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Before they burst into mainstream stardom via "Woodstock," Country Joe & The Fish recorded a pair of "talking magazines" -- 7" EPs that were an outgrowth of McDonald's political publication, Rag Baby. The first, recorded in 1965, contains the original versions of a pair of songs that would turn up (in re-recorded form) on the band's debut album. "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" and "Superbird" are both rendered as folky jug-band tunes, the former overdubbed with war sound effects, and the latter with a directness that bites even harder than the later album take. The flip side of this original EP contained a pair of tunes from folk singer Peter Krug, "Fire in the City" and "Johnny's Gone in the War," each rendered in a straight ahead vocal-and-guitar arrangement.
In 1966 CJ & The Fish cut a second Rag Baby EP. By this time they'd electrified, with the bluesy electric guitar and Farfisa sound that would become familiar on the following year's Vanguard LP debut. Early versions of "Bass Strings" and "Section 43" show the band having made an enormous psychedelic leap from the previous year's outing.
Rounding out the Rag Bay collection is a purpose-built 1971 EP by Country Joe, sans Fish, that was to be sold at a series of anti-war "FTA" (Free the Army) shows to fund the shows and veteran's activities. Few copies apparently made it to shows to be sold (many having been lost or burned!). The tunes, "Kiss My Ass," "Tricky Dicky" and "Free Some Day" are more pointed and politicized than ever, and the arrangements return to the folk and jug-band sounds of the early days.
The Rag Baby EPs have been released several times, first on vinyl, then on CD. The earliest reissue appears to have been a 1980 vinyl LP on a reactivated Rag Baby label; this was re-reissued on CD by Sequel in 1987. Both the LP and CD included the three EP's original ten tracks, plus an alternate version of "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag." In 1997 the One Way label issued a CD that augmented the original ten tracks with two alternates of "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag" as well as a pair of previously unreleased sides ("Who Am I?" and "Dirty Claus Rag") that were recorded at the original 1965 session. The three tracks from the second Rag Baby EP also turned up on Big Beat's "The Berkeley EPs" in 1995.
Of all the reissues, One Way's fourteen-track compendium is the most fully baited hook for Fish fans.