Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fischer
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Country Joe

Wick's World


This week I received an email in which the writer pointed out a mistake I had made in a former column. Once in a while, a band will come up with major hit. The lead singer will get all of the credit while the band itself will remain unnamed. Or sometimes a band will be given credit for another band's song. Such was the case in a recent column of mine that I had written about facing our mortality. I gave Joe Cocker credit for a verse in the song, "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag." The verse is "Ain't no time to wonder why, whoopee, we're all gonna' die" and the band "Country Joe and the Fish" performed the song. Joe Cocker had nothing to do with it. The true composer is Country Joe MacDonald.

Thank you for pointing this out, Denis. Also, thanks for reading my column and giving me a Monday morning subject to write about. Ideas can be hard to come up with. There is no better feeling for a writer than to recognize that he has followers. It matters not to me if the message is a criticism or compliment, although I prefer the latter. This reader gave me a lesson in checking my memory before sending the story off to print.

The biggest misnomer in that story is this: Country Joe is not Joe Cocker. The man known as Country Joe is Joe MacDonald. How could I miss this? After all I had written about the song "Country Joe and the Fish" will forever be remembered by. Who can forget "Country Joe" standing on the stage screaming at a half a million freaks, "Give me an f," and "What's that spell?"

My biggest error, however, was forgetting the fact that I knew Joe MacDonald from a short period last century when he was living in Madison, Wisconsin. I was visiting my son in Madison and it happened to be Veteran's Day. Being a good ex-paratrooper, I moseyed my way down to the Wisconsin State Capitol. Performing in the Capitol Rotunda were several speakers and a Native American Honor Drum ensemble.

It should be noted that during wartime, statistically, Native Americans are our country's greatest warriors. I can attest to that as I served with several when I was drafted into the U.S. Army from my home state of South Dakota.

Following the drum circle, a man about my age brought an acoustic guitar and a lady onstage. I later learned she was his wife, although more than one musician has been married to their guitar. I recognized the man's features from some part of my past, specifically, the 60s. As soon as he hit a few licks on the guitar and then began to sing, "Come on all you big strong men, Uncle Sam needs your help again," I knew I was standing a few feet away from the man who sang the anti-war anthem at Woodstock.

The setting at the Capitol was quite informal and intimate. I had a chance to talk with my Woodstock hero for a while following his short musical set. Joe had temporarily put aside his musical career and was running a health food store in Madison along with his wife. He looked a lot less like a rock star and more like an everyday Madison, Wisconsin hippie. No one was in any hurry to go anywhere that day so we stood back stage and talked for a while. What about? I have no memory of that. I like to think our rap session went something like this.

"Mr. Country, what was it like standing in front of a half million people shouting out an obscene give and take?"

"Mr. Veteran, I have been asked that question a half million times. You got something better?"

"Mr. Country, how did you get the name Joe?"

"Give me an f!" Country Joe MacDonald replied.


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