The Ladies of The Late 60’s Girl Group ACE OF CUPS Discuss Finally Making Their Debut Album and More!
Posted On 06 Nov 2018
This Friday November 9th, ACE OF CUPS will release their highly-anticipated, self-titled debut studio album via High Moon Records.
This first studio release by the only all-female rock band of the late ‘60s San Francisco scene features contributions from Bob Weir (Grateful Dead, Dead & Company), Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Peter Coyote, and many more.
Listen to the first single “Feel Good” here: https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8469266/the-ace-of-cups
Produced by Dan Shea (Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Santana), the record’s twenty-one tracks span fifty years of brilliant songwriting.
From 1967 to 1972, Ace Of Cups – Mary Gannon (Bass), Marla Hunt (Organ, Piano), Denise Kaufman (Guitar, Harmonica), Mary Ellen Simpson (Lead Guitar) and Diane Vitalich (Drums) – were at the epicenter of the ‘60s cultural and social revolution. From the Acid Tests to the protests, from the free concerts in Golden Gate Park to the ballrooms of San Francisco, they shared stages with everyone from The Band to the Grateful Dead. Michael Bloomfield, Jerry Garcia, and Buddy Miles were their fans and the Ace were chosen to open for Jimi Hendrix the week after his groundbreaking performance at The Monterey Pop Festival. When asked by Melody Maker magazine to name his favorite musical discoveries on his U.S. trip, the Ace Of Cups was the first thing he mentioned.
“I heard some groovy sounds last time in the States, like this girl group, Ace Of Cups, who write their own songs and the lead guitarist is hell, really great.” – Jimi Hendrix, 1967
Despite eliciting some music industry interest for their exceptional songs, sublime harmonies and exuberant live performances, the Ace Of Cups never got the chance to make a record of their own.
As the decades passed, the band members pursued other personal and creative endeavors, playing music both individually and collectively when opportunities arose. While performing at Wavy Gravy’s 75th birthday party and SEVA Foundation benefit, the Ace met with High Moon Records’ founder George Baer Wallace, who was there to talk to the band about releasing archival concert recordings. After hearing them play live, Wallace was so moved by their spirit and spark that he hatched a new plan on the spot, offering the Ace Of Cups the opportunity to record their first ever studio album.
With the enthusiastic support of their new record label, and the guidance of celebrated producer Dan Shea, four of the band’s original members began exploring their back catalog and writing new material. Right from the start the Ace understood the art of the song, and the band has kept that spirit true and close to everything they do. Ace Of Cups blends pure rock, folk, blues and gospel influences with a pop sensibility and a garage band rush; all tinted by an intoxicating psychedelic sheen. As the news spread that the Cups were recording, old friends began to come by the studio to offer support and musical contributions. In total 36 songs were recorded during those sessions, and what started out as a chance to set the record straight turned into a history-making second act.
Album guests include legendary players – and long-time friends of the band – Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, David Grisman, Pete Sears (Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Moonalice), Steve Kimock (Zero/RatDog), and Charlie Musselwhite, as well as lead vocal turns by Bob Weir, Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Peter Coyote. Even with this illustrious line-up, this record belongs wholeheartedly to the Ace Of Cups, who can convey the joy of humanity’s greatest art form as simply and as eloquently as anyone ever has:
This is the first release from the Ace of Cups project. Volume Two – coming in 2019 – includes 16 more songs from the band, as well as contributions from Jackson Browne, Wavy Gravy, Sheila E and the Escovedo family, Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon), and more.
Connect With Ace of Cups Here:
Learn more about Ace of Cups in the following All Access interview:
How has 2018 been treating you all? What is one musical goal that you have had for this year?
Our main musical goal for 2018 was to finish recording our double album and get it released. It’s amazing that we are here and ready to share it with the world on November 9th. It’s been a long time coming!
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this group together? Has anything surprised you about this ride so far?
Well – in 1967 we all got together in an apartment on Waller St. in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Magic happened the first time we all played together because we naturally fell into cool harmonies and started writing a song. The big surprise is that we’re still doing this 50 years later. Who would ever have guessed?
How do you think your hometowns have influenced the sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group?
Mary Ellen was from Indio, California and her early influences were Appalachian tunes, folk songs and old English Ballads. Mary Gannon was from New York and loved Irish Music and Broadway show tunes. Denise and Diane were both from San Francisco both were fans of R&B, Soul, Folk and Country. Add to that the fact that wherever we came from, we all listened to Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, the Shangra-Las, Bob Dylan and of course, the Beatles. We feel all those influences in our music.
Let’s talk about your highly-anticipated self-titled debut studio album that will be released in a couple of weeks. What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you about the overall process? Did it come along faster than you thought it would?
We have a large catalog of songs and when we began, we planned to choose twelve of them to record. Our producer, Dan Shea, listened to countless hours of our old tapes and kept bringing in tunes he thought should be part of the project. We were fortunate that George Baer Wallace, president of High Moon Records, agreed with Dan and the project kept expanding. We’ve now recorded 36 tracks. Our first double album will be out on November 9th, 2018 and our second double album will be out in the spring of 2019. And we may not stop there!
We were pretty much novices in modern recording techniques. Dan Shea taught us as we went along and we became better musicians because of it. Recording is like nothing else. We learned SO much!!! It was a slower process than it might have been had we all lived in the same area but we had to converge from various locations and balance our time together with family and other work commitments.
How did the featured contributors get to be a part of this album?
