Fishbone was one of the most eclectic bands to come out of the LA punk scene, drawing on ska, soul, fun, jazz and, yes, punk to create a musical stew that attracted fans as diverse as George Clinton, Circle Jerks, Jane’s Addiction and Ice-T. Angelo Moore, Fishbone frontman, carries on in their name in his new band Brand New Step.
Ska-punk-soul-funk-jazz-metal powerhouse Fishbone started as an all-black Los Angeles band in 1979, and became known in the 1980’s as populists of a Jamaican style called ska, among other ingredients in a musical gumbo as eclectic as any seen before or since. Ska music preceded reggae in its land of origin, sharing the characteristics of emphasis on the offbeat and use of the guitar as a rhythmic instrument. But the difference was speed: ska moved at a much faster pace.
Angelo Moore, also known as Dr. Madd Vibe, is the vocalist, saxophonist, theremin player, and frontman of Fishbone, and he has not slowed down since those early ska days. He now also fronts bands called Dr. Madd Vibe and The Missing Links (recently changed to Angelo Moore and The Dr. Maddvibes) and Angelo Moore and The Brand New Step. He stays active with all of his various outfits nearly 365 days a year.
“My introduction to ska and reggae was the Specials, the Selecter, Bad Manners and the English ska explosion,” Moore said. “Afterwards, I discovered Jamaican ska culture . . . Prince Buster, Alton Ellis, the Skatalites, Ska Cubano, Toots and the Maytals, et cetera. I don’t have too much of an opinion on the Jamaican rub a dub scene other than the fact that I enjoyed it thoroughly in the LA and behind Orange County areas.”
Fishbone’s exposure to the punk sound came through its black founders’ being bused to a white high school as preteens and teens, as seen in Chris Metzler’s partly-animated 2010 Fishbone biopic, Everyday Sunshine, Fishbone’s anti-racist stance was shown in their lyrics, in songs like “Fight the Youth (With Poisoned Minds)” and a series of band T-shirts with slogans like RACISM SUCKS and FUCK RACISM surrounding their logo, “and fuck you if you don’t like it . . . with love.”
English ska bands like The Specials and Bad Manners, with songs like “Concrete Jungle” and “Lorraine,” opened the door to black participation in punk disaffection. Accordingly, the members of Fishbone were making the most of integration in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and 80s as they familiarized themselves with the other culture’s ethos—”The Bad Brains were one of the first bands to spark my awareness [of punk,” said Moore, “Then the Sex Pistols, the Anti-Nowhere League, the Damned, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, the Dead Kennedys, and the list goes on. Fishbone had a chance to play CBGBs back in the day a couple of times in the late 80’s and early 90’s as far as the punk scene.”
They also played there on the club’s final week open in 2006.
Before the band launched into “Subliminal Fascism,” bassist Norwood Fisher proclaimed, “Without CBGBs that fostered a small scene and turned it into a worldwide event—punk rock—it wouldn’t be no Fishbone, it wouldn’t be no Lollapalooza, no motherfucking Warped Tour, NOT SHIT . . . CBGBs represents freedom. I’m glad to be here.”
Fishbone decided at its outset to give each member—some of them multi-instrumentalists—an equal stake in its success or failure, incorporating several distinct styles over the years. This multifarious quality makes them hard to classify in marketing schemes. To demonstrate the range of their appeal, Eugene Hütz (Gogol Bordello), Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros), and Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Off!) appear alongside George Clinton and Ice-T in Everyday Sunshine as fans.
Everyday Sunshine, directed by Chris Metzler, trailer:
Why no hip hop in the gumbo? Angelo Moore explains, “Fishbone doesn’t need hip hop because we play the musical styles that hip hop is made up of, like funk, R&B, and jazz. But I love hip hop, the Sugar Hill Gang, Eric B and Rakim, N.M.A. and the long list goes on.”
To be fair, there’s something pretty close incorporated in a Brand New Step song called “Brand New Pendulum”, wherein Angelo acknowledges that the fascism in this joint has gone from being subliminal to “the real deal dough now”.
“Brand New Pendulum” – Angelo Moore & the Brand New Step:
Moore said, “In regards to Dr. Madd Vibe, I’m still here and making the magic happen. At present, because of the coronavirus, all of my shows got cancelled, so to get around that, I’m putting together the online Angelo Show, where I will be performing some of my solo material, including ‘The Brand New Step’ and Dr. Madd Vibe and some spoken word, with organ, piano and sax.”
What’s next for these stalwarts of the punk soul cycle, these inheritors of 2 Tone tough love? “New releases with original members. It’s gonna be good.”
On YouTube currently are a collaboration between Angelo and legendary animator extraordinaire, Joe Horne, touching on racism and bigotry in the corporate industry, is entitled “Doin’ the Monkey for the Honkey”:
Another new song—”Homefree”—is “about the saga of robbin’ from the rich and giving to the poor.”