Fishbone the Band: Who Are These Unsung Music Heroes?

Fishbone Uniclub Buenos Aires Argentina 2014

Fishbone, a west coast ska, rock, and funk fusion band that peaked in the 80s and 90s, has often been called the greatest band that never was. With 9 studio albums, multiple EPs, and numerous big event performances like Coachella, Lollapalooza and the H.O.R.D.E. festival tour, Fishbone has been rocking stages for over 40 years, yet they never made it to the level of mainstream success that their musical talent deserves. 

Despite their relative obscurity, the band has inspired countless musicians and had a significant impact on the music industry. Fishbone's story is an intriguing one for music fans and especially working musicians, with valuable lessons to be learned from the achievements and setbacks of these unsung heroes.

Fishbone's Origins

High Energy and a Unique Sound

Fishbone was formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1979, by Angelo Moore (vocals, saxophone), Kendall Jones (guitar), and Norwood Fisher (bass). The band quickly gained a reputation for their high-energy live shows, which combined elements of ska, punk, funk, and metal. Their unique sound characterized by fast-paced, upbeat rhythms, and energetic vocals, often dealt with social and political issues, as well as personal struggles and relationships. 

The band signed to Columbia Records in 1984, released an initial 6-song EP in 1985, and their full-length debut album, In Your Face, in 1986. The album was critically acclaimed and helped to establish Fishbone as one of the most exciting and innovative bands of the era.

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Fishbone's first EP was released in 1985, capturing the band's early high-energy, funk/ska sound

However, Fishbone's success was not without its challenges. The band faced racism and discrimination both within the music industry and in their personal lives. In one memorable scene from the band's 2010 documentary "Everyday Sunshine", Norwood Fisher recounts being beaten up by police officers simply for being a black man in a white neighborhood. The band also struggled with cultism and drug addiction, which led to the departure of guitarist Kendall Jones in the early 1990s.

Despite these challenges, Fishbone continued to make music and tour throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The band's lineup changed over the years, but founding members Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher remained constants. Fishbone's music continued to evolve, incorporating elements of jazz, reggae, and occasionally even classical music.

Fishbone Band Members

Angelo Moore

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Angelo Moore performing live with Fishbone in Barcelona in 2008

Lead Singer and Saxophone

Angelo Moore is Fishbone's charismatic frontman, known for his dynamic stage presence and versatile musicianship, playing saxophone and delivering lead vocals. His energetic performances and unique voice have been central to Fishbone's identity, contributing to their distinctive blend of ska, funk, and rock. Moore's ability to engage with audiences and his fearless approach to addressing social and political themes through music have made him a pivotal figure in the band's success and longevity. Despite lineup changes, Moore has remained a constant, driving force in Fishbone, symbolizing their enduring spirit and creativity.

John Norwood Fisher

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Angelo Moore performing live with bassist John Norwood Fisher, one of the original co-founders of Fishbone.

Bass Guitar and Backup Vocals

John Norwood Fisher, co-founder of Fishbone, is renowned for his masterful bass playing and backing vocals. His innovative slap bass technique and ability to meld funk grooves with punk energy have been foundational to Fishbone's sound. Fisher's dedication to the band, through its ups and downs, showcases his commitment to their music and message. His leadership and vision have helped steer Fishbone through various challenges, including lineup changes and industry shifts, solidifying his role as a key architect of their enduring legacy.

Christopher Dowd

Keyboards, Trombone and Vocals

Christopher Dowd's multi-instrumental talents, playing keyboards, trombone, and contributing vocals, were instrumental in Fishbone's eclectic sound. His ability to blend ska, funk, and soul with rock and punk elements helped to establish Fishbone as pioneers in their genre. Dowd's departure from the band in the mid-90s was a significant loss, as his creative input and musical versatility were crucial to Fishbone's dynamic and innovative sound. Despite his absence, Dowd's impact on Fishbone's music and the unique sound they cultivated with his contributions is enduring.

