How Undersung Rock Pioneers Ace of Cups Got the Band Back Together After 50 Years

Casey Sonnabend
Ace of Cups

Despite its progressive bent, the ‘60s counterculture could be a bit of a boys club when it came to the music industry. Case in point: Even with the support of high-profile acts such as Jimi Hendrix (who they opened for) and Jefferson Airplane (who they collaborated with), the all-female rock outfit Ace of Cups were routinely passed over by label bros scouring the fertile Bay Area scene for the next big thing. “We didn't fit into the image of what the record labels were looking for,” guitarist Denise Kaufman says. “We totally got a lot of support in the local San Francisco scene, but I think the bigger music business did not know what to do with us, which is probably a real blessing.”

While the Ace of Cups called it a day in 1972, they never lost touch, reuniting sporadically over the years to jam and share new songs. Now, 50 years after it all began, the group is releasing its self-titled debut album via High Moon Records on Nov. 9.

With that much history under its belt, Ace of Cups opened up to Billboard about lessons learned from rock’s most revered decade and how you get the band back together generations later.

Don't Take Shit

Their manager [Ron Polte, who also managed Quicksilver Messenger Service] was on their side, but the culture wasn’t. One venue owner offered them a gig, but it came with a caveat: the band needed to play topless. Kaufman’s response: “Say we won't play topless, but we'll play naked,” she laughs, adding, “We wouldn’t have done it.”

Keep In Touch

The Ace of Cups never folded their hand. “Even though this is our first record and it's been 50 years since we all lived in the same place, we've never disconnected from each other,” says guitarist Denise Kaufman. “We kept having reunions,” drummer Diane Vitalich says. “We never stopped playing. For anyone else who's looking to get their bands back together, keep connected -- for the joy of playing, and music and friendship.”

Confront Tension

When issues cropped up, the Cups refused to flip. “Keeping a relationship alive and together means being forthright and honest with each other. That's very difficult as everyone that collaborates knows,” bassist Mary Gannon says. “When it comes up, hurting each other's feeling, [we’re] immediately dealing with it. It still happens. But...I want each one of us to shine.”

Stay Engaged 

“It's a full circle, the '60s protests, and here it is again. It seems like it just has to keep on repeating itself,” Vitalich says. “There are a lot of young people who are just so inspiring, the Parkland kids,” Kaufman says, nodding to the politics that inform and inspire the group’s debut. “We gotta keep talking about it and bring it forth and try to educate the new generation -- so each time maybe we'll get a little bit better at being a society.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept 15. issue of Billboard.