Music » The Hum

Go Fish

Barry Melton talks politics, plus Ronstadt con mariachi and a big jar of jam



Back in 1965, when musicians in San Francisco were just starting to invent psychedelic rock, an equally psychedelic folk/rock band called Country Joe and The Fish formed across the Bay in Berkeley, initially to serve as opening act at a campus performance by The Fugs and the poet Allen Ginsberg.

In the beginning, the band was Joe McDonald and guitarist Barry "The Fish" Melton. Berkeley was a political place at the time, revolution was in the air, and The Fish was a revolutionary band. Their manager, ED Denson (now a SoHum lawyer), pulled "the Fish" from a Chairman Mao quote: "The revolutionary is a fish that swims in the ocean of the masses." With some added members, the band went on to iconic status playing the Avalon and the Fillmore and famously (since it's in the film) at Woodstock.

Forty-some-odd years later, Melton is working as a Yolo County public defender, but he still plays music, and will do so Saturday at SoHum's home of classic rock, the Riverwood Inn.

Since politics is once again in the air, I asked Barry about the intersection of rock and politics. He replied, "Rock ’n' roll has a significant part of its heritage wrapped up in the vast span of American music: blues, country, folk, jazz and popular music. All of those idioms have, at times, political content interwoven into them. For the most part, and under ordinary circumstances, politics doesn't fit into our lives all that much, but given a significant turn of events (like hard times), whatever is going on eventually becomes a part of all art forms. Not to be intentionally trivial, but it was Bertolt Brecht who said, 'The job of an artist is to reflect his times.'"

Melton is bringing along some old friends with their own individual histories. Multi-instrumentalist Lowell "Banana" Levinger was in The Youngbloods. Drummer Roy Blumenfeld (who was just here with Nick Gravenites) was in The Blues Project and Seatrain. Bass player Steve Ashman founded the Zazu Pitts Memorial Orchestra. Melton describes his ad hoc band as "guys from the Sixties who are in our sixties." So, what should you expect Saturday?

"My dear friend Spencer Dryden, who passed away a few years back, loved to gig on Saturday nights as the years went by," Melton recalled. "Spencer would say, 'Old musicians are fortunate -- we're like a group of old guys who sit around and play poker; but when we get together to play, nobody has to be a loser -- we all have fun and we can take a bunch of people along with us.' I think the very special part of playing with Banana, Peter and Roy is that we're all around the same age, we understand each other musically, and we all still love to play. We can swap songs and improvise in an idiom that's easily accessible to each of us, and on a good night it can get kind of magical. It's a good life."

Linda Ronstadt stated cranking out hits in the ’60s, when she sang with L.A. folk-rock band The Stone Poneys and continued through the ’70s, when her folk/pop excursions made her the best-paid women in rock. She would later turn to jazz standards, hit Broadway and, in the ’80s, embrace her Mexican-American roots. Border music is in her blood -- she's originally from Arizona, from mixed Mexican-American/German/English heritage -- and her current tour, which brings her to the Van Duzer Sunday, once again looks South of the Border as she reunites with Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, one of the bands that appeared on her 1987 album Canciones de Mi Padre.

When he's not jamming with ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra), Dave Brogan fronts his own band, playing jammy folk-rock. He'll be at Humboldt Brews Thursday, a jammin' place all week. Friday HumBrews has Miles Ahead, who bid goodbye to sax player Dan Pearson. Saturday it's jazz/funk from Seattle's Flowmotion with local funksters Moo-Got-2 opening. (BTW, they are the answer to last week's Zoolander quiz.)

Coming up Tuesday, Oct. 28, at HumBrews is the return of Toubab Krewe, a truly fine band from Asheville, N.C., who jam on traditional North African blues, transmuting it into something totally original and totally awesome. Bring merch money: pre-release copies of the Krewe's new disc, Live at the Orange Peel, are available exclusively at their shows. For a preview tune in to KHUM that afternoon, they'll be in the studio with Mike Dronkers at 1 p.m.

Equally jameriffic: McTuff, a band started by Hammond organist Joe Doria as an ode to soul jazz organ greats like Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith that now includes the inimitable Skerik on sax. They're at the Red Fox Saturday. Coming up Monday, Oct. 27, at the Fox, a special edition of the Acid Jazz Experiment (No. 26) to celebrate Brian Swizlo's birthday. Expect special guests, surprises and "one hell of a party!"

Don't know much about Toph's House, the new venue in Benbow, but I imagine it will be full of people Friday night when Bermudan dancehall star Colin Harper, aka Collie Buddz, returns to SoHum with The New Kingston Band. Collie, who played this summer's Reggae Rising, is what you might call a sound-clash warrior. He explains, "Back when Beenie and Bounty used to war lyrically, seeing clashes wit' Kilimanjaro an all, the sound-man an' everyt'ing -- the whole music scene for me took on a new meaning. Clash thing an' lyrical war became a part of my daily life from early out." DJ Pee-Wee, Rise of the Revolution and DJ Selecta Prime open the show, which, being close to Halloween, is a costume party. I don't know the size of Toph's, but I'd say advance tickets are in order.

More reggae? Wednesday, Oct. 29, Sonoma's studious roots band Groundation returns to the Mateel. The band originally came out of the music program at Sonoma State, where Harrison Stafford taught a course called "History of Reggae Music." That was 10 years ago; the rootsmen have been around the world a coupla time since, spreading the reggae vibe.

The Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir holds its annual Harvest Concert Saturday at the Arcata Presbyterian Church, with a special guest set by the worldly a cappella group AkaBella. Note that this is the first Harvest show for new choir director Jaese Lecuyer, who's been singing with the choir since 1995.

Friday night at HSU's Fulkerson Recital Hall: A show put together by local percussion guru Eugene Novotney and Marimba One features Polish marimba soloist Katarzyna Mycka playing music composed for the instrument by an international array of composers, including Anna Ignatowicz from Poland.

Folklifer Maia Cheli-Colando interviewed Katarzyna and asked if her music isdistinctly Polish. "Yes," she replied, "I think there are some specific features that [differentiate] players from different continents, countries. Poland in this case is pretty specific: very patriotic, proud, but also kind of revolutionary. The geographical position of my country is possibly uncomfortable, between two big and strong nations, Russia and Germany, but we've never given up the independence.

"For marimba music with Polish feeling, I was looking for somebody who understands the sound and features of marimba, and I'm so happy to have found the person. Her name is Anna Ignatowicz and her compositions definitely sound 'Polish' and touch my national soul." (Find more of Maia's interview on the Journal Blogthing.)


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