Red Hot Chili Peppers

views updated May 11 2018

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Rock group

For The Record

A Death in the Band

Guitarists Came and Went

Selected discography


From the time they formed in the early 1980s, the Red Hot Chili Pepper have played an innovative blend of punk, funk, rap, and metal. While they gained most of their notoriety for their energetic and mostly nude stage shows as well as their battles with addictions, their sound exerted a strong influence on alternative rock throughout the 1990s. With various members undertaking solo projects or touring with other bands, and their lack of permanency in the lead guitar spot, the Peppers always seemed on the verge of breaking up. In 1999, though, they reunited the lineup that appeared on their 1991 breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik and released the album Californication to critical and popular acclaim.

The two men who have been Peppers from the beginning, vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bass player Flea, became close friends in high school in Los Angeles. They joined with fellow classmates Hillel Slovak on guitar and Jack Irons on drums to form the band Anthem. Anthem didnt last long, though. Flea left to play with the punk band Fear, while Irons and Slovak joined a group called What is This? Although all four of them remained busy with their own projects, they often crossed paths. One night they briefly reunited for a one-song jam performed on the spur of the moment at

For The Record

Members have included Flea (born Michael Balzary, October 16, 1962, in Melbourne, Australia), bass; John Frusciante (born March 5, 1970, in New York; band member 1989-92; rejoined group 1999), guitar; Jack Irons (born July 18, 1962, in California; left band in 1988), drums; Anthony Kiedis (born November 1, 1962, in Grand Rapids, MI), vocals; Arik Marshall (born February 13, 1967, in Los Angeles; band member 1992), guitar; Dave Navarro (born June 7, 1967, in Santa Monica, CA; band member 1994-97), guitar; Chad Smith (born October 25, 1962, in St. Paul, MN; joined band in 1988), drums; Hillel Slovak (born March 31, 1962, in Israel; died June 25, 1988), guitar; Jesse Tobias (band member 1993), guitar.

Group formed in Los Angeles as Anthem, early 1980s; played first show as Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1983; released first album, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1984; first reached the charts with the album Mothers Milk, 1989; released multi-million selling Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991; released One Hot Minute, 1995; released Californication, 1999.

Awards: Rolling Stone Music Award for Scar Tissue, 1999.

Addresses: Record company Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505. Website Official Red Hot Chili Peppers Web Site:

a Los Angeles club. This spontaneous gig went over so well that they soon became a regular presence on the Hollywood club circuit under their new name, Red Hot Chili Peppers.

They soon had a recording contract and a celebrity producer, Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill. What they didnt have was the freedom to all perform together on their first album, 1984s The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Under contract with What Is This?, Slovak and Irons were replaced in the studio by Jack Sherman and Cliff Martinez, better known for his work with Captain Beef-heart. The album flopped commercially and failed to capture the energy of their live performances, which had become characterized by semi-nude bumping and grinding, with a lot of gymnastic leaping around the stage.

The band delved into their funk roots in picking the producer of their second album, putting the legendary George Clinton behind the board. The result, 1985s Freaky Styley, featured a horn section consisting of musicians who had played extensively with James Brown. While commercially not much of an improvement over their previous effort, musically the band showed signs of mastering their diverse and sometimes incompatible influences. Their next release, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan in 1987, found them with a more rocking sound than their previous effort. The albums lyrical content also cemented their raunchy reputation, which was either sexy or sexist, depending on ones point of view.

A Death in the Band

That reputation continued to grow with the cover of the 1988 EP Abbey Road, which had the band posed crossing the street in imitation of the famous cover of the Beatles album of the same name. The Peppers, however, each wore nothing except a single, strategically placed sock While their audacious displays of public nudity gave them notoriety beyond their music, other excesses off-stage led to tragedy. That same year Slovak died of a heroin overdose. Distraught, Irons left the band. Kiedis and Flea, though, determined to carry on and recruited John Frusciante, a teenage fan of the band, to play guitar and Chad Smith on drums. They then dedicated their first album with this lineup, Mothers Milk, to Slovaks memory.

The Peppers big breakthrough came in 1991 with the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. For this album they teamed up with producer Rick Rubin, who had made his reputation producing heavy metal bands such as Slayer and Danzig. While the album had its share of metal, rap, and punk, the ballads, especially Under the Bridge, stood out as a new form that the band had mastered. In naming Blood Sugar Sex Magik one of the best albums of the 1990s, Rolling Stone said, The alternating slap of extremes perfectly nails not only the giddy highs and drawn-out lows of life in a city built on illusions but also the Chili Peppers fight to beat their own worst excesses. The album propelled the band to superstar status, selling two million copies.

But success didnt bring peace. Frusciante reacted against the sudden fame and fortune. Known for his near-obsession with guitar playing, the trappings of celebrity didnt sit well with his vision of what a musician should be. He would later tell David Fricke of Rolling Stone, It got into my head that stardom was something evil. If you were a rock star, you were trying to put people on. Frusciantes tensions built to the point that he tried to quit the band right before a scheduled performance in Japan. Although Flea convinced him to stay for the show, Frusciante left soon afterward, opening what would turn out to be a revolving door for the lead guitar position in the band.

Guitarists Came and Went

Frusciantes first two replacements never appeared on a Chili Peppers album. First came Arik Marshall, who lasted for a year, and then came Jesse Tobias, who made it through a couple of months. Then in 1994 the band brought former Janes Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro on board. Having not released an album in the four years since the incredible success of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the band finally came out with One Hot Minute in 1995. Not everyone found the album worth the long wait. Although it went platinum, its sales fell well short of those for Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Critically, the verdict was mixed. Essi Berelian, in Rock: the Rough Guide, saw the songwriting as a testament to a band at the peak of their creativity, while Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone wrote that they sounded like dinosaurs on 1995s miserable One Hot Minute.

Once again, the band took a long break from the recording studio. In fact, the next couple of years were so trouble-filled that it became doubtful that there would be any more Chili Peppers. Following a tour that became notorious for the number of scheduled shows that never took place, the band members went their separate ways for a while. Then, in 1997 Flea served as the bass player when Navarro, Perry Farrell and others got together for a Janes Addiction reunion tour. Besides these side projects, both Navarro and Kiedis relapsed into drug addictions. Then, to make matters worse, Smith and Kiedis both suffered injuries in separate motorcycle accidents.

The bands survival seemed even more unlikely when they once again lost their guitarist. Musical differences, and perhaps personal ones, between Kiedis and Navarro led to the latters leaving. Working together in the studio had been difficult because the Peppers took a spontaneous approach to song writing and arranging, while Navarro liked to record several guitar tracks to work from for a songs final version. A threesome without a guitar player, the remaining band members began to doubt that they would continue as a unit. Flea told Melody Maker magazine, I wasnt sure about the bands future and wasnt really interested. There was a point where it was feeling like a job and like no fun.

Instead of dissolving, though, the band improbably returned to the lineup that had brought them their largest success. Despite Fleas professed lack of interest in the bands future, he invited Frusciante to rejoin them. Frusciante himself had just gone through a long period of substance addiction that had landed him in the hospital in early 1998. Shortly thereafter, Flea negotiated Frusciantes return to the band, where he was literally welcomed with open arms by Kiedis. In describing their first rehearsal together, Kiedis told Gavin Edwards of Rolling Stone, [W]hen he hit that first chord, it was so perfectthis blend of sounds from these people who I hadnt heard play together in so long.

The resulting album from this reunion, 1999s Californication, turned out to be one of the Chili Peppers greatest successes. Working once again with Rubin as producer, the quartet put together a work that sold well and received some of the best reviews of the bands work. Sheffield called it easily their best album ever. While familiar sexy funk and tender ballads filled the album, the songwriting displayed mature and thematic unity. Fricke described the album as a bittersweet thing about bright possibility and broken promises. Kiedis himself told Fricke that the albums theme, from its title down to its individual songs, explores California as a place where reality doesnt live up to its romantic reputation: [T]his weird, magical place that is really kind of the end of the world, the Western Hemispheres last stop.

While they retained their flair, their frenzied gymnastics on stage, and their sense of humor, the Chili Peppers lyrics showed the lessons of their years. The first single and hit off Califonication was Scar Tissue, a meditation on the past by Kiedis. While some doubted that the band would remain intact long enough to achieve anything more, the success of Califonication demonstrated their resilience. Eight years after the Red Hot Chili Peppers first made their mark with music reviewers and buyers, they regrouped to do so again, establishing themselves as one of the major rock acts of the 1990s.

Selected discography

Red Hot Chili Peppers, EMI America, 1984.

Freaky Styley EMI America, 1985.

The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, EMI America, 1987.

Mothers Milk, EMI America, 1989.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Warner Brothers, 1991.

One Hot Minute, Warner Brothers, 1995.

Califomication, Warner Brothers, 1999.



Buckley, Jonathan and Mark Ellingham, editors, Rock: the Rough Guide, Penguin, 1996.

Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze, 1998.

Romanowski, Patricia and Holly George-Warren, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.


Guitar Player, November 1997, p. 53.

Melody Maker, February 9, 2000, p. 21.

Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1999, p. 3.

Rolling Stone, April 29, 1999, p. 38; May 13, 1999, p. 50; December 16, 1999, p. 217; April 27, 2000, p. 58.

Spin, August 1999, p. 111.

USA Today, December 18, 1997, p. 2D.


The Red Hot Chili Peppers, All Music Guide, (April 10, 2000).

Lloyd Hemingway

Red Hot Chili Peppers

views updated May 09 2018


Formed: 1983, Los Angeles, California

Members: Michael "Flea" Balzary, bass (born Melbourne, Australia, 16 October 1962); John Frusciante, guitar (born New York, New York, 5 March 1970); Anthony Kiedis, vocals (born Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1 November 1962); Chad Smith (born St. Paul, Minnesota, 25 October 1962). Former members: Jack Irons, drums (born Los Angeles, California, 18 July 1962); Arik Marshall, guitar (born Los Angeles, California, 13 February 1967); Cliff Martinez, drums; Dave Navarro (born Santa Monica, California, 7 June 1967); Jack Sherman, guitar; Hillel Slovak (born Haifa, Israel, 13 April 1962; died Los Angeles, California, 25 June 1988).

Genre: Rock

Best-selling album since 1990: Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

Hit songs since 1990: "Under the Bridge," "Give It Away," "Scar Tissue"

Through three drummers and a revolving lineup of guitarists, the core of the Red Hot Chili Peppers remained vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea. Their innovative mix of funk, punk, rap, and rock shattered musical barriers and established a large cult following by the end of the 1980s. In the early 1990s, they became superstars and their music gracefully matured into the new millennium, despite countless obstacles. The group's evolution from reckless, party band to mellow, sensitive rockers was shocking but organic,
and a great testament to their talent, creativity, and appeal.

In the late 1970s, the four founding members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers were high school classmates at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. During school, Michael Balzary, who soon changed his name to Flea, played trumpet and loved jazz music. Guitarist Hillel Slovak introduced him to rock and punk and taught him the bass. The two formed a band called Anthym with drummer Jack Irons. Aspiring actor and poet Anthony Kiedis occasionally read some of his work before their shows.

After Flea left to join the punk band Fear, and Slovak and Irons continued as the renamed What Is This?, the four reunited in 1983 as Tony Flow & the Miraculous Majestic Masters of Mayhem. Their music was influenced by the raw and aggressive but musically adept punk of contemporary Los Angeles bands like Black Flag, the Minutemen, and X, as well as the ambitious 1960s and 1970s funk of bands like Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone and artists like Stevie Wonder. With spastic energy and outrageous antics, the buzz their live show created turned to frenzy when they performed an encore one night wearing nothing but socks on their genitalia. They were signed to EMI Records, but Slovak and Irons left the band to return to What Is This?, their longer-running and more serious project.

Guitarist Jack Sherman and drummer Cliff Martinez played on their self-titled debut, Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984). The band felt the album failed to capture their onstage vigor, so they asked Parliament-Funkadelic leader George Clinton to produce their follow-up, Freaky Styley (1985). With Slovak returning and two of James Brown's band members, saxophonist Maceo Parker and trombonist Fred Wesley, contributing horn parts throughout, the 1985 effort is the Red Hot Chili Peppers album that most resembles the 1970s funk that influenced them. It became a sizable hit on college radio and indie-rock scenes, but it still failed to capture the unbridled punch of their live show.

Jack Irons's return to the band on The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987) marked the only album with all four original members performing. Producer Michael Beinhorn, most noted for his co-production on Herbie Hancock's electronic, jazz-funk fusion album Future Shock (1983), was finally able to capture the band's intensity on record. By abandoning the more conventional use of horns, they developed the uncharted blend of Flea's inventive slap-bass funk, Slovak's raucous but understated guitars, and Kiedis's rapid fire rapping. Just as the Red Hot Chili Peppers' music was coalescing, their personal lives were shattered by Slovak's death from a heroin overdose on June 25, 1988. The event caused Irons to leave the band for the last time and created an uncertain future for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The Golden Lineup Comes Together

After some time off, Kiedis and Flea decided to re-form the band. Upon hearing eighteen-year-old John Frusciante play guitar at an audition for the band Thelonius Monster, they discovered he was heavily influenced by and had perfected Hillel Slovak's style. His addition to the band was obvious. Replacing Irons was more challenging, but after auditioning several drummers, they settled on Chad Smith.

The revamped group reentered the studio with Beinhorn and recorded Mother's Milk (1989). The album's first single, "Knock Me Down," was an upbeat but sobering homage to Slovak, and became their first modern rock hit. A rambunctious cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" followed with similar success, and the album became the Red Hot Chili Peppers' commercial breakthrough. By March 1990, it was certified gold and led to a contract with Warner Bros. Records.

