DUST IT OFF: Fishbone’s self-titled EP…30 years later

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  • To say that this record is one of the best and most underrated releases of 1985 and the entire decade of the 1980’s is an understatement. It’s my way of saying that the debut release from Fishbone was something that I could not keep myself from. If the first half of the 80’s featured a number of brand new musical discoveries for me, then this was easily the crossroads that put me over into a new territory, for a number of reasons.
  • The first time I heard of Fishbone was through the video for “? (Modern Industry)”, which at the time I felt was one of the oddest songs due to its lyrical content:
    WBRU, KABE, WFLY, Cool 92

    The majority of the song was nothing but radio station call letters and as Angelo Moore says during the chorus:
    This is the music behind the machine
    These are the voices of modern industry

    As someone who loved the power of radio, enough to where my childhood dream of being a radio disc jockey became true when I joined the Radio/Television Production class at the local vocational skills center during high school, hearing this was a dream. It was a song about the radio that I would never hear on any local radio stations, which made it even better. Yet it wasn’t just the call letters that moved me, it was the attitude of the band and especially the musicianship, these guys rocked. One would never expect a band who looked like them to play music like that, but outside of Los Angeles, who would expect anyone to look like that? These guys were punk rock and new wave in their own world and I had to have more.

  • The next time I heard them was with their follow-up video, or at least that’s how I had seen it before. One video may have been made before or after the other and “Party At Ground Zero” looked independent compared to the major label clout of “? (Modern Industry)”. Then again, unless you were Michael Jackson, black artists in the 80’s were lucky to have any level of a music video budget, look at how homemade Atlantic Starr’s video for “Secret Lover” looked, followed with “If Your Heart Isn’t In It”. One wasn’t expected to be a pop hit, one showed the after effect. Nonetheless, “Party At Ground Zero” was incredible for it started off somewhat low-key and mellow and about a minute into the song, it interrupts itself by going to a major shift in vibe and attitude:
    Party at ground zero
    every movie starring you
    and the world will turn to flowing pink vapor stew

    All of a sudden, it was a ska basement party we all wanted to find ourselves in, a tasteful song about being in some kind of apocalyptic realm where during a time of utter chaos, all you can do is party. Or as Frankie Goes To Hollywood once said in the liner notes for one of their albums, “get off your dance, we’re all going to the same grave” so if the end is truly coming, end it by gyrating our bottoms.

  • I just loved what these guys were going, how they were coming off so I went to the local record stores to find this self-titled EP on Columbia Records. I could not find it and I found myself frustrated. I was in my mid-teens, going out of town to Seattle for school clothes or just a visit out of town was common. I always made sure that we would go to Tower Records since I had made that place “a home away from home” when I visited Tower regularly when I lived in Honolulu. All of a sudden, there it was: the tape. In time, I would eventually discover for the next six years that my Fishbone purchasing tasks were always out of town. Despite me assuming their music was getting more popular due to seeing their videos on BET and MTV, I guess since I live in a “small market” town, their music was never sold here, or at least I never noticed them. If it wasn’t in Seattle at Tower on 5th & Mercer or in the U-District, it was in Portland at the Tower on 82nd. If not there, maybe I’d lever buy their Christmas EP It’s A Wonderful Life in Spokane at Eli’s. Before the easy access of MP3 files and now streams, if you really wanted the music of a band one liked, you had to make the effort, or at least “the effort” was a bit more difficult than it is these days. I found myself loving Fishbone and I enjoyed buying their music by going long distance, at least before 1991 when I finally became a part of Columbia Records’ promotional mailing list and was able to get Fishbone advance tapes and CD’s for free. I’m jumping ahead of myself in this story.
  • The union between Angelo Moore, Philip “Fish” Fisher and brother Norwood Fisher, Kendall Jones, Christopher Dowd, and Walter A. Kibby II was something that could not quite be understood despite reading about it. They were all young kids from South Central Los Angeles enjoying the kind of music most kids from South Central weren’t exactly listening to. They loved soul, funk, and jazz, with Moore with his love of the saxophone and Norwood getting down with the funky bass but learning how to play those instruments was a process in itself. They gathered together just to jam and party, the idea of doing it for a living really didn’t happen until later. However, as other kids saw this “disparate, all-black oddball crew” having fun and at times taking themselves seriously, that’s when they started to do more shows throughout L.A. and eventually California. They seemed to fit in with what the Suicidal Tendencies, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Faith No More were going, mixing up soul and funk in odd ways, but also bringing in ska, reggae, punk, and metal. At that time, ska music was considered “white man’s reggae” partly because no one bothered to discover ska was a pre-cursor to reggae. Thus, for a short time, Fishbone were considered a band playing “white man’s reggae”. In truth, the band who were one of the most successful groups who played white man’s reggae was not The Specials or Madness, but The Police. Their album Reggatta de Blanc was called that for a reason. It was a different time but for the weirdness people saw and heard in Fishbone, it lead to them being signed by Columbia Records, where they ended up working with producer David Kahne, a relationship that would last for years.
  • The EP begins with “Ugly” and it became the best way one could start off their debut release.
    Boy. you’ve got no method to control us all
    for the mentalities are not that small
    and now you’re thinking’ that you have won
    but the revolution has just begun

