Swimming Against The Tide

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

For a band that has never really found a mainstream audience, Fishbone is astonishingly famous.  The band also has equally astonishing longevity, having been in existence since 1979, and has been a major influence in the music of bands such as Living Colour and others who blurred the boundaries between funk and hard rock.  Fishbone has recently released “Fishbone 101 – Nuttasaurusmeg, Fossil Fuelin’ the Fonkay,” a double CD set chronicling the band’s years with Columbia Records, and the promotional tour stops off at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz this Friday.

Fishbone was formed in Los Angeles in 1979 by vocalist and saxophonist Angelo Moore while the members were still in junior high school.  Moore, along with John Norwood Fisher (bass), Phillip Dwight “Fish” Fisher (drums) Kendall Rey Jones (guitar) Christopher Gordon  Dowd (trumpet) and Walter Adam Kibby II (Trumpet) took a love of ska, funk and jazz and fused it with heavy guitar-based rock.  After playing at local clubs in the early 80s, a demo got Fishbone noticed by Columbia Records and in 1985 the band released a self-titled debut EP.  The songs, including “Party at Ground Zero,” became underground hits and the band began to develop a strong cult following. 

In 1986, Fishbone released its first full-length album “In Your Face,” and the band’s eclectic blend of musical styles, clever lyrics and wacky sense of humor, together with the manic energy of the live shows, gained Fishbone an even stronger following.  The band’s second album, 1988’s “Truth and Soul,” was even more stylistically ambitious than the first, veering between funk, soul and heavy metal, even including an acoustic song and a cover of a Curtis Mayfield number, “Freddie’s Dead,” from the 1972 “Superfly” movie soundtrack.  Despite Fishbone’s growing reputation as one of the top alternative rock bands of the mid-to-late 1980s, “Truth and Soul” only reached number 153 in the charts.

The band did not release another album for three years, although two EPs, 1989’s “Ma and Pa” and 1990’s “Bonin’ in the Boneyard” kept fans happy.  In 1991, Fishbone released “Reality of My Surroundings,” with a slightly revised band line-up.  The album, which developed the band’s varied musical repertoire still further, received positive reviews and reached number 49 in the charts.  Fishbone was now receiving greater public exposure through music videos and tours with bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. The follow-up, 1993’s “Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe,” was similarly well received by fans and critics, but the mainstream market still failed to pick up on Fishbone in any big way.  The band’s cult following was by now, however, undeniably huge and unparalleled in rock music.

Fishbone has continued to tour internationally and record albums, including “Chim-Chim’s Badass Revenge” The band’s music has been featured in movies such as “The Mask” and “Dead Man Walking.”  Fishbone could arguably be described as one of contemporary music’s best kept secrets.  Go check them out for yourself this weekend.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, March 18, 2004

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