For the first time in the band's history, the same four members remained when work for their fifth album began. They chose a new producer, though, Rick Rubin. His work with Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and L.L. Cool J made him largely responsible for the popularization of hip-hop. He had also worked with the intense, heavy metal band Slayer. Rubin, who would produce their next four albums, and the band turned a supposedly haunted mansion in the Hollywood Hills into a recording studio and emerged with the masterpiece Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991).

The playful party romp "Give It Away" was the lead single and became a wildly popular anthem. Its repeated instructions "What I've got you've got to get it put in you / Reeling with the feeling don't stop continue" are indicative of the overt sexual energy that oozes out of tracks like "Suck My Kiss," "Apache Rose Peacock," "Sir Psycho Sexy," and the steamy "Blood Sugar Sex Magik." In a similarly playful vein, the wicked and mysterious "If You Have to Ask," "Funky Monks," and "Mellowhip Slinky in B Major" boldly blaze uncharted trails in funk. "The Power of Equality" and "The Righteous and the Wicked" show a more socially conscious, but equally energetic side. The most notable new facet revealed on the album, though, is the gentler, more melodic reflections found on "Breaking the Girl," "I Could Have Lied," and "Under the Bridge." The latter relives Kiedis's battles with drug addiction and was a monster smash, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling over half a million copies. Its success propelled the album to number three on the album chart, peaking almost eight months after its release. Eventually, the landmark work sold more than 7 million copies in the United States. Due to its tremendous range and innovation, it is regarded by some to be one of the best albums of the 1990s.

The group's massive popularity became extremely difficult for the young Frusciante to handle, so he coped with hard drugs and erratic behavior. He abruptly quit the band in May 1992, just weeks before they were to headline the traveling alternative music festival, Lollapalooza. The band continued on with replacement guitarist Arik Marshall and completed the highly successful tour that also included alternative rock heavyweights Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, industrial metal mainstays Ministry, and premier gangster rapper Ice Cube.

Neither Marshall nor his brief successor, Jesse Tobias, were an apt fit for the band, so in September 1993, Dave Navarro joined. As a member of seminal rock group Jane's Addiction, his guitar work balanced ferocious heavy metal riffs with atmospheric psychedelia creating a unique, influential style. To assimilate with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, his playing was often more reserved on One Hot Minute (1995). The album had a daunting task: following up a brilliant, multiplatinum smash, after a four-year absence, with a new guitarist. Considering the odds, it was a successful effort with hits "Warped," "My Friends," and "Aeroplane." Despite quality live performances, the band's creative chemistry was questionable with Navarro. Another recovering heroin addict, his supposed relapses and desire to pursue other projects led to his departure from the band in April 1998.

The Golden Lineup Reunites

Magically, the same month, John Frusciante returned to the group after his near-death experience with heroin addiction. Clean, sober, and revitalized, he brought a renewed sense of hope to the future of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As a result, they released the largely successful Californication (1999). Though the album has a fair amount of sexually charged, up-tempo grooves, it also reveals a surprising amount of maturity through softer, sweet-harmony ruminations. In fact, the singles "Scar Tissue," "Otherside," and "Californication" all crossed over to the Adult Top 40 chart, in addition to having major success in modern rock and Top 40 radio, and on MTV. Reaching an older audience was an astonishing progression for a band best known for hyperactivity, nearly naked performances, and recurring drug abuse. The band's mellowing progressed further on By the Way (2002). The beautiful effort demonstrated Kiedis's most accomplished vocals and elegant harmonies from John Frusciante.

Despite multiple lineup changes, drug addiction, and death, the Red Hot Chili Peppers repeatedly established themselves as one of rock's most original bands. Both their party funk and soothing ballads are truly unique and immediately recognizable. Though each incarnation of the group made solid contributions to the band's and alternative music's progression, the lineup of Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante, and Chad Smith established itself as the most cohesive and accomplished.


Freaky Styley (EMI America, 1985); The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (EMI America, 1987); Mother's Milk (EMI America, 1989); Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Warner Bros., 1991); One Hot Minute (Warner Bros., 1995); Californication (Warner Bros., 1999); By the Way (Warner Bros., 2002).


