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Mary Ellen's Story

Music was always a part of my life. I heard music regularly as a child including big band, gospel, pop, and rock and roll. My early influences included Fats Domino, Jimmy Reed, Mahalia Jackson, a boogie woogie player named Hadda Brooks, and of course Joan Baez, whose songs I loved to sing and play, and by extension Bob Dylan when I first saw him sing at the Hollywood Bowl in about 1962 when he was 17 or 18 years old and just starting out. Joan Baez introduced him to the audience as a new up and coming musician and song writer. I grew up in a little mountain town in Southern California called Idyllwild and when I was seven my family moved to the desert and we lived there until I left home at eighteen years old. Guitar lessons were commenced at age twelve and I took folk guitar with a woman named Naomi Heali in the desert. Later when I was about twenty I met Jorma Kaukonen, before the Jefferson Airplane even existed, and he gave me a couple of lessons on playing old blues. At that time I was a psychology major at San Jose State.
One thing that directed my mind towards playing music professionaly was having entered the talent show at my local high school and winning first place in the contest. The entire student body gave a standing ovation and that was a wonderful experience, especially since my personality type had been shy as a child. I never considered myself a songwriter although I did write songs. I considered myself a musician first and foremost and that was important to me. The Ace of Cups band was a unique and incredible experience that will forever be a major influence on my life. I was able to meet people like Jimi Hendrix who left a definite positive impression on my life, Mike Bloomfield and the whole Electric Flag group, John Cipollina from Quicksilver Messenger Service and all of the other bands that were playing in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s.
After I left the band in 1969, I moved to Northern California with my partner and we had two beautiful children (Padre Asa and Rose Amber). We were living on the land and I grew a large garden. We had chickens, goats, and took care of bees (I had a beekeeper suit and assorted bee keeping equipment). I made goat cheese and prepared and canned a lot of fruit. We built a cold cellar on the property where we stored vegetables and fruits. The south fork of the Trinity River ran through the property. We lived there for thirteen years. Later I moved to the coast and worked up at Humboldt State University. During that time I played in a number of different local bands. First with Mimi LaPlant, who is also an artist, second with an all-woman band named Raven who mainly played jazz, then in a band called Night Letter that played blues and boogie woogie, then a country band called Round-up that later became Still Kickin after some members left and new ones arrived.
Later, after working at a detox in Eureka and getting a college education, I became a substance abuse counselor. I did that for over 10 years and at this point I work for Mental Health as a case manager. All through my past I have had an interest in oil painting and took lessons up at Humboldt State University and later with an excellent painter named Michael Hayes. I continue to take lessons with him and he shows us how to paint like the masters did, and shows us what techniques they used to get the effects that they did. I have been studying gemology most recently and continue to be amazed at the mystery of life and all of the incredible things to do and learn about. I have done hatha yoga and lately have been doing yin yoga that Denise began to show some members of the band. Tibetan meditation and some fasts at various times in my life have been beneficial. The joy of continuing to learn is always a gift.

Peace be with you, Mary


The Art of Mary Ellen Simpson
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