A Fishbone, that is. Formed many years ago, Fishbone is still going strong with endless energy and an incredibly loyal fan base. Their music sounds like the title of one of their songs, “Party at Ground Zero,” fast beats, horns, characters, dancing, ska, reggae and punk all mixed in.
IN spoke to John Norwood Fisher, bass, vocalist and founding member. We caught up with him as he was about to join his daughter for a bike ride on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. Oh, and he was ordering a part for his late model Mercedes. At first, I thought he was ordering a sandwich called a 1988 Mercedes Benz—quirky California cuisine? Then I asked what he was really doing, Fisher said, “No, I am ordering a car part on my way to meet my daughter.” Musicians as famous as he is are normal folk, after all.
Like many others, Fisher got his start in music, and was inspired to become a musician, by the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Bands like the Beatles, Sly and the Family Stone, the Ohio Players and Funkadelic—just to name a few.
Another source of inspiration was the television shows of the time. Shows such as “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” and “The Midnight Special” exposed Fisher and his brother, fellow band member, Phillip Fisher to the music they loved. The TV shows also showed them what performing could be like.
Going from playing in your room or for family, to playing for an audience, is a gigantic leap.
“My younger bro was the original drummer,” Fisher said. “In our minds, we were already a band, waiting for people to come around. My partner in crime was my mom; she bought us a snare drum. When you have people supporting your dream, you take it to the next level, performing for others. So, we did. We breathed life into our vision.”
Fisher asked for a guitar for his birthday. He got one and from there began learning to play.
“There was no one around to explain chords or tuning,” he said, “so I picked out the baselines. I was not playing it right, I am sure.”
When Fisher was eight, he got a weightlifting set for Christmas. According to Fisher, that same Christmas when his cousin, Bud came over, he said to Fisher, “You are never going to do anything with that weight lifting set you just got, how about you trade me for a bass guitar and an amp?”
“I thought about it for a bit,” Fisher recalled. “Then, when he threw in his rock record collection [his cousin had moved on to fusion], it was a deal I could not pass up—we traded. A couple of Thanksgivings ago, we all had dinner at my cousin’s house and my cousin said, ‘You did a lot of good with that bass’—he gave me my life.”
From then, the neighborhood kids started to come and see them play. Everyone even started to bring their own instruments.
“If you make an ungodly noise, people will show up,” he said.
Fishbone’s music seems to remain underground after all these years. The band officially formed in 1979. To mark their staying power about an ever-multiplying fan base, they have 60,000 plus fans on Facebook alone. Their energy comes from their musical influences as well as their fan base.
“Our energy comes from everything we are influenced by,” Fisher said. “We listened to David Bowie’s ‘Scary Monsters’ and The Specials. The fans and their energy is a big influence. They are crazy—we appreciate it all. When a fan has a tattoo of the band’s logo, that is a serious commitment. It is all about mutual love and appreciation.”
Fisher did not think he would be performing this long, but at a certain point in their career they all realized it was what they wanted to do for life. The goal was to be more than a band; the aspiration was to be an institution.
The list of people the band has performed with, or been in the presence of, is long and varied. A highlight, according to Fisher, was meeting Chuck Berry.
“Berry has a reputation of being abrasive, but he was nice to me,” he recalled. “There are so many moments and situations you can’t imagine being in when you start out, then you meet and share a stage with Bo Diddley or Joan Jett.”
To get a glimpse inside the Fishbone world you can watch the documentary, “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone,” named after one of their songs. Directed by Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler and narrated by Laurence Fishburne, it chronicles the band’s struggles, shows live performances, and details the band’s highs and lows.
“It was the last thing on my mind,” Fisher said. “We were going through hard times as a band. Some others came to us about making a film before and none went to the finish line. I relented absolutely—they did a great job. And, honestly, I was amazed by the reaction. I did not grow up thinking about having a movie made about our band. Blindsided for sure.”
3:45-4:45 p.m., Friday, DeLuna Stage