As co-founder of the heavy-hitting rock institution Fishbone, John Norwood Fisher is one bad mother funker who has been breaking down barriers and innovating the sound waves of funk, punk, soul, metal, reggae, and ska music since 1979. Fishbone’s seven full-length albums and slew of live records and EPs have steered the course of alternative music for over three decades, and a lot of that can be attributed to the funky and percussive slapping and finger work that has become Norwood’s trademark. Lately he’s been touring heavily with Fishbone and has taken on the role of music educator to help pass the torch to the next generation of 4-string groovers. Always happy to tell it like it is, Norwood popped by to answer our 10 Questions.
1. What was the first concert you ever attended?
The Ohio Players and Graham Central Station at The Shrine Auditorium. Second to the last row, even! Watching Larry Graham playing that night made up my mind that I was meant to play bass.
2. What’s the best concert you’ve ever attended?
I’ve seen a zillion amazing shows, but nothing ever impacted me like Parliament–Funkadelic. They played “Bop Gun,” and Garry Shider flew out over the audience on a wire. They played until the power was pulled. That’s what’s playing a concert is about — playing until they won’t allow another note!
3. What’s one element of your playing that you most want to improve?
Going in on walking bass lines. I’ve been faking it forever, and probably not very well. Just as I was having major breakthroughs recently, I broke my wrist. I’m just getting back to it now, and it’s like starting from the beginning again. Otherwise, I’m practicing chords and incorporating quadruplets into bass lines in the way I want to deliver them.
4. If you could have lunch with any bass player today, alive or dead, who would it be?
5. If you could sub for a bass player in any band, who would it be?
Whoever might be playing for Kate Bush. I’d love to rise to the challenge of filling that spot.
6. What was your first bass?
My first bass was a Fender Lead Bass II given to me by my cousin in exchange for a weight set on Christmas Day when I was eight years old. I played bass lines on an acoustic guitar before then.
7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about playing bass?
I was given a Mel Bay book for beginners when I was first learning to play bass, and it suggested that you adjust the strap to where you are most comfortable. I stood with my arms fully extended to my sides and adjusted the strap as long as it would go. My positioning forced me to create different techniques that led to my own style.
8. What the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you during a gig?
I got too drunk to play in Chicago once. I drank tequila and Red Bull for over 24 hours before the show. I got onstage, and my muscles wouldn’t react with my thoughts. Our keyboardist played my bass lines while I lay on the floor wishing I could do something to change the situation. I’m glad I found my way to sobriety.
9. What are four items that you absolutely need to have on the road with you?
Running shoes, an Ab Wheel, Perfect Push Up handles, and Moringa powder.
10. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I liked the idea of being a trash man when I was younger. When I was an unruly 9th grader, a class was created for me called Custodial Engineering because I’d been kicked out of every other possible class. After lunch, I had to pick up after all my schoolmates!