Q&A with legendary artist Barry “The Fish” Melton, an iconic member of San Francisco’s psychedelic music scene

"I believe - particularly in the 60's - the music of my generation had a significant socio-cultural impact because music was a primary mode of communication for youth and the counterculture back then. Today, of course, there are many different modes of communication - not only for young people, but people of all different ages, backgrounds and political views. Here, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the counterculture was held together by a handful of relatively small print publications and "underground" FM radio stations."

Barry “The Fish” Melton:

Wisdom, Peace, Love, Philosophy & Music 

Over fifty years ago, during the “Summer of Love” – 1967 - Barry “The Fish” Melton celebrated his 20th birthday in June 1967. A few days later, he and his band, “Country Joe and the Fish,” were rocketed onto the world stage at the Monterey Pop Festival. In 1969, Barry appeared at the historic festival in Woodstock New York. During the five years between 1967 and 1971, Barry would tour arenas, concert halls, and stadiums through Europe and North America. He also launched his first solo effort, a blues/soul album half of which was recorded in New York with members of the Wilson Pickett Band and half of which was recorded in Chicago. Barry began the 1970’s with an album for Columbia Records produced by legendary guitarist Michael Bloomfield, Barry took up part-time residence in the United Kingdom and recorded two albums at Rockfield Studios; Barry and ultimately returned home to San Francisco to record his fifth album of the decade. In the 1980’s, Barry Melton put together San Francisco’s historic supergroup, “Dinosaurs,” featuring John Cipollina, Spencer Dryden, Peter Albin, and Robert Hunter. Other members of the band included Merl Saunders and Papa John Creech.

(Barry "The Fish Melton" / Photo by Bruce Forrester)

In the 1990’s Barry’s career as a Public Defender mushroomed, beginning with a stint in the Mendocino County Public Defender’s Office, the Office of the (California) State Public Defender, and an appointment as the Public Defender of Yolo County, California, continuing into the early 21st Century. During this period, Barry played local venues in San Francisco and he toured annually in such diverse locations as England, France, Scotland, Thailand and Wales. Today, Barry lives in France half the year and spends the other half in the United States. In the past couple of years, he’s toured in France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Interview by Michael Limnios                 Special Thanks: Barry "The Fish" Melton

How has the Rock n Roll Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Maybe I am somewhat unrealistic; but I don't think the Rock n Roll Counterculture has had much (if any) influence on my views of the world and the journeys I have taken. It's my belief that I am a product of the folk music counterculture movement that immediately preceded the "Rock n Role Counterculture." So, my entry into the counterculture was shepherded by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and a panoply of like-minded, left-oriented, musicians wise and singers.

How do you describe your music philosophy and songbook? How do you want the music to affect people?

I am - to this very day - an irrepressible optimist; and I hope my songs reflect that sense of hopefulness. Of course, many of my songs are love songs which reflect what is hopefully an integral part of the psyche of all sentient beings (human or otherwise.) And most of my love songs are an homage to my late wife, Barbara, and an enduring tribute to our 48-year marriage from 1972 to her death in February 2020.

A significant number of my songs are drawn from my life experiences and can be related to specific milestones in my existence. And finally, a few of my songs have a pointedly socio-political message - songs for peace, legalization of non-toxic controlled substances, and other such subjects.  

"The highlights of my life and career have been almost entirely private and the same for me as for (I suspect) most people - my marriage, the birth of my children, the first day of school for each child and their subsequent graduations and life events." (Photo: Co-founder and original guitarist of Country Joe & the Fish and The Dinosaurs, Barry Melton & Barbara Joy Langer, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco 1974)

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

The most life-changing moment for me was the death of my wife, Barbara Joy Langer. As mentioned, we were together for 48 years, from our mid-20's to our mid-70's. She was a magnificent human being, the mother of my two children and a guiding light to me and the many friends she had.

The highlights of my life and career have been almost entirely private and the same for me as for (I suspect) most people - my marriage, the birth of my children, the first day of school for each child and their subsequent graduations and life events.

Looking back on my career, I recall the thrill of playing the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, the release and success of our first long-playing record album (Electric Music for the Mind and Body), and the day I was admitted (as a lawyer) to the State Bar of California. I can also recall literally thousands of musical performances and all over Europe, and North and South America.

Why do you think that Barry Melton (and Country Joe & The Fish) music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I honestly have no direct idea why my music, including the music of Country Joe and the Fish, Dinosaurs, and my solo projects, continue to generate a devoted following. Others have told me they associate the music with significant events in their lives; and some people have one particular song that they associate with a life event, such as a birth, a marriage, or a funeral. I don't attribute that specifically to my music - I believe it's one of the things that makes music special.

What is the impact of your generation (and your generation’s music) on the socio-cultural implications?

I believe - particularly in the 60's - the music of my generation had a significant socio-cultural impact because music was a primary mode of communication for youth and the counterculture back then. Today, of course, there are many different modes of communication - not only for young people, but people of all different ages, backgrounds and political views. Here, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the counterculture was held together by a handful of relatively small print publications and "underground" FM radio stations.

Today, there are so many channels of readily available communication, it's difficult to form a unified counterculture community. Nevertheless, the spirit of dissent and the voices of those with non-traditional views cannot be suppressed. I hold firmly to the belief that world peace and universal tolerance are possible.

"I honestly have no direct idea why my music, including the music of Country Joe and the Fish, Dinosaurs, and my solo projects, continue to generate a devoted following. Others have told me they associate the music with significant events in their lives; and some people have one particular song that they associate with a life event, such as a birth, a marriage, or a funeral. I don't attribute that specifically to my music - I believe it's one of the things that makes music special." (Photo: Dinosaurs are Barry Melton, John Cipollina, Spencer Dryden, Peter Albin, and Merl Saunders, c.1985)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I'm not so sure I miss the music of the past so much as I miss the musicians who made that music. As I grow older, the long list of my music-making friends grows smaller with each passing year. Thankfully, the legacy of many years of fine recordings continues to insure that we will all be able to access music from all manner of genres and times in the future.

What were the reasons that made the 1960s to be the center of Psychedelic Folk/Rock researches and experiments?

The 1960's were a special time; but, of course, we're in a special time today. I'm not entirely sure if the reason for the uniqueness of that time was due to the fact that I was coming of age into adulthood, or because of the unique series of world events that occurred at that time in world history. Without doubt, we are experiencing a series of difficult world events today; and the need for political activism is at least as great today as it has ever been.

San Francisco was a meeting point for artist and favorite among hipsters. Why this area was/is a Mecca of avant-garde people and artists?

I think the San Francisco Bay Area *was* a mecca for the avant-guard and artists in the 1960's because it was inexpensive and comparatively free-thinking. Today, however, the Internet has facilitated the creation of "virtual" communities, no longer bounded by geography. We can now be part of special interest groups, or general interest groups, without geographical or language restrictions. I don't believe I am alone in describing my community as world-wide and united by shared beliefs and philosophies.

Barry "The Fish" Melton - Home

(Barry "The Fish" Melton on stage, Antithesi, Athens Greece, 2023 / Photo by Nancy Beskou)

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