Country Joe McDonald
Happy birthday, Joe
Joe wasn’t scheduled to perform until Sunday with the Fish, but circumstances forced the Woodstock organizers to call a few audibles. After Quill’s opening set, the crew needed someone to do a few songs to give the them time to set up the next band (Santana). Joe didn’t have a guitar with him–someone found one for him–and the guitar didn’t have a strap–someone found a piece of rope (see about 1:20 in the video below). He did a 9 song set. The most famous of which was his “Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag.”
Country Joe McDonald
Joe was born in Washington, D. C., on January 1, 1942, but grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte, California. where he was exposed to a wide range of music.
Joe moved to Berkeley to go to school, but ended up mainly playing music. In the fall of 1965, the Free Speech Movement (see >>> Free Speech Movement) on the Berkeley campus organized demonstrations against the war in Vietnam at the Oakland Induction Center, Music was often a part of any 1960 demonstration and Joe and the Fish did that for Berkeley’s.
From Joe’s site: The origin of the name appears to have come from the band’s manager, ED Denson, who coined the phrase drawing from Mao’s saying about “the fish who swim in the sea of the people;” the Country Joe part has numerous variants, the most oft-told refers to Joe’s parents having named Joe for Joseph Stalin, whose nickname during World War II was “Country Joe.”
Joe continues to write, record, and perform. He has released 36 albums since his start as a solo artist in 1969. In 2007 he toured his “Tribute to Woody Guthrie” show, a mix of music and spoken word. I was fortunate to see one of those shows at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. There was a Q & A before the show and several of us showed up early to say hello. I did that and I also sincerely thanked him for the once in a lifetime opportunity to yell out FUCK with 400,000 other people.
Here’s a video of Joe discussing his appearance at Woodstock.
Bio from his site
Second shorter bio by Joel Selvin.