Bruce Barthol, Country Joe & the Fish Bassist, Dies at 75

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Country Joe and the Fish (Bruce Barthol at upper right)

Bruce Barthol, the original bassist for the Bay Area psychedelic-folk-rock band Country Joe and the Fish, died yesterday (Feb. 20, 2023). Barthol, who played on the group’s first three albums, was 75. No cause or place of death has yet been reported.

Barthol, who was born on November 11, 1947, in Berkeley, Calif.  Barry Melton, the group’s lead guitarist, posted on his Facebook page: “Oh … this is so difficult … saw him on Valentines Day & thought he had much longer … he was such a wonderful person … we were in high school together, and we met each other even before that … did I mention he played bass in one of the earliest electric versions of Country Joe and the Fish?…”

Bruce Barthol

Country Joe and the Fish were founded in 1965 by singer-songwriter “Country” Joe McDonald and Melton. Many of their songs focused on political and social issues of the day, and were first released on two EPs, Talking Issue #1: Songs of Opposition (Rag Baby, 1965) and Country Joe and the Fish (Rag Baby, 1966). With the addition of keyboardist/guitarist David Cohen, drummer Gary “Chicken” Hirsh and Barthol on bass, the group gained popularity on the local circuit, performing at San Francisco venues such as the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom, as well as outside of the Bay Area.

Related: Drummer “Chicken” Hirsh died in 2021

The quintet signed with Vanguard Records and released its debut full-length album, Electric Music for the Mind and Body, in 1967. The album reached #39 on the Billboard LPs chart and was followed later that year by I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die (#67). Its opening track, “The ‘Fish’ Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” became a counterculture anthem that was performed solo by McDonald at the 1969 Woodstock festival.

By that time, Barthol had already exited the group, having contributed to one final album with the Fish, 1968’s Together, their highest charting album (#23), He went on to work with other bands and served as the musical director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe into the next century. Barthol released one solo album, The Decline and Fall of Everything, and according to his Wikipedia entry, also wrote for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and the Oberlin Dance Company.

Watch Country Joe and the Fish perform “Section 43” at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2023

Jeff Tamarkin

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