Bruce is bringing his solo Tour to UK in July 2016
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Best known as the original bass player for Country Joe and the Fish, Bruce has also played and/or recorded with The San Francisco Mime Troupe, Ronnie Gilbert, Barbara Dane, Pete Seeger, Rosalie Sorrells, Ralph McTell, the Greenbriar Boys, Roy Harper, Formerly Fat Harry, East Bay Sharks, Scoop Nisker, The Energy Crisis, Barrett Nelson, Nina Gerber, Laurie Lewis, Barbara Higby, Paul Dresher, Danny Kalb, Joe McDonald, Ozay Fecht, Dred Scott, Muziki Roberson, Dave Getz, The Original Country Joe Band, Phil Marsh, Will Scarlett, David Bennett Cohen, Greg Douglass, Roy Blumenfeld, The Former Members, Moonlight Rodeo and The Gary Salzman Experience.
Bruce was the resident songwriter for the Tony Award winning San Francisco Mime Troupe for over three decades. His songs have been recorded by Country Joe and the Fish, the SF Mime Troupe, The Human Condition, Ozay Fecht, the Edlos, the Funky Nixons and The Original Country Joe Band.
Bruce Barthol & Greg Douglass
Bruce has written for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Borderlands Theatre (Tucson), the Working Theatre (NYC), the Curious Theatre (Denver), San Francisco State University, University of Colorado (Boulder), Stanford University, University of Denver, Make-A-Circus, ACT, Arts Council of West Berlin, Intersection of the Arts (SF), Madison Federation of Labor AFL-CIO( Wisconsin), the Dick and Dubya Show, ODC- San Francisco, Stagebridge, Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and the Los Angeles Theatre Center, as well as over 35 productions with the SF Mime Troupe. He was a Harburg Scholar at NYU/Tisch where he received an MFA.
He received two Best Original Score Awards from the SF Bay Drama Critics Circle, a Gold Record for "Woodstock", the Media Alliance Golden Gadfly Award and was co-composer of the score for the Oscar nominated documentary "Forever Activists".
Bruce's many recordings and collaborations are listed in the Discography section - click here
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One to catch.....!
Music & Lyrics by
BRUCE BARTHOL & DANIEL SAVIO
Review of Bruce's Solo Tour
An Evening With Bruce Barthol and a Work in Progress:
The story of his life in the songs he’s written
by Conn Hallinan from Berkeley Daily Planet
Thursday February 25, 2016
It could have been a night of nostalgia. The Art House Gallery & Culture Center on Shattuck is covered with ‘60s kitsch, photos of demonstrators facing down cops, and rock posters from Avalon and the Fillmore. Bruce Barthol kicked off the evening of the sold out event with “Country Joe & the Fish’s” anti-war classic “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” but Barthol does not do memory lane, he does politics, the more current the better.
Barthol, the original bass player for “The Fish,” and long-time music director for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, takes the audience on an odyssey both political and physical. As the child of academics his family bounced around from Berkeley to Pennsylvania, Los Angeles, Spain, and finally landing him in Berkeley on the eve of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) in 1964.
As he jumped from place to place he gathered ideas and experiences that eventually translated into songs. It was encountering Christian fundamentalists in Pennsylvania in 1953 that would ultimately give birth to “We are the Army of the Righteous,” from the Mime Troupe’s 1981“Fact Wino Meets the Moral Majority.” The play, a hilarious but searing indictment of the religious right, won the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Circle’s Award for best production and music.
The “evening” merges song and place. Hence a version of “The Old Chisholm Trail” is part of the family’s move back East across the physical and cultural desert of Utah (“There wasn’t much on the radio back then, so we sang all the way”). The move to Spain during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco is illustrated by is own Spanish civil war songs.
Barthol moves through his early life rather quickly to bring the story to 1964 and his arrival at the University of California at Berkeley in time for the FSM upheaval. Barthol clearly doesn’t forget things. He used his five decade-old experiences and memories with the FSM to create songs for a Joan Holden play written for the 50th anniversary of the FSM. Indeed, one of the evening’s best tunes is one that captures the fear and courage of the students waiting to be arrested in UC’s Sproul Hall.
