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Maryland Deathfest

Maryland Deathfest

Maryland Deathfest er en af de begivenheder man kigger på hvert år og savler over alle de gode ting der skal spille der, men som man aldrig får mulighed til at tage til, i dette tilfælde på grund af beliggenheden i Baltimore. Les mer.

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45 år siden Woodstock festivalen og I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag med Country Joe McDonald

45 år siden Woodstock festivalen og I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag med Country Joe McDonald

‘Give me an ‘F’…

VMD2-79266The Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag – Country Joe McDonald*

Cotillion 500 (USA) / Atlantic 2662 001 (UK)
Released May 1970
Writer Joe McDonald

Producer Eric Blackstead

It was quite by chance that while listening to some Lionel Hampton sides from the 1930s I came across ‘Muskrat Ramble’ featuring Harry James on trumpet (US Victor 26017, July 1937). It stopped me dead in my tracks. I’d heard that tune before, but where was that? Ah yes, Country Joe’s ‘I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag’ as featured in the movie and album, Woodstock. Turns out our friend Joe McDonald had pinched the tune for his satirical anti-Vietnam song which became one of the highlights of the Woodstock Festival. Further research revealed that ‘Muskrat Ramble’ was something of a Dixieland standard, recorded by all and sundry, and originally composed by Edward ‘Kid’ Ory around 1926. Such jazz legends as Sidney Bechet, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong had passed through Ory’s band – indeed, Louis recorded ‘Muskrat Ramble’ himself in 1926. Further surfing around the internet revealed that Ory’s publishers were well aware of McDonald’s infringement in the 1960s but didn’t bother doing anything about it. It wasn’t until 2001 that the composer’s daughter, Babette Ory, sued Joe McDonald, but she lost her case and an appeal since the court could see no good reason why she and the publishers had waited decades to take action. (Legal battles over musical copyrights are usually only won by the lawyers – Ms Ory was forced to pay McDonalds’s legal fees and had to sell most of her father’s copyrights in order to do so)

The Woodstock Music Festival, billed as, “An Aquarian Exposition” and promising “Three days of peace and music”, took place over the weekend of August 15th to 17th 1969 on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, actually some 43 miles from the village of Woodstock. It was one of the most important musical events of the 20th century. Originally intended to be a profit making exercise, around 186,000 tickets were sold in advance at $18 each, and the organizers expected a turn-out of about 200,000 people.
When several hundred thousand more turned up and fences began to be torn down, it became a ‘Free’ festival – there was in fact little else the organizers could do. Among the acts that appeared were Melanie, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar, John Sebastian, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Crosby, Stills and Nash (only their second live performance together), Santana, Ten Years After and Jimi Hendrix. Most of the artists had to be flown in by helicopter since there were miles of traffic jams surrounding the venue.

There were also numerous artists who were offered a spot, but to their later regret, had said, ‘No thanks’. That list included Free, Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Procol Harum, Moody Blues, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin. Apparently the Beatles were invited to appear via John Lennon, but Lennon said they would only perform if Yoko’s band (Plastic Ono Band) could play as well, though it’s highly unlikely the Beatles (who were at the point of splitting up anyway) would have agreed. Acts scheduled to appear who didn’t turn up included Iron Butterfly (who were stuck at the airport), the Jeff Beck Group (which included Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood but had just split up!) and Joni Mitchell. Seeing the chaos on TV, Joni elected to stay in her New York hotel room where she wrote the song, ‘Woodstock’. (Stephen Stills had started writing a song about the festival while being flown out by helicopter, but when he heard Joni’s he gave up. His band recorded Joni’s song for their album Déjà Vu) Considering there were upwards of 450,000 people at Woodstock and huge problems with food supply and sanitary facilities, the festival (which turned into a sea of mud after heavy rain showers) managed to sustain its’ intended ‘peace and love’ vibe and during the 3-day event there were two births and two accidental deaths – a pretty good average for a population of that size spread over a few acres of farmland. (The US Army choppered in medical supplies)

Highlights of the festival and subsequent movie included Santana’s ‘Soul Sacrifice’, Ten Years After’s show-stopping performance of ‘I’m Going Home’, Jimi Hendrix’ feedback rendition of ‘The Stars And Stripes’ and Country Joe’s ‘Fish Cheer/Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag’. Regarding ‘I’m Going Home’, Ten Years After vocalist/guitarist Alvin Lee recalls, “Nobody else wanted to follow us after we played it and we were quite ruthless about using it.” Unfortunately, the popularity of the song also had its drawbacks, and following the blistering performance at Woodstock Lee says, “You’d walk on stage and people would be shouting for ‘I’m Going Home’. Everything became focused on this one big high-energy number.”

The entire concert was recorded, though not all the acts agreed to have their performances released on record, or included in the movie, Creedence among them. Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic Records was offered the concert recording rights for $75,000 dollars, and as an afterthought he was also offered the movie rights for a further $25,000. Ertegun says he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to see a movie of a concert, so he turned the movie offer down. However, when the organizers couldn’t get anyone else interested, he coughed up the additional $25,000 anyway! (The movie, released the following year, was a huge success and cost next to nothing to make – Warners put up $100,000 – while the triple concert album sold 2 million copies in 1970 alone)

Country Joe, born Joseph Allen McDonald in Washington DC in 1941, put together his psychedelic rock band, Country Joe and The Fish, in 1965. Signed to folk label, Vanguard, their second album featured ‘The Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag’ as the opening cut. In its’ original form, ‘The Fish Cheer’ was, ‘Give me an F, give me an I, give me an S, give me an H’. For his performance at Woodstock, McDonald changed this to, ‘Give me an F, give me a U, give me a C, give me a K’, followed by the rhetorical question, ‘What’s that spell?’ Naturally, several hundred thousand voices responded with undisguised enthusiasm, something that should perhaps appear in The Guinness Book Of World Records? Joe performed twice at Woodstock – once solo on Saturday, and again with his band on Sunday. It was the solo rendition of the song that features in the movie and has become something of a historical musical performance.

McDonald’s song became one of the best known anti-Vietnam War songs (and let’s not forget that McDonald served three years in the US Marines), especially since anyone who was interested in music at the time went to see the Woodstock movie. He later expressed his belief that his fate was sealed as soon as he shouted, “Give me an F” and said: “After the movie came out, that’s all I was known for …It’s pretty hard to top the ‘Fish Cheer.’ I don’t know if I can do that.” In 1970, Joe McDonald was fined $500 for, “Uttering an obscenity during a performance of his song ‘I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag’.” Didn’t anybody notice he’d been doing this for years – and around half a million people with him? How about a quick singalong to finish? All together now: ‘Well it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam. And it’s five, six, seven, open up the Pearly Gates, well there ain’t no time to wonder why, Whoopee! we’re all gonna die”. Thanks Joe.
(A six-CD collection containing 77 tracks from the original festival was released as Woodstock 40 in 2009)

Copyright © 2009 SongStories/Tony Burton
song stories

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