The Rip Post                          Q&A

this just in:

CJ.jpg (4444 bytes)
Country Joe at
Woodstock, 1969.

Photo by Jim Marshall.

They're from the sixties, and they're in their sixties---Country Joe McDonald and three of the four members of the classic Country Joe and the Fish line-up from 1966-'68 have reunited for a tour. Bassist Bruce Barthol, drummer Gary "Chicken" Hirsh, and keyboardist/ guitarist David Bennett Cohen have joined McDonald, while only guitarist Barry "The Fish" Melton is holdout, reportedly too busy with his duties as a public defender for Yolo County. CA. The Country Joe Band (CJB), as it is called is on tour. READ ALL ABOUT IT:
"Wildman" Dave Diamond's Country Joe and the Fish tribute site here. Read Rense article in L.A. Weekly here. Rense column, "1-2-3, What Am I Writin' For?" here. Latest review of the band here.

RIP POST:  How did the old band,
minus Barry Melton, come to regroup for this tour?

McDONALD: We last played together in 1994 for two gigs: one in
Berkeley and one at the Fillmore. It was to be a Country Joe and the Fish
gig but the day before Barry refused to play with us.

RIP POST: He didn't want to participate?

McDONALD: Barry has a very heavy work schedule as a lawyer and also does not seem
to want to work with us on a regular basis. Also, it is not
exclusively a Country Joe band. We will play my material, plus. This is not
a regrouping of Country Joe and The Fish; that group has Barry
Melton in it and always has. He is "The Fish," and we are fishless.

RIP POST: Have you rehearsed together yet? If so, how did it go and what are
some of the songs you might be playing? Anything appropos of
today's political situation?

McDONALD: All of us will rehearse before the shows. David and I have
played quite a bit together over the years and Bruce a bit. I have
lots of material that is "appropos" but it will not be just political
music. I imagine ....and that is why I wanted to do it....that it will be great.

cjband2sm.jpg (6171 bytes)
Cohen, McDonald, Barthol, Hirsh
circa 1967.

photo by Michael Weise

RIP POST: I noted Bruce's comments on your website that it felt right to play together again,
considering there is a war going on and, as he put it, this feels more
and more like 1968. What similarities do you see between then and now?

McDONALD: Well there is a rather ridgid status quo and the country is divided
rather evenly 50/50 on whether it is good or bad times. There is a very
active counter-culture.

RIP POST: I was listening to an NPR commentator the other day who said he was
sick of hearing all the talk about Vietnam, and the Vietnam war record
of Kerry contrasted with the lack of Vietnam war record of Bush. The
commentator said he was of generation X, and this was all so much
pining for the sixties by grouchy baby-boomers. This is a widespread
attitude. What do you say to people who do not see how Vietnam is
pertinent to the situation today?

McDONALD: To those wounded in war, that particular war stays always fresh in their
minds. To those who have not suffered the wounds of war, war always
seems like a distant thing and war wounds seem impossible---or if possible, easy to bear.

RIP POST: What might you say to the various influential pop stars who support
current U.S. policies, such as Britney Spears' comment that "we should
just trust the president to do the right thing?"

McDONALD: That is a quite fanciful question as I will most probably never have
the opportunity Actually we ...most of us....have very little
influence upon the president. But we can influence those around us.

RIP POST: It strikes me that this administration has been one big string of
scandals of enormous proportion---from the election to Enron's White
House connections to deliberate attacks on environmental policies to
the WMD myth in Iraq to Cheney still being paid by Halliburton while
in office to stonewalling the 9/11 Commission to Ashcroft's attempts
to end-run the Constitution to the whole Christian Right-backed
efforts to censor media. Yet Bush leads Kerry in the polls, and the
country says he is "doing a good job in the war on terrorism." Do you
have any comments? 

McDONALD: It often takes a very long time for a population to get angry
collectively, but when they do there is usually hell to pay.

RIP POST: Have you spoken with soldiers who have served in Iraq?

McDONALD: A little bit. They have mixed feelings and opinions as you would
imagine, depending upon their experience, which is always quite varied.

RIP POST: What would you say to the administration refrain of "We brought down a
bloody dictator" and "if John Kerry had his way, Saddam Hussein would
still be in power?"

McDONALD: They did not bring down anything. It was the military rank and file who
did it. This administration has no war experience at all except from a distance.

RIP POST: Have you written new songs?

