Fishbone's Norwood Fisher on Brainwashing, Breakups, Ska-Punk, and Loving Life

Photo by Steady Jenny, courtesy of Fishbone
It's a dark night in California and Fishbone bass player Norwood Fisher's forearms strain as he applies a vicious chokehold to the throat of childhood friend and bandmate Kendall Jones, whose eyes bulge from their sockets. He's nearly unconscious from the lack of oxygen to his brain.

Still, Kendall throws elbows, fists, and the full weight of his body against the force of the attack; and his two younger brothers, who've traveled there with Fisher to stop a religious brainwashing by their domineering father, have seen enough. "Let him go or we gon' fuck you up! If he really wants to be here, let him stay." And the would-be kidnappers hop back in their van and roll out.

For Norwood, it's just another wild night in the life of Fishbone.

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But that night results in a yearlong court battle. "The judge said normally he would throw the case out as a domestic problem. But because it was so bizarre, he wanted to hear the whole story. I was like, 'This is our lives. Really?" The case ended in acquittal, and the band hit the road again.

Formed in 1979, Fishbone sprung up unexpectedly from Los Angeles's urban core, rocketing to cult stardom on the West Coast's rock scene. However, despite tons of buzz and big predictions, this funky ska-punk crew never really scored major mainstream success. Still, 34 years later, Norwood insists, his band is stronger than ever.

"It's easy when you're young and all the girls wanna take you home," he says. "Or fuck you right backstage."

"You get older and things take effort. You start to know your band members inside and out, and that's when a positive mental attitude really means something, when it's a challenge to be in a band, when you don't agree."

These days, there are only two founding members left in Fishbone's lineup: Norwood and lead singer Angelo Moore. In the beginning, Fisher's brother Philip was the drummer. But one day, he knocked out a major-label record exec. Another day, he sucker-punched Norwood. Then a decade and a half ago, he walked out on the band.

And over the years, there have been nine other defections, several near-breakups, and plenty of roster swaps. But before all that upheaval, Fishbone was a hard-traveling, reasonably harmonious outfit.

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