1. Archive

Fishbone rebels against musical conformity

(ran TP edition)

"I wanted to be / like Bootsy / Dr. Funkenstein / or Jimi / the rock star / Color meant nothing to me / Everything was equal as far as I could see / Ignorant to the racist music industry."

_ Fishbone, Rock Star

Blending rock and funk with touches of ska, jazz and punk, the California quintet Fishbone presented "alternative" music way back in 1979. But five critically acclaimed albums and a staunchly loyal underground following haven't been enough for the group to overcome narrow music industry expectations.

"We're not an easy pill to swallow when it comes to what's considered rock 'n' roll," bassist Norwood Fisher said in a phone interview from Fishbone's Los Angeles studio. "We mix it up and we undermine what the industry expects: white, heavy metal types. We're subversive, we take some Cab Calloway, some Sun Ra, Parliament, Sly Stone, B-52's, Devo, Clash, mix it with Madness, the Specials, Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Rick James, the Sugar Hill Gang and Fela. But the music industry likes to keep things separate."

Currently completing a nine-month world tour in support of their latest album, Chim Chim's Badass Revenge, Fishbone aggressively disregards any kind of limitations placed on their music. Signed to Columbia Records for eight years, the group was abruptly dropped by the label two years ago when they refused to conform to popular music trends.

"They wanted us to write something more palatable for radio," says John Bingham, the band's guitarist and keyboard player, a Chicago native. "They wanted us to water our music down to pop music standards." The group refused.

The group continued to play without a label for a year, until they were picked up by super-producer Dallas Austin's label, Rowdy Records, last year.

A longtime fan of Fishbone, Austin served as executive producer for the angry, brutally rockin', Chim Chim's Badass Revenge.

Chim Chim (of the Speed Racer cartoon) was always doing the dangerous stunts but he was overlooked," says Bingham, 37. "The revenge is that we're still here, doing what we want to do." Revenge, indeed. Packed with bitingly satirical lyrics, the requisite jumble of rock, punk funk and ska and guest appearances by rapper Busta Rhymes and Brand New Heavies vocalist N'Dea Davenport, the 15-track album firmly establishes Fishbone's brilliance.

Growing up in South Central L.A., the members of Fishbone were considered crazy for listening to "that ill stuff." Says the 31-year-old Fisher, "We understood that our roots were in jazz, reggae, funk and rock."

The group joined the early '80s Hollywood punk rock club scene, building a reputation for intensely energetic shows, filled with irreverent humor and a wild fusion of musical styles. Ahead of their time in terms of mixing musical genres, Fishbone has influenced bands such as ska-rockers No Doubt and funk-rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

"We came up in a time where the rules were broken down; the Sex Pistols had a profound influence on that," Fisher says. "We felt a sense a freedom that people around us didn't understand. We wanted to be pioneers, not just followers."


Fishbone with 2 Skinne J's, 9 p.m. Wednesday at Frankie's Patio, 1920 E Seventh Ave. Phone: 248-3337. Tickets: $10 advance, $13 at the door.