Woodstock Performers: Country Joe McDonald

Updated on April 29, 2019
Kaili Bisson profile image

Rockin’ before she could walk, a vinyl hound who can’t remember a thing because the words to all songs from 1960-2019 are stuck in her head.

Country Joe McDonald onstage at Woodstock
Country Joe McDonald onstage at Woodstock | Source

This series of articles—32 in all—covers each of the artists who performed at the original Woodstock festival August 15-18, 1969. Appearing on Day 2 prior to Country Joe was Boston-based Quill. Following Joe's set, Santana hit the stage.

Joe McDonald wasn't even supposed to appear as a solo act on Saturday. But, organizers were still trying to get the stage set up for Santana's appearance, and they needed someone to entertain the crowd while they waited. Joe, who was hanging around backstage, obliged them with a set that included what became the second anthem of the festival.

Who Is Joe McDonald?

Joe McDonald was born January 1, 1942 in Washington D.C. His parents had at one time been card-carrying members of the Communist party, and they named their son after Joseph Stalin. After the family moved to Southern California, Joe became involved in leftist politics while he was very young, attending rallies in support of farm workers and union organizers. There was always music at these events, and that was where his interest was peeked. He learned to play both the guitar and trombone. Then something happened that would change young Joe's view of the world forever. His father, who was a lineman for Pacific Bell, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and lost his job as a result.

In 1938, the Fish Committee and the McCormack-Dickstein Committee were reorganized to create The House Un-American Activities Committee or “HUAC.” HUAC had broad powers to investigate subversive activities and suspected communist ties. The committee targeted organizations, public employees and private citizens suspected of alleged disloyalty to the US government, and was able to subpoena witnesses to provide information regarding “un-American” activities that could lead to the apprehension of communists and fascists, and their collaborators and sympathizers. The committee’s main targets were communists, and through the 1940s and post-war 1950s, it actively pursued people in a variety of industries for suspected communist ties. As someone with a job on the vital electrical grid, Joe’s father would have been a prime candidate.

In 1959, Joe joined the Navy, hoping to see the world and meet girls. He remained with the forces until 1962, having visited several far-off locales, including Japan. Back home in California, he enrolled at Mt. San Antonio Junior College and LA State College, dropping out after a few semesters. While in college, he had started a radical magazine called "Et Tu," and married his sweetheart Kathe. He and his good friend Blair Hardman also put together an album called "The Goodbye Blues," that was mostly covers of folk songs and was never released.

Protest was in the air, and by 1965 Joe and Kathe had moved to Berkeley, where Joe enrolled at the University of California. He started playing folk clubs and coffeehouses, and also became part of the very active protest movement at Berkeley, organizing to get the R.O.T. C. off Berkeley campus, among other issues. Around this time, he started up another magazine called "Rag Baby" devoted to the San Francisco folk music scene. Issue number one of the magazine was a talking version released as an EP, with 100 copies produced and sold one-by-one. That EP contained two songs by Joe, "Who Am I?" and one that would become his signature song, "Fixin'-to-Die."

“And 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."

— From "The Vietnam Song"

Country Joe McDonald Performing "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" also known as "The Vietnam Song"

Joe McDonald's Woodstock

Somebody found Joe a guitar to play, with a rope tied to it in place of a guitar strap. At about 1:00 p.m., Chip Monck introduced Joe as his “very fond friend, Mr. Joe McDonald,” and on he went, wearing an army shirt and sunglasses, for his 30-minute set. Joe began by asking the audience if they were “having a good time,” and then started playing "Janis." The audience gave the song polite applause, as they did the eight numbers that followed.

Joe wanted so badly to get the audience on its feet and pumped for the day. He walked off the stage briefly and asked his manager if it was OK for him to play "The Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," since that song was already planned for Joe's set with The Fish the following day. His road manager told him to go ahead and play it, because nobody was paying attention anyway.

Now, by the time Woodstock rolled around, the "Fish Cheer" was well known by kids from the New York City area because of Joe's earlier Central Park performance and from airplay on underground radio stations. Literally thousands of New York kids were at Woodstock, and when Joe called out for an "F" and then a "U," the Woodstock audience went crazy.

The crowd was finally pumped for what was to follow. They were standing up, singing and clapping along. Joe had just given this huge crowd an anti-war anthem. The singalong is included in the original 1970 Woodstock film, with lyrics and a "bouncing ball" added, so that the film's audience could clap and sing along too.

Woodstock is our dream,

It's not an image on a movie screen,

And we can make it happen if we try,

Anywhere and anytime,

We can make it happen if we try,

Let's bring back the sixties, man!

Let's bring back the sixties, man!

— From the song "Let's Bring Back the Sixties", Joe McDonald

Five Musical Facts

  1. The “Country Joe” part of Joe's stage name was Joseph Stalin’s nickname.
  2. Some sources on Woodstock state that Joe performed right after Richie Havens on Friday. However, other sources, including photos and recordings, seem to confirm that it was on Saturday right after Quill.
  3. Joe has stated that he wrote "Fixin'-to-Die" in 30 minutes. “I was inspired to write a folk song about how soldiers have no choice in the matter but to follow orders, but with the irreverence of rock ’n’ roll. It’s essentially punk before punk existed.”
  4. Barry Melton, who later became Joe's band-mate in The Fish, also played in one of the bands that Joe belonged to while at Berkeley.
  5. Joe wrote the song "Janis" about former girlfriend Janis Joplin, who also performed at Woodstock on Day 2.

© 2019 Kaili Bisson


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      15 months ago from Canada

      Hi Dianna,

      Absolutely, some of the performances are legendary. One for sure was Hendrix and his version of "The Star Spangled Banner." Wow...even today, that gives me chills.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      15 months ago

      I remember the big hype Woodstock was at the time. I was only a young teen back then but I imagine some of the performers were amazing and made history.

    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      15 months ago from Canada

      Hi Flourish,

      Hippie stuff for sure! He is still alive and performing, as I will note in my article on "Country Joe and The Fish." They appeared on Day 3 of the festival.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      15 months ago from USA

      Wow, someone named after Stalin. Between that and the communist card carrying stuff, trying to get the ROTC kicked off campus, etc. that’s some liberal hippie stuff. His parents really laid the foundation. I wonder where he is today if he’s still alive.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)