Country Joe Mcdonald
McDonald has recorded 33 albums and has written hundreds of songs over a career spanning 40 years. He and Barry Melton co-founded Country Joe & the Fish which became a pioneer psychedelic rock band with their eclectic performances at The Avalon Ballroom, The Fillmore, Monterey Pop Festival and both the original and the reunion Woodstock Festivals.
Their best known song is his “The “Fish” Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag,” a black comedy novelty song about the Vietnam War, whose familiar chorus (“One, two, three, what are we fighting for?”) is well known to the Woodstock generation and Vietnam Veterans of the 1960s and 1970s. The “Fish Cheer” was the band performing a call-and-response with the audience, spelling the word “fish”, followed by Country Joe yelling, “What’s that spell?” twice, with the audience responding, and then, the third time, “What’s that smell?”, followed immediately by the song. The “Fish Cheer” evolved into the “Fuck Cheer” after the Berkeley free speech movement.
The cheer was on the original recording of the I-Feel-Like-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag, being played right before the song on the LP of the same name. The cheer became popular and the crowd would spell out F-I-S-H when the band performed live. During the summer of 1968 the band played on the Schaefer Music Festival tour. Gary “Chicken” Hirsh suggested before one of the shows to spell the word “fuck” instead of “fish.” Although the crowd loved it, the management of the Schaefer Beer Festival did not and kicked the band off the tour for life. The Ed Sullivan Show then canceled a previously scheduled appearance by the band, telling them to keep the money they had already been paid in exchange for never playing on the show. The modified cheer continued at most of the band’s live shows throughout the years, including Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival. In Massachusetts, McDonald was fined $500 for uttering “fuck” in public.
In 2003 McDonald was sued for copyright infringement over his signature song, specifically the “One, two, three, what are we fighting for?” chorus part, as derived from the 1926 early jazz classic “Muskrat Ramble”, co-written by Kid Ory. The suit was brought by Ory’s daughter Babette, who held the copyright at the time. Since decades had already passed from the time McDonald composed his song in 1965, Ory based her suit on a new version of it recorded by McDonald in 1999. The court however upheld McDonald’s laches defense, noting that Ory and her father were aware of the original version of the song, with the same questionable section, for some three decades without bringing a suit. In 2006, Ory was ordered to pay McDonald $750,000 for attorney fees and had to sell her copyrights to do so.
In 2004, Country Joe regrouped with some of the original members of Country Joe and The Fish as the Country Joe Band – Bruce Barthol, David Bennett Cohen, and Gary “Chicken” Hirsh. The band toured the United States and the United Kingdom. In the spring of 2005, McDonald joined a larger protest against California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget cuts at the California State Capitol Building.