A Conversation with Denise Kaufman

This month I am excited to share with you a very special person in my life, my longtime yin yoga teacher Denise Kaufman. Also a musician, Denise was part of the first all-female rock band—the Ace of Cups—who opened for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the 1960s. The band never landed a record deal - until now! 50 years later they have released a double album with 21 tracks and contributions from some old friends like Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead. A perfect gift for the holidays, I might add! It is an incredible story, truly thrilling. You can hear more from Denise about what it's like to have a dream realized after all these years and why, she says, the timing is perfect.


Growing up in San Francisco during the 1960s placed Denise Kaufman right in the center of the cultural revolution. Her commitment to social justice and exploratory approach to life led her to adventures in counterculture: from being arrested at UC Berkeley's Sproul Hall protests during the Free Speech Movement, to "getting on the bus” (as "Mary Microgram") with Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead and forming the legendary Ace of Cups—an all-girl band that opened for Jimi Hendrix, The Band, and Janis Joplin.

Denise is an esteemed yoga teacher who has studied with Robert Nadeau Shihan, Yogi Bhajan, Bikram Choudhury, Pattabhi Jois, and Paul Grilley. Her clients have included Madonna, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Quincy Jones, and Jane Fonda. 

Denise lives between Venice Beach and Kauai - playing music, teaching yoga, surfing and continuing to learn, channel inspiration and connect all those around her.

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, Melody Maker Magazine, 1967

Karin Gutman:  Who were you in 1967 and what was your dream?

Denise Kaufman: I had spent part of 1966 on the bus as Mary Microgram with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and then played in a band with the guys who later became “Moby Grape.” My dream was to be playing in a band, writing songs that were real and juicy to me and sharing them with the world. I met Mary Ellen Simpson at a party on New Years Eve, December 31, 1966. She was playing some blues guitar and I pulled out a harmonica - it was so much fun to play with her. She invited me to come jam with some other women she’d been playing with and within a week we were starting “an all-girl band.” I knew I wanted to be playing but I never dreamed of an all-female band. I’d never seen or heard of one and now I was in one. As our music evolved, we dreamed of getting a chance to record the music we’d be writing. 
How would your younger self have reacted if you had told her it would take 50 years to realize this dream?
She never would have believed it. I wouldn’t even have believed it myself ten years ago. It was totally impossible to imagine that we’d release our first studio album when we were all in our 70’s. I had played music and written songs all through the years but never thought that they’d be out in the world. I always wrote, sang and played because that nourishes me. 
You mentioned that the timing of this studio album release, now in 2018, is perfect. Why is that?
It’s perfect because women are claiming their power and agency now. #MeToo and other movements and events help us to connect and to see each other’s work.
What would you say to those who have yet to fulfill their creative dreams?
Don’t give up!!! Keep doing those things that rock your boat. I moved to LA from Kauai in 1983 to go to music school. I was in a class with a few hundred guys who were in their late teens or 20’s. I was 34 and one of the only women. It was fine that I was at least ten years older than my classmates. I just wanted to learn. SO - Don’t let anything stop you from staying connected to your creative dreams. You may need to do other things as well - the arts may not pay your rent - but keep nourishing that aspect of your being as well. It’s never too late!


Ace of Cups Debut Studio Album 

The first official release by the only all-female rock band of late ‘60s San Francisco features contributions from Bob Weir, Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady, Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and many more.


To learn more about Denise Kaufman, visit her website

Learn more about the Ace of Cups

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