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Henry Paul Fisher had a passion for country music that once led him onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., as a backup musician.
That passion for music is something his son, John Fisher, would inherit, though it was for the harder edges of punk and metal that were emerging as he entered his teenage years in the early ’80s.
But the two never had a chance to share that passion. Three days after John was born in a Massachusetts hospital in 1970, Henry died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. It was discovered after his death that he had polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary disorder which eventually leads to kidney failure and many other issues.
Not long after, John’s mother, Patsy Greene, packed up and moved back to St. John’s.
In 2003, John found out he had inherited his father’s disorder. And after years of complications, John died in the early morning of Dec. 2nd at the age of 50.
But in between those two tragic events was a life rich with songs, bands, jams, gigs, recordings, friends and family.
“John was a very quiet soul,” his aunt, Linda Greene said.
But when Linda, her husband and Patsy went to a performance of one of his first bands, Tough Justice, they looked at each other in shock.
“His mother said to me, ‘Is that my John?’” she said.
It was. And it was only the beginning.
After Geoff Younghusband first saw John play at an all-ages show, he became hooked on punk rock.
“It was with the Asthmatics the first time I saw him play,” he said. “(I thought) this is so cool, kids my age playing in bands in basements of weird places with all the freaks and stuff. I was like, ‘I’m in.’”
Younghusband remembers John stopped going to school around Grade 8. After he was picked up by the police for truancy, his mother had to fight to keep custody of her son.
“He loved his mother dearly and she loved him dearly and she managed to hold on to him and keep him, and that was a very good thing for both of them,” he said.
In the mid to late ‘90s, Younghusband played in the bands Potmaster and Jupiter Landing with John.
“John loved to jam, John lived to jam,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s why Jupiter Landing broke up, it was over a jam problem.”
He was a guitar player infatuated with textures and chords, he said.
“His solos were these massive, textural, rhythm things,” he said. “He built this wall of sound (and) swirling textures of guitars.”
And once he started playing, there was no stopping him.
“He would just start at one point and just end up an hour later without ever stopping,” said Younghusband.
Peter Harbin played in Last Soul Down, a band that was still active shortly before John’s death, having played their last show on March 14th.
“I just (wrote) our Facebook post about it (and) that’s gotta be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a musician,” he said.
Harbin echoed Younghusband, saying the brilliance of John’s guitar playing was in his rhythm hand. He also agreed John’s passion for music was intense at times.
“You had to jam every week,” he said. “He was so serious about it … (but) I always got his desire for perfection and I at least strived to meet them.”
John was nowhere as happy as he was on stage, Harbin said. And despite his health issues, and his struggle with depression and loneliness, he fought hard to be up there.
“He would push himself to still be playing because it was his therapy,” Harbin said. “He’d get into a song and you’d see that aggression released. And then it would be over, and you’d see the smile on his face from having that release and getting that joy of having that out of him. That’s why he could never give that up.”
A recording of Last Soul Down’s second album is currently being manufactured, Harbin said.
CHMR news director Colleen Power says she would always light up when she saw John walk in through the door of the campus radio station to do his show called “Half a Century of Fuzzy Musical Memories.”
“When you got somebody coming in with such a knowledge of indie music, punk rock, rock, metal, that he had … he was definitely filling a voice for the station with his brilliance,” she said. “He’ll be sadly missed.”
Steady work eventually became an issue because of his health issues, and he worried he would end up homeless until he found the Cochrane Centre, a non-profit organization that has 10 supportive housing units within Cochrane Street United Church.
Between 2013 and 2017, John had a steady gig booking and promoting shows, designing posters and taking money at the door of Distortion, a bar owned by Glen Tizzard located in Holdsworth Court until 2019.
“That was probably one of my favourite times,” Tizzard said. “He would be brutally honest and that’s why I liked it.”
Tizzard said John would be upfront about his shortcomings, but they always had each other’s backs. His personality made him the ideal person to have on the door, he said.
“You wouldn’t worry that he would be dishonest or wrongful to anyone,” he said. “You knew he would treat everyone correctly and fairly at the door.”
Along with one of John’s best friends, Steve Hennessey, Younghusband has played a crucial role in the last years of John’s life, caring for him when he was unable to care for himself.
He believes John would want people to know that everyone deserves love.
“John was a lover and he was a fighter and he was till the very end,” he said.
And he was someone who always stood up for the little guy.
“At the core, John was one of the softest, most gentle guys and on the exterior he was all rough and tough,” he said. “A young St. John’s, street punk urchin, with a huge heart. He’s the toughest soft-guy I know.”
His aunt Linda Greene said she is feeling mixed emotions, missing him but knowing that he is no longer in pain. And she takes comfort in the thought that he is somewhere now, finally meeting his father.
A concert originally called “709 Metalfest,” was changed to “Fishfest” in honour of John. Proceeds from the concert, which features the bands Uneeda and Sons of an Eastern Moon live at the Rockhouse on Saturday, Dec. 12, will be donated to Cochrane Centre.