By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Kendall,” says Chris, who’s stayed in touch, “acknowledges what happened. The meltdown. He was going through a lot of shit, and there‘s a lot of shit that we put each other through emotionally as a band. He was a very emotional guy. Maybe if we would have handled it differently at the time and at least been communicating, we could have helped each other out better. But I think he’s picked up the pieces. He learned a lot of important things by having his breakdown and all that shit. He‘s definitely a changed person. That I can attest to.”
In any case, with a lackluster sales record, and with Kendall and Chris out of the band, Fishbone had hit a brick wall. Almost 10 years after setting the L.A. underground on fire, Fishbone was unsigned, underpaid and pissed off.
Between 1993 and 1996, Fishbone bounced around from manager to manager, hoping in vain to find someone who could get them back on track. They also set up a rehearsal space--recording studio in Hollywood, dubbed the Nuttsack. Meanwhile, as the group -- or what was left of it -- struggled to fill the local clubs they had once packed, ska was racing up the charts. Norwood recalls their frustration: “Ska was just kicking everything in the ass, and nobody would give us a record deal.” Then they began to shop some new demos around and caught the attention of R&Bhip-hop mogul Dallas Austin (TLC, Madonna), who signed them to his rap label, Rowdy, and began work on their fifth LP, Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge. In an attempt to give Fishbone that famous “Dallas Austin sound,” he enlisted the talents of rapper Busta Rhymes and singer Joi. Unfortunately, Dallas had never produced a real rock band, and found out the hard way that what works on a Southern hip-hop album (jeep-heavy bass, phat kick-and-snare-dominated beats, in-your-face vocals) did not work for a ska-punk-funk band that could sound closer to King Crimson than it did to OutKast.
The band hit the road to support Chim Chim‘s, and even landed a headlining spot on the summer Warped tour. But fans were accusing them of having lost their edge, of not being able to write memorable songs without the help of Kendall and Chris. Several more managers came in and out of the picture, and the business of being Fishbone just seemed to get more complicated as time went on.
Some of the band members began to trip. Midway through the tour, Fish began to turn his drum kit around so the audience could see only his back. He claimed it was because he hated having to look his audience in the eye. JB, who had always been the quiet one and had been trying to help run the business affairs of the band, got angrier and angrier, and eventually left to develop his own project.
“It was unprovoked and out of the blue,” says Norwood. “We were talking about doing Tazy Phillips’ Ska Parade radio show. Fish didn‘t want to do it, and I did. He thought I was being some kind of way I wasn’t, and he landed a sucker punch . . .
”When Fish left,“ he continues, ”that was scary. I‘d never had to audition a drummer to do what Fishbone does, and what Fishbone does is hard on a drummer. Fish had laid out the blueprint. Plus, he left the band five days before we went on tour as the opening slot with Maceo Parker.“
Chris summarizes: ”Fish is quite simply one of the best drummers in the world, and he felt like he deserved to get paid. To know you have the ability to get paid and are in a situation where it just won’t happen, that‘ll make a broke motherfucker mad.“
Fishbone ran through a series of drummers, finally settling on Dion Murdock (Mother’s Finest). They also recruited the talents of keyboardist-trumpeter John Mcknight (from Ben Harper) and guitarist Spacey-T (Sound Barrier, Mother‘s Finest), whose playing was a lot closer to Kendall’s soul-metal shredding than to JB‘s rhythmic crunch. Back to a six-piece lineup, the band sounded better than ever. Along the way, they also settled on a manager, Will Sharpe, who got them out of their Rowdy contract and had them cut new demos, which he shopped around for over a year. One of them found the band re-teaming with David Kahne for a cover version of the Rolling Stones’ ”Shattered,“ which landed in the hands of the A&R folks at Disney‘s Hollywood Records. After months of negotiating, Sharpe landed the band a contract with Hollywood, and Fishbone was back on point.
Well, almost. The first week of the Hollywood sessions, Murdock bailed. But they quickly recruited drummer John Steward (who’d played in the Fishbone side project Trulio Disgracias) and continued recording. Norwood credits this sudden change with the new album‘s predominantly straight-funk feel: ”We had to teach John, and the other drummer who played on it, the songs while we were recording, and that stopped us from doing a lot of stuff.“