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Country Joe McDonald

Political and ecological issues were set to musical accompaniment by Country Joe McDonald, who co-founded and led the psychedelic folk-rock band Country Joe & the Fish, the leading left-wing band of the '60s. Since the group's breakup in 1971, McDonald has continued to musically espouse his political views through his original, folk-like songs.

A native of Washington, D.C., McDonald grew up in El Monte, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles, where his parents, Florence and Worden, had moved to escape political difficulties in the capital city. Music played an important role through McDonald's childhood, and he attended many concerts at El Monte Legion Stadium; after becoming enchanted by Dixieland music, he frequented the Lighthouse Club in Hermosa Beach.

At the age of 17, McDonald enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Following his discharge after three years, he attended City College in Los Angeles for a year. Although he moved to Berkeley to continue his schooling, McDonald was distracted by his love of music and spent most of his time playing in bands like the Berkeley String Quartet and the Instant Action Jug Band, which included future bandmate Barry Melton.

Joined by folk guitarist Blair Hardman, McDonald recorded his first tunes in 1964. Released originally by First American Records, many of the songs were later re-recorded by McDonald for his 1976 album The Goodbye Blues.

McDonald continued to be active in politics in the mid-'60s, and published a left-wing magazine, Rag Baby. After publishing the first few issues of the magazine, McDonald conceived the idea of recording a special "talking" issue. Released as an EP, the issue featured two songs, "I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag," a Dixieland-like indictment of the Vietnam War, and "Superbird," a satire aimed at President Lyndon Johnson; both were credited to "Country Joe & the Fish." Following the completion of the project, McDonald and Melton agreed to form a more serious rock band.

With McDonald's political lyrics set to a dynamic rock beat, Country Joe & the Fish became popular in the San Francisco Bay area, performing frequently at the Jabberwocky coffeehouse in Berkeley and the Avalon and Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Their second EP featured three of McDonald's tunes -- "Bass Strings," "Section 43," and "(Thing Called) Love."

Signed by Vanguard Records in December 1966, Country Joe & the Fish soon released their first album, Electric Music for the Mind and Body. Although "I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag" was intended to be included on the album, the record label convinced McDonald to omit it. It was finally released as the title track of the band's second album. A single of the tune reached number 32 on the Billboard charts. McDonald & the Fish made their East Coast debut at the Cafe Au Go Go in 1967. Following the release of their third album, Together, in 1968, the band toured Europe, where they were met by enthusiastic crowds. Their fourth album, Here We Are Again, released in 1969, featured musical guests Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and David Getz and Peter Albin of Big Brother & the Holding Company.

Together with the Fish, McDonald performed at most of the major music festivals of the '60s. Their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 was featured in the film of the event. In addition to performing with the group at Woodstock in August 1969, McDonald performed a solo set that was capped by his obscene altering of the "Fish Cheer" intro to "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die." Featured in the movie of the festival, the intro brought McDonald to international attention.

Woodstock, however, came during the final stages of the band's tenure. In the aftermath of the festival, McDonald was arrested in Worcester, MA for inciting an audience to lewd behavior, while Melton was arrested for possession of marijuana. Although they recorded a final album, C.J. Fish, with a new keyboard player and rhythm section, and had appeared in the 1970 film Zacharia, Country Joe & the Fish disbanded in 1971.

By that time, however, McDonald had signed a solo contract with Vanguard and recorded two albums in Nashville -- Thinking of Woody Guthrie, released in December 1969, and Tonight I'm Singing Just for You, released in May 1970. McDonald continued to tour and record as a solo singer/songwriter. During a tour of England, he recorded an album, Hold On: It's Coming, with accompaniment by Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green and other British musicians. In Scandinavia, McDonald was contracted by film producer Knud Thorbjorsen to compose songs for a film based on Henry Miller's novel Quiet Days in Clichy. The three songs he wrote -- "Mara," "Ny's Song," and "Henry Miller and the Hungry World" -- were included on the film's soundtrack. When Grove Films attempted to import copies of the film to show in United States theaters, they were seized by customs and dubbed "obscene." Grove Films eventually won a court battle, and the movie premiered in New York in 1971. McDonald later scored and appeared in a Chilean film, Que Hacer, documenting Salvador Allende's successful campaign for president.

Beginning in April 1971, McDonald became active in the growing anti-war movement and appeared at demonstrations in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.. Together with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, McDonald appeared during an FTA (Free the Army) tour of Vietnam that featured skits by former Second City members Ann and Roger Bowen. Although he became disenchanted with Fonda's political views and left the show, the experience earned McDonald a spot on President Nixon's enemy list.

