Country Joe McDonald - guitar, harmonica, vocals
Few draft resistance anthems provided greater fuel for the Vietnam War protest movement than Country Joe McDonald's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag." What is more important, McDonald was among the first musicians of the 1960s to see beyond the superficial. He took an active role at spotlighting the plight of returning soldiers, demanding they be treated with compassion at a time of great political and social turmoil. McDonald's most high profile moment resulted during his unscheduled solo appearance on the first day of the 1969 Woodstock festival. With his "Fish Cheer" (which always preceded "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" in his live performances with Country Joe & The Fish), McDonald had the monumental Woodstock audience replacing the call and response of F-I-S-H with F-U-C-K instead. This gesture became one of the more humorous and defining moments of the Woodstock movie and essentially launched McDonald's career as a solo artist at the dawn of the 1970s. Although his own albums never reached the popularity of his work with Country Joe & The Fish, McDonald has remained prolific, releasing numerous solo albums that convey his unique brand of scathing critical sarcasm and political humor tempered with compassionate understanding.
This 1998 performance was recorded by the Bill Graham Presents crew at the reopened Fillmore Auditorium, when McDonald appeared on a triple bill that opened with Lydia Pense and Cold Blood (available here in the Concert Vault) and closed with the founding members of It's A Beautiful Day reuniting for what turned out to be their final San Francisco performance ever. McDonald, performing solo acoustic, begins with the reggae-flavored "Oh! Jamaica," a song recorded for his 1976 album, Paradise With An Ocean View, that reflects his observations on the island life. He follows with the erotic "Woman At Home," featuring lyrics by Woody Guthrie, which at the invitation of Guthrie's family, McDonald had set to music.
One of the highlights of this set comes next as McDonald revisits his vintage Country Joe & The Fish-era number, "Grace." Written in admiration of Grace Slick, during her pre-Airplane days when she was still a member of The Great Society, this is quite enticing and a pleasure to hear in this solo acoustic context. Next up is a cover of Patrick Kilroy's "When I Walk Through The Trees," which McDonald delivers a cappella, followed by "Summer Of Love," a brand new tune at the time, which says goodbye to the good old days without being nostalgic or sentimental.
The next several numbers take a more serious turn and all are compelling, beginning with "I Was Only Nineteen," which McDonald informs the audience is the Australian equivalent of "Fixin'-To-Die Rag." A lot less flippant, but equally effective as a thought-provoking antiwar protest, this is a prime example of his gift for delivering songs that are equal parts political device and entertainment. Three songs that showcase McDonald's much overlooked talent at bottleneck slide guitar are next, beginning with a homage to one of his influences, "Thinking of John Fahey." This rarity would surface as a previously unissued track year, on the 1998 overview compilation of his Rag Baby releases, Something Borrowed, Something New. He continues the social commentary with "911" (as in emergency call 911), a pure blues number that directly addresses the alarming increase in High School shootings that were occurring in the United States at the time. Equally disturbing is "Nothin' Means Nothin'," which finds McDonald ruminating on hopelessness, suicide and the psychological plight of soldiers everywhere.
Following a humorous exchange with the audience that name checks then President Clinton, McDonald wraps up his portion of the show with the ever poignant "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag," complete with his notorious "Fish Cheer" to kick it off. This is perhaps the greatest example of McDonald addressing a serious issue with sarcasm and wit balanced by his humor and warmth. Even decades after it was written, it is remarkable how relevant this number remains. (Bershaw)