D. Thompson, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (New York, 1993).


dave powers

Red Hot Chili Peppers

views updated May 14 2018

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red Hot Chili Peppers , preeminent white funk band of the late 1980s. Membership:Anthony Kiedis, voc. (b. Grand Rapids, Mich., Nov. 1, 1962); Flea (real name, Michael Balzary), bs. (b. Melbourne, Australia, Oct. 16, 1962); Jack Irons, drm. (b. Los Angeles, July 18, 1962); Hillel Slovak, grr. (b. Haifa, Israel, April 13, 1962; d. Los Angeles, June 25, 1988); John Frusciante, gtr. (b. N.Y.C., March 5, 1970); Dave Navarro, gtr. (b. Santa Monica, Calif., June 7, 1967).

The four original Chili Peppers—Flea, Slovak, Irons, and Kiedis—met while attending Los Angeles’ Fairfax H.S. Kiedis’s father was an actor and Kiedis himself had played Sylvester Stallone’s son in the 1976 movie Fist. They started working as Anthem School until Flea left to join the punk band Fear (and also to accept an acting role in the film Suburbia) in 1983. Irons and Slovak formed What Is This?, leaving Kiedis groupless. However, Flea soon left Fear, and the band began performing again. Unfortunately, Slovak and Irons were already signed for What Is This? and could not participate on the group’s debut album in 1984. Cliff Martinez and Jack Sherman replaced them on an album produced by Gang of Four drummer Andy Gill. Both the What Is This? project and the Chili Peppers’s debut didn’t do especially well. Irons and Slovak returned to the group in time to tour. Often, the band went on stage wearing nothing but sweat-sock codpieces. Their music was, and continues to be, an amalgam of funk, hip-hop, skatecore metal, and punk.

The next year they went into the studio with George Clinton to make Freaky Styley. Clinton brought along

members of his P-funk mob, particularly his Horny Horns (Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker). The album was more cohesive, and certainly funkier, than their first outing, but again failed to chart. Their next album finally cracked the charts, but just barely; The Uplift Mofo Party Plan reached #148, its sales mostly a tribute to the band’s relentless touring and the inclusion of the frat anthem “Party on Your Pussy.”

Before they could celebrate, disaster struck. In 1988, Slovak died of a heroin overdose; Kiedis was also having serious problems with opiates; Irons left the band. Rather than disband, Flea and Kiedis initially toured with P-Funk guitarist Blackbyrd McKnight and Dead Kennedys drummer D. H. Peligro, but the combination didn’t work. John Frusciante was a fan and guitarist they knew and asked to join. They wound up auditioning drummers, hiring Chad Smith. With the new players, the band went into the studio and recorded 1989’s Mother’s Milk, the band’s breakthrough album. Videos for a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and the single “Knock Me Down” were intriguing enough to get serious play on MTV. The group’s popularity increased when they appeared in spring 1990 as part of MTV’s Spring Break festivities. However, during their performance, Flea and Smith entered the crowd, grabbing a comely coed, whom Smith proceeded to spank. Flea was found guilty of committing an unnatural act, battery, and disorderly conduct; Smith got off with a battery charge. This only increased the band’s standing among its fans.

The band signed with Warner Brothers and retreated to the Sharon Tate mansion with producer Rick Rubin, living there together for the months that it took to make their next album, BloodSugarSexMagik. The album broke the band pop, with the single “Under the Bridge,” an uncharacteristic ballad, zooming to #2 on the charts, going gold. The album rose to #3 on its way to triple platinum. The band suddenly was a star attraction, headlining the 1992 Lollapalooza festival.

The band’s lifestyle proved a little too much for Frusciante. The guitarist had hardly had a drink and never did drugs before he joined the band, but teetering on the verge of rock stardom, he found himself with a drug problem. He left the band and after a series of guitarists who didn’t make the grade, former Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro replaced him. Over the course of the next four years, the group released a greatest hits album, aptly titled What Hits?, which went platinum. They contributed the song “Soul to Squeeze” to the Coneheads soundtrack, which rose to #22. Flea and Kiedis acted in the movie The Chase together and, respectively, in Private Idaho and Point Break. When they finally got back to music, they cut 1995’s One Hot Minute. With the rock hit “My Friends” the album went platinum, but that was considered a major comedown after the success of BloodSugarSexMagik.

Another long hiatus followed. Flea and Navarro joined with Navarro’s old bandmates Perry Farrell and Stephen Perkins for the grueling Jane’s Relapse tour. It proved to be too much roadwork for Navarro, who left both Jane’s and the Chili Peppers to put together his own project. The Chili Peppers brought back a clean, sober Frusciante, and cut the 1999 opus Californication. The album rose to #3 on the charts, going double platinum based largely on the single “Scar Tissue,” which won the band a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.


Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984); Freaky Styley (1985); The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987); Mother’s Milk (1989); BloodSug-arSexMagik (1991); Out in LA. (1994); One Hot Minute (1995); Californication (1999).

—Hank Bordowitz