13 Black Artist Who Inspired Rock: Fishbone
Grab a bag, add ska, punk, rock, funk, reggae, metal, hip-hop, country, social commentary, humor, mohawks, dreds, and unlimited energy, now shake it up. When well-mixed, pour it on a stage and you have arguably the best live band ever. You have Fishbone in its prime. A band that isn’t capable of being pigeon-holed. There is no single label. The lack of a tag makes the group special, but also may have robbed them of chart hits and household fame.
I’ve seen them do every style [of music]—in the same song
Mike Watt of the Minutemen
The birth of Fishbone
In an attempt to improve racial inequities, California’s Supreme Court passed the Constitutional Proposition 1 in 1979. Los Angeles students were forced to go from the inner-city to predominately white schools. Naturally, the first day they were met by parents with signs telling them to go home. Thankfully they ignored the hate, and six friends met each other. They are John Norwood Fisher, his brother Philip Fisher, Walter “Dirty Walt” Kibby, Jr., Chris Dowd, Kendall “Special K” Jones, and the oddly charismatic Angelo Moore. According to Moore, “They all bonded over their shared love of ’70s funk—as well as being black flies in the buttermilk.”
The band tightened over the next four years and discovered other musical influences. They took reggae that was playing on L.A. radio stations and sped it up to garner their ska sound. Then Fishbone became the first band to mix it with punk. They started playing the club scene in 1983 and became friends with and admired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, and Thelonius Monster.
The band played a blistering performance of “Sunless Saturday” on SNL in 1991. No matter how great they were live, though, radio couldn’t find a place for them. They received limited airplay. Fishbone had two modest hits in 1991 thanks to MTV playing the Spike Lee-directed video for “Sunless Saturday” and the follow-up, “Everyday Sunshine.”
In 1993 the band released the album Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe. Soon after, the band began to unravel. Before joining 1993’s Lollapalooza, Kendall Jones (guitar, vocals) left the group. His mother passed away, and it affected him to the point of alleged mental instability. He moved to Northern California and joined a religious “cult.” John Fisher (bass, vocals) tracked down his friend and tried to forcibly “rescue” him. The District Attorney, in an election year, decided to charge Fisher with kidnapping. Fortunately, he was acquitted. In an interview with Bring Your Own Doc, Angelo Moore (vocals, saxophone) believes the video for “Everyday Sunshine” swayed the verdict because of how it shows their brotherly love.
A year later Christopher Dowd (vocals, keyboard, trombone) left the band. These two departures left the group with twenty-one eventual lineup combinations over the years. In 2018, Fishbone is older. Dreds and mohawks are replaced with bald heads and grey hair. No matter their age, they are still amazing live. Dowd has returned after a twenty-four-year absence, and now five of the original six are back together (John Fisher. Philip Fisher, Walter Kibby, Jr., Chris Dowd, and Angelo Moore). It isn’t 1993, but I wouldn’t miss them if you have a chance to see them.
The band is credited with influencing their counterparts, The Chili Peppers, Primus, and Jane’s Addiction, to name a few. It is also hard to imagine that future groups like No Doubt and Sublime would exist without Fishbone’s groundbreaking sound and performances.
They were so inspiring because they were so unique. The band influenced a lot of people to go on an do their own thing and take what they could from Fishbone – Gwen Stefani of No Doubt
Great piece of the past, a great deal of the present, they have always been in the future. – Chuck D of Public Enemy and Prophets of Rage
They should have been the band that went way beyond any of us who were influenced by them – Les Claypool of Primus
Did You Know?
- John Cusack wears Fishbone shirts in several of his movies.
- During the filming of the famous boombox scene in Say Anything, Fishbone was playing. “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel was added later.
- They performed with Annette Funicello in the 1987 film Back to the Beach. (I forgive them)
- In the video for the Ramones song “I Believe in Miracles” the band’s name appears as part of the scrolling text on the upper and lower part of the screen.
- The characters Freddie and Lena of A Different World wore Fishbone shirts (both are fans).