Listen: Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine / Country Joe & The Fish CountryJoeMarthaLorraine.mp3
Listen: Who Am I / Country Joe & The Fish CountryJoeWhoAmI.mp3
Listen: I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die-Rag / Country Joe & The Fish CountryJoeFixin.mp3
Along with Big Brother & The Holding Company, Tim Rose, Moby Grape and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, I finally heard Country Joe & The Fish on Boston’s WBZ very late one night, summer ’67. I would lie awake for hours, a truly twisted little kid, listening to music from cities and towns only reachable after 9pm, when the FCC’s regulations at the time (maybe still) allowed their daytime ‘directional’ antennas to relax, and beam wider and farther. It was a smorgasbord of great late night radio – the kind you only hear about existing so long ago. All this music was actually there for me to hear by searching my pocket sized handheld device. Every kid had one even then: an AM transistor radio.
By summer ’67 I was an old pro at this – the previous spring/summer ’66 brought me the same privilege, but that year the bands were almost exclusively English. Boston and the whole Northeast was pretty UK centric when it came to radio programming. At night you’d hear The Moody Blues, The Small Faces, The Pretty Things, non-hits by hitmakers (Hollies/Troggs/Searchers/Swinging Blue Jeans/Zombies/Them) – loads of stuff. WBZ heavily played Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich’s ‘Hold Tight’ that year, but so did the local Syracuse stations. If it weren’t for Billboard, I’d of had no idea it wasn’t a national smash.
Well by summer ’67 we were at the very front end of what, by ’68, would become FM radio – all the fireside closeness that your pal, the pot head DJ, would exude. But just before it all got commercial, the late night Top 40′s were a Godsend.
I really wanted some records by this band though – and you couldn’t buy their singles for love or money then. Like The Seeds and Moby Grape, they seldom found their way east so it was all about patience in getting any exposure to them – unless you sprung for the album. I finally got ‘Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine’ via my scam with the adult station in town (they’d give me all their unplayable rock singles believing I was indeed from the local children’s hospital). Not until years later did I notice the annoying Farfisa that seemed to be so prevalent. How did I miss it then? I guess they just sat nicely as part of the San Francisco sound due to production and guitar style. Very Quicksilver like tones from Barry Melton (I think it was him).
‘Who Am I’ was the real clincher – hearing this one late at night – it really sounded fantastic. I’d clamp that radio to my ear as soon as it came on. Couldn’t play it too loud for fear of waking up my Mom & Dad – the music battling crickets and the sonic backdrop of the Thruway in the distance. Beautiful ambience.
Woodstock took ‘I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die’ mainstream – FM underground mainstream that is. By then (’69), the band was fried – it didn’t matter. But these singles: classic period pieces.