From punk to funk, ska to hard rock, Fishbone is a band defined by its diversity. While their genre-jumping would go on to influence countless bands-- many of whom would go on to superstardom-- it became a self-induced curse for them as pioneers. The lack of a centralized sound eventually grew unappealing to record companies. And that’s when things started to go wrong.
The band's status as pioneers is shown explicitly in the 2011 documentary Everyday Sunshine, which comes complete with tip-of-the-hat respect from big names, but in the end, the movie is about struggle and perseverance. Following the band through its mile highs and tragic woes, the struggle to “break through” is only compounded by power struggles and the constant departure of band members.
There’s a part in the documentary where former manager Roger Perry suggests, “Had Fishbone been less of a democracy, they might have been a more successful band. But had they been less of a democracy, they wouldn’t have been Fishbone.”
“I absolutely believe that statement,” says Norwood. “There is a point where not everybody in a democracy is speaking about the best interests as a whole. We turned into a band that that whoever was screaming the loudest… well, you know… the squeaky wheel was getting the oil. I saw it happening, but I didn’t know how to stop it.”
Members came and went—and some even come back again—but only founding members Angelo Moore and John “Norwood” Fisher stayed with the band through the entire journey.
“My respect for the original members was so strong that I didn’t actually honestly think there could be a Fishbone without those original six guys,” says Norwood. “I made a promise that if any of those original six guys ever left, I would break the band up. Well, I broke that promise. And right now, I’m glad I did…. Hundreds of thousands of happy faces in the audiences later blessed it.”
Pursuing a multitude of sounds with satire, a social consciousness and a reputation for being one of the best live acts of all time, Fishbone weren’t the most marketable of bands, but they remain one of the most respected, and they continue to play to this day.
“We were in a very unusual position of having artistic license and full creative expression,” says Norwood. “That is our legacy. We are the band that opened the door for more people to do that on a larger scale. In the landscape of rock n roll, we made it a little more colorful—in a physical and ethnic way, as well as in the musical tapestry. The band never stopped. For better or worse, we figured out a way to keep it rolling. Many times it was bad, but more times than not, it was pretty cool.”
If you go: