Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Thursday January 20, 1966: Questing Beast, 2504 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Although advertised as a Joe McDonald show, evidence points to this being the first true Country Joe and The Fish show as a band. Country Joe McDonald, Barry Melton, Paul Armstrong, David Cohen, John Francis Gunning and Bruce Barthol played "Bass Strings" and other songs. There is a chance that David Cohen, who was also still playing regular solo shows, was not present on this occasion.

In Joel Selvin's book San Francisco: The Musical History Tour, Selvin discusses an Instant Action Jug Band show in late 1965 that took place at the Cabale Creamery. By his account McDonald, Melton and Barthol played "Bass Strings". If this were correct then it would date it to well before late 1965 as the Cabale had been closed since the Spring. After November 19, 1965 the 2504 San Pablo location was home to the Questing Beast - the venue having also been called The Good Buddy and Caverns West since it was the Cabale Creamery. Therefore either the date is wildly incorrect, or (much more probably in my view) the location correct (2504 San Pablo) but the venue name and date incorrect. Furthermore, in an interview with Mojo Navigator (Issue 10), John Francis Gunning states that the first Country Joe and The Fish show was at the Questing Beast. The implication is that earlier shows had either been Instant Action Jug Band shows or Country Joe and The Fish as the McDonald/Melton duo - with augmentation by others – typically the Jabberwock irregulars.

The first steady line-up of Country Joe and The Fish featured Joe McDonald and Barry Melton (The Fish – or Blind Ebbets Field), Bruce Barthol, David Cohen, John Francis Gunning and Paul Armstrong. Armstrong would stay until the June of 1966 when he would be unable to sustain his commitment to the band.

At the time of this performance, the band would still have been very much an acoustic set up.


  1. And its appropriate that the next night featured Malachi playing "psychedelic music." Had the word appeared in a music ad in Berkeley (either a flyer or The Barb) before this?

  2. It is a good thought - and I have had a brief check and have indeed found an earlier reference than this listing which dates from early January 1966 and was published in Rag Baby (Volume 1, Number 3 - the final issue). It takes us all the way back to the first issue (Volume 1, Number 1) of Rag Baby published in early September 1965. There was still a lot of folk and square dancing going on at that time and listings appear for such performers as the Walnut Whirlers (from Walnut Creek) and the Terpsichorean Folk Dancers. Pretty much any day of the week would give ten or twelve options for a fun time.

    However, sitting in with the listings for The Jabberwock, The Matrix and Cedar Alley Coffee House amongst others one finds the listings for The Intersection (then at 150 Ellis Street, San Francisco) – a coffee house based multi-faith ministry. The Intersection is worthy of more effort at some point as there were many listings available and I have a long overdue for publication piece. This listing tells us that they had a weekly structure at this time which broadly translates to:

    Sunday: Films
    Monday: Closed (as were nearly all bay Area venues at this time)
    Tuesday: Auditions
    Wednesday: Miscellaneous (theater, hoot, etc.)
    Thursday: Theater or Films
    Friday and Saturday: Folk

    And having looked through the first few Barbs, I can confirm that the earliest listing I am aware of for “Malachi – Psychedelic Music” appears for a Friday September 17, 1965 performance at the Intersection. I very much doubt that the Intersection produced any other advertising – maybe a chalk board inside what I understand to be a tiny hole in the wall venue.

    The Intersection soon moved from the Tenderloin to St. John's Methodist Church at 756 Union Street on the edge of North Beach and now resides as the Intersection for the Arts out at 446 Valencia Street in the Mission District. A lengthy history may be found inked from their website: www.theintersection.org.

    An interesting little addition to this comes from the same issue of Rag Baby. The Blue Unicorn (1927 Hayes, San Francisco) lists the subject of the September 27 meeting of the League for Sexual Freedom (sic) as “Psychedelics, A Roundabout Way To Sex”.

  3. I was intrigued and had to check. It seems that the "Walnut Whirlers" are alive and well still folk dancing in Walnut Creek.

  4. I have just bbeen looking through the archives and have come across the Intersection article I wrote dated 1990 (on an Amstrad). I had forgotten that there were very strong links with the Glide Memorial Church which is located only a block away from the original Ellis location.

    It looks like the original article needs a considerable rewite - i'll add it to the list.