Barry “the Fish” Melton, guitarist and co-founder of Country Joe and the Fish and a lifelong progressive activist, was born to a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father (a merchant seaman who shipped out once with Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston) in Brooklyn on this date in 1947. The band was the most politically radical of the West Coast psychedelic groups and made hits out of Vietnam War protests such as “Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die Rag” (“The Fish Cheer”) and celebrations of the counterculture and sexuality such as “Porpoise Mouth.” Melton brought a good deal of emotion and experimentation to his guitar-playing and avoided cliché. He also wrote many of the band’s songs during the latter part of their five-year career, which included a live performance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Melton took his earnings and went to law school, passing the California bar in 1982 and eventually becoming the chief public defender of Yolo County. He also remained an active musician in long-lasting jam bands involving other veterans of the San Francisco rock scene.
“Being a public defender is sort of the best of both worlds: you work for the government, and your job is fighting the government. I fight with every other agency in the county — the D.A.’s office, the sheriff’s department, the Department of Social Services, because it’s my job.” —Barry Melton