Country Joe and the Fish was an American psychedelic rock band formed in Berkeley, California, in 1965. The band was among the influential groups in the San Francisco music scene during the late 1960s. Much of the band's music was written by founding members Country Joe McDonald and Barry "The Fish" Melton, with lyrics pointedly addressing issues of importance to the counterculture, such as anti-war protests, free love, and recreational drug use. Through a combination of psychedelia and electronic music, the band's sound was marked by innovative guitar melodies and distorted organ-driven instrumentals which were significant to the development of acid rock.
Country Joe and the Fish learned to play as a group and expand their repertoire at the Jabberwock Cafe in Berkeley in late 1965 and 1966. Beginning as a folk-rock jug band type of group, over time and based on McDonald and Melton's interest in the live performances of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the recordings on Bob Dylan's album, Highway 61 Revisited, and their use of the mind-altering drug LSD, the group began equipping themselves with electric instruments and delving more into psychedelia. Melton describes the change of the group: "Once we hit into the electric medium and into the rock medium, we became extraordinarily popular. The little folk club where we used to play once every two weeks, we played every single night for a month, or something like that, and filled it. And after a while we filled two shows every single night".
As Country Joe and the Fish's popularity grew, the band relocated to San Francisco in early 1966 and became popular fixtures at the Avalon and the Filmore Auditorium. On June 6, 1966, the band recorded a second self-produced EP, and debuted the new psychedelic rock incarnation of the group. The EP fulfilled the band's ambitions to incorporate electric instruments into their music, effectively melding the instrumentals and pioneering an early template for the musical subgenre of acid rock. It included McDonald's compositions "(Thing Called) Love" and "Bass Strings" on the A-side and the six-minute "Section 43" on the B-side. Music historian Richie Unterberger praised "Section 43", saying its "Asiatic guitar, tribal maracas, devious organ, floating harmonica, and ethereal mid-sections of delicate koto-like guitar picking rivaled the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's East West as the finest psychedelic instrumental ever". Within three months, airplay of the EP spread across the new underground radio stations, reaching as far as New York City, and establishing Country Joe and the Fish as a nationally relevant musical act.
In December 1966, the group signed a recording contract with Vanguard Records just as the folk label was attempting to branch out into the growing psychedelic rock scene. Electric Music for the Mind and Body was released on May 11, 1967. Much of the album's material continued to expand upon the band's new psychedelic medium, with it embracing all facets of the members' influences, which ranged from their folk roots, blues, raga rock and hard rock. McDonald's lyrical content, which brazenly pronounced topics of political protest, recreational drug use, and love, augmented by satirical humor, clearly introduced the band's orientation and message. Electric Music for the Mind and Body was a success upon release, charting at number 39 on the Billboard 200, and remains one of the most enduring psychedelic works of the counterculture era. Melton attributes the album's success, particularly in San Francisco, to the band's appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Subsequently, the group toured the East Coast with an elaborate psychedelic light show.
The band returned to the studio, this time at Vanguard Studios in New York City, between July and September 1967. When "Superbird", a tune mocking President Lyndon Johnson, was not banned from radio promotion, the band was given the go-ahead to record "The Fish Cheer", and the song became the title track of the band's second album, I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die, released in November 1967. The album was not as successful as its predecessor, but still charted at number 67. The composition represented growing anti-war sentiment expressed by those opposing the Vietnam War, and is often considered one of the most recognized and celebrated protest songs of the era.
The song met unprecedented exposure among the band's young audience after a performance at the Schaefer Music Festival in New York City, in the summer of 1968. Drummer Chicken Hirsh suggested that instead of the opening chorus spelling "fish", it would spell "fuck", giving birth to the infamous "Fuck Cheer". The crowd of young teenagers and college students applauded the act; however executives from The Ed Sullivan Show barred Country Joe and the Fish from their scheduled appearance on the program, and any other possible events. Their third album, Together, released in August 1968, featured songwriting by all of the band members and charted at number 23 nationally.
Between January 9 and 11, 1969, the band performed at the Fillmore West as a farewell to the group's most famous lineup, with Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane standing in as the bass player. The band was joined by Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Steve Miller, and Mickey Hart for the 38-minute finale, "Donovan's Reef Jam". Recordings from the concerts were later assembled on the live album Live! Fillmore West 1969. Notably, opening for Country Joe and the Fish at these shows was a new band from England called Led Zeppelin.
Country Joe reassembled the band for a last-minute scheduling at the Woodstock Festival [they do not appear on the pre-concert posters]. Among the festival's most memorable moments was McDonald's unexpected solo acoustic performance on August 16, 1969, which included "The Fuck Cheer" as a finale. The audience receptively responded by chanting along with McDonald. McDonald's rendition of "The Fuck Cheer" propelled the song into the mainstream culture in the U.S. In December 1969, McDonald began his own career outside the band,