May 5, 2014

101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes 64: Country Joe & the Fish ~ I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die

Country Joe & the Fish ~ 
I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die

In addition to my 20,000 Vinyl LP collection I'm selling, I have reel-to-reel, pre-recorded tapes for sale as well (see link below). If interested, contact me by email please, not by a comment. 

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Country Joe and the Fish was a jug band from the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960's that was one of many music groups to protest against the war in Vietnam. It was a fusion of blues and rock with a touch of country thrown in.

Born to a Jewish mother and a communist father in Washington, D. C., in 1942, Joe McDonald moved to Berkeley in 1962 after four years in the Marines.

The origin of the name, Country Joe & the Fish, 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."

In 1968, Denson said, "How it happened was simplicity itself. At a rally for a radical candidate for Congress, we saw the Fugs put on what was then a really mind-blowing show — the audience was stunned, and we were overjoyed. Contacting them, we arranged for a concert on the Berkeley Campus presented by the Pretentious Folk Front."

The group began with "Country Joe" McDonald (lead vocals) and Barry "The Fish" Melton (lead guitar), recording and performing for the "Teach-in" protests against the Vietnam War in 1965. McDonald and Melton added musicians as needed over the life of the band. By 1967, the group included Gary "Chicken" Hirsh (drums) (born March 9, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois); David Cohen (keyboards) (born August 4, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York) and Bruce Barthol (bass) (born November 11, 1947 in Berkeley, California). The 1967 lineup lasted only two years, and by the 1969 Woodstock Festival, the lineup included Greg 'Duke' Dewey (drums), Mark Kapner (keyboards) and Doug Metzler (bass).

reel-to-reel tape box cover
photo by Styrous®

The opener for the album, The "Fish" Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag, is one of the most delightful anti-Vietnam War protest songs ever written. Bouncy and fast, it propells right along with the aid of a whacky and irreverent kazoo.  It is sometimes also referred to as the Vietnam Song. It was supposed to be on the first album of the group, Electric Music for the Mind and Body, but Vanguard Records vetoed it, so it wound up on the second album. The song was never a big hit, but was nonetheless well-known, and in the film, Woodstock, the audience can clearly be heard singing along. It was supposedly written in less than 30 minutes.

The song begins with a "Fish Cheer", in which the band spells out the word "F-I-S-H" in the manner of cheerleaders at American football games ("Give me an F", etc.). The "Fish Cheer" later gave way to the "Fuck Cheer", winning widespread approval from audiences and disapproval from others. In 1970, Country Joe was arrested for giving the "Fish Cheer" in public, and was charged with obscenity.

The song was regularly broadcast into Hỏa Lò Prison (the "Hanoi Hilton"), in North Vietnam, to American prisoners of war by their captors. The prisoners later reported it actually boosted their morale as they sang along.

reel-to-reel tape box back
photo by Styrous®

Pat's Song is a phenominal tune. It starts with a quiet acoustic guitar played by Barry "The Fish" Melton, then goes into a slow dreamy waltz with a quiet celeste accompaniment. It wanders around and has some nice electric guitar work by McDonald. It gets a bit crazy for a few seconds then settles back to the waltz for a total length of 5:25. 

reel-to-reel tape box back detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Then there is Janis, a tender serenade with a harpsichord and harmonica that fuses waltz, rag, country and western. The song was written for Janis Joplin; they were lovers at one point.  

Magoo fits into the quiet retrospective category with thunder accompaniment to echoey, processed vocals by McDonald. It gets a bit strange before it fades back to the quiet mode; then it ends with a short (ten seconds), kind of bossa nova feel to it.

reel-to-reel tape box back detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Thought Dream starts as a spiritual with organ then goes into a slow rock ballad. It is dreamy, thoughtful, a bit of an odd ball and strange. The organ, played by David Cohen, continues throughout the song.

Thursday starts off whacky but goes into a moderate speed, kind of syncopated beat with some great guitar work.

Eastern Jam has a kind of White Rabbit by the  Jefferson Airplane feeling to me. It is an instumental that is prog rock at its best with some fantastic guitar work.    

reel-to-reel tape box back detail
detail photo by Styrous®

There is an envelope/promo form for information about other music available on open reel (reel-to-reel) and eight-track Ampex tapes.

Ampex envelope
photo by Styrous®

From a High Times interview:

"Steve Miller won’t work with me. Steve Stills won’t work with me. The list of people is really, really long. Mickey Hart is afraid of me because I talk about vets and the Vietnam War all the time. I’ve become larger than life and there’s really nothing I can do about it. For example, when I played this year at the 30th anniversary of the Kent State killings, the administration was worried about two people on the program: Country Joe and Mumia Abu-Jamal."

New From Ampex!!
Stereo Tape '68
Ampex envelope back
photo by Styrous®

Ampex envelope open
photo by Styrous®

photo by Styrous®

reel-to-reel tape label detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Track list:

Side 1:

    "The "Fish" Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag"" (McDonald) – 3:44
    "Who Am I" (McDonald) – 4:05
    "Pat's Song" (McDonald) – 5:26
    "Rock Coast Blues" (McDonald) – 3:57
    "Magoo" (McDonald) – 4:44
    "Janis" (McDonald) – 2:36

Side 2:

   "Thought Dream" (McDonald) – 6:39
    "Thursday" (Cohen, Hirsh) – 3:20
    "Eastern Jam" (Bartol, Cohen, Hirsh, Melton) – 4:27
    "Colors For Susan" (McDonald) – 5:58

Country Joe McDonald: vocals, guitar, bells, tambourine
Barry Melton: vocals, guitar
David Cohen: guitar, organ
Bruce Barthol: bass, harmonica
Gary "Chicken" Hirsh: drums


Producer: Samuel Charters

Recorded: 1966 – March 1967
Released: November 1967
Genre: Psychedelic rock
Length: 44:56
Label: Vanguard - VG 9266
Reel-to-Reel Tape

Country Joe & the Fish website
The Well website

reel-to-reel tapes on eBay

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