For its debut Hollywood Records album, Fishbone got a little help from its friends: George Clinton, Rick James, Perry Farrell, No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, John Frusciante and Chad Smith, Bronx Style Bob, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan), Charles and Ivan Neville, Donny Osmond, David Baerwald, Lenny Castro, Lili Hadyn, Bad Brains’ H.R., Blowfly and Sly Stone’s sister, Rose.
Wait a minute, back up … Donny Osmond?
“Donny Osmond’s cool, man,” lead singer Angelo Moore said recently. “He was Michael Jackson’s only competition back in the day, as far as whites are concerned. He’s a funky motherfucker, man. He’s down to earth; I never thought he was going to be like that, but you never really know until you meet people. You can’t really know what’s going on with them just by seeing them on TV.”
Osmond became a full-fledged Fishbone fanatic after the venerable funk ‘n’ thrash band performed on the morning talk show “Donny & Marie” last year. (The band makes another performance April 26.) Osmond’s one of many converts to the one of the most distinctive (but least commercially successful) alternative rock groups of the past two decades.
It wasn’t hard to get the stars to come and out play on the Los Angeles-based sextet’s “Fishbone & The Familyhood Nextperience Presents: The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx” (due March 21), its first album in four years.
“We called a lot of them because we know a lot of them,” Moore said. “We just had them come down, see who had any holes in their schedules so they could lay down some tracks for the record. It was as simple as that. It’s nice to have friends in high places.”
Osmond, Ivan Neville, Flea, Frusciante, Baxter and Castro get the ball rolling on the scorching opening track, “Shakey Ground”; Fishbone funks the whole place up with “Where’d You Get Those Pants?” and Farrell sings backup on “It All Kept Startin’ Over Again.” But the real centerpiece is a rollicking cover version of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everybody Is a Star,” featuring Stefani, Clinton, James, Farrell, Haydn and Blowfly.
Pulling all those big names together would seem to be a logistical nightmare, but Moore said it was a piece of cake compared to the lineup changes they have endured since their last album, 1996’s “Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge.”
“At the time of recording this album, everything was falling apart,” Moore said. “Our drummer, Dion Murdock from Mother’s Finest, he was with us for a while, but he quit and went with Macy Gray because he had a kid and needed to make more money. Then Abe Laborial Jr., he was playing a couple of tracks on the record, but then he had to leave because he had to go on tour with somebody else too. We were constantly trying to find a drummer that whole time.
“The band wasn’t fully and completely together while we were making that record. Then, before we had to leave and go on tour we were still looking for drummers. We finally found John Steward, he used to play with Super 8. Just getting this album finished was a feat itself. It was a whole Spinal Tap existence. It still is, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Formed in 1979 by Moore, bassist Norwood Fisher and trumpeter Walter “Dirty Walt” Kibby II, Fishbone has cornered the market on funk, social consciousness and sly humor. Though they have appeared in several movies (“Back to the Beach” and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” to name a few) and have contributed to the upcoming “Jungle Book” sequel, they have never had a hit single and only 1991’s “The Reality of My Surroundings” made a decent album sales dent.
Moore said he and the others (Fisher, Kibby, Steward, guitarist Spacey T and trumpeter-organist John McKnight) live for the live thing, not album sales and radio airplay.
“It used to bother me, but after a while you just don’t give a fuck, man,” Moore said. “Either radio’s going to play you or they’re not. If they don’t play you, you’ve always got the underground. You’ve got your underground stations, your college stations. It’s like the Pony Express, the way we’re doing it. It takes a little longer to get there, but you’ll get there because you’ve got roots, the roots to your tree that spread out deep and wide.
“Radio now is extremely formularized anyway. There’s only a couple of things that really move me on the radio. A lot of the music today, if it’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s formularized. If it’s ska, it’s formularized. Hip-hop is just little bits and pieces of music from the past, like R&B, funk and jazz and some reggae. Hip-hop’s one of the biggest things around, but it’s a reincarnation of a lot of music from the past. Many of the younger generation don’t know what they’re listening to. It’s a new thing, but it’s not as full or complete as it used to be. The only thing full and complete are the lyrics in hip-hop and their techniques, how they put their rhymes over the music.”
The past 21 years have flown by for Moore. He’s just glad they’re still around, even if it’s with new group members.
“I figure Fishbone music is a lot bigger than the actual members that are playing in it,” he said. “We made it and now we’ve made it into a monster that’s a lot bigger than us, and as you can see, there’s a lot of Fishbone-style bands around. It all depends on whether you want to stick around and play it or if you want to quit and do your own shit.”
Who knows what the future holds, but Moore likes what he sees so far.
“We’ve got the record company behind it this time,” he said. “They’re putting their muscle into it. We just went on a promotional tour throughout Europe, and I did a whole lot of press in Tokyo. If they’re making these promotional tours happening, they mean business. It means something’s going to happen.
“I never put my faith too strongly in anything, because if you ain’t never had anything and you don’t get shit, you’re left with the same thing. But I’m really hoping for the best.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER WENT TO: “A Bad Brains tape, ‘Banned in D.C.’ And I remember getting Led Zeppelin at one point, the one with ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ “
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Harry Belafonte at this place in Hollywood when I was probably about 4. My parents took me to it. I remember lots of rhythms and drums and a Cuban vibe. I remember him singing ‘The Banana Boat Song’ and I was singing along with it.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: ” ‘The Gospel Singers’ from the Smithsonian Institution. It has recordings from the South in the church. I’m always checking it out for good inspiration.”
BWF (before we forget): Chew on some Fishbone on the Web @ www.unuttednations.com. … The group will appear April 13 on CBS’ “The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn. … The Fishbone album discography – “Fishbone” EP (Columbia, 1985); “In Your Face” (1986); “It’s a Wonderful Life (Gonna Have a Good Time)” EP (1987); “Truth and Soul” (1988); “Bonin’ in the Boneyard” EP (1990); “The Reality of My Surroundings” (1991); “Give a Monkey a Brain … and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe” (1993); “Fishbone 101: Nuttasaurusmeg Fossil Fuelin” (Sony, 1996); “Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge” (Arista/Rowdy, 1996); “Fishbone & The Familyhood Nextperience Presents: The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx” (Hollywood, 2000).