Interview: Country Joe McDonald (Country Joe and the Fish)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: January 2015. We had the tremendous honour to talk with a legendary musician: Country Joe McDonald. He was the lead singer and guitarist of the psychedelic rock group Country Joe and the Fish. He performed with Country Joe and the Fish at the Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. He also has a successful solo career and his latest solo effort is the double album “Time Flies By”, released in 2012. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


Are you satisfied with the feedback you got for your double solo album “Time Flies By”?

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I didn’t get any feedback for that album.


What are the current projects you are involved in?

I’m not involved in many projects, currently. I’m pretty much retired. I would like to do some shows and play the first two Country Joe and the Fish albums on my own, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.


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Did you finish your autobiography?

I haven’t finished it yet. There is no pressure to finish it. I was working on it with my agent, but he has some health issues now. Also, the draft that I had written so far in my computer, was lost and I am currently trying to retrieve it. So, I am in no hurry to complete it.


Are you proud of the classic album status that “Electric Music for the Mind and Body” (1967) has?

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Yes, I am proud of this album. I think it is a classic psychedelic rock album and people still seem to enjoy it after so many years.


How helpful was the Monterey Pop Festival to the career of Country Joe and the Fish?

I don’t believe that Monterey Pop Festival was very important to Country Joe and the Fish. It was indeed important as a festival as far as the later festivals. The film wasn’t very successful. We didn’t become stars because of the Monterey Pop Festival. But some people like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and her band, became stars because of the Monterey Pop Festival. I enjoyed being there. We had a great time.


Why Country Joe and the Fish were paid not to play on The Ed Sullivan Show?

Two months before our scheduled performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, some people from the show watched us in a concert where we did the “F-U-C-K” cheer. Then, they told us that they don’t want to have anything to do with us. So, we were told to keep the money and stay away from The Ed Sullivan Show.


Do you have clear memories of the Woodstock Festival?

Yes, I have clear memories of Woodstock because I stayed there during the entire duration of the festival. There were many great moments. I think the top moment was watching Jimi Hendrix playing “The Star Spangled Banner”.


Were you surprised by the crowd’s response at Woodstock during “The “Fish” Cheer/ I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag”?

Yes. I performed solo because some other bands weren’t there on time and they had nobody to play. I didn’t even have a guitar. So, I played acoustically on stage and nobody paid attention to me until I did the “Cheer”. I was blown away by people’s response during the “Cheer”. Everybody started yelling and clapping. It was a fantastic moment.


 Was it an interesting experience to produce the music to a left-wing movie in Santiago, Chile about the Chilean presidential election in 1970, which Salvador Allente won?

It was a very interesting experience to produce the music to ¡Qué hacer! I knew the producers of the movie and my wife was involved in it too. I spent many weeks in Chile. I met there some very interesting persons. I lived some great moments. I don’t believe that many people have lived what I lived there. Yes, it was when the political change took place. I have some very fond memories of Chile.


Is Woody Guthrie your biggest musical influence?

He is one of my influences. I grew up with his songs. I listened to his records when I was a young boy. There were also other kinds of music that I listened to: popular music, rhythm & blues and stuff like that. My parents had 78 rpm records. He wasn’t the only artist that I liked, but he did enable me to do the “Thinking of Woody Guthrie” album (1969) about him.


Why you decided to write a song about Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (“Grace” from the album “Electric Music for the Mind and Body”)

Because I was watching her perform at the Fillmore. For some reason, I was there in the same bill with her group before Jefferson Airplane, The Great Society. I listened to her singing and I thought that he had a very complicated and wonderful voice. I thought that the gig was boring and I just decided to go home at that night. I decided to write a song for her to sing because I liked her voice.


Do you think the collapse of the major recording labels is a kind of justice for their corporate greed all these years?

Well, I wouldn’t interpret it like that. It’s just the progression of capitalism and it happens since the beginning of recording labels. Labels disappear or are bought by other labels. Mostly, labels only are making money from certain kinds of music: pop music, popular music. I’m sure that it happens in every country. That’s why popular and successful music is about love.


In a 2001 interview on High Times, you said that Steve Miller and Stephen Stills won’t work with you. Can you explain us why?

(Laughs) I don’t know why I said that, but I’m sure that I said it. Maybe, I was just stoned.


Do you consider yourself a psychedelic rock musician or a singer/songwriter?

Mostly, I consider myself a singer/songwriter. But I think that the Country Joe and the Fish albums were classic psychedelic music. The problem is that I’m eclectic and open to other stuff. But primarily I’m a singer/songwriter. Sometimes with a band, sometimes without.


Do you feel lucky that you have lived a so exciting life?

Oh yes!! It seems very exciting and also I consider myself lucky that I made some money. I don’t know what kind of work I would have done otherwise.


Did you get to know Jimi Hendrix?

No. I met him one time but it wasn’t possible to talk. We just said “hello”. No, I never talked with him.


Are you happy with the triumphant return of the vinyl?

No, it doesn’t affect me. So, I have no opinion about that. It’s interesting. It’s a niche thing. I don’t think that it is going to get large. Personally, I like the digital sound and I don’t know the difference. I can’t tell the difference between a vinyl and a CD. But some people can. But you know, you can do everything with digital sound that you can’t do with vinyl. But as far as the appearance, the CD is a little smaller. But it’s a kind of hobby with some people are collecting high quality vinyl. But for most people, it isn’t practical because high quality vinyl costs 35 dollars and it isn’t very practical. And it doesn’t contain that much sound. The limit is about 45-50 minutes.


Can you tell us a few words about old friends like Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) and John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service)?

I didn’t really know John Cipollina. I used to watch Jerry Garcia playing and I liked him. I had a few conversations with him. I thought that he was nice. I thought that he really was a world-class guitar player and that he was a nice person.


In an hour a have an interview with Michael Shrieve  (Santana –drums).

Oh! Say “hello” to him. He’s a great musician.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Country Joe McDonald.

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