Hard Rock. Funk. Ska. Jazz. Oh, sorry all...I was just trying desperately to describe the music that this band plays. Punk. R'n'B. It's all in there, my friends, presented with a seemingly inexhaustible amount of energy and humour. Fishbone is one of a kind. Oh, did I mention Alternative Rock? And the scathing social commentary? I think I may have covered it...but probably not.
Fishbone was formed in Los Angeles the year 1979 by vocalist/sax player Angelo Moore, bassist John Norwood Fisher, drummer Phillip "Fish" Fisher, Walter Kibby on vocals and trumpet, guitarist Kendall Jones, and Christopher Dowd on keyboards and vocals. Their first release was a single on Columbia Records called "Party At Ground Zero" followed by a self-titled EP and then a full-length album, In Your Face.
In support of The album, the band appeared in the reunion beach movie Back To The Beach starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, as well as touring with The Beastie Boys In the U.S. and other parts of the world. They were mainly a ska/reggae band early on, but later incorporated hard rock and other styles. Their 1988 release Truth And Soul received wide pread critical acclaim, and rightly so. The album features a diverse range of musical styles, guitar-heavy and groove-rich. The lyrics touch on a variety of social editorializing and it's centerpiece, the Curtis Mayfield-written "Freddie's Dead", is a masterpiece of the first order. In spite of the critical raves, the album failed to be a commercial success. This was likely due to the difficulty the music industry in general had with categorizing a black group playing music other than funk or R'n'B.
Commercial success did come with the next album, 1991's The Reality Of My Surroundings. With the addition of ex-Miles Davis guitarist John Bigham, it reached #49 on the Billboard albums chart. The band made a memorable appearance on the tv show Saturday Night Live, made a video of the track "Sunless Saturdays" with Spike Lee directing and another track, "Everyday Sunshine" became a moderate hit on radio and MTV.
The follow-up album, Give A Monkey A Brain And He'll Swear He's The Center Of The Universe (think the title needs a few more words, lads?) continued the trend of stylistic diversity with it's 1993 release, but of course no band story is complete without the inevitable internal upheavals. Guitarist Kendall Jones left the band battling mental instability, prompting bassist Norwood Fisher to seek him out with the intent to render aid, but instead somehow got charged with kidnapping. The band was dropped by Sony Records, and Keyboardist Christopher Dowd left to form his own band, Seedy Arkhestra, recording an anti-Fishbone song called "Flog Your Dead Horse".
1996 saw the release of Chim Chim's Badass Revenge which became a cult favorite but went largely unnoticed in the mainstream. In 1998 drummer Phillip Fisher left the band to be replaced by John Steward. John Bigham also departed to be replaced by former Sound Barrier and Mother's Finest guitarist Tracey "Spacey T" Singleton. Walter Kibby left the band in 2003. Several other line-up changes took place, but original members Angelo Moore and John Norwood Fisher are still working under the Fishbone banner. They are currently recording an album for late 2011 release and a documentary, Sunless Saturdays : The Story Of Fishbone Is making the film festival rounds.
Fishbone...a brilliant band that deserved better.