“Best of them all, the very best, that was Country Joe [McDonald]. Now, that’s one heavy dude, and that ain’t no shit. Y’know, man, like on Friday, they was havin’ trouble getting their shit together. Afraid there might be dead air on stage. But they find out Country Joe was there, and they asked him to do a set. Now, he ain’t on their program, and he was just hangin’. But, y’know Country, he just played just about every gig anyone asked him for. Lot of them were for nothing, just to help the Cause. Even wrote some good shit, too. Powerful political shit. That ‘Fixin’ to Die Rag’ gave America a conscience. At least some of America. Last couple of years, hardly anyone seen him. He’d been lying low, and he didn’t want to do this gig. Well, they told him they needed him. I mean they really needed him. So he gets out there and follows Richie Havens. Can you believe that?! Anyhow, there’s a whole mess of us out there. More’n Country’s seen in his whole freakin’ life! And he’s scared shitless. And we don’t know ’bout Country, him bein’ out of circulation so long. But he gave us the Fish Cheer, and everyone went wild, just a-yellin’ and a-hollerin’. And Country, he was just a whoppin’ up there, doin’ his thing. I mean, like he couldn’t do no wrong. He made it happen, man. But, wait, that’s not all of it! When the big rains came [Sunday], and there were electrical lines all over the place, and all of us were scared shitless ’cause we thought we might fry ’cause we didn’t think they’d ever turn off all that electricity fast enough, Country [and the Fish] gets up on the stage and they sang to us. Got our minds off things. None of us could hear him. But he was singing for all he was worth! Calmed us down. Sucker sure do know his shit!”
— Aggie Silver in Before the First Snow, by Walter M. Brasch
Joseph A. McDonald (1942 - ), now 70, is still touring and bring a social conscience to America. This year, his show is the critically-acclaimed “A Tribute to Woody Gutherie,” in honor of the great folksinger/song writer, who was born 100 years ago.
Country Joe grew up in El Monte, Calif., and was exposed to a wide range of music and causes. His political convictions for social justice and his virulent anti-war stance were shaped early by his parents. Worden McDonald, a Scottish Presbyterian, was a journalist; Florence Plotkin, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, was an activist who served several years on the Berkeley, Calif., city council.
During the mid-1960s, Country Joe combined music and journalism, editing Rag Baby, an alternative magazine, while perfecting his music on the West Coast.
Country Joe, like many in the arts, especially those with a social conscience, is hated by the extreme right wing. In 2005, Bill O’Reilly, which the right wing considers to be moderate, attacked Country Joe for being the chair of the Berkeley Veterans Day Committee, called Berkeley “the most insane town in the U.S.A.’ and called its residents “pinheads.” “Why don’t you ask Fidel Castro?” O’Reilly sarcastically suggested. Ironically, although O’Reilly never served in the military, Country Joe is a Navy veteran who later toured Viet Nam during the war to entertain American and allied soldiers.
On this, the third day of Memorial Day Week, let’s take a moment to watch Country Joe at Woodstock: