By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
After more than a year divided between woodshedding with Kahne and touring, the band returned with a walloping tour de force, 1988’s Truth and Soul (named after the ad agency in Robert Downey Sr.‘s 1969 black-power-on-Madison-Avenue spoof, Putney Swope). The album took everything Fishbone were great at and brought it to the forefront. From the rippin’ barnburner ”Deep Inside,“ to the Sly-Stone-on-speed ”Mighty Long Way,“ to the epic and horny ”Bonin‘ in the Boneyard,“ to the subversive ”Subliminal Fascism,“ Fishbone were in top form, and they knew it. As the six boys turned to men, their songwriting, under the aegis of Kahne, reflected this change. On songs like ”Ma and Pa“ and ”Question of Life,“ Angelo began to hit deeper subjects. The band had grown up.
But despite critical praise and a growing fanatical fan base, Fishbone were still not selling records, and MTV wouldn’t touch them. They landed a couple of cameos in films like the John Cusack--Tim Robbins comedy Tapeheads, the Annette-and-Frankie pseudo-comeback Back to the Beach and the cult classic I‘m Gonna Git You Sucka!, but still no big break.
Tension and frustration began to overwhelm. ”There was a lot of passion in Fishbone,“ says Norwood. ”But there came a point around The Reality of My Surroundings where we were just filled with so much inner and outer turmoil. Walt wanted to kick Chris out of the band so bad it wasn’t funny. Chris wasn‘t putting 100 percent into the band. That’s why we brought John [“JB”] Bigham in on second guitar.
“Then Fish punched David Kahne in the throat. David had stepped back a little bit from the band. We was kinda goin‘ nuts, man. We was running A&M Studios and Larrabee at the same time mixing Reality, two of the most expensive studios in the city. We was just spending money like crazy, and he tried to put some breaks on that motherfucker, ’cause, as far as Columbia was concerned, we was out of control. David was, like, ‘You guys have to stop,’ and they went to words, ‘cause Fish thought he was trying to stifle us. It escalated, and David got socked. Fish took it to the street level.”
Chris Dowd concurs: “There’s a lot of things I would have handled differently if I were Fish, but I‘m not. A lot of the ways he acted and shit, he was justified. We were manipulated. You can’t whip a dog every day since he‘s a puppy and expect it to be this gentle creature and be surprised when it turns on you. I don’t think Fish‘s nature is to be an aggressive, violent person, but in that environment, when you got people catering to you and blowing smoke up your ass, and then you have this gift that you feel someone’s taking advantage of, how would you act? We grew up in the ‘hood. The only way we deal with shit there is ’I‘ll whip your ass.’ What do you expect?”
By the time Reality came out in 1991, CBS had become Sony, and Fishbone had few friends left at the label. For the first time, the songs began to reflect the creative fragmentation within the band. Kendall was heading in a more metallic, progressive direction a la Kings X or Living Colour, and while Angelo kept churning out the ska beats live, Norwood and Walt plowed out that nasty funk. The album stretched in too many directions at once.
When Spike Lee agreed to direct the video for the LP track “Sunless Saturday,” the guys were thrilled. “To hook up with Spike was the apex of our careers at that time,” Norwood says. They were also booked to play on Saturday Night Live and did a massive pay-per-view concert at the Warfield in San Francisco. To the casual observer all seemed well, but the threads had begun to unravel. Despite the high-profile tours and the TV appearances, Fishbone was still selling only a disappointing 40,000 to 180,000 records per release. SonyColumbia sent the band back into the studio, this time with ace producers Terry Date and mixer Andy Wallace.
As the tensions continued mounting, Kendall Jones had begun to distance himself from the band. He had gotten in touch with his hitherto estranged father. (“As long as I knew Kendall, he hated his father,” says Norwood.) There had been rumors that Kendall‘s dad was part of a religious cult, but no one knew for sure. Then, after a rejected proposal to his girlfriend left Kendall sad and vulnerable, his mental health and his dad’s influence became major issues. “His mother had died while we were making Truth and Soul, and he never grieved,” says Norwood, “never cried, never came to grips with all that stuff. His family was just upside-down about it, and he felt he had to be the strong one. Then he stopped drinking all of a sudden. He quit cold turkey and wanted to marry his girlfriend.” “Actually, Kendall‘s girlfriend played a dirty trick on him,” Walt clarifies. “He wanted to marry her, and she said, ’The only way I‘m gonna marry you is if you stop drinking,’ and so he stayed off the bottle for a few months and got clean and sober. Then he tries to pop the question over dinner, and she says, ‘All right. Let’s drink to that.‘ This motherfucker takes a sip of wine, and she says, ’Ain‘t no way I can marry you.’ This motherfucker bought a suit, a ring and all that shit. He was, like, serious. Next thing you know, he‘s tearing his house up, doing crazy shit. He couldn’t sleep. And then all that shit just turned into some kind of insanity.”
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