From Bruce Barthol’s days as bassist with the original Country Joe and the Fish, to his three decades as resident composer for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, to playing for this year’s reunion of survivors of the Spanish Civil War’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Barthol’s been an unstinting fount of committed and humor songs and instrumental music.
This weekend he performs solo at Freight and Salvage.
Born at Alta Bates Hospital in 1947, Bruce Barthol’s mother was a social worker, his father a UC professor. He started playing guitar at 11, clarinet at 13, bass at 18—and joined his first band, the original Country Joe and the Fish, at age 18. They played their first gigs at the Jabberwock Coffee House, “next door to a house where I lived with Joe and Barry [Melton],” he said.
Barthol played bass on the three-song EP the band recorded themselves, then on Electric Music For The Mind And Body, and the following two albums, as the group shot to international popularity. He left Country Joe and the Fish in 1968.
Barthol became the Mime Troupe’s principal songwriter and lyricist in 1976, the same year he produced an album for former Blues Project guitarist (and longtime Berkeley resident) Danny Kalb. With the Mime Troupe, Barthol worked on over three dozen shows, from old favorites like the Factwino shows, to last year’s Godfellas. During those years, the Troupe received a Tony Award. Other awards Barthol’s shared in include an Obie, a Media Alliance Golden Gadfly, and a Gold Record. He’s been given two Bay Area Theater Critics Circle Awards.
Somewhere along the line, Barthol said, he was a Yip Harburg Fellow at New York University, where he received his MFA in musical theater.
After playing on Paradise with Ocean View, one of Country Joe’s many solo albums, and the appearance of a song on Barry Melton’s 1997 album The Saloon Years—as well as participating in Country Joe and the Fish reunions—Barthol joined Country Joe, Chicken Hirsch and David Cohen in The Country Joe Band in 2003.
He later remarked, “It seems right to play together again—there’s a war going on; it’s more and more like 1968.”
His song “Cakewalk to Baghdad,” after the notorious remark by Richard Perle, was a single for the group. Barry Melton, a public defender in Yolo County, was unable to commit to the new band, so Country Joe explained the foreshortened name: “We’re Fishless!” (Melton’s nickname).
Other musicians Barthol’s played with include Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Barbara Dane, Rosalie Sorrells, Ralph McTell, Will Scarlet, Arlo Guthrie, Dave Getz, Scoop Nisker, Bobby Keys and Paul Dresher.
He’s annotated an album of Spanish Civil War songs and co-wrote the score for Forever Activists, a documentary on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was nominated for an Oscar, as well as playing for the reunion of the Brigade at the City Museum of New York this year.
Barthol has also played at the Arts Council in Berlin, and written music or songs for or performed with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Make-A-Circus, The Dick and Dubya Show, the LA Theater Center, Oberlin Dance Collective (ODC) and American Conservatory Theatre (ACT).
Bruce Barthol performs solo at Freight and Salvage, 1111 Addison St., Sat. at 8 p.m. Tickets $18.50 advance, $19.50 at door. 548-1761.