Country Joe & The Fish emerged on the US West Coast music scene at a time when a plethora of new directions were replacing the old, safer certainties that had most recently been embodied in the so-called folk revival with all its careful shaping and marketing to middle-class white America. Joe McDonald and his sidekicks had been involved as folkies during the revival, though distinctly not as part of the matching shirt set. They had been student campus based, with all the potential political activity that you would normally associate with that. They had issued a couple of private pressing EPs, the second of which had somehow managed to gain sales across the country, even reaching the folk rock scene of New York. It was these beginnings that made Vanguard Records pick them up as representative of the new guitar-led acid rock groups that eventually replaced the mass of Beatles copyists and harmony vocal groups. At this stage the term 'acid rock' had yet to be coined, but all over the States and in the hipper circles in Europe listeners were well aware something new was happening. Country Joe & the Fish were one of the earliest groups to get exposure, before Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead properly got going, and this initial 1967 album for Vanguard was a solid statement of intent.
Signing to a proper record label gave the group the chance to re-visit in more professional form some of the repertoire that they had issued on their EPs. Both ‘Bass Strings’ and ‘Section 43’ from the second one had gone along way to defining the surprisingly wide parameters of what became known as the San Francisco Sound. Some of their music had a fascinating mix of organ lines, harmonica and strident high guitar lines, whilst some, like Bass Strings and Grace were quiet and reflective. This latter track was a very bold way to close this debut album, with its gentle guitar and tinkling and clicking percussive effects, all very much contrasting with the punchy blues-based rock of the opening track ‘Flying High’. They had set out their stall, and had an impressive breadth of musical feels to bring to the table. Vanguard issued ‘Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine’ as a single, hoping that the then current chart focus on San Francisco via hits from Scott McKenzie and Eric Burdon's Animals would help it along, but after a couple of weeks at Billboard #95 it dropped out of the Hot 100, swamped by a new swathe of pop hits. However this set-back did not stop the group gathering substantial momentum from this debut album and its follow-up, “I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die”, which unleashed their signature title song from their first EP on the world and continued to build their reputation as one of the most varied and interesting groups of the new wave. This album stands up unbelievably well, with its invention and variety of playing and the strength of Joe McDonald's songs.