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Denise's Story

My dad, Hank Kaufman, married my mom, the lovely Golda Kaufman, in Boston in the year 1944 while he was in the Army. Golda, a young widow from England,
had come to the U.S. with her son Julian after her husband died. She fell
for handsome Hank and followed him to San Francisco where he was stationed
in the Presidio when he wasn't somewhere in the Pacific. When the war ended
Mom, Dad and Julian found a little home in the Richmond district. Knowing
that my karma was to be a 60's girl, I showed up right above the Haight
Ashbury at UC Hospital on Oct. 5, 1946.
I've been enthralled by words and music for as long as I can remember. My
mother had a beautiful, classically trained soprano voice and my father, who
could not carry a tune to save his life, had a great memory for lyrics. Some
of my earliest memories are of long family car trips where we all sang for
hours. Some weekends we'd visit our friends Glady and Max at their
cozy home way up on Mt. Tamalpais (Marin County.) As the sun set we'd sit
outside around a fire pit and sing folk songs while Max played his accordion.
Magical musical experiences of my early years for which I'm deeply grateful:
Studying piano at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, spending five years in an
amazing theater company called The San Francisco Children's Opera and
spending summers living outdoors in the Santa Cruz Mountains at Deep Woods
Camp for Girls where I learned to sing harmonies under the redwoods and the
I wrote poetry as a child, studied piano for 7 years, then started playing
guitar at 14. I was into folk music of all kinds: from Ewan McColl's Welsh
mining ballads to local performers like Barbara Dane, Skip James, George
Cromarty, Judy Henske and Terry Wadsworth. When I was in high school I hung
out (and sometimes played) at the folk clubs in San Francisco - The Shiloh,
Coffee and Confusion - and then in Palo Alto at The Tangent. I used to jam
with Pete Kaukonen, Jorma's brother, when he was at Stanford and I was still
in high school. I always felt pretty out of sync with my high school friends
- I just wanted to be around music all the time. I was obsessed. I loved it
when people sang together. Still do.
On the Yoga mat A 1964 photo Surf's Up

