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What were you doing in 1979? Maybe you were just a zygote in your mother’s womb. Maybe you weren’t even a gleam in your father’s eye. If you are in your early 30s, chances are you were watching episodes of Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in between nap times.
But while you were busy making number two in your Pampers, John Norwood Fisher (or simply “Norwood” as he’s lovingly known) was busy making music with his family and friends in his mother’s two-bedroom apartment in South Central. As their sound progressed, it was given a name: Fishbone.
Today, Norwood and his buddies are still hard at work on a band they brought to life more than three decades ago. In an industry that destroys bands just as quickly as it makes them, Fishbone have somehow managed to survive not only a fickle business but also passing fads and ever-changing trends.
No one is more grateful for Fishbone’s staying power than the man who helped form the band all those years ago. “We have seen so many bands come and go . there was never a guarantee that I’d end up in the current situation, as far as longevity is concerned,” Norwood admits.
Most of that longevity is due to the band’s style. While many cling to specific genres that oftentimes go out of style as quickly as they came in, Fishbone’s sound is an amalgam of many different influences, from the horns of rocksteady and ska, to the guitars of metal and punk, to the bass lines of R&B and funk. If you’re looking for a specific genre of music, chances are you’ll find it buried somewhere in Fishbone’s discography.
Their lasting power stems from the members’ love for what they do—and each other. “Even if it sometimes gets really difficult to express that love,” Norwood says. “And really, I always intended to be around, making music, for my entire life.”
Now, what started as a band of friends so many years ago has become much more. It’s common knowledge that Fishbone cleared a path for many bands who would come after them. Their mark has become such a thing of legend that filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler have documented Fishbone’s influence for the silver screen. Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone traces the history of the genre-blending band and features interviews not only with its members, but also with musicians they inspired: Flea, Gwen Stefani, Perry Farrell, and ?uestlove of the Roots, among others.
Norwood is flattered by the love, and says their story is still actively unfolding. “I am very aware of the fact that if we do something right, it can possibly have a positive effect on the next generation of all musicians, especially musicians of color.”
But color barriers weren’t the only obstacles Fishbone had to overcome throughout the years. In 1993, just before the band joined the Lollapalooza tour, guitarist Kendall Jones quit, reportedly suffering from mental instability. Norwood, in an attempt to help his friend, was eventually charged with kidnapping Jones and an arduous legal battle began. Shortly after that, longtime keyboardist Christopher Dowd left to pursue other projects. After the release of Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe, Sony Records dropped the band. They haven’t been on a major label since. Also, the rest of the ’90s and ’00s saw other founding members dropped in and out of their lineup. Yet they’ve kept performing, and have since released three more studio albums, various live albums, EPs and DVDs.
Everyday Sunshine debuted with much acclaim earlier this week at the Los Angeles Film Festival. But should Fishbone fans be worried that having their own documentary will change the band they’ve come to love over the years? Probably not.
“Am I a movie star yet?” Norwood jokes. “Can I sit next to Jack Nicholson at a Laker game? Am I invited to the bathroom drug frenzy?”
So what’s next for a band who are older than the average Twilight fan? Fishbone are still gigging, and going strong. On Saturday, they’re headlining Ska in the Park at the Fox Theater Pomona. They’ll be appearing alongside other ska bands—many of whom have taken a cue from Fishbone—such as Mustard Plug, Big D and the Kids Table, and the Chris Murray Combo.
Still, Norwood has an answer: “Are there any more taboos to break after insanity?” If there are, Fishbone will probably find them.
For more information on the documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone visit www.fishbonedocumentary.com.
Fishbone perform with Mustard Plug, Assorted Jelly Beans and more at Ska in the Park 2010 at the Fox Theater Pomona, 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona; www.skainthepark.com. Sat. Visit website for times. $21. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "Truth and Soul and Longevity: Three decades later, Fishbone are still partying hard."