A talented guitarist caught up in the Los Angeles music scene of the late 1980s, John Frusciante [pronounced Froo-SHON-tee] managed to go from playing along with the tracks on Red Hot Chili Peppers' recordings in his bedroom to performing with the band as they rocketed to fame. He has been praised for the strength and intelligence of his guitar playing. As part of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Frusciante blended in with the band's frenetic, popular sound. Having branched out to solo material, Frusciante has also been able to refine his talent as a writer, guitarist, and singer. Despite a six-year hiatus from the Chili Peppers, Frusciante was able to return and recreate the band's original energy.
Frusciante was born in 1970 in New York City, the son of John and Gail Frusciante. Frusciante's father was a pianist who had attended Juilliard School of Music in New York City, and later became a lawyer and judge. His mother was a singer who then settled into the role of homemaker. He spent his early years in Queens, Long Island, New York, but after his parents' divorce he moved to Tucson, Arizona, and then eventually to Santa Monica, California, where he lived with his mother and stepfather. By the age of nine, Frusciante showed a love for punk rock music. His stepfather's musical preferences ranged from Beethoven to 1950s R&B, and he was supportive of Frusciante's taste in music.
When Frusciante was 17, he dropped out of school and moved to Los Angeles where he indulged his love of music. He auditioned for bands and jammed with local musicians while maintaining the pretense of attending college. He even went to an audition for Frank Zappa's band, but left early for reasons he revealed to Guitar Player: "I realized that I wanted to be a rock star, do drugs and get girls, and that I wouldn't be able to do that if I was in Zappa's band."
In 1988 Frusciante stepped right into that world of rock stars, girls, and drugs. He had been jamming regularly with DH Peligro of the band the Dead Kennedys. In his home, he had also been playing alongside recordings of his favorite Los Angeles band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Peligro introduced Frusciante to Michael Balzary, better known as Flea, who was the bass player for the Peppers. The three played together, and Flea recruited Frusciante to replace the Peppers' guitarist Hillel Slovak, who had recently died of a heroin overdose.
Frusciante came on board as the Chili Peppers were beginning to attract a wider audience, and with Mother's Milk the band exploded onto the scene. Exposure on cable's MTV with their songs "Knock Me Down" (about Slovak) and "Higher Ground" (a cover of a Stevie Wonder tune) finally pushed them into the spotlight. With their next album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers became superstars. Despite their success and Frusciante's achievement, he began having second thoughts about a career in the music business, especially as part of an extremely popular band. In 1992, while on their world tour, Frusciante decided he no longer wanted to be a part of Chili Peppers, and quit half an hour before going onstage. The band was stunned and forced to cancel the rest of its tour. Anthony Keidis, lead singer for the Chili Peppers, told David Fricke and M. Selinger of Rolling Stone, "He's one of the most deeply soulful guitar players that we've ever been connected with. Also, he's a good friend, and we had something going that was cosmic and special. And we're going to have to find that elsewhere."
After leaving the band, Frusciante descended into a serious drug addiction. He battled it for more than three years, suffering financial and physical ruin. During that time he released two solo recordings, Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt and Smile From the Streets You Hold. The strange and haunting sounds of Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt were the result of combining two 12-track sets of Frusciante's work. For his 1997 Smile From the Streets You Hold, Frusciante drew from anything he had recorded, mostly for the purpose of getting drug money. Soon afterward, in the wake of near-fatal overdose, Frusciante entered rehabilitation.
Flea approached Frusciante in 1998 to see if he was willing and able to rejoin the Chili Peppers. Keidis described the reunion to Fricke, "Flea ... said, 'What do you think of playing with John again?' I said, 'That would be a dream. But what are the odds that the chemistry would work for even a minute?' And he said, 'Yeah, the odds are a million to one.' But from the first time we got together to play, I felt completely levitated.'" The band's subsequent release, Californication, became another success for the Chili Peppers, after years of struggling to reach the heights found with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Frusciante described the process of crafting Californication to the Toronto Star: "It was obvious that we were all making music for the same reasons. Nothing really conflicted with each other, everybody was kind of thinking with the same head."
Recovering from his addiction and back in his original band, Frusciante began writing his own songs again, in addition to working on songs with the Chili Peppers. He explained to the Toronto Star, "Me writing words is as important to me as playing guitar is, so I'm constantly writing and constantly recording." In 2001 he released a solo album, To Record Only Water for Ten Days, for Warner Brothers, a collection of original material that focused on his writing, singing, and musicianship.
In 2004 Frusciante announced that he would release six albums in as many months. The first of the set, Shadows Collide with People, was described by Aidin Vaziri of the San Francisco Chronicle as "gorgeously odd and frighteningly original." From there, Frusciante went on to release five more albums in 2004 and an additional one the following year. He collaborated with Josh Klinghoffer, a young Los Angeles producer and musician, on several of the albums. He also worked with bassist Joe Lally of the punk band Fugazi, and Flea and Chad Smith of the Chili Peppers, and his work touched on a range of influences and styles.
From the heights of international and popular success to the absolute lows of drug addiction, Frusciante seems now to be seeking a middle ground that will support his creativity and keep him comfortable. He explained his focus to Burhan Wazir of the Times of London, "It's just about the music. When I'm not making it, I'm happy sitting at home listening to records. There's so many experiences to be had listening to music."
For the Record . . .
Born John Anthony Frusciante on March 5, 1970, in New York, NY; son of John (a pianist, lawyer and judge) and Gail F. (a singer and homemaker) Frusciante.
Moved to Los Angeles, 1987; joined Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1988; debuted on Mother's Milk, 1989; quit Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1992; released solo album Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt, 1994; re leased second solo album, Smile From The Streets You Hold, 1997; rejoined Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1998; Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication released, 1999; re leased solo album To Record Only Water For Ten Days, 2001; released several solo recordings as well as playing for Red Hot Chili Peppers, mid-2000s.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal (with Red Hot Chili Peppers), for "Give It Away," 1992; Grammy Award, Best Rock Song (with Red Hot Chili Peppers), for "Scar Tissue," 1999.
Addresses: Record company—Warner Bros. Records Inc., P.O. Box 6868, Burbank, CA 91510. Website— John Frusciante Official Website: http://www.john frusciante.com/.
Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt, American Recordings, 1994.
Smile From the Streets You Hold, Birdman, 1997.
To Record Only Water For Ten Days, Warner Bros., 2001.
Shadows Collide With People, Warner Bros., 2003.
A Sphere in the Heart of Silence, Record Collection, 2004.
The Will to Death, Record Collection, 2004.
Ataxia-Automatic Writing, Record Collection, 2004.
A Sphere in the Heart of Silence, Record Collection, 2004.
DC-EP, Record Collection, 2004.
Inside of Emptiness, Record Collection, 2004.
Curtains, Record Collection, 2005.
With Red Hot Chili Peppers
Mother's Milk, EMI, 1989.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Warner Bros., 1991.
Californication, Warner Bros., 1999.
By The Way, WEA, 2002.
Canadian Musician, May/June 1999, p. 46.
Guitar Player, November 1997, p. 53; September 1999, p. 72.
Rolling Stone, June 25, 1992, p. 26; April 29, 1999, p. 38; March 4, 2004, p. 63.
San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, 2004, p. 40.
Times (London, England), February 28, 2004, p. 12.
Toronto Star, February 19, 2001.
Washington Post, March 6, 2005.
John Frusciante Official Website, http://www.johnfrusciante.com (July 30, 2005).
—Eve M. B. Hermann