This album is a gathering of our tribe. We go back 50 years with most of the people on the project. We played shows with them, toured with them and lived through the psychedelic era together. We’ve stayed friends through the years and it was only natural to want their musical gifts on our debut studio album! They were each so generous and supportive!
And what was it like working with your producer Dan Shea?
This project would not exist were it not for Dan Shea. He’s a brilliant producer and his devotion to the heart of our music was phenomenal. Right from the start we agreed that we’d both be faithful to our original sounds/styles AND try to create music that would also appeal to modern listeners. People who’ve heard the album have commented that it sounds both retro and modern so we think Dan helped us deliver on that intention. Another benefit of working with Dan Shea was how he evoked the best from each of us in the recording process – both vocally and instrumentally. His patience was a blessing and we never felt rushed or pressured when something took more time. We adore him and look forward to finishing our second release in early 2019.
How would you say that the already released single “Feel Good” prepares listeners for this album? How did you go about selecting this as the lead track? What other songs are you excited for people to hear?
Feel Good is one of our rockers and has the energy and ethos of the 60’s when it was written. We always loved playing it but had no recordings of the song and had forgotten parts of it. In about 2004 we got a message from a fellow named John Addie who had made a bootlegged tape of a big concert we did with Jefferson Airplane in Seattle in 1969. He tracked us down on the internet and sent a CD of his recording. The sound quality was terrible but most of this song was on it. The CD he sent helped us retrieve this almost lost song. We chose it because it rocks AND because it sends a message we believed in then and still do: that it’s ok to just to FEEL GOOD, to trust yourself, to break out of narrow-mindedness and prejudice, to let your love flow, to gather with friends and community, to be a force for good in the world together with other like-minded souls – that was the inspiration for this song. The project is quite eclectic so we couldn’t pick one song that prepares listeners for the others. They’ll just roll out one at a time til the album release and we hope people enjoy them! We’re excited for people to hear all of these tracks. We love each one – they are like our little children!
Why do you think that High Moon Records is the right place today for this group and your music? Tell us about how you met George Wallace as well.
We met George Baer Wallace about 8 years ago when he contacted us hoping that High Moon Records might release archival Ace of Cups material. Because we never got into a recording studio with our own songs, we didn’t have much to offer him. As he got to know us all, he realized that we had never had the opportunity that other 60’s bands had been given – the chance to work on their material in a studio. He decided that we needed that chance and that High Moon Records would give it to us. In 50 years no one else had ever offered us that opportunity. George is our champion and biggest fan. He loves our music. High Moon Records is the perfect place for us!
Since you have been in the music biz for such a long time, I am curious to know how you feel it has changed for the better? And for the worse?
Well, we were never really in the music biz. The business (meaning the record companies) didn’t want us. We just wrote songs, worked on harmonies, practiced on our instruments and played as many gigs and shows as we could. We loved being part of the San Francisco music community. It may be our good fortune that we didn’t sign on the dotted line a long time ago because we’re so happy and grateful to be with High Moon Records in 2018!
Where do you think you are all happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere? Do you have any upcoming tour dates this fall in support of your album?
We didn’t know we would fall in love with recording the way we have. We never want to stop because the creative flow in a studio can be amazing. That said, we’re really excited to be playing live again after our concentrated focus in the studio. We just played two shows this past weekend and are looking forward to our album release party in Mill Valley, CA. on November 9th. We’re also returning to our roots and playing at Amoeba Records on Haight Street on November 15th. We might add a few more dates as well before the holidays.
How do you think being musicians and in this band still gives you the most joy in life today? What would you say is the most challenging part about it?
Each of us has played music in various bands over the past 50 years. Coming back together to record the music we wrote and played together in the 60’s has been wonderful. We’ve written new songs as well and find that the flow we always shared is still present and thrilling. The joy comes from the deep bonds we feel and being on this miraculous musical journey together. The most challenging part is that we live in different places. In the old days, we shared a band house or two. Getting together to practice was basically as easy as walking up the stairs or driving down the hill to our heliport practice hall. It’s a great gift to live near the people you want to play music with!
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period? Or do you think it doesn’t? Would you say that other musicians are making music that has been influenced by this climate?
Sad to say, some of the social inequities and heartbreaking problems in our world are as brutally present now as they were when we were young. When we were in our 20’s, we believed that times were changing and that by the time we reached the age we are now many of these issues would be in the distant past. We thought people everywhere would wake up, work together and that love and kindness would prevail over greed and prejudice. Music
can inspire us to connect and remind us that we’re all in this together! Knowing that, we can take action toward our collective future on this planet. And yes, we’re grateful that artists of all kinds are calling out the issues and inspiring us to work toward solutions.
What musicians would you love to work with in the future? What artists have really been inspiring this group and your music since day 1?
Many artists who have been inspiring us since day 1 are already gone from this world: B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Michael Bloomfield, John Lennon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Odetta, Harry Belafonte, James Brown, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Leadbelly, Bobby “Blue” Bland to name a few! With our current project, we’ve had the gift of being able to work with many of the living artists we love most – from Taj Mahal to Buffy St. Marie and from Bob Weir to Charlie Musselwhite. Our second release (out in Spring, 2019) includes work we’ve done with Sheila E and her whole musical family, Jackson Browne and Bakithi Kumalo, the bass player from Paul Simon’s Graceland. In the future, we’d love to work with Mark Knopfler, Charles Lloyd, Rhiannon Giddens, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Childish Gambino.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
Our music is about love and connection, the ups and downs of being human and the underlying journey toward wisdom and compassion. We are one human family and we need to take care of each other and our mother earth.