To keep with the San Francisco theme of last week's Hippies vs. Punks post I decided to return to an exploration of one the bands that appeared in the seminal but little known Aquarian Family Festival. This free multi-day rock concert at San Jose State in May of 1969 is important because it preceded and provided something of a template for the super-historical Woodstock. Most of the bands that performed at the Aquarian Family Festival were San Francisco psychedelic Hippie groups.
The Ace of Cups was an all-women five-piece rock 'n' roll band with a perfect Hippie pedigree; their first big gig was at The Panhandle in Haight-Ashbury warming up for Jimi Hendrix in early 1967 (a few months after the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park) and principal songwriter and singer Denise Kaufman (shown in the Ralph Gleason West Pole documentary) was conked on the head and severely injured by a flying beer bottle during the Hell's Angels riot at Altamont, an event widely accepted to have signaled the demise of the Hippie.
The Ace of Cups never recorded an album. Close to being signed on more than one occasion by a major label, offers were spurned by the band's management in hopes of a more lucrative deal down the line. The big payday never materialized and the band broke up. Denise Kaufman moved to Hawaii. But in 2003 Big Beat Records released the superb compilation It's Bad for You But Buy It!, which is mostly live material.
I have been listening to It's Bad for You But Buy It! non-stop all week. It is an incredible document. (Ignore rock historian Richie Unterburger's condescending review of the album.) Of the many stellar tracks, my favorite is "Taste of One" by Denise Kaufman:
Patrick Lundborg's "Denise Kaufman & The Ace of Cups" is a must-read introduction to the band.
Another tremendous cut from It's Bad for You But Buy It! is the rock rendition of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue":
Quicksilver Messenger Service is the band most often cited as an influence for The Ace of Cups. The bands were friendly with one another. (You can certainly hear the John Cipollina guitar sound on Mary Ellen Simpson's solo in the West Pole video at the top of the post.) Lead guitarist Simpson penned the excellent "Pretty Boy":
The Ace of Cups remind me of a psychedelic proto-L7. Strong women being women, equal to any group of men. It is a tragedy that they never produced a record back in the Hippie heyday. At least we have It's Bad for You But Buy It!, a line from the band's feminist, anti-consumerist, anti-marketing manifesto, "Glue":
You are the one (yeah yeah) You are the one Well you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too now baby, yeah (I love glue!) No you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too yeah baby (at Madison Avenue) And the model is nine to five Too many bees in one big hive
You are the one You are the one Have you read the society paper today now I’m telling you just what to feel You are the one that must find your way I say that you have the key, yeah
You can’t have the glue until you buy A model too now baby, yeah (I love glue!) No you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too yeah baby (I love glue!) And the model is nine to fiveToo many bees in one big hive
You are the one (yeah yeah) You are the one that must buy
Buy it, buy it, it’s bad for you but buy it. Buy it, buy it, it’s bad for you but buy it.
Hello ladies, how are you feeling today? Are you feeling unloved, unwanted and miserable? Is this because no-one loves you? If this is so, it’s because you do not have our new improved product. For if you’d have our product, everyone would love you. Are you tired of being the dull drab, uninteresting self that you are? Would you like to be transformed into the new exciting, mystical alluring essence of your being? If so you had better buy our product.You’d be amazed at what our product can do for you!
Buy it, buy it, it’s bad for you but buy it You’ve got to Buy it! You buy it. Bad! Buy! Why! Better buy that!
You are the oneYou are the one
Well you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too yeah, now (I love glue!) No you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too yeah, yeah, yeah yeah, yeah, yeah And the model is nine to five Too many bees in one big hive
You are the oneYou are the one that must buy