I started staying in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC because the Vanguard Record Company’s studio was on 23rd Street and so was the Chelsea Hotel. I had no experience at all with New York City before 1967 when Country Joe and The Fish, the electric version, began to record albums in the Vanguard studio. Well perhaps I did, although the first album was recorded in Berkeley at Bob DeSousa’s studio. Soon afterwards we did get a job playing at the Cafe Au Go Go in the Village, in NYC, and perhaps that was the first time I stayed at the Chelsea. But no matter, it became pretty much the hotel of choice for over several decades for me playing with various configurations musically of rock bands, duets, and solo.
The man who wrote “Tubby The Tuba” a story that involved a talking tuba that was quite popular when I was a kid, lived in the Chelsea. His daughter used to hang out with my bass player Peter Albin, during the All Star Band period. We always stayed at the Chelsea. My second wife and mother of my daughter Seven Anne, Robin Menken, threw some really dramatic scenes at the Chelsea. She had come on tour with me when we were boy friend, girl friend and we fought so much at the Chelsea that I sent her home. She was in the lobby crying and crying with our manager Ed Denson and her film magazine collection. As they waited for the cab to take her away to the airport. That of course was not the last I saw of her as we got married and the marriage is featured on the whole album cover of Country Joe and The Fish’s TOGETHER album.
There was a period of time in the 1970s that Barry Melton and I toured as an acoustic duo. We were billed as Country Joe and The Fish sometimes. Though that always seemed to me to be stretching the truth, Barry seemed quite pleased with it as he had taken to calling himself Barry “The Fish” Melton. But never mind that bullocks.
I remember Barry and I sharing a room at the Chelsea. I had been working out with free weights and also running or jogging you might say. I was following Franco Columbu’s weight exercise program, something that I still do today. I was in very good shape. I convinced Barry that we should take weights with us on the road. I had a special box with barbells in them. It seems so totally stupid now but I have always been anxious about leaving my routine home and going on the road, and so this seemed a way to take a bit of my home routine with me. We of course did not have roadies to carry the stuff around so we had to.
I remember one time getting onto a small plane to take us to Uncertain, Texas for a gig for some dope dealers out in the boonies and the look on the pilot’s face as he lifted up this very heavy metal box and me telling him it had our weights in it. Anyway Barry was in not so good shape and I convinced him to try an exercise routine. He had a bad leg from a motorcycle accident years before Country Joe and The Fish so running was not possible, but the free-weight thing just might work.
There in that room I worked my routine and ran the streets of NYC. I have some nice pictures that a guy named Sidney took of me back then running and looking very fit....nice. Barry had been game up to one day in the Chelsea when he was lying on his back doing Franco Columbu’s arm extensions with the dumb bells and smacked himself in the forehead with the weight. He lost interest after that. So he would go out and do stuff and I would stay and work out. This was the reverse of what we sometimes did later when he was studying for the bar, to become a lawyer, with a mail order study course, and I would go out and party and he would stay back at the hotel and study and say, “McDonald, you live on the material plane.”
So while he was out one day I decided to shave my body like the guys in the Pumping Iron book and film. So I did. It took a bit of time and I washed all that hair down the drain of the Chelsea Hotel shower. It sure does work though on your body like when you shave off facial hair you always look younger. When Barry came back and he saw me in my shorts without my shirt on he said, “You know Joe, this working out has you looking years younger.”
Tucky Bailey played flute and alto sax with the All Star Band. Before joining the band she had played background music for Toad the Mime who performed on the street in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. She had never been to NYC until we got some work there. It was the fashion to go to Max’s Kansas City and eat at the restaurant on the ground floor and see a show, or play our show in the club upstairs. They had chickpeas and a great salad with blue cheese dressing.
The night I remember the three women in the band, Tucky Bailey, Anna Rizzo the drummer, and Dorothy Moskowitz the piano player, went upstairs to see Tim Hardin play. Tim had a problem with drugs and seemed very, very stoned that night. He was wearing what seemed to be a kimono and had a small group backing him. He seemed oblivious to the audience. The ladies got very drunk and kept yelling shit at Tim. It was pretty embarrassing to me but I could not stop them.
At the end of the night we went back to the Chelsea Hotel and Tucky and I got into the elevator. She then threw up. I told her, “Wow Tucky, your first day in NYC and you ate at Max’s Kansas City, got drunk and yelled at Tim Hardin, and threw up in the Chelsea Hotel. You’ve had quite an introduction to New York City.