When i look back on the last few months Country Joe & The Fish were still trying to keep the band together and go on in touring I remember all the confusion and all the arguments and all the exasperation—but also I remember so many nights when they played with all their old magic and uniqueness. Since I'd been working with them for four years as their producer for Vanguard Records, I wanted to try to capture some of these last moments on tape, so with engineer Ed Friedner—who had worked with me on the albums they did in New York—I stalked them for a number of nights on their last gigs.
We did the first recordings of them live at the Fillmore East, but we couldn't catch them at their nest. They were headlining a bill that opened with Procol Harum, continued with Ten Years After, and ended with Country Joe & The Fish. By the time the first two bands had finished it was the middle of the night, and both the audience and Joe and the Fish were too wiped out to make their music happen. We decided to make another try, so with Ed bribing his way on to an airplane with several hundred pounds of recording equipment as carry -on luggage we flew out to San Francisco to record what was going to be their last gig together. Ed rented a large moving van and set everything up outside the Fillmore Auditorium on Market Street.
The opening act was a new English band called Led Zeppelin, so we thought there was a chance the audience wouldn't be as limp for Joe and the Fish as they'd been in New York. Since it was going to be a final night on stage together the band decided to invite all their friends to join them, and backstage there was a long party before they went out to play. Ed was sitting in Ms van on the street outside, with Bill Belmont, who did a number of things with the Fish, helping htm keep track of what was happening on stage. A small TV monitor had been rigged up so Ed could see what the band was doing, but he had to keep watching the needles on the machines. It also turned out he had to watch his back.
A street gang tried to take over the van and Ed—who had learned a lot in his youth on New York streets—had to back them off with a broken bottle. Back stage the party went on so long that the band and their friends finally came out to play in a blaze of excitement and a heavy accumulation of controlled substances. But OR stage all of them immediately became the stars that they were, and after I'd made sure that everybody was playing and the sound to the van was working I went out front and looked up at the stage.
Here was one of the greatest line-ups of San Francisco's musicians I had ever seen—and each of them was into his own stage personality. Jorma was bent over his guitar, Steve was swaying up and down, Jerry was studying his strings, Joe was half-smiling, Barry was striding around his end of the, stage. It was as much show business as music, and at that moment I realized how far we all had come since I'd first seen everybody playing in Berkeley parks and in little clubs only a few years before.
I don't remember that everybody ever got in tune. I don't remember that most of the time the rhythm was that tight, but it didn't matter. It was one of those moments of the 60's that would never come again—and listening to it again after all these years, brings back that moment and so much of the mood of those chaotic years.
by Sam Charters
1. Introduction/Rock And Soul Music/Love (Joe McDonald, Barry Melton) - 6:15
2. Here I Go Again (Joe McDonald) - 4:42
3. It's So Nice To Have Your Love (Joe McDonald) - 6:31
4. Flying High (Joe McDonald) - 12:36
5. Doctor Of Electricity (Barry Melton) - 9:10
6. Donovan's Reef Jam (Joe McDonald, Steve Miller) - 38:18
Country Joe & The Fish
*Country Joe McDonald - Vocals, Guitar
*Barry Melton - Vocals, Electric Guitar
*David Cohen - Guitar, Keyboards
*Gary "Chicken" Hirsch - Drums, Percussion
*Jack Casady - Bass
*David Getz - Drums
*Mickey Hart - Drums
*Jerry Garcia - Guitar, Harp
*Jorma Kaukonen - Guitar
*Steve Miller - Guitar
the Free Text