He weaves biography throughout the performance, including his battles with the draft, and his years in England that gave him some relief from the madness at home, a journey, he says, that took him “from the land of the psychotic to the land of the neurotic.”
He gives brief historical sketches about each movement he traverses: free speech, the farm workers’ fight for union representation, the hostage crisis in Iran (including a lovely song on the Shah), and the arrival of Ronald Reagan—“Mordor was awakening and Hell was coming.” There are stories and songs about Central America, the military industrial complex, the de-industrialization of the U.S., the energy crisis, Israelis and Palestinians, and migrant workers, the latter accompanied by a catchy tune, “Star Ferry.”
Each of these moments in history has its story and its song, and Barthol is careful to not get bogged down in too much detail or too many verses. He is also a funny guy, so when he talks about the troubles in Northern Ireland, there is an Irish joke. When he talks about his time in Europe banging around with different bands, there is a German joke.
The underlying message, however, is straight out of Bertolt Brecht: the purpose of art is to make revolution. Which doesn’t mean you can’t be funny. Indeed, humor is one of the most powerful tools in politics, and Barthol knows exactly how to wield it. He is—as one suspects Brecht was—driven to do what he does. “I write songs,” he told the audience, “because I have to write them.” And then underlines the point with a catchy “Taking a cakewalk to Baghdad” summarizing the litany of U.S. foreign policy disasters over the past decade.
Barthol covers a lot of ground, in large part because there is so much to write about, and so many lessons one can learn from looking back. The idea, however, is to mine the passions and experiences of the past and retool them for moment. Early in the “story,” Barthol sings the “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” that a substantial portion of the audience knew by heart. But after a few verses, the song shifted from Vietnam to Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places that mothers can have their “boys come home in a box.”
The “story” is headed for Ireland next, but Barthol will almost certainly bring it back to the U.S. and the Bay Area. When he does, buy a ticket and get ready for an evening of memory and politics, and why you can’t do the latter will without the former.
Read on for a review of Bruce's work including
his latest solo album,
"The Decline and Fall of Everything"
Bruce Barthol, apart from being the bass player for Country Joe & The Fish during the era that produced the classic albums "Electric Music For The Mind And Body", "Feel Like I'm Fixin To Die" & "Together", is not just a bass player, but a fine singer and guitarist too. After leaving Country Joe & The Fish, Bruce became a founder member of the wonderful Formerly Fat Harry. He’s also played as a sideman with some of the best including Pete Seeger, Roy Harper, Ralph McTell, The East Bay Sharks and The Green Briar Boys and has appeared on many of Joe's solo albums over the years. However, his most enduring musical activity is as musical director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe for around 35 years.
Always a prolific composer, Bruce has written over 300 songs and eventually the time seemed right to finally record a solo album. All but one of the songs were written for the theatre (plays and musicals) and he rightly felt these were songs that could live outside the shows they were written for, hence Bruce’s excellent solo album,
'The Decline & Fall of Everything'.
The album was recorded in New York late this past summer after an abortive attempt in San Francisco, with the likes of Will Scarlett and Tony Marcus. ‘I didn't like what we ended up with’, says Bruce, ‘and I realised that I shouldn't produce, play and sing all at once’. Bruce headed to the East Coast to hook up with producer, musician and friend, Dred Scott, who was in the San Francisco Mime Troupe for a few years and who Bruce always hires to play with him at New York gigs. Dred offered to produce and organize the sessions in Brooklyn. Why Bruce chose not to sing in Formerly Fat Harry is a mystery on this evidence of these recordings
The album opens with ‘Steeltown Blues’, a blues rocker written in 1983 for a San Francisco Mime Troupe show called ‘Steeltown’. "The industrial shut down was in full swing under Reagan and we wanted to look at how and why it was happening" Barthol recalls. "‘We did research at the steel mill in Pittsburgh, California and with the Steelworkers Union local".
Following in a similar musical vein, ‘Nothing to Lose’ was written for ‘Mall*Mart: the Musical’ (about WallMart) which was produced in 2007 in Denver at the Curious Theatre (book by Joan Holden) and also at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The Eastern European-flavoured ‘80-20’ comes from a play called ‘OffShore’ (S.F.M.T. and Joan Holden), about globalization. "I've been to Manila, Mexico City and Rio and that was where I got my inspiration for the lyrics" Bruce says, "Musically it has its roots in Kurt Weil - one of my faves - and probably owes something to Brecht. I also changed some lyrics and some of the music when I recorded it. The show did play Hong Kong, where some of the action took place".
‘Star Ferry’, a surprisingly romantic ballad in amongst the more political/social commentary, was a song he was asked to write for a S.F.M.T. related project in Asia called ‘Big Wind’. "They wanted an American style love song about an immigrant worker who's made it to Hong Kong and is riding on the Star Ferry. I did some research and got some descriptions from people who'd been there and wrote the song. I faxed it to Everest Postal, Kathmamdu, Nepal. They put it in the show but the actors who were mostly south Asian couldn't sing in 3/4 time so they changed it to 4/4. I went to Hong Kong with the OffShore show in '93 and met up with the ‘Big Wind’ show. That cast sang me their version as we went from Hong Kong to Kowloon on Star Ferry. (I stayed on the boat to make sure you could ride back and forth without paying again). New lyrics were added for the recording".
‘Caught In The Middle.. "A song from an as yet to be produced show called ‘1741’ about a rebellion in New York City in that year. The song really should be sung by a woman (and is in the play). It's sung by a 14 year old girl who works in a tavern frequented by poor whites and African slaves. It's a thieves den and she is caught between the police and her former friends who think she's betrayed them. I felt her situation had some universal applications".
‘Goodbye to White Deer’ is a country ballad, first heard live on K.P.I.G. Radio out of Santa Cruz, a bitter sweet lament on urban progress and the death of small communities. "I wrote this for my thesis project at New York University/Tisch School of the Arts where I got an M.F.A. in '93, the book writer was from Texas where it was set. Rural dislocation has been ongoing for the last 50 years. A line in the first verse was 'You can't live on oil when the prices keep going down' which was true at the time. I changed the line to 'You can't live on oil when there's no oil left in the ground' which is now true. I like country music".
Anyone who’s caught The Country Joe Band live will instantly recognise ‘Cakewalk To Baghdad’ a satirical ode written specifically about the stupidity of the Iraq war, one he wrote after he heard some idiot talk about "it's going to be a cakewalk."
Equally potent and funny is the honky-tonkin’ ‘The ‘Fighting Side of Jesus’. "I've written a number of songs about the fundamentalists. In the UK you have to look hard to find such nut ball insanity. I was first exposed to it when I lived in Pennsylvania in the 50's. This is an anthem for the Christian Dominionists. I believe it's a fair statement of their beliefs. Irony is a tricky thing in the USA since it requires a certain amount of knowledge. About half the population doesn't accept the theory of evolution".
In contrast, the sad, grim but ultimately uplifting ‘Badajoz’ is a description of the battle and massacre, which occurred in the town of Badajoz in Spain in 1936. It unified control of western Spain by the Nationalists who then began their drive to Madrid. It was written for ‘Spain '36’, another San Francisco Mime Troupe show that was produced at the Los Angeles Theatre Centre in 1986, the 50th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War.
The album ends with ‘Empty Chair’ from a play called ‘Cages’ by Robin Karfo. It was produced at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco. "I was thinking about Polly Class, a girl who was kidnapped and murdered near here at the time. Also, my father had told me the story of the death of a cousin in the '30's and how it affected the family. I rarely perform it"
As would befit anyone who came out of that whole early 60s civil rights era, Bruce’s material oozes with razor sharp insight, social concern, deadpan humour and a cool anger, qualities absent from just about any other album you’re likely to hear. It’s heart warming to see your old heroes still doing good work – and this delivers, and still has that great militant Berkeley vibe.
Don’t forget to buy the album from Bruce at The Former Members gigs - damn, he’ll even sign it for ya!
(by Nigel Cross for Terrascope Online.)