Friday, May 30, 2014

Country Joe and the Fish -- "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" (1967)


You know that it's a shame and a pity
You were raised up in the city
And you never 
Learned nothing 'bout country ways

I guess I never learned nothing 'bout country ways or city ways neither.  That's because I grew up in a town of about 35,000 souls that wasn't really the city or the country. 

So I never learned nothing 'bout high-rise apartment buildings or subways or streetwalkers.  And I certainly never learned nothing 'bout hunting or fishing or milking cows.

Then what exactly did I learn?  Not a whole helluva lot, boys and girls.  

So here I am -- 62 years old today and still trying to catch up for lost time.

Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock
One thing I do know is that the lead singer and co-founder of Country Joe and the Fish was "Country Joe" McDonald.  But I did not know about Barry "The Fish" Melton, the lead guitarist and co-founder of Country Joe and the Fish.

After contributing to six Country Joe and the Fish studio albums and appearing with the band at it's memorable performances at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, Melton decided to become a lawyer.  He didn't attend law school, but rather took courses from LaSalle Extension University before taking (and passing) the California bar exam in 1982.

Melton practiced law in San Francisco for about a decade, then was a public defender in two different northern California counties from 1994 until 2009.

Barry "The Fish" Melton
Today, Melton (who will turn 67 in two weeks) is in private practice in Lake County.  He specializes in criminal defense work. 

Country Joe McDonald never became a lawyer, but he was a witness in a famous trial -- the "Chicago Seven" conspiracy trial, which took place in 1969.

His testimony at that trial got off to a roaring start:

THE CLERK: You will remove your gum, sir.

THE WITNESS: What gum?

THE CLERK: That you are chewing on.

THE WITNESS: I am afraid that I don't have any gum.

THE CLERK: You may be seated, sir.

McDonald was then examined by the famous radical defense attorney, William Kunstler:

MR. KUNSTLER: Would you state your full name, please?

THE WITNESS: Country Joe.

MR. KUNSTLER: What is your occupation?

THE WITNESS: I am a minister in the New Universal Life Church. I am a rock and roll star, I am a producer of phonograph records. Father, husband, leader of a rock and roll band. Singer, composer, poet, owner of a publishing company, and a few other things.

MR. KUNSTLER: Do you currently have a rock and roll band?

THE WITNESS: Yes, I do.

MR. KUNSTLER: What is the name of that band?

THE WITNESS: Country Joe and the Fish.

Radical defense attorney William Kunstler
At this point, prosecuting attorney Schultz interrupted Kunstler:

MR. SCHULTZ: For the record may we have the witness's full name? Country Joe is really not sufficient.

THE COURT: I am assuming that his Christian name is Country. He is under oath. He was asked his name.

MR. SCHULTZ: It might be the name that he uses and not the name that was originally his.

THE COURT: Is Country your first name?

THE WITNESS: Yes.

THE COURT: That is your first name or Christian name, is that right?

THE WITNESS: Some people call me Country, yes.

THE COURT: What is your real name?

THE WITNESS: Country.

THE COURT: You say some people call you that. What is your real name, sir?

THE WITNESS: I am afraid I don't understand what real means.

Judge Julius J. Hoffman
Later, Country Joe broke out into song -- much to the chagrin of the Judge Julius J. Hoffman:

THE WITNESS: At that point Abbie Hoffman wanted to know what the song was, and then I -- then I sang the song. It goes: [he sings] "And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn. The next stop is Vietnam. And it's --"

THE COURT: No, no, no, Mr. Witness. No singing.

THE WITNESS: "five, six, seven -- "

THE COURT: Mr. Marshal --
[the marshal goes over to Country Joe and puts his hand on Joe's chin to close his mouth]

THE MARSHAL: The Judge is talking.

THE COURT: No singing is permitted in the courtroom. You are here to answer questions. You may continue telling about this conversation.

(I highly recommend that you click here to read the entire transcript.  It is a hoot.)  
The song that McDonald attempted to sing that day in the courtroom was "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," an antiwar song that Mc Donald wrote in 1965 -- supposedly finishing it in less than 30 minutes. 
The song was released on the album of the same name in 1967, but it is known today because McDonald gave an impromptu solo performance of it at Woodstock in 1969. 
But I think "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" (which was released in 1967 on the Electric Music for the Mind and Body album) is the most enduring accomplishment of Country Joe and the Fish.


The lines quoted above come from the song's chorus.  That's because I couldn't decided which of the song's verses to quote.
The first verse, which includes these lines, is pretty weird:
She hides in an attic concealed on a shelf
Behind volumes of literature based on herself
And runs across the pages like some tiny elf
The next verse is pretty weird, too:
Then softly she will explain
Just exactly who was to blame
For causing me to go insane
And finally blow out my brain
The final two verses are much weirder -- to use technical musical terminology, they are "weirdissimo."

Here's the final verse in its entirety:
Now she's the one who gives us all those magical things
And reads us stories out of the I Ching
Then she passes out a whole new basket of rings
That when you put on your hand
Makes you one of the angel band
And gives you the power to be a man
But what it does for her you never quite understand
Sweet Lorraine, ah, sweet Lorraine
(Say what?)

"Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" song was released in May 1967, just as tens of thousands of hippies and other members of the counterculture descended on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco for what is now known as the "Summer of Love."
I visited Haight-Ashbury -- or "the Haight," which is what we cool kids call it -- last month while in San Francisco for my sister's wedding.

Rooky Ricardo's Records
One of the highlights of the visit was Rooky Ricardo's Records, which opened on lower Haight Street about 25 years ago.  It stocks thousands of 45s and LPs, and its owner -- Richard "Funky Dick" Vivian -- not only has an encyclopedic knowledge and soul and R&B records, but also can teach you the Mashed Potato, the Pony, the Stroll, and many other sixties dances.

More of the inventory
at Rooky Ricardo's
Click here to view a brief video about Rooky Ricardo's.
Flipping through record bins is thirsty work, but the Toronado Pub -- a scruffy dive bar that offers an incredible selection of foreign and American craft beers -- was just across the street from Rooky Ricardo's:
Toronado Pub
Here are a few of the beers that were on tap at the Toronado that day:


There are lots of little surprises in the lower Haight if you keep your eyes open,  like this beautifully painted door:

And this building mural:


This building stands just below Haight on Fillmore:


Less than a mile from the Toronado is the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets, which was ground zero for the "Summer of Love."  The neighborhood is full of beautiful Victorian houses:



No visit to the Haight is complete without making the obligatory pilgrimage to the house at 710 Ashbury where the Grateful Dead lived from 1966 to 1968:

Here's "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine":


Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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