They got their start sometime around 1979 when they were still in Jr. High, if you can believe the band. No matter, early on they had a reputation for combining soul, funk and ska into an infectious sort of dance mix. It wasn't just a dance, it was a down right mosh pit, complete with elbows flyin', teeth clackin' and punches landing. For whatever reason, when Fishbone played you could expect the sort of violent slam pit that usually accompanied a DI or Cirlce Jerks gig. Most of us mods weren't up for it -- which is why we went home in the worst of shape. I broke my finger, my nose and a vinyl record -- each at a different Fishbone show. Fortunately only the nose bled profusely so I wasn't out any cool suits at the other shows.
It was around 1984 that the band started to make a splash publicly and garner attention. Fishbone's sound in the early days was funky, in a sort of crazy and eclectic way, and completely infused with ska music -- not two tone ska (though there were hints of that) but a more reggae and soul styled ska. Their early success was thanks to mods who were ska obsessed at the time. Fishbone was easily one of the biggest mod scene bands of the mid 80s, drawing upwards of a couple thousand kids to shows at places like Fenders and the Country Club. They were headlining mod shows and playing alongside of No Doubt, Three O'Clock and The Question, and their sound was definitely ska focused.
Before 1989 those guys didn't know what metal was, nor alternative music. All I can think is that some manager pawned those ideas off on them at the tail end of a party binge after some gig. To begin with, they were a ska band that knew a thing or two about soul and funk, and about how to infuse the music with a certain punk intensity and energy. It was all guitars and drums, with these crazy ska styled saxaphones over the top. And mods loved it. And even some punks loved it. And more than a few paid to see the band's antics on stage. It was all good before they tossed it all for that ridculous heavy metal funk sound of the 90s. Still, you can listen to the band's early sound and enjoy it for what it was.
Fishbone -- Skankin' To The Beat