Q Magazine

Fishbone Makes a Major Lineup Change, Moving Forward Without Norwood Fisher and 'Dirty' Walt Kibby

'We didn't start Fishbone under the guise of it belonging to one person to make all the financial and creative decisions,' Fishbone founding member Chris Dowd tells Q.

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Source: Fishbone

Fishbone have announced a major lineup change, parting ways with Norwood Fisher and Walt Kibby.

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"It's been one of those evenings..."

So says Chris Dowd, founding member and keyboardist/trombonist for Fishbone, and you can tell from the sound of his voice that it's been a very, very long evening indeed.

That's because a long-simmering situation within the band had finally reached a point where they were at least willing to do a bit of what's generally described as "Vaguebooking," a phenomenon that occurs when there's a profound desire to vent about something major that's going down but it still feels a bit too soon to fully divulge the details surrounding the event in question.

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Source: Fishbone

The well-known Fishbone logo.

The following post appeared on Fishbone's official Facebook page and Instagram page late on April 24:

Being married is hard. Being in a family is hard. Being in a band is being married to several family members at the same time.

There have been a lot of changes going on. None have been this difficult… Fishbone has had a revolving door of valued and appreciated members over the last 40+ years.

As times change, so must we, and in trying to make the necessary changes, there have been several discussions within this family, some discussions going about as well as family discussions tend to do...

At a certain point, adults have to agree to disagree and step away from the table in order to preserve the bonds that brought them together in the first place.

As a result, in May, Fishbone may look a little different, and we hope you'll give it a chance knowing that we did not make any decision lightly or without due process.

If anyone who has purchased tickets to see Fishbone this summer and feel you don’t want to give this line up a chance, while bummed, we will absolutely help in making sure you are fully refunded.

We will be continuing to support all projects of members of the Fishbone Universe.

All shows announced moving forward will be happening.

We hope to see you out there with us.

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Source: /Sean Brophy/Hottwire.net/WENN.com

Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore onstage in 2010.

In the wake of the posts and the immediate mixture of anger, concern and bewilderment they spawned amongst members of the band's fanbase, Q reached out to Fishbone's management, simply asking them to let us know if someone from the band would be willing to hop on the phone to discuss whatever's going on with the band.

About 90 minutes later, Dowd called.

The short version of the story: there's been a significant lineup change within the ranks of Fishbone, and it involved the need to split from one of the band's founding members, bassist Norwood Fisher, which effectively led to the departure of another founding member, trumpeter "Dirty" Walt Kibby. Mind you, this comes on the heels of drummer John Steward having already left the band in January. Even though guitarist Mark Phillips, who's been in the lineup since 2018, is sticking around, it still put Dowd and frontman/fellow founding member Angelo Moore in a tricky situation: not only would they have to rebuild the band that they started together in the late 1970s, but they'd also have to break the news to the fans.

And the longer version of the story? With a sigh, Dowd asks, "Where do I begin?"

He quickly decides that there's really only one place to begin: with his return to the band in 2018, after having left not long after the release of Fishbone's 1993 album, Give a Monkey a Brain and He'll Swear He's the Center of the Universe.

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Dowd's decision to re-enter the fold was directly connected to a documentary that had been released about the band a few years earlier, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone...or more specifically, it was tied to his dissatisfaction with the way the band's story was presented in the film.

"I participated in that documentary and felt that it left everything on such a sour note that I wanted to try and come back and see if I could rally us," says Dowd. "Whatever was going to happen, we had to put in some type of effort to get back to the original essence of what we created. I didn't come back to the band with any other objective than to have this be a triumph."

What Dowd quickly discovered, however, was that the power dynamic within the band had shifted in his absence, and - at least to his way of thinking - not for the better.

"I came back to Norwood running everything," says Dowd. "And when you come back to something, you don't want to come back and start going, 'I'm not doing anything unless these demands are met!' Especially when, as I began to discuss things with Angelo and other people, I realized that my departure had left things in a bad way. I wanted to try to change that. You know, some people came back, they wanted fanfare and magazines. That's not what I wanted. I'm kind of, like, 'Let the music talk. The music will tell us what to do. Let's listen to that.' "

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Something else that bothered Dowd when he returned was the way Fishbone's profile had diminished.

"The year I left the band, we could announce that we were playing the Palladium and the tickets would sell out in 45 minutes; I come back to the band, and we can barely fill the Temple Bar out here in L.A.," he says. "But it didn't seem helpful to point out things like that, so I let the people who were in control keep doing what they were doing in the hopes that, as time went on, we could gain some trust, that the friendships and trust would grow, and maybe the pressure that had been on people, or the responsibility of the creative and financial stuff, would kind of be, like, 'Okay, I know you're here and in it for the long haul, so let's start to do this and bring things back to their usual place.' But this went on for a very long time, and I noticed that, as time went on, some people were satisfied with the status quo. And in some regards I started to realize that people didn't really want things to change or improve. They liked it."

Something to which Dowd attributes at least part of the band's lowered profile: the fact that they'd gone from being a relatively prolific band into one that hasn't put out a full-length album since 2006's Still Stuck in Your Throat. Yes, they've released three EPs - 2011's Crazy Glue, 2014's Intrinsically Intertwined, and 2023's Fishbone - but as you'd imagine, it's the length of time it took for that last EP to emerge that really rankles Dowd.

"It took us six years to do an EP," says Dowd, with the disbelief evident in his voice. "I mean, to be even more frank with you, I had a bunch of songs written, but...that's not a band. That's not all of us doing something together."

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Dowd also believes that the band's live shows were also suffering under Fisher's watch...and he wasn't the only one who felt that way.

"We went through three or four different soundmen and road managers," he says. "We were trying to address the fact that, basically, people felt like they were going deaf because of how loud Norwood was onstage. And then as I started to listen to those [later Fishbone] records... I found some of them hard to listen to. And I hate to say that. But when you listen to the records when it was the original band, everyone was represented. But you listen to the [later] recordings, and the bass is the loudest thing. And it was the same thing with the live show: he became the loudest thing. One sound guy wrote a three or four page letter - and these are guys who work different friends of ours in bands - and he's, like, 'I love you guys, you guys are the reason why I dig music, and even as a fan of what you do, the blatant disregard for a professional telling you their professional opinion about what would make you sound better...' I mean, no exaggeration: in the course of a year, we probably went through four or five different guys...and these are guys who are working for us not for the money but because it's, like, a bucket list thing!"

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There had also been changes on the business side of things, which only made things worse.

"There was no transparency with what was going on creatively or financially," he says. "And when confronted by those things, people would sort of clam up and go mum and change the subject. And all of that stuff started to reach a fever pitch, and a lot of times people would try to throw various members like myself and Angelo under the bus over what was going on. But, really, it had very little to do with us. And it reached a sort of tipping point, and Angelo and I kind of got to the point where it was just, like, 'Well, if we can't have any equity in the band, then maybe it's time for us take a step back. Or maybe it's time for me to take a step back from the band and not toward.' Because there were some financial shortfalls, and people were not taking responsibility for what was going on."

It even reached a point where it was decided that Fishbone needed to go to therapy as a band.

"I don't want to get into the gory details," says Dowd. "But as soon as we suggested to Norwood that he include the band and not handle the finances, he'd disagree, and that'd be the end of therapy!"

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Finally, in November of last year, Moore and Dowd jointly wrote a letter to Fisher to formerly express their dissatisfaction.

"We said, 'We need these creative and financial things adjusted, or we're going to have to take a step back from the band.' And a month went by, and we committed to the shows we had on the books for 2023, but then finally we had a meeting. And during that meeting we said, 'So what is the answer? Are we going to proceed forward with equity and listening to each other again, or not?' And I'm not paraphrasing: Norwood said that he didn't respect any of us to lead the band anywhere - either myself or Angelo - and that there would be no equity, and that there was not going to be a democracy creatively or financially. It was going to be a dictatorship, or he was going to shut the band down. And we said, 'Wow. That's interesting that you keep referring to this as just your s--t...'"

