Not Fade Away: Fishbone Grew Up on ‘Truth and Soul’ 25 Years Ago

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In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we focus on Fishbone‘s ‘Truth And Soul,’ a seminal record from the late ’80s/early ’90s alternative rock scene that also yielded Jane’s Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus, and inspired some of the biggest bands of the following decade, including No Doubt and Sublime. The album turns 25 this week. 

“They should have been the band that went way beyond any of us that were influenced by them.” That’s according to Primus frontman Les Claypool, in the Fishbone documentary, Everyday Sunshine, which also featured testimonials by admirers including Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal and Adrian Young of No Doubt, Branford Marsalis, Flea, George Clinton, Ice-T, Perry Farrell and ?uestlove. They would all likely agree with Claypool, too.

Fishbone, a fun-loving band from South Central, Los Angeles were impossible to classify. At their start, they combined punk rock, ska, new wave, soul and funk on their first two releases their 1985 self-titled debut EP, and 1986′s full-length In Your Face. Known for “Party At Ground Zero” and other light-hearted songs like “Ugly,” “? (Modern Industry),” “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” (which got a new life when ?uestlove and the Roots used it as Michele Bachmann’s walk-on music on an episode of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in November of 2011) and “I Wish I Had A Date.” Besides their range, they were exploding with talent: the band had multiple lead singers and writers, and no single leader. The band was a democracy, which sounds good on paper, but doesn’t always work in practice.

However, guitarist Kendall Jones was gradually changing the vibe of the group. He felt that their image was a bit cartoonish; note the video for In Your Face‘s “When Problems Arise.”

Jones wanted the band to be taken more seriously, to address social issues. He was also listening to a lot of heavy metal. Both of these new influences were evident seconds into the album; it led off with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” powered by Jones’ heavily distorted lead guitar. “It was definitely a shift,” recalls bassist Norwood Fisher.

“We talked about it, and Kendall was definitely the guy who was leading the charge, saying he wanted the band to be taken more seriously,” Jones tells Radio.com. ”I personally didn’t feel like we needed that. But it was a democracy, and more of the band felt like that was the way to go.”

“One Day,” “Subliminal Fascism” and “Slow Bus Movin’ (Howard Beach Party)” were more serious and political than anything the band had done up to this point. But even if their fans weren’t all reading the newspaper, they all reacted to “Ma And Pa,” in which Angelo sings “Only a child in the middle of a war, she’s a problem child now because of a divorce, hey!” The song was one of the few that addressed not only divorce, but specifically it’s effect on children caught in the middle.  Jones notes that whenever they performed the song, then or now “It was amazing: people were raising hell (in the mosh pit).”

On the other hand, they wanted fans to still have a good time, hence “Bonin’ In The Boneyard,” the Flavor Flav to the rest of the album’s Chuck D. “We had to let people know that we were still that band you heard on ‘? (Modern Industry).’” The Red Hot Chili Peppers, clearly paying attention to Truth And Soul, sampled “Bonin’ In The Boneyard” on “Good Time Boys,” which opened their very next album, 1989′s Mother’s Milk.

One of the poppiest songs on the album was a Jones composition: “Mighty Long Way.” It was a tribute to the scene at that time: there was a veritable plethora of amazing bands coming from all over the country, and Fishbone toured with many of them. “I had a lot of love in my heart for the people I was playing music with. It was about the relationships with other bands.  We had befriended Murphy’s Law, and the Chili Peppers and Thelonius Monster as well. But it was really Murphy’s Law who really inspired that song.  And also my appreciation for the other guys in my band.”

“We felt like a natural extension of the scene that came before us: X, Fear, Oingo Boingo, the Busboys, Black Flag. We met Perry Farrell, when he was in a band called Psi Com. I remember the day that I met Flea and Anthony Kiedis, they came to a Fishbone show at a place called Club Lingerie and introduced themselves. It was a scene, we nurtured each other musically. There was a super-friendly competition. You wanted to be bad as f***, because you knew the other bands were going to be bad as f***!.”

Truth And Soul “was definitely one that we put a lot (of effort) into the power of the music. We felt like we successfully hit the mark. I understand why people think that (it’s their best album). I don’t have a favorite, it’s impossible for me to do that. I don’t have a favorite Jimi Hendrix song, or a favorite Sly & The Family Stone song or a favorite Fear song.”

In the Everyday Sunshine documentary, the current band is seen performing with Jones (who left the band to join a Christian cult), and former keyboardist/singer Chris Dowd also visits backstage at a show. Moore shoots down the idea of a reunion, although Jones admits “We had talked about it, but then it got a little further away. It’s not really in the picture right now. I love the guys I’m rollin’ with now, I’m having the time of my life playing with these guys,” he says of the current lineup, which includes former Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Rocky George.

But, per Claypool’s quote, why didn’t they get bigger than they did? They still make a living today with a solid and dedicated fan base, but they don’t play venues on the level of the Chili Peppers or No Doubt, or even Jane’s Addiction or Primus. A lot of theories are floated in Everyday Sunshine: No Doubt’s Adrian Young says, “If it’s not simple enough for the masses to grab onto, it’s too much for people to handle,” a lesson his band may have taken to heart.

David Kahne, the man who produced Truth And Soul (as well as In Your Face and the Fishbone EP), and who signed the band to their record deal with Columbia says on his website, “Fishbone not really breaking through is the biggest disappointment of my career. They influenced so many bands, and brought so much fun and true spirit into the game.” Selling lots of records and getting rich is of course something that all bands shoot for. But being truly great and unique is its own reward.

Funk legend George Clinton puts it simply: “They were too white for black people, and too black for white people.”

Jones says of Truth And Soul, “That was the last of the best times that we had making records,” noting that by the follow-up, 1991′s The Reality Of My Surroundings, things were beginning to sour. The album closes, surprisingly, with an ernest acoustic ballad written by Jones, called “Change.” It may have been a bit of foreshadowing: within a few years, the guitarist would leave the group. But his direction allowed them to evolve past their early funk-punk roots. Without that push, they might not have survived all of these years, allowing younger generations to see them for the first time, and giving their old fans more chances to hear “Freddie’s Dead” and “Ma And Pa.” Or, if they’re just looking for a good time, “Bonin’ In The Boneyard.”

- Brian Ives, Radio.com

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