When I was 15 I went to Kauai, Hawaii, for summer school where I learned to
surf. Since then, both surfing and Hawaiian music have been major loves of
my life. Sitting around with friends playing slack-key guitar and singing
Hawaiian songs with lots of harmonies is about as good as it gets for me.
I met Lonnie Hewitt in 1965 when I was a student at UC Berkeley. I was
skateboarding home on Durant in front of the dorms when we met - he was such
a cool guy. He had been Cal Tjader's drummer and had started a record label
- Wee Records. He liked some of my songs and wanted us to make a record
together. We recorded Boy, What'll You Do Then at Coast Recording with the
guys from The Answer, a hot Berkeley band, and Lonnie on drums. As far as
I know it never got airplay. Lonnie took it to Bill Gavin (of the Gavin
Report) who said it didn't have a pop sound - it was too raw. A few weeks
later, most of the records were stolen from the trunk of Lonnie's car. I
don't even have one. For more scoop on that single you can check
I met first met Ken Kesey and the Pranksters at a conference of Unitarian
Ministers at Asilomar. Chip (the lead player in The Answer) Wright's father
had organized the conference and we all drove down to hang and jam. I ended
up spending the night on the beach with Kesey dancing with words to p-p-point
toward the realms opened up through LSD. Finding someone I could actually
talk with about those travels was like coming home for me. The next morning
we played some music and Kesey was fascinated with the reverb on Chip's amp
- it was the first time he'd actually played with reverb. I think some
aspect of the Acid Test began right there. Within weeks I quit school,
moved to La Honda, became Mary Microgram and got on the Bus. If I start on
those adventures now I'll never get to the Ace of Cups so we'll leave that
for another time.
A year-and-a-half later I left La Honda to move in with a band I'd been
invited to join - The Frantics. We changed our name to Luminous Marshgas (a
Kesey line) and played for about five months. Charlie Schoening (the organ
player,) my best friend Martha Wenner and I left the band to move to the
Haight Ashbury and the others, Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson, went on to
form Moby Grape.
I met Mary Ellen at Blue Cheer's house and had a great time jamming with
her. She had already been playing with Marla, Mary and Diane and invited me
to come meet them. The idea of playing in a band of females was completely
bizarre to me. I had never even thought of it. That's how pervasive the
blindness of those times was - I had never even once considered the notion
of an all-girl band.
During the early phase of the Ace of Cups we all lived in the Haight and
often practiced at Fantasy Records where I worked. My boss Max Weiss had
helped us rent an organ, a couple of amps and some drums which we'd load in
and out of the studio every time we practiced. We wrote songs as a group
from the very first night we played together. In a couple of months we had
about ten songs. I remember the first time Nick the Greek Gravenites came
to hear us at Fantasy. He was an old friend of our manager, Ambrose
Hollingsworth, and he agreed to come check us out. He had written Born in
Chicago (Butterfield Blues Band - one of this harmonica player's idols)
and I was absolutely in awe of him. He was big, soft-spoken and had this
cute gap between his front teeth. He was really kind and encouraging to us.
Through the years his support for us never wavered - we later sang on his
wonderful album My Labors. Nick has always been one of my favorite
musicians. I consider him a National Treasure.
Thanks to the love and financial support of Leslie Scardigli and Ambrose, we
quit our jobs in San Francisco, rented a house in Tamalpais Valley, bought
our own equipment and put all our energies into the Ace of Cups. Those were
wonderful times. We were woodshedding, writing, working up arrangements,
learning from some of the great players we were fortunate enough to hang
with and we were starting to jell as a unit. Those were the
Bloomfield/Electric Flag days - with Barry Goldberg's B-3 and Buddy Miles'
drums in our living room - and music going on 16 hours a day at our house.
We started gigging regularly - first out of town and then locally.
The Heliport was our next phase. Ron Polte, our new manager, rented the big
hanger at the Sausalito heliport as our practice room. It was awesome. We hung a silver female mannequin from the ceiling, set up all our gear and our Shure PA system and the heliport was happening. When we took breaks sometimes I'd go hang out with Barclay (and his son Arab) who lived in his wooden house-on-a-truck in our parking lot. I ate my first soba noodles with veges in Barclay's truck. Barclay was the first person I heard say the word vulva. Barclay loved women.
Lyrics are really important to me. Finding ways to express what this living
is about - to approach the mystery with words in an authentic way without
clichés or contrivance - that possibility has always called me. Mostly I
fail miserably. I'm really critical of my own work. Only a few lines have
ever come through that feel as though they actually flow. There is something
about language when it it resonates deeply - makes my soul melt.
Constants in life for me :
This journey of the Spirit - the dance of me-ness/ Oneness, individual
being/The Mush of Allness and what moves our human spirit closer to the
Energy work through the body - aikido, yoga, meditation, healing,
The ocean as Source - surfing, paddling outside and hearing new melodies and
lyrics between sets, sorting through my life while bobbing in the
Music - I've never been a virtuoso player even though I went to school at
BIT and really worked on my bass playing after the Ace of Cups. I'm what I
call a garden variety bass player - I can hold down a strong groove and
keep connected with the earth. I'm not good at fast funk licks but I lock in
with a drummer and love to play bass. I also love playing harmonica - this
little instrument powered by the breath that wails, cries and moans. But
what I really love most of all is voices in harmony and countermelody with
lyrics that touch my soul. That was the part of Ace of Cups that I adored -
being able to create lyrics and background lyrics that worked harmonically,
percussively, intelligently and soulfully. To this day, that's what I miss
most about the Ace of Cups.
These days I live, work and play in two places: Venice, California and
Kilauea, Kauai. I teach yoga (check out www.sacredmovement.com),
surf, and am working on a cd of my own songs. I live near my wonderful daughter, Tora, her musician husband, Kirk, and my 4 year-old grandson Eli. Please check out Tora's cool ponchos at www.ponchotora.com.
Music still powers our lives. My ex (Tora's father) Noel Jewkes is a jazz legend in the Bay Area. You can check him out at www.noeljewkes.com
I love to jam and write with other musicians. Life is such a gift and I'm
grateful for every day. Thanks for taking the time to read this story. Bless
you in your journey, my friend.


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