Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fillmore East May 24, 1968 Ravi Shankar/May 25, 1968 Country Joe and The Fish/Blue Cheer/Pigmeat Markham

(This post is part of a series cataloging every performance at The Fillmore East)

May 24, 1968 Ravi Shankar

Famed Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar appeared for a single show at the Fillmore East on Friday, May 24. Normally there was an early and late show at the Fillmore East, but Shankar's performances were typically very long, so a single performance was more appropriate.

Ravi Shankar (born in 1920) had spent time in Europe as a young man, so he was well-equipped to be the ambassador to the world for Indian music. Already renowned as a great Indian musician in the 1950s, he began to play in the United States and Europe in 1956. Shankar befriended record producer Dick Bock, owner of the Pacific Jazz label, and Bock created World Pacific Records to record Shankar. Shankar's tours and World Pacific albums helped spread interest in Indian music. The Byrds (associated with Bock) recorded in the same studio as Shankar, and the Byrds told George Harrison about Shankar. Once Shankar was associated with the Beatles, his star rose immediately. In Shankar's case, however, he was personally prepared and musically worthy of the attention drawn to him by the Beatles.

Although Ravi Shankar continued to play the Indian classical music that he always played, he had become an attraction on the rock circuit. Shankar had played Monterey Pop in June 1967, so he was comfortable with rock audiences. At the time, although Ravi Shankar was the only Indian musician that most Americans had ever heard of, he had a lot of underground credibility for a man nearing 50 years old.

May 25, 1968 Country Joe and The Fish/Blue Cheer/Pigmeat Markham

There was only a single show for the Saturday night performance, as well. I don't quite know why, since the bands were used to playing double shows.

Country Joe and The Fish were seen nationally as a San Francisco band, but really they were a Berkeley band, where overt political sentiments were not just acceptable but expected. The group's first album, Electric Music For The Mind And Body, had been released in April 1967 on Vanguard Records and had been very successful. San Francisco bands were developing a reputation for releasing albums that were inferior to their live performances, but Country Joe and The Fish made one of the earliest and best psychedelic albums.

The band had been founded in Berkeley as a folk duo by Joe McDonald and Barry Melton. "Country Joe" was a reference to Josef Stalin, and "The Fish" was a reference to Mao, obscure references that would have been relevant in Berkeley at the time. Upon seeing the Butterfield Blues Band at the Fillmore in 1966, Joe and Barry decided to "go electric" and put a band together. Nonetheless, it was a sensitive issue amongst band members that "The Fish" were not Joe McDonald's backing band, even if it may have seemed that way at times. After some changes, the 'classic' Country Joe and The Fish lineup which recorded the first two albums and played this night at the Fillmore East was Joe McDonald (vocals, guitar), Barry Melton (lead guitar, vocals), David Cohen (organ, guitar), Bruce Barthol (bass, vocals) and Chicken Hirsh (drums). Country Joe and The Fish were as dramatic and feedback-laden as any of the San Francisco bands, but they were veteran performers who put on an exciting and well-paced show as well, and they always went down extremely well in concert.

By the time of this show, the group had just released their second album, Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin-To-Die (Vanguard, March 68). The title track, Joe's famous "Feel Like I'm Fixin To Die Rag" (with its chorus "1, 2, 3 what are we fighting for?") had in fact been the first song Joe and Barry recorded, releasing it independently in 1965. The song had been re-recorded for the first album, but rejected by Vanguard for being "too political." By 1968, the overt politics of the band were seen as an asset. The album began with the title track, preceded by "The Fish Cheer," in which Joe asked the listener to "Give me an 'F'", and an answering (studio) crowd responded, and then an I, an S and an H, and when Joe asked "what's that spell?" they all responded "FISH." Today few realize that Joe's infamous cheer in the Woodstock movie was originally based on the band's name. The song is a true folk song, sung whenever America engages in unnecessary foreign wars (Joe wrote some new verses in the 1980s, about Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are sadly still serviceable today).

Blue Cheer returned, just a month after playing with Traffic, still touring behind their Phillips album Vincebus Eruptum and the surprise hit single "Summertime Blues."

Pigmeat Markham was a veteran African American comedian, currently popular on the NBC-TV comedy show Laugh-In for a repetitive bit around the catchphrase "Here Comes The Judge."

Next: May 31-June 1, 1968: Moby Grape/The Fugs/Gary Burton Quartet


  1. Ravi Shankar was accompanied at this performance by Alla Rakha.

  2. A weirdness of weirdness thing I have never seen before - for Skype users the article throws up a link a every plave that Barry's name is mentioned. I can only assume it has matched him to my address book - intrusive or what?