Why It Matters to Country Joe McDonald


Photo by Tom Weller. Used with permission

Next to Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” there’s no more iconic Woodstock moment than Country Joe McDonald’s acoustic “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag.”  He’s just so damned cool up there in his Ray-Bans and headband, leading a half million kids in the greatest anti-war chant ever.

But listen, that’s a long time ago.  McDonald is still very much around, still performing, and still doing what he can to make the world a better place.  He was kind enough to take a few minutes and catch us up on the goings on of the great Country Joe:

Why It Matters:  Coming up soon is a benefit for the Slick Aguilar Wellness fund.  How did you get involved with that?

Country Joe: I did quite a few shows in the recent past years with a ’60s package called “Heroes Of Woodstock.”  One of the groups was Jefferson Starship  with Paul Kantner.   Slick Aguilar was the lead guitar player with that group.

I was the emcee for the show, but I also did some songs on my own and with the various bands during set changes.  There were sometimes 4-5 bands on the show, so I got a chance to play with Slick and get to know him.

He recently has been diagnosed with a health problem, and so the February 24, 2013 benefit at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco was arranged for him. He wanted me to emcee and play with him like we did those times before.

WIM: Your last couple of albums, A Tribute To Woody Guthrie and Time Flies By, are up there with your best work.  What can you tell us about what you’re working on right now?

CJ: At the moment I’m not working on anything, really.  The Woody tribute came about because of a live show I was doing, and the time flies and it just hit me to do one more album with some jug band kind of players I’ve known over the years.

It was fun and it just turned out to be the tracks on the double album set.  I think it will be my last album.

I’m still picking away at a tribute to Florence Nightingale with words and song that I have been doing as a hobby mostly for about five years.  She’s the English woman who started modern nursing.

WIM: I can’t talk to Country Joe and not ask at least one non-musical question.  The last twelve years have been a train wreck, or at least that’s how it feels.  For those of us who are too young to remember the sixties, how does where we are right now compare?  Do you see the U.S. pulling out of the nosedive that it appears to be in?

CJ: I think of the sixties of course as the “era of peace and love,” and I think we’re now in the “era of guns.”  It is the very opposite of the ’60s.

The sixties were very disrespected and thought of as an unrealistic fantasy of us all living together.  We are now closer in many ways to that dream, but life is hard and rough and lacking the gentleness of the sixties.  People who have no real experience with violence are giving us a fantasy world of sexy violence that seems to have no repercussions.

The issues are really the same — equal rights for all people — but fascism is alive and well and fighting for its life.  It just might take as all down with it.

WIM:  I know some other members of The Fish still live around Northern California.  Do you guys stay in touch?

CJ: There isn’t much love that passes between members of Country Joe and the Fish.  Staying in touch is just a waste of time now.  We struggled with the group thing for decades, and there is no group consciousness left.  It is a pretty normal story with bands.

WIM: Why does music matter to Country Joe McDonald?

CJ: Music has always been a “safe house” for me.  I play it to keep from going insane and I think I always will.  I don’t know about the public performance thing — that comes and goes.

Something that cannot be explained happens when you combine words and music.  Try to imagine a world without music.  It would be a pretty horrible place to live.

You can catch up with Joe over at Country Joe’s Place, and you can pick up some pretty sweet swag, too.

Photo by Jim Marshall.  Used with permission

Photo by Jim Marshall. Used with permission

4 replies »

  1. Dude you broke a story of Country Joe’s last record, you know aside from one about Florence Nightengale (weird). Great interview. Though, I disagree with him about the ’60s. Vietnam, racism, assassinations, Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis…The difference might be the guns and the sheer amount of people that take up the space on the planet, but the 60s were certainly no time of love and peace. Love COuntry Joe though.


  2. What an interesting, down-to-earth guy. I liked what he said about how there is this culture of sexy violence with no repercussions. That seems right on.
    I’m intrigued by the Florence Nightengale stuff!


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