McDONALD: Oh, I am always writing new songs. But slowly always. Instrumentals for
prayer and meditation and a nice song about sailors dying in a nuclear

RIP POST: Of course, while you are always identified with "Fixin' to Die Rag," your
'60s music had much very little social comment, percentage-wise. The songs
were lyrical, poetic, and the music highly inventive---perhaps unrivaled in their time for sheer creativity.
Does it bother you to have the "Fixin to Die" albatross around the neck?

McDONALD: No, that song provided and provides a very important point of view about
war for the rank and files vision. It is always a wonderful experience
to sing it, knowing that members of the audience "experienced" the song
in the Vietnam War. A fellow once told me that his friend died in his
arms in Vietnam and his last words were "whoopie were all going to die" (lyric
from the song.) Another soldier told me that during his seven years in a Vietnamese POW
camp they were allowed to listen to Hanoi Hanna playing music to
depress them but when "Fixin'-To-Die" was played it made them happy and

RIP POST: By the way, you won that "Muskrat Ramble" lawsuit, in which it was
alleged that you had plagiarized Kid Ory for "Fixin'-to-Die," correct?

McDONALD; I won a summary judgement. Babette Ory (Ory's daughter)
must now figure out how to pay my legal bill. It is not quite over legally, but
should be sometime this year.

RIP POST: This band is regarded as the "classic" Country Joe and the Fish line-up
(minus Barry "The Fish," of course.) The first two albums are widely regarded in the top
ten greatest SF rock records of the '60s. I know the group did a full reunion
album in '77 or so. Might a new album come from this reunion?

McDONALD: Someone will film our performance this tour and make a DVD perfomance
film . We will start to work on some new material ....slowly....I hope
the group will be togeather for many years...and that we can make some
music that people will like to hear.

RIP POST: I haven't heard of the World Peace Music Awards. How did they come
to choose you as an honoree this June?

McDONALD: They were held for the first time in Bali last year. They decided this year to
pick musicians who made music that helped to end the Vietnam War.


Country Joe McDonald, Bruce Barthol, David Bennet Cohen, and Gary "Chicken" Hirsh are back in business full-time for the first time since 1968. The former members of Country Joe and the Fish-- -missing only guitarist Barry Melton, reportedly too busy with Public Defender duties in Yolo County, CA, to join---reunited for the first time since a one-off gig in 1994, and their 1977 "Reunion" album. They opened a tour of the West Coast (and later, England, and the uh, 2004 Woodstock Festival) with two shows at the Theater on High Street in Moopark, CA, a spiffed-up old movie hall owned and operated by Larry Janss, an old friend of McDonald.

Joined at times by Hirsh's boffo guitarist son, Adam Tree Hirsh, The Country Joe Band, as it is now called, mined songs from CJ&F's classic first three albums, "Electric Music for the Mind and Body," "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die," and "Together," as well as some solo McDonald tunes---plus several new compositions: CJ's touching "Summer of Love," Cohen's breezy instrumental, "Blue Silk" (from his "In the Pocket" CD), and Barthol's hilarious anti-Iraq jazz-blues, "Cakewalk to Baghdad."

The first night's show, April 9, was obviously a shakedown cruise, and it was a respectable return after a 36-year(!) dry-dock. But the second night, Apr. 10---magic. The old CJ&F spirit was well in evidence---from the eerie psychedelia of "Bass Strings" and the mini-symphony of "Section 43" to a house-shaking "Flyin' High" and an "Untitled Protest" that left the audience stunned. The band was vivacious, played with great commitment, heart, and cast a real spell---prompting two standing ovations (a third demand for an encore went unanswered, which was understandable after a two-hour-plus performance.)

The songs were anything but revived relics; some- how, the performances freshly compelled the ear. It was, in short, a hell of a return to form, nothing less. Chicken Hirsh's jazzy, original drumming has only grown better with the years, as has Cohen's virutosic work on acoustic piano, synthesizer, and guitar. Barthol's bass was lyrical, propulsive, and McDonald was in rousing good, clear voice.

CJ's wry monologues and dry wit were also intact. In introducing the classic "mysoginist love song," "Sweet Martha Lorraine," CJ remarked that in the '60s, men blamed their problems on women--- eventually figuring out that that Republicans were actually to blame. . .and finally discovering that it wasn't women or Republicans---it was Republican women. (Rim shot here.) This band has a past, and it also has a real future, if the members want to stay together "for many years to come," as CJ put it in an interview with The Rip Post. Judging by the smiles on stage, there is reason to think they will. Yes, there is talk of a new album. ---RR.

                                                                   BACK TO PAGE ONE

2004 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.