08/1992 Goldmine (314)

Note: An outsize magazine so I’ve had to piece the pages together or do in sections.

 

 

August 7th 1992

Red Hot Chili Peppers “Stand By Me (And My Friends)”

by Steve Roeser

In the beginning, like now, it was about friendship and Hendrix.

“The entire band is influenced and inspired by Jimi Hendrix,” said Anthony Kiedis, lead singer and lyricist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Hillel was almost a direct continuation of Jimi Hendrix. I think he was the ultimate guitar inspiration for Hillel. That’s so obvious, it really doesn’t need to be said. Hillel’s guitar playing was based on that style, really. It was his own; interpretation, and a very unique and creative style, but certainly based on a love of Jimi Hendrix.”

Kiedis was talking about a close friend, original Chili Peppers guitarist Hillel Slovak, who died of a drug overdose in June 1988. That summer was the band’s lowest point and it all could have ended right then and there. The L.A. funk-rockers’ third album, a cantankerous rock ‘n’ roll free-for-all called The Uplift Mojo Party Party, hadn’t made much of a splash—in spite of the fact that a was unquestionably one of the best rock albums released that year.

Then Slovak died. Drummer Jack Irons, in shock over the guitarist’s death and disgusted with the knowledge that Kiedis had a heroin problem that was even more serious than Slovak’s had been, quit the band. That left Kiedis and bassist/composer Michael Blazary [sic] (known in music circles and to the group’s fans simply as “Flea”) to face the issue of whether they still could carry on as Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“Obviously there was a point when confusion ruled and there wasn’t any perfectly definable plan,” Kiedis said, referring to that crucial period in mid- and late 1988. “But we both knew in our hearts that we wanted to continue. The foundation of friendship, which is one of the strongest elements of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, goes a long ways back. And that’s something we still have; even though we haven’t known John [Frusciante, who recently left the band] and Chad [Smith] for all those years, we understand and appreciate the necessity for a very strong love among the people in the hand, together playing music. Because it just makes for so much more of an emotional explosion. The chemistry has to be there.”

Kiedis, who moved to Hollywood, California with his father from his native Grand Rapids, Michigan at the age of II, recalled meeting Balzary [sic] and Slovak when he was around 15 and going to Fairfax High School (which, 20 years earlier, had been the alma mater of Phil Spector). “Jack [Irons] had actually been with Hillel since they were 10 years old, or something,” Kiedis said. “They started playing music together in junior high. They were two of the biggest and strongest members of the Kiss Army. They used to dress up like Kiss and lip-sync.

“And then, on the very same day, Jack and Hillel decided to play drums and guitar. And they went to their first lesson in the same building—one door had a drum teacher and the other door had a guitar teacher.”

One teacher who Kiedis and Balzary had no use for at Fairfax taught history and took special delight in putting them down, as well as the kind of things they liked, an example being the poetry of bohemian L.A. writer Charles Bukowski. Along with Slovak, they formed a peaceful “gang” (calling them-selves Los Faces), where they could indulge in and dwell on the kind of off-beat creativity they fancied, like the wacko hippie comedy of Cheech and Chong. At this point, musical concepts were still something of an abstraction, but they were getting to it.

They were misfits. Slovak had been born in Haifa, Israel, Balzary in Melbourne, Australia. Flea, who had been brought up in New York and whose stepfather was a jazz musician, was the most musically gifted of the lot. After moving to Los Angeles and before falling in with the boys, his ability on trumpet was such that he was chosen first chair on the instrument in the L.A. Junior Philharmonic.

An early version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers went by the name Anthem, while the quartet (the same lineup that made The Uplift Mofo Party Plan) was still at Fairfax High. Kiedis, the most sexually-liberated of the bunch (due to rooming with his bachelor dad, an inveterate ladies man) but the least talented musically, was not so much the vocalist in this band as he was ringleader and agent provocateur.

“The funny thing about the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” Kiedis said, trying to explain what their early influences were like and what their musical goals were, “is that I don’t think there’s any one band that we’ve ever attempted to sound anything like. Our influences are very diverse, but it’s more the influence of life that is reflected in our music. And music is a big part of our life, but we’ve never attempted to sound like any other band, or use another attitude of a band for our own.

“We just absorb all this information and spew it back out, like vomit,” Kiedis said. “And sometimes there are detectable influences and sometimes there are not. More often, it’s rather difficult to detect our influences.”

Flea’s older sister, Karen Balzary, was into reggae and the early albums of Joni Mitchell. She turned Flea on to Mitchell, who in turn got Kiedis into that music. Flea (being a trumpet player before turning to bass) also loved Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, as well as blues, particularly Lightnin’ Hopkins. And he was very interested in the music of Billie Holiday.

“I like all kinds of music, if it’s got the burning flame,” Flea said. “I like all the soulful, passionate kinds of music that I hear, be it old or new.” Kiedis added that “the music we listen to really doesn’t have much of an effect on what we write. All the good music we hear just serves to build up our character. We’re kind of unaffected by anything around us, really. We just do what we do as best we possibly can and whatever happens is the natural course of things.”

After graduating from Fairfax, Kiedis enrolled at UCLA as a political science major while the other three tried music as a profession. Irons and Slovak started a band called What Is This, which fell roughly into the early ’80s new wave category. James White (who also called himself James Chance and led the Contortions), a spastic, sax-playing, Iggy Pop-influenced rocker, was doing well in New York City in the 1980-81 period with his group James White and the Blacks. White started up a West Coast version of the group and both Flea and Slovak participated for a while. Flea also took over for a stint on bass in the hardcore punk band Fear, led by Lee Ving.

But the work wasn’t enough with which to support himself, although Flea’s connection with Fear did lead to some acting opportunities. Director Penelope Spheeris, who had featured Fear in her documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization, cast Flea in her feature film Suburbia. Still, it was rough going in the post-Fairfax, pre-Chili Pepper days. One of Flea’s moonlighting jobs was that of attendant at an animals morgue. Years after he held this position he could live a scientific discourse on the procedure of cat and dog corpse extermination. (It seems the method of freezing them before incineration worked best).

By 1983, Kiedis had given up college and had begun hanging out with Flea again. The Red Hot Chili Peppers came into official existence that year when Flea set a bass pattern to a poem Kiedis had written and they performed it together at an L.A. club called the Rhythm Lounge. “W e weren’t rehearsed, we just went out and did it, and in a couple of weeks we were the hottest thing in Hollywood,” Flea recalled. “It took us about three shows to get on top of the scene here.” Kiedis added.

