The Ace of Cups was an American rock band formed in San Francisco in 1967. It has been described as one of the first all-female rock bands.
The members of the Ace of Cups were Mary Gannon (bass), Marla Hunt (organ, piano), Denise Kaufman (guitar, harmonica), Mary Ellen Simpson (lead guitar), and Diane Vitalich (drums). Lead vocals were sung by all members of the band except Vitalich, and all five sang backup. The songwriting, too, was divided among the band members
Mary Ellen Simpson
The Ace of Cups were fairly well known on the late-'60s San Francisco rock scene, playing many shows in the area (and occasionally venturing beyond), and sometimes supporting big names such as Jefferson Airplane. They also attracted attention by virtue of being one of the few all-women self-contained rock bands of their time and place. They never released anything while they were active, however, dooming them to obscurity beyond the memories of those who managed to see them live. A CD of previously unreleased late-'60s recordings did see release in 2003, with an offbeat mixture of raw bluesy garage rock, wistful harmony-rich gospel-tinged songs, and quirky numbers that mixed in some period social commentary and satire. There's more promise than distinguished artistry in these recordings, however, which sound a little crude and derivative when compared to the better San Francisco groups of the time.
The Ace of Cups came together in Haight-Ashbury right as psychedelic rock was taking off, and played a mostly original repertoire, with most of the band writing and all of them singing. Guitarist Denise Kaufman, who did more of the songwriting and lead vocals than any other member, had sung and played harmonica on an obscure 1966 garage rock single by Denise & Company; she was also the ex-girlfriend of future Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner. Originally they were managed by Ambrose Hollingsworth, who'd managed Quicksilver Messenger Service in their early days before getting disabled by a car accident. Hollingsworth in turn eventually passed the reins over to Ron Polte, who'd succeeded Hollingsworth as Quicksilver's manager.
Despite achieving a fair amount of recognition in the Bay Area (and a brief plug in a December 1967 issue of Melody Maker by Jimi Hendrix, with whom the band had played a free concert in the Golden Gate Park panhandle shortly after the Monterey Pop Festival), they never got a record deal. Why that didn't happen isn't entirely clear, as they had opportunities to sign with Warner Bros., Capitol, and Fantasy. Their management evidently felt the band wasn't ready or that the offers weren't suitable; keyboardist Marla Hunt has also said that Albert Grossman was interested in signing them, but had his offer turned down by Polte. Too, there was some reluctance in the group to tour behind records as some of them were starting families. They did appear on some records after a fashion when Kaufman's "Flute Song" was recorded on Quicksilver Messenger Service's Shady Grove album in 1969, and the group did some backing vocals on records by Quicksilver, Jefferson Airplane, Nick Gravenites, and Mike Bloomfield.
In the early '70s, the band began to lose momentum as original members drifted away. The lineup changed so much that at one point three men were in the group, which came to an end around 1972. In 2003, late-'60s Ace of Cups rehearsals, demos, TV soundstages, and in-concert tapes were assembled together for the Big Beat CD compilation It's Bad for You But Buy It!, which also includes "Boy, What'll You Do Then," a song from Denise & Company's 1966 single.