Yesterday we took note of “Country Joe’s second thoughts.” Dafydd ab Hugh writes:
Interesting that you would carry this piece; when I went through my late hippie period — from 1980 through 1985…I was living in Santa Cruz, CA, so it was still the sixties
— CJ McD and the Fish were about my favorite band, followed closely by the Sid Barrett era Pink Floyd.
The band actually began in the fall of 1965, almost exactly the same moment as Jefferson Airplane and also Big Brother and the Holding Company (not yet with Janis Joplin). The Fish put out one EP in that year — it was Joe and guitarist Barry Melton plus some other folks who didn’t stay with the band long… so it’s likely that the Fish are responsible for the very first “acid rock” recording (the term didn’t come into vogue until a few years later)… a few months before the Jefferson Airplane’s first single (1966) and two years before Big Brother’s first record (several years before the Beatles released anything that could arguably be called acid rock, even being very lenient; as the Beatles were very familiar with the SF rock scene, I’m quite certain they were copying the Fish and other acid-rock groups with some of their later singles and albums).
The 1965 Fish recording had “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” and “Superbird,” plus two songs from another (local SF folk singer Peter Krug). The Fish put out a second EP in the summer of 1966 with “Base Strings,” “Section 43,” and “(Thing Called) Love.” Then the LP you mentioned in 1967, “Electric Music for the Mind and Body.” Just wanted to give you the early history.
Interestingly, Joe McDonald says his parents named him after Josef Stalin…not surprising, as he was born in 1942, when the popularity of Uncle Joe — evidently also called “Country Joe” at the time — was riding high in the United States… the Mighty Red Army, holding back the evil tide of Nazi aggression (after having been allied with the evil tide of Nazi aggression just a couple of years earlier).
Thomas B. Nast writes:
Country Joe is doing very limited touring, and I caught his act about two months ago here in the People’s Republic of Seattle. The name “The Fish” is owned by the former lead guitar player, Barry Melton, who is now the public defender in Yolo County, though he breaks out his axe from time to time for solo gigs. I understand from chatting with the band afterwards that there is a certain friction between Melton and the Country Joe Band, as it is now known (all the same folks except Barry).
FWIW, the show was in a very small auditorium (bit over 200 seats perhaps), and didn’t quite sell out, even with tickets blown out for five bucks at the end. Even my old friend Roy Bookbinder drew better at that venue. I went because I always liked the “Electric Music” album, and the small crowd was mostly above age 50 and perhaps similarly motivated.
What I write to note is that CJ’s politics seem not to have changed. His background is Marxist, and he is still unabashedly anti-war. The only new song they did was written by the bass player and was named “Cakewalk,” mocking Rumsfeld and Pearle (it was a catchy number, actually). The concert really became a revival meeting for the 60s anti-war crowd, with lots of cheering and singing along and such. I enjoyed their spirit and enthusiasm, and marveled at their simplicity and naivete. Perhaps I have aged and changed, but it takes real intellectual stubborness to conflate Viet Nam with Iraq, and it is somewhat disturbing that my fellow fossils are unable to distinguish between them. It is nice to know that CJ might reject the Jane Fonda approach to foreign relations, but it doesn’t go much beyond that. I get the feeling that his and the band’s views are never challenged; they reinforce each other, and are surrounded by like-minded people, so they are undisturbed by facts or reasoning that might otherwise influence them. Given the small size of the audience, one would like to think that CJ’s brand of politics has been marginalized, but I don’t think that’s the case; outfits like Pearl Jam, with equally nutty politics, still sell out halls.
Mr. Nast kindly adds:
Loved the Democrat convention schedule. Hugh Hewitt should take calls suggesting additional agenda items for the next day at the convention; it’d make a great segment.
Gotta go. Ted’s announced another toast.
We hope Commissioner Hewitt is paying attention.
Our friend Steve Hayward writes:
In 1998 I went to a panel discussion about 1968: 30 Years Later here in Washington that featured Country Joe and Mary Travers of Peter Paul, & Mary fame. They rhapsodized on the greatness of Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, naturally. Country Joe looked like had hadn’t changed clothes since Woodtsock; ripped jeans and a stained T-shirt–in Washington!!!
Anyway, when they went on about how great the youth movement was, and how 1968 was essentially the pinnacle of cultural enlightenment, I got up and asked very innocently what they thought of students today. Mary Travers said, “They’re just terrible. They have no idealism like they had in 1968; all they want to do today is have careers and make money.” Joe harumphed an incoherent agreement. I smiled from ear-to-ear. Remember: Don’t trust anyone over 30!
Still, like you, I thought County Joe was kinda cool.
My footnote: Steve’s chapter on the year 1968 in his Age of Reagan, 1964-1980: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order is entitled “Anvil,” and persuasively judges 1968 to be the nadir of contemporary American history.