Returning to the United States, McDonald recorded an EP with the San Fransisco-based band Grootna. A solo performance at the Bottom Line was released as a live album, Incredible Live!, in 1972. During 1972 and 1973, McDonald performed with the All-Star Band, a group mainly comprised of members of the Fish and Big Brother & the Holding Company. The band accompanied McDonald on his 1973 album Paris Sessions.

McDonald spent most of 1974 living in Europe. Returning to California in 1975, he joined a band, Energy Crisis, that featured former Fish Bruce Barthol and ex-Instant Action Jug Band member Phil Marsh. The band appeared on McDonald's 1975 album, Paradise with an Ocean View. The album, which included the anthemic tune "Save the Whales," reflected an increase in McDonald's ecological commitment.

The remainder of the '70s represented McDonald's most prolific period as he released seven albums -- Love Is a Fire, Goodbye Blues, Rock & Roll Music from the Planet Earth, Leisure Suite, On My Own, Into the Fire, and Child's Play. In 1977, Country Joe & the Fish temporarily came together again to record an album, Reunion.

Beginning in 1982, McDonald became involved with furthering the cause of Vietnam veterans and worked with such groups as Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Swords to Plowshares, and Vietnam Veterans of America. His experience peaked with the release of an album and video, Vietnam Experience, in 1988.

McDonald's 1991 album, Superstitious Blues, was a mostly acoustic effort and included two songs recorded with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Carry On, released in 1995, was inspired by the death of McDonald's parents and featured his touching tribute to Florence Nightingale, "The Lady with the Lamp," and the title track, which featured Garcia on electric guitar. ~ Craig Harris
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Dylan, Cash, And The Nashville Cats: A New Music City

1. Absolutely Sweet Marie

2. Girl From The North Country (With Johnny Cash)

3. Harpoon Man

5. It Ain't Me Babe

7. Down In The Flood

11. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

13. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere

14. City Of New Orleans

16. Blue River

17. Gentle On My Mind

20. If Not For You

27. Bird On The Wire

28. Silver Wings (With Linda Ronstadt)

29. Hickory Wind

33. The Boxer

34. Matchbox (With Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins)

36. Sweethearts Of The Rodeo (Radio Spot)

x

Track List: Revenge Of Blind Joe Death: The John Fahey Tribute Album

1. Sunflower River Blues

2. Sally Goodin

3. St. Louis Blues

5. Desperate Man Blues

6. Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Phillip XIV Of Spain

8. Thinking Of John Fahey

10. Joe Kirby Blues

11. The Yellow Princess

13. Red Pony

14. The Assassination Of John Fahey

15. & 50 Cents Gets You A Cup Of Coffee

17. Days Have Gone By In The Halls Of Valhalla

19. Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker

x

Track List: They All Played For Us: Arhoolie Records 50th Anniversary Celebration

4. Voy Caminando

5. El Chuchumbe

6. Vigilante Man

7. Wooly Bully

8. Let Me Fall

9. Long Lost Lover Blues

10. C-U-B-A

11. I've Got What It Takes

12. Bee La Manche

13. La Valse A Pop

14. Boudreaux / J'ai Ete Au Zydeco

15. The Free Mexican Air Force

16. Break My Heart Again

21. I Bid You Goodnight (Feat. Genny Haley)

27. Le Fond De Culottes / La Danse De La Misere

28. Separation Waltz

29. Tes Parents Ne Veulent Plus Me Voir

30. Joe Simien Special

36. Port Arthur Blues

37. Marie

38. Midland Two Step

39. I Made A Big Mistake

40. Amede Two Step

41. Parading To The Freight & Salvage

42. A Jazz Funeral

43. My Bucket's Got A Hole In It

44. Welfare Blues

45. When The Saints Go Marching In

50. I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag

51. Save The Whales

52. Oklahoma Hills

53. End Of My Journey

54. Going Home On The Morning Train

55. Jump For Joy

56. Mexico Americano

57. Prenda Del Alma

58. Arizona, Estado De Verguenza

59. Puno De Tierra

60. Lapin Dans Son Nique

61. 'Tits Yeux Noirs

62. Quo Faire

63. Reno Waltz

64. Eunice Two Step

65. Blues With A Feeling

66. Roscoe's Mule Down In Roscoe's Barn

67. Fishing Blues

68. Corinna

69. The New Hula Blues

x

Track List: Woodstock: Music From The Original Soundtrack And More

Comments

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an inspiring artist that never gives up
Report as inappropriate
Paradise With An Ocean View is from early 70's is great!
Report as inappropriate
twnchawk
Looking for country joe's album "Rock 'n Roll Music from the planet earth" released 1978.
Report as inappropriate
LOVE LOVE LOVE this guy! Right on!!!

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