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Fishbone Flies the Black Rock Flag High

Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher created the legendary punk-ska group Fishbone when they were junior high school students in 1979. They talk to Farai Chideya about their new album, Still Stuck in Your Throat, as well as the meaning and impact of black rock.

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Transcript

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore have rocked together since Junior High. They formed their band Fishbone back in 1979. Their first disc showcased Fishbone's signature blend of punk, ska and funk on now underground classics like "Party at Ground Zero" and "Another Generation".

(Soundbite of song, "Another Generation")

FISHBONE (Rock Band): (Singing) Another generation, another forward state of mind. It's somewhere deep within our consciousness.

COX: Fishbone has put out almost a dozen albums, played three Lollapaloozas, and earned a cult following around the world. Today, they are on a big international tour for their latest disc "Still Stuck in Your Throat".

NPR's Farai Chideya spoke with the group's founders Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher, who explained the new album's title.

Mr. ANGELO MOORE (Vocalist, Fishbone): It's like, you know, we're that band Fishbone, and you're eating that fish and, you know, the Heimlich maneuver didn't quite work, and we are still stuck in your throat.

Mr. NORWOOD FISHER (Bassist, Fishbone): Because it's always been there -Fishbone's always been there. We will always be in your throat. That little tickling that you got in your throat, that little tickling that you can't seem to get out, that's Fishbone right there.

(Soundbite of music)

FISHBONE: (Singing) (unintelligible) Oh, yeah. (unintelligible) Oh, yeah. And when the (unintelligible) go beyond the (unintelligible).

FARAI CHIDEYA: Let me ask you a question about terminology. Do you think black rock refers to any black people who make rock and roll? Or is it something more specific to you? And if so, what is it?

Mr. MOORE: Well, I'll tell you what. It doesn't apply to Bo Diddley. It doesn't apply to Little Richard, and it doesn't apply to Chuck Berry. Those guys made rock and roll.

Mr. FISHER: Yeah, it's because racism is in the music business.

Mr. MOORE: Yeah.

Mr. FISHER: If racism wasn't in the music business, then there wouldn't be a Black Rock Coalition.

CHIDEYA: Now this may seem obvious, but a lot of people who would like Little Richard and Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry will listen to Angelo and Norwood as a part of Fishbone and say, oh, my gosh, I can't listen to this stuff. This is not rock and roll, let alone black rock.

Mr. MOORE: You know, some people will never be able to sit down and listen to a classical piece and go, like, that's a beautiful piece of music. They, you know, some people got to have (unintelligible) you know? And I ain't mad at them.

Mr. FISHER: That is like the same person who says, Fishbone? Oh, they play that white boy music because of the distorted guitars and some of the fast tempo.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FISHER: But that's just ignorance and horse blindness that you got it going on.

Mr. MOORE: I'm sorry, Ike Turner gave us the distorted guitar, you know? It wasn't Elvis that made that up. So I'm hanging in the Ike Turner zone when it comes to rocking guitar.

(Soundbite of song, "Party With Saddam")

FISHBONE: (Singing) Serve up my flesh before it's done. Politicians need a hand. We won't see the end, if we party till I call our friend, party till Saddam's your friend. Never drop a bomb again. All right.

CHIDEYA: You guys have always gone between kind of this absurdist artist's view of life and social commentary, and it seems like with "Party with Saddam" you have, again, that spectrum. And I can't help but think of "Party at Ground Zero", which was like the most upbeat song about Armageddon that maybe has ever been recorded.

(Soundbite of song, "Party at Ground Zero")

FISHBONE: (Singing) Party at ground zero. A B movie starring you. And the world will turn to flowing pink vapor stew.

CHIDEYA: And that video was so - I don't know how to describe it.

Mr. MOORE: Party at Ground Zero - you saw that video?

CHIDEYA: Yeah, I mean, it was just like it's one of those videos that I love because it's so absurdist and crazy and exuberant. Take me to the set of that video.

Mr. FISHER: Well, from what I remember, we were just trying to create the apocalypse, which would also be like a party.

(Soundbite of song, "Party at Ground Zero")

FISHBONE: (Singing) Please do not fear because Fishbone is here to say. Just have a good time the stop sign is far away. The toilet has flushed and green lights are a ghost and drop drills will be extinct. Speedracer cloud has come. They know not what they've done. Sin has just won. The planet is a crumb.

CHIDEYA: So let me ask you about the road, and Christopher - our producer Christopher Johnson had a great experience with you guys when he was at the 9:30 Club and he had gotten one of your albums, I guess your first album, from his brother and he decided to get a t-shirt signed for his brother. And even though you guys were completely wiped out and exhausted and had just put on a high-energy show, each one of you signed the shirt. What gives you the willingness to really go a hundred percent for your fans?

Mr. FISHER: Because I'm a fan of music, you know? And when I stood outside of the George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars (unintelligible) at the Beverly Theater in 1983, those guys came out and were really nice to me. And I was like, you know, I've been on all sides of that as a music fan, and I made the conscious effort and choice to be like, I'm just like you. Let's hang.

CHIDEYA: What's the worst part of being in a collective, like yours, for so long, Norwood?

Mr. FISHER: I miss my kids.

CHIDEYA: Oh. How old are they?

Mr. FISHER: I've got a five-year-old - a six-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son. And so, you know, I've been on tour my entire adult life, and it's so - you know, if you're going to this life as a road dog and this is what you do, that's just part of what it is. And I was like, okay, I'm going to earn enough money to be able to fly my kids around the planet. And so when I want to see them, they'll be right there with me. But I've got to, you know, I got to work hard right now. They're actually - it ain't working hard, I'm having fun doing what I do.

CHIDEYA: Well, Angelo, Norwood, thanks a lot.

Mr. MOORE: Oh, you're welcome. All right.

Mr. FISHER: All right.

(Soundbite of music)

FISHBONE: (Singing) Everybody just break your neck and lose your brain.

COX: That was Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher of the funk, funk band Fishbone. The group's latest album is called "Still Stuck in Your Throat". If you're a Fishbone fan or just want to tell us what you thought of Farai's interview, visit our blog News & Views. The link's at the top of our Web page, npr.org/newsandnotes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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