as the Grateful Dead or the Jefferson Airplane, and in that respect they were women far ahead of their time, thus rightly accounting for their legendary status. A brief look at some of their local contemporaries will be instructive.

The Freudian Slips
The Freudian Slips were a band of high school girls from the affluent Peninsula suburb of Atherton, CA. In a  1966 Life magazine article on garage bands, the Freudian Slips had their picture published. The four members were Woodside High School students, and some of the band members went on to professional entertainment careers. Nonetheless, even the band members suggest that they weren't that tight and were treated more or less as a novelty act. They did play various hip gigs at places like The Ark in Sausalito, through the Summer of 1967. The Slips probably played all covers, and while I'll bet it was fun to see some High School girls rocking out to British Invasion songs (and any band with Wendy Haas couldn't have been all bad), the fact that the Slips broke up when some or all members graduated from High School seems to have been taken as "proof" that they were a novelty.

The Svelts
The Svelts were from Sacramento, but they played some shows on the outer reaches of the Bay Area, and by 1968 they had evolved into Wild Honey. I'm not certain whether the Svelts or Wild Honey were mostly or entirely female, but in any case they were another cover band. The Svelts featured the Millington sisters (June and Jean), who could both really play, but The Svelts were still "entertainers." June and Jean Millington ended up leading the group Fanny, an all-women band that recorded a number of albums in the 1970s. However, while Fanny played original music, and the Millingtons were contemporaries of Ace of Cups, the Aces were playing original music while the Millingtons were still stuck on the dance circuit.

Tipsy's All-Girl Topless Band
In 1966 and 67, although rock music dominated record sales, it was still a very small part of the live music entertainment dollar, even in San Francisco. A look around at the women performers on Broadway, San Francisco's North Beach entertainment district, shows how far ahead of their time the Ace Of Cups really were. It's no surprise to find that most women performers on Broadway and North Beach were singers or dancers (many of them topless). Nonetheless, it's still surprising to see the patronizing San Francisco Chronicle ad that says "The World's First And Only (All-Girl) Topless Band." I didn't find this in some weird rag--it was in the San Francisco Chronicle entertainment ads, right next to an ad for a French Restaurant and just above an ad for a jazz club.

In another blog post I found a contemporary, if mysterious listing, for a Las Vegas style group of women called The Socialites, playing a lounge in suburban Walnut Creek in 1969. Amidst the usual chatter about how attractive the band members were, the Oakland Tribune columnist could only compare The Socialites to the 'All Girl Topless Band' at Tipsy's. Ace of Cups were not the first all female rock band, and someone may even be able to find a group of women playing and writing their own rock music in 1967. However, whether compared to the Freudian Slips or the Tipsy's band, Ace of Cups were a serious female rock band in San Francisco, where rock bands first started to be taken seriously, and for that the Aces stand tall indeed.


The cover of the Ace Of Cups debut studio album, released on High Moon Records in November 2018

Ace Of Cups (High Moon Records 2018)
It is appropriate then, that Ace of Cups finally get to release the album they might have released some decades ago. Few bands from that era can even muster a quorum, much less all original members. Another World Tour, at least the world of Southern Marin County, will surely follow.

The next two posts will address Ace of Cups performance history for 1968, and then for 1969 through 1972.


6 comments:

  1. Great post about an even greater band. I was lucky to see them at Wavy Gravy's 82nd birthday party earlier this year and they were phenomenal. To pick a nit, though, it would be more proper to say that the Festival of Growing Things was the last rock concert at the Mt. Tam amphitheater in the 20th century. Michael Nash has successfully revived the venue with his popular Sound Summit events the last few years.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words. Good point about Mike and Sound Summit, so I updated the post and put in a link.

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  2. An additional listing!

    10/26-28/67 New Orleans House, Berkeley

    From the SF Examiner, Sunday 10/22/67:
    "The Congress of Wonders opens again Tuesday night in the New Orleans House in Berkeley, a delightful, spacious room on San Pablo Avenue north of University which used to be the Golden Hind and which in recent months has been offering rock groups and jazz groups.
    The Congress of Wonders will be at the New Orleans House through Saturday night, along with a rock band. Tuesday and Wednesday it will be the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Thursday, Friday and Saturday the band will be the Ace of Cups, a charming unit of girls who play and sing well and have some excellent original material, love songs, commentary, and a great anti-war number."
    (Ralph Gleason, "Surrealism in the Congress," SF Examiner 10/22/67 p.31)

    (These shows were also listed in the 10/20/67 Berkeley Barb "Scenedrome." The 12/1/67 Barb also listed the Ace of Cups & Congress of Wonders at the New Orleans House on Fri Dec. 8, but I think this was a mistaken listing that should've been Fri Dec. 1, as the ad states.)

    And one non-appearance, listed in the 9/22/67 Berkeley Barb want-ads:

    "Ace of Cups, Flamin' Groovies, Phoenix will not appear at Muir Beach Sept. 24 - Deno & Carlo."

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    1. Great research as always. Thanks! I updated the post accordingly.

      Incidentally, that's a newly found Quicksilver date, if anyone besides me is still keeping a list.

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    2. I have been posting QMS updates to Bruno's list.

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