Walter A. Kibby II

Trumpet and Backup Vocals

Walter A. Kibby II, also known as "Dirty Walt," brought a potent mix of trumpet and vocals to Fishbone, enriching their sound with elements of jazz and soul. His horn arrangements and vocal contributions added depth and complexity to the band's music, helping to define their genre-defying sound. Kibby's presence on stage, marked by his vibrant energy and musical versatility, has been integral to Fishbone's identity. Although he left the band in the late 90s, only to return in the mid-2000s, his influence on Fishbone's sound and his role in shaping their musical legacy are undeniable.

Kendall Jones


Kendall Jones was the original guitarist and a vocalist for Fishbone, contributing significantly to their early sound and success. His guitar work, characterized by a fusion of funk, punk, and rock, played a key role in crafting the band's signature sound. Jones' departure from Fishbone in the early 90s due to religious reasons and subsequent legal and personal conflicts with other band members marked a tumultuous chapter in the band's history. Despite these challenges, Jones' musical contributions and his role in Fishbone's formative years remain a vital part of their legacy.

Philip "Fish" Fisher


Philip "Fish" Fisher's drumming was crucial to Fishbone's rhythm section, known for his tight, energetic playing that fused punk's speed with funk's groove. His contributions on drums and vocals during Fishbone's early years helped to establish their reputation as a formidable live act. Fisher's departure in the late 90s marked a significant change in Fishbone's sound and dynamics. However, his influence on the band's music, characterized by his innovative drumming style and energetic performance, has left a lasting mark on Fishbone's identity and success.

Fishbone's Influence on 90s Music

Fishbone's unique sound and fearless approach to music have influenced countless artists, from punk and alternative rock bands to hip hop and electronic acts.

One of the bands most heavily influenced by Fishbone is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Chili Peppers, who formed in Los Angeles in 1983, were heavily influenced by the funk and punk scenes in their hometown. Like Fishbone, the Chili Peppers blended multiple genres and were known for their high-energy live shows. The two bands often played together in the early days of their careers, and the Chili Peppers have cited Fishbone as a major influence on their music.

Another band praising Fishbone as a primary influence is No Doubt. Formed in Anaheim, California, in 1986, No Doubt, much like Fishbone, also became known for their fusion of ska and punk rock. The band's lead singer, Gwen Stefani, has cited Fishbone as one of her biggest influences. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Stefani said:

Fishbone was huge for me. That was my favorite band. That's where I learned how to dance.

Fishbone's Influence on Hip Hop

The band's fusion of punk, funk, and ska was a major influence on the early hip hop scene in Los Angeles. Early performances at iconic L.A. venues like The Roxy and The Whiskey a Go Go helped to bridge the gap between the punk and hip hop scenes in the city. The band's socially conscious lyrics and messages also resonated with early hip hop artists, who often dealt with similar issues in their own music.

One of the most notable hip hop acts influenced by Fishbone is Public Enemy. Public Enemy formed in New York City in 1985 and were known for their politically charged lyrics and socially conscious messages. The band's lead rapper, Chuck D, has cited Fishbone as one of his biggest influences. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Chuck D said, "Fishbone was one of the best bands I ever saw. They had this energy that just took over the room. They were fearless."

Rapper Ice T said about the band:

They're definitely original. There was no pre-Fishbone. It was just them. They get to wear that crown to their grave.

Questlove of The Roots called them:

The greatest band that the world ignored.

And Fishbone's influence extends beyond just musicians. The band's music has had a profound impact on an entire generation of fans, thanks to their inventive approach to fusing different sounds, and their electrifying antics at live shows. Fishbone's concerts are legendary for their intensity and passion. The band's members often crowd surfed and performed acrobatics on stage, creating a sense of chaos and excitement that few other bands could match.

These shows were not only known for being energetic, but also for their diverse audiences. The band's fusion of genres and messages of unity and inclusion attracted fans from all walks of life.

Fishbone Documentary: Everyday Sunshine

In 2010, Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson directed a documentary on Fishbone which has become a valuable source of information for aspiring musicians looking to establish themselves in the music industry. It also helps explain why they're often considered the greatest band that never was.

Throughout the documentary, Fishbone's music is highlighted as a unique and important contribution to the history of popular music. It also touches on broader themes related to the music industry and the creative process. The documentary explores the tension between artistic integrity and commercial success, as well as the challenges of maintaining a creative vision in the face of external pressures.

So why is Everyday Sunshine important for musicians?

  1. It's a powerful testament to the importance of artistic innovation and experimentation.
    Fishbone's willingness to blend different genres and styles helped to create a new sound that was both exciting and influential. The documentary serves as a reminder that pushing boundaries and taking risks can lead to great artistic achievements.
  2. Everyday Sunshine highlights the challenges that musicians face in the music industry.
    Fishbone's experiences with racism, discrimination, and drug addiction are unfortunately all too common among musicians. The documentary sheds light on the realities of the music industry and encourages viewers to think critically about the pressures that artists face.
  3. It's a celebration of the power of music to bring different types of people together.
    Fishbone's music has always been about breaking down barriers and creating a sense of community. The documentary highlights the way that music can transcend differences and bring people together in a shared experience of joy and creativity.
  4. It is a stark reminder that music is also a business.
    Success as a musician isn't only about doing what you love. It also takes determination, hard-work, research, analysis, marketing, sales, and a business-minded approach. And this is why this documentary resonates with us at Band Pioneer. We aim to provide education and support to musicians in managing the financial, marketing, and promotional aspects of the music industry, enabling them to achieve success in pursuing their passion.

Everyday Sunshine is an important documentary for musicians and music fans alike. It offers a unique perspective on the history of popular music and explores important themes related to creativity, innovation, and the music industry. It is a powerful reminder of the enduring importance of music as a force for unity and inspiration.

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Fishbone still energetic and crowdsurfing in 2014, 30 years after their initial EP dropped.

Fishbone Lessons for Independent Artists

While being a musician certainly requires a love and passion for music, it's important to recognize that the profession demands much more. Musicians must also navigate the business side of the industry, including marketing themselves, negotiating contracts, promoting on social media, and managing finances. We also face intense competition and rejection, and must work hard to build and maintain a fanbase and reputation. Being a successful musician requires a combination of talent, hard work, perseverance, and business savvy, and it's important to approach the profession with a realistic understanding of the challenges and demands involved.

Fishbone is an amazing band. One of the best bands that most people have never heard of, and arguably THE greatest band that never was. Here are a few lessons musicians would be wise to learn from them:

1. Don't let ego get in the way of success

Fishbone's members were known for their strong personalities and egos, which often led to internal conflict and creative differences. This resulted in numerous lineup changes and stalled progress on recording projects. Musicians should strive to maintain healthy egos and prioritize collaboration and compromise in order to achieve success as a group.

2. Adapt to changing trends and industry landscapes

Fishbone's unique blend of punk, funk, and ska initially gained them a dedicated fanbase and critical acclaim. However, as musical trends shifted in the 1990s, the band struggled to maintain their relevance and popularity. Musicians should pay attention to evolving musical trends and adapt their sound and approach accordingly in order to remain relevant and successful.

3. Don't sacrifice artistic integrity for commercial success

In the early 1990s, Fishbone signed with a major record label and attempted to make more commercially accessible music. However, this move was met with mixed reactions from fans and critics who felt that the band had sacrificed their artistic integrity in pursuit of mainstream success. Musicians should prioritize staying true to their artistic vision, even if it means taking risks and potentially sacrificing commercial success.

4. Take care of your mental health and well-being

Fishbone's members struggled with substance abuse, mental health issues, and financial problems throughout their career. These struggles impacted the band's creative output and ability to function as a cohesive unit. Musicians should prioritize their mental health and well-being in order to maintain a sustainable and fulfilling career.

5. Market research and analysis is essential for reaching and connecting with audiences

In today's digital age, there are many channels and platforms available for musicians to promote their music and build a fanbase. We have information on everything you need, including which DAW is the bestwhich distribution services to use, how to promote on TikTok, Facebook and even Discord, and also how to brand your music, and utilize the industry's plethora of digital services. Effective marketing can help musicians increase their visibility, attract new fans, and ultimately, achieve success and sustainability, so that Everyday truly is Sunshine!

Leave a Reply!

guitar hero

It's sad these guys never made it like their contemporaries. Music is a cruel business.

Truth & Soul

Fishbone is my favorite band of all time! So much talent. So little respect! :red_heart:️

Infinity Watch

They're one of our favs as well. We put this article out knowing it wouldn't get much traffic. But had to pay hommage with it nonetheless. Thanks for reading!

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