The use of the word "dictatorship" was strong enough that Q actually doubled back to make sure that this was indeed what Dowd remembered to be a direct quote.

"Hand to God," says Dowd, emphatically. "It was so crazy during the conversation, because Angelo... You know how when somebody says something and you're sitting up there, like, 'Did he just say what I think he said?' You know the Elvis Costello song 'Beyond Belief'? It was beyond belief! For somebody in a conversation where you're begging for compromise, for them to tell you basically, 'No, f--k your compromise.' It f--ked my mind up. And you know what's really f--ked up? I still feel responsible, like I did something wrong by saying, 'I don't accept this behavior.' But it just took me back to why I left in the first place. I mean, somebody can make a situation so unbearable for you that you just have no choice but to leave. The only difference this time was that I was not alone. Angelo was there. And it was, like, 'Okay, you understand what I'm saying now: this is not right.' "

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Stunned at the response they'd received, Moore and Dowd basically just sat quietly for the better part of a month, wondering if there was going to be any other sort of reaction or remarks from Fisher.

None came.

"So Angelo and I were talking about it, and we just felt like, 'That's not our band,'" says Dowd. "We didn't start Fishbone under the guise of it belonging to one person to make all the financial and creative decisions. It was never that when we made Truth and Soul. It was never that when we made The Reality of My Surroundings. It was never that when we made Give a Monkey a Brain... or any of the records that people feel are representative of what the band is like, the most prolific era of our creativity to date.

"Also, a lot of things were also being shut down, and that got old," he continues. "It's fine for somebody to do this, this, and this, but...we can't have a conversation about it? Or when we try to have a conversation, the subject is flipped around and... I hate to use this word, because it's so overused, but the gaslighting that was going on...And then you start to realize it's, like, 'Holy s--t, wait a minute, it isn't just his pattern now.' After that conversation, I could see it going all the way back to the beginning. And it was kind of a terrible feeling to have that revelation. So we made the decision to move forward without Norwood. Because even though that letter was never presented to him as an ultimatum, it was returned back to us as a 'go f--k yourself,' basically. You know, sometimes people grow, and they grow into something else, and it's not representative of what the original mission statement was. We just couldn't see ourselves going on under that auspice, of a dictatorship."

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As mentioned earlier, Steward left in January, but Kibby's departure came only days ago.

"We asked Walt to stay, because we knew that was something that we wanted to happen," says Dowd. "We did not want Walt out of the band. But he chose not to go on. The same with John Steward. So now we find ourselves here. We still feel as though we have some things to say creatively as a collective. Respectfully. Listening to each other. So we are going to continue with Fishbone, myself and Angelo. At a certain point, maybe we can see what we can do to try and pull us back together, but...there's been some damage done emotionally. In some cases, we might just be past that point. I'm not trying to throw anyone under the bus, because it wouldn't be constructive. But we're just not in the same place."

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Source: Fishbone

Angelo Moore and Chris Dowd in 2023.

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So, yes, it's true, the players won't all be the same as they once were, but the Fishbone story goes on nonetheless. Dowd is understandably reticent to name any of the new musicians who fans may soon be seeing onstage with the band when they return to the road this summer, lest they be judged before ever getting a chance to play a single note, but he's confident that they're rebuilding the band into something that's...not necessarily better than ever, but certainly something closer to what it was always supposed to be in the first place.

"You know, you can bend somebody, and you can break somebody, but at some point a person's gonna say, 'I don't want to be made to feel this way. Not for something that's supposed to be inspiring,'" says Dowd. "I take the responsibility very seriously of being an artist and trying to be an empathic voice in this world, to honor our gifts we've been given. We owe a great deal to our audience, who've always been loyal, to be that voice and to be as honest and uplifting as possible. And sometimes it can go negative, but it's honest. And all that was being sort of suffocated by one person and their inability to want to meet people where they are. You don't even need to meet me halfway. I just want to make things work! But it wasn't working. So we had to move on."

[Q reached out to Norwood Fisher for comment on his departure from the band but has yet to receive a response.]


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