Country Joe McDonald

Artist Photo


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 … Read More



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