    It was their way of saying their music revolution is here and they are ready to attack whenever necessary, while also touching on social conditions while briefly making a pop culture reference to Dennis The Menace.

  • If the music of Fishbone may have seemed out of wack to some, their lyrics showed a very strong sense of maturity that perhaps showed subtle hits of what Parliament/Funkadelic, Earth Wind & Fire, and Bob Marley were doing: making statements that touch on how someones regular sense of living is interrupted just because they are not within the community of someone else.
    Another trend to follow, another word to linger on
    they may not even know the reasons why
    you think without a vision, and then they try to call it ours
    and it’s causin’ me to culture shock

    It’s not saying they have created their own world, but due to personal interpreations and misconceptions, they were outsiders. In truth, it may have been a need to just fit in but they were more than happy to fit with whomever was willing to take them in, or to simple state “this is us, this is who we are and always will be and if you don’t like it, fuck off, we’ll find a place to call home because someone will welcome us.”

  • If there’s a song that was just outright foolishness, then that would have to be “V.T.T.L.O.T.F.D.G.F.”, featuring a lead vocal from Walter Kibby Jr. The initials stand for “Voyage To The Land Of The Freeze Fried Godzilla Farts” and if anything in the song makes some level of sense, it’s the chorus:
    It take a big bean but butte, we’ll surely rumble
    it take a big bean but butte, we’ll surely rumble
    it take a big bean but butte, we’ll surely rumble
    King Kong will fall as will the great wall
    and the whole damn town will crumble

    However, Norwood states the song is actually about nuclear war, even though the lyrics state Godzilla is going to come in and do his damage, whether it be with his feet or his flatulence, we are uncertain but one thing is certain: everyone will be scared.

  • The EP closes with “Lyin’ Ass BitcH”, which features Lisa Grant helping out on vocals and while the title suggests the guys in Fishbone were on the misogynistic, the song was actually condemning the treatment some men give to women. As Norwood Fisher said in a 1985 magazine interview: “(the song) isn’t ragging on women, it’s making fun of all that macho balderdash.”
    She swears that her heart’s for you
    and she swears that her love never ends
    she swears that she’s all for you
    as she messes around with your friends
    I really thought our love was much too strong
    but that little slut just proved us Wrong
    I still care and that’s my fatal flaw
    cause sharing you will surely kill us all

    When the song was performed as Michelle Bachmann’s walk-out music during her appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, some people in the viewing audience who watched knew the song laughed, even though no one in the group sung the lyric “you’re nothing but a little lying ass bitch”, it was just the “la, la la la, la la la la la la” part. Nonetheless, the damage was done, The Roots’ drummer and band leader Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson was put in temporary “detention” and had things went a different way, The Roots may have been pulled off as the show’s band. They are now the official band for The Tonight Show and the song’s suggested for walk-out music for guests are “carefully monitored.”

  • Fishbone’s self-titled debut EP was a few seconds short of what was considered “album length” at the time (27 minutes) for if it was a second over 26:59, it would have been an album (a short album at that). Nonetheless, what Fishbone created in that frame of time was a revolution of sorts that had begun, even if they weren’t one of its leaders. For the next ten eyars, the band recorded some of the best music in their lives and best music ever made, whether it be the advanced fun they displayed on their debut album In Your Face, the next wave of intensity with Truth And Soul or the incredible genius that was their best album, The Reality Of My Surroundings or the last album to feature Kendall Jones and Christopher Dowd, the powerful yet emotional Give A Monkey A Brain And He’ll Swear He’s The Center Of The Universe, which also became their last album with Columbia. The group had hits but not solid pop hits like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, and Jane’s Addiction. They were always the band that could’ve or should’ve and it had seemed they were always on the verge of being ready. While that major success never happened, they didn’t bother waiting for anyone to say they are relevant, revolutionaries didn’t have time. In truth, they remain a band who are willing to execute any level of boredom within a room or even themselves, and it “began” in that small room on the cover of that EP, incredibly cramped, just like their music.
  • VIDEO: Fishbone starts a new webisode series

    Thirty years after the great Fishbone released their debut EP on Columbia Records, the band are still doing their thing and in 2015, they’re getting into doing a webisode series called The Fishbone Reality: “Unstuck”, Part 1 of Intrinsically Intertwined. The title comes from their new EP Intrinsically Intertwined and one of the songs from it called “Unstuck”. Have a look and keep an eye out for more to come.

    DVD Review: “Everyday Sunshine – The Story Of Fishbone”

    Photobucket Fishbone are and will remain one of my all time favorite bands, despite the sad fact I never got to see them live. I had a number of opportunities in the 27 years I’ve been a fan, but it seemed each time they were “within my vicinity”, I wasn’t able to make it. I go back to a time when Fishbone’s music was not available at my local stores, when wanting Fishbone meant having to special order it, a process that would take two to three weeks, sometimes more. It was better (and faster) for me to drive 200 miles back and forth to get their new album, although back then, I didn’t have my license so I had to rely on my mom to get me there. That also meant how I had to see them in concert, so when you’re still under the rule of mom, she had to prioritize and my music fanaticism was not part of the deal. I had seen Fishbone live on the pay-per-view special 21 years ago, but that was the only way I had come close to seeing the original band lineup (at the time with additional guitarist John Bigham. While I, as a fan, selfishly would love to see the original line-up get to together again for a tour, this new documentary film explains why things turned out the way they did, but more importantly, documents their love of music and one another despite obstacles and circumstances.

    Everyday Sunshine: “The Story Of Fishbone (Cinema Guild) is one of the best documentary films I’ve ever seen on a band, and I have seen countless films and docs in my lifetime. With narration from actor Laurence Fishburne, the viewer gets a chance to see for themselves how Fishbone originated, who they were, how they came together, and what lead to them getting signed to Columbia Records, complete with archival footage and photographs. Fishburne’s commentary doesn’t overpower, in fact most of the time you’re hearing words directly from Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher, the only two members of the original lineup who have remained in the group throughout their duration. You also get to hear from original keyboardist/vocalist Chris Dowd and vocalist/horn man “Dirty” Walter Kibby II, both of whom talk about how it was to live in the ghettos of Los Angeles, having to deal with rough surroundsing but not having any concerns about where they lived because that was was home. They had to be bussed to white schools, and by being the oddballs of their own neighborhoods, the schools also allowed them to discover a wide range of sounds, including punk. All of that is discussed, and how their individual spirits in life and on stage would become the Fishbone sound and vibe on stage.

    They do touch on why original guitarist Kendall Jones left the band during a moment when they felt he was going crazy, with Norwood speaking on the indicent where he was accused of kidnapping his friend from “the compound”. In the second half of the film, Kendall meets up with Moore and Norwood for the first time in 15 years, in what becomes one of the movie’s finest moments. The other moment is when Dowd also returns and meets up with them. They no longer look like the L.A. kids who wore clothes that were a mix of new wave, punk, and cholo uniforms, but it was great to see a hint of the spark of magic that once was, as everyone touches on why they fell apart from one another. Dirty Walt, often the most honest and blunt one in the band, also states clearly what went wrong: egos. People started to feel that Moore not only became the sole focus, but that perhaps he felt he was the sole focus in a band that were built on a “one for all, all for one” premise. Yet a lot of fans (including myself) loved the fact that there wasn’t a main focus. Original drummer “Fish” Fisher was always cool, calm, and collected, maintaining the funk. Norwood was always laying cool while playing incredibly well. Dowd acted like a loon but would instantly switch over into the cool, calm, and collected one, and having a voice that was one of the best in the band. Kendall was the band’s electricity and could do everything from traditional ska scratching to brilliant guitar solos. Dirty Walt was an anchor, the uncle of the family. Then you had Angelo, who may have been the most flamboyant but there was always the real man behind the curtain and one merely had to watch and listen to the spectacle in order to enjoy not only his wisdom, but the collective wisdom of the band. That is what made Fishbone work: the odd chemistry of seeing a bunch of looniewacks acting spastic as if they were six guys with individual cases of itchy ass, but all digging into one another rhythmically.

    Everyday Sunshine also touches on the band’s fall from a major label, the struggles they had with labels and one another, and with themselves. They keep on going because they know it pays the bills, but also aren’t afraid to say that they were the ones who influenced so many, but they’re at the bottom of the totem pole. Through interviews with Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Les Claypool of Primus, Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction/Porno For Pyros, and Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal of No Doubt</B., each of them bow down to the magic and majesty of one of the best bands to come from Los Angeles in the last 40 years, and each of them realize that without Fishbone, they would not be in the positions they are at now. I remember in the late 80's/early 90's, as each of these bands were making their way into the top of the alterna- heap, I always thought "okay, this is going to be Fishbone's year, for sure." Faith No More had switched vocalists, found someone (Mike Patton) who had incredible skills on the microphone, and they blew up. Then Primus were getting a buzz, and after two indie albums, they found themselves on a major and people were going nuts. Meanwhile, Fishbone had the power and yet fans were doing everything in their power to let them know they were loved.

    Another interesting moment is when producer David Kahne, who brought Fishbone to Columbia Records and helped them get signed, discussed the process of how to market them to the heads at the label. Fishbone are a black band. It was perceived that they did not play “black music”, or at least popular black music in a mid-80’s context. In fact, one reason why some were attracted to them was because they were often pushed as a black band playing ska, and ska for years was considered “white man’s reggae”, at least in the United States. Bands like The Specials and Madness were simply reviving what they had grew up on, reggae was still boho island music. Most Americans had no idea of ska’s true origins or that ska was one of the styles that would eventually lead to reggae. While the issue of “Fishbone playing white man’s reggae” was not discussed, that’ is one reason why they were favored by some white audiences. They were new wave and punk, but they were the freaks of new wave and punk simply because they were black. Yet their soul and funk influences were also there, listen to “V.T.T.L.O.T.F.D.G.F.” Kahne talked about how he helped design the Fishbone logo, and when he handed it to the black music division of Columbia, they treated the cassette and artwork like a piece of shit, and basically told him “you can release it”, as in “you’re a white producer, you handle white music, you can sign him for your division”. From the beginning of their time at Columbia Records, they were immediate outcasts. Yet those who loved the music could hear much more than just them playing “white man’s reggae”. In fact, Black Entertainment Television (BET) would regularly put them in rotation when one watched shows like Video Soul and Video Vibrations. The only times one might see Fishbone during primetime was when you might see Moore make a cameo in videos by Jane’s Addiction (“Mountain Song”) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Knock Me Down”) for you see, these bands knew that if they were getting a bit of attention, give Fishbone that push. No one made the connection. Yet if you turned to BET, you might see Moore and Norwood in George Clinton‘s “Do Fries Go With That Shake”, or Moore dancing in 99.9‘s “All Of Me For All Of You”. It seemed they were street teaming themselves before anyone ever came up with the word, but they were always there, doing a bit of Hollywood-style marketing to benefit themselves whenever possible.

    One thing that this documentary does not to is take a deep exploration into their recordings. Their 1985 EP is cited as being both their EP and “first album”, even though their true first album was 1986’s In Your Face, an album of which isn’t discussed but referred to only by a computer graphic. While some elements of their recordings are briefly touched upon, don’t expect a Classic Albums analysis. I would love to do something like that for them, or if someone else is able to do it, please do. I would love to hear Legacy editions of everything they did for Columbia, and just raid the multi-tracks to hear every song from every angle. So if you’re that type of music junkie and hope to see and hear that in Everyday Sunshine, you’ll be disappointed. But in terms of a movie that covers their bond as friends and musicians, and brings up the debate on whether not it was the industry and “the powers that be” that didn’t allow them to be one of the greatest bands of the late 20’s century, this film is the place to go. There’s a sense of honesty in this that a lot of bands are afraid to discuss or reveal, especially when one sees (as shown in the trailer) Norwood complaining to Moore about how he would prefer to be in a band with Moore, not his “Dr. Madd Vibe” character. They eventually find a balance, but maintaining that balance is a part of the struggle. They are getting older, and while both of them touch on leaving the band, they never really discuss the idea of breaking up. However, Norwood does refer to the reality that Fishbone will eventually reach “the finish line” and his hope is that they (the original lineup) will be able to do it together, if and when that happens.

    Another part I also loved is when Norwood talks about his love of surfing, which wasn’t expected but as someone who grew up near and in the ocean, this was of interest to me. He speaks on how he was brought up to believe that surfing was not for “someone like him”, but that after he stopped drinking, he realized he had to break out from some of the self-made barriers he had, some of which was passed on to him from cultural and social influences, and simply explore. In a way, watching him surf is a metaphor for what Fishbone has represented for years. When someone walks into a room, people begin to make assumptions and accusations of what they are like, how they speak, and what they may do for a living. Fishbone went beyond what anyone would ever expect, and they explored music and one another for fun and sonic harmony, finding a way to create movement in the light and fucking up the brightness in the process with a ghetto soundwave.



    VIDEO: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra featuring Angelo Moore’s “All Good Ska Is One”

    This song came out earlier this year, but I was not aware of it until today. With some of the attention Fishbone has had as of late, with the documentary film making the rounds and a 26 year old song being used a politician on a late-night talk show, it’s a perfect time to get reintroduced to the power of Fishbone or get yourself familiar.

    Japan has had a love for ska and reggae for years, and if you close your eyes and listened to this song, you’d think you were listening to ska pioneers and not someone called the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. While Moore does not appear in the video, his presence is in the music and it would be cool if they were able to do a second video and bring him in. Nonetheless, here they are. The Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra did pay a visit to Mexico on this video, they could’ve driven up and looked for Moore. Or maybe they were looking for Moore in Baja California.


    SOME STUFFS: Artists take part to present their art to the public

    You probably recognize some of the faces above, and by doing so you know their artistic endeavors when it comes to music, but you may not be aware that they also do other forms of art as well. Come Together is a forthcoming “collaborative art” exhibit where people known for their illustrations, photography, and paintings are working with musicians, MC’s, DJ’s, and producers to create revisions of the familiar.

    Some of the people involved include Chuck D. of Public Enemy, guitarist George Lynch of Dokken/Lynch Mob/Souls Of We, Angelo Moore of Fishbone, The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan/Gravediggaz, bassist Bootsy Collins (P-Funk empire), drummer Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses/Velvet Revolver), turntablist DJ-Q-Bert, bassist Shavo Odadjian (System Of A Down), and many more. Some of them are explorations of each musician or songs that they’ve done, while others are relevant to what they may have talked about in their music before, but may be more valid today. Art of art from art, for art.

    These pieces are being presented at the Andrew Weiss Gallery in Beverly Hills (179 S. Beverly Dr., 310-246-9333) from Tuesday to Saturday from 11am to 5pm, and will continue until November 1st. To find out more about the Come Together exhibit, head to SceneFour.com.

    The art pieces will be compiled into a book to be published in the fall by Addition Iconics.

    SOME STUFFS: Bonin’ in the studio yard — Fishbone recording new album

    Fishbone has been one of my favorite bands in the last 26 years, I became hooked when I saw and heard the video for “? (Modern Industry)” way back when, and I go back to when I had to be driven out of town (I was a teenager with no car back then) in order to find their music. Sadly, I have yet to see these guys live, outside of videos.

    Nonetheless, the band are in the studio recording a new album for 2011, and here’s some video that I didn’t know about until today, showing them putting down a few tracks. This was posted by D.O.’B. Sound Studios, where Fishbone are recording the new music.

    FROM THE BOX: Fishbone article circa 1985

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    Fishbone became an instant favorite when I saw the video for “? (Modern Industry)” in 1985, but at a time when finding an obscure band on a major label (Columbia Records) meant having to travel 200 miles because your podunk town couldn’t even special order it (anyone remember “special ordering” an album?).

    Anyway, Fishbone were once a brand new band with major label access, so to find a magazine article on them was an event. I liked this article (magazine unknown) not only because they talk about songs that weren’t on their debut EP, but because of the photo that was taken in the same room as that on the cover of the EP.

    (Click the article to see an enlarged version of it.)

    SOME STUFFS: Original Fishbone lineup to reunite? For a Pepsi… almost

    Well, it may not be the long awaited reunion of the original 6-man line up of Fishbone, but it’s the first time in years that people have seen Christopher Dowd on stage along with Angelo Moore, Norwood Fisher and Walter Kibby. I am talking about a new Pepsi commercial that is airing now, highlighting the brand new logo (which I don’t like, looks like a smirk, or The Partridge Family partridge) for the soft drink company, which you can see above. While the Fishbone footage in the commercial is extremely brief, you can see photos of the shoot over at Fishbone Live. I myself have been a Fishbone fan for 24 years but never saw them live other than on video and television. Yes, that is a crime in itself, but if the original line-up ever reunites, I will have to find a way to go. Fish, Kendall, please phone home.