STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
It was 1979 when the original members of Fishbone first started playing music together in Los Angeles. They were in middle school and their average age was 14. They were idealistic and saw no musical boundaries or ‘rules.’
After initially being called Megatron, they renamed the band Fishbone after two of the group’s founders, bassist Norwood Fisher and his brother, drummer Philip “Fish” Fisher.
The band seamlessly incorporated elements of rock, ska, metal, funk and punk into their unique sound. They subsequently became one of the leaders of the Black Rock movement.
The band, though amassing a loyal following, had its share of challenges. They were dropped by Sony Records (formerly Columbia), who couldn’t figure out how to market them since their music didn’t fit into one category. They went through several lineup changes over the years. Yet Fishbone survived and is now celebrating over 30 years as a band.
In a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles, Norwood Fisher discussed the history of Fishbone and this reunion with original band members, including his brother Fish.
As to why it seemed so natural to them to incorporate so many different styles into their music, Fisher explained it was from absorbing all the musical elements around them.
“We just came up being musically free because the people that influenced us were musically free,” explained Fisher. “It was because of the time that we grew up in; it was a fertile musical environment. The college radio stations that we were discovering around 1981 and ’82, they were playing all kinds of stuff. That’s where we discovered Tom Waits and Kate Bush (and) my first time hearing Metallica was on college radio in L.A. If you were open, you could discover Captain Beefheart and Gang of Four, or Minutemen.”
Even television had some influence on them.
“Talking Heads and Devo were on TV, like ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he continued. “Punk rock was still kind of fresh to the majority of people… and all of the sub-genres were still forming.”
He added: “We were just open and we didn’t understand the need for boundaries in that environment. In hindsight… because we were so musically diverse, it was confusing (to people).
“Music was a completely segregated thing at that time (but) Black radio was way more open. We grew up listening to Black radio, and that’s where I first heard reggae – Bob Marley and then Third World, and then Steel Pulse and Black Uhuru. On Black radio in Los Angeles.”
In addition, Black radio embraced new wave.
“You know, it was interesting. Black youth in Los Angeles took to it. So eventually you would hear ‘Rock Lobster’… You would hear ‘Whip It.’ There were songs from Blondie – ‘Rapture,’ but (you would hear) other Blondie songs too, sometimes. So, you know, there was crossover and there was interest. By the time Prince hit with “Dirty Mind,” (NPG Records, 1980) it was like all good in the ’hood, you know?”
As far as the “Black Rock Movement,” Fisher said “My mission is to just make music, and it is okay no matter what you look like. The Black Rock movement came out of necessity because Black rock musicians needed to be marketed. You couldn’t just be black and play rock.”
Fisher explained that the album title “Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge” (Rowdy Records, 1996) came from a response in a conversation about impoverished women of color being involuntarily sterilized. It was also a response to Black men sometimes being referred to as ‘monkeys.’
“It was actually just as we were leaving Columbia Records. (We said) okay, let’s make kind of a punk rock statement. We were angry. We were looking at the music industry… we didn’t understand at the time why we confused everybody so much. So we were really frustrated, and we just wanted to express that in as rawest a form as possible. Even as we were writing the songs (I said) ‘we are making a song for the underground, for our most hardcore fans.’”
This tour is entitled Chim Chim Rises! The Return of the Monkey Tour. The band will perform “Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge” in its entirety. It is significant because it was the band’s final recording with Fish and guitarist John Bigham and they have rejoined the band for the tour. The lineup will also include original band members Angelo Moore (vocals and saxophones) and Walt Kibby (vocals and trumpet), as well as Rocky George (guitar), Jay Armant (trombone) and Paul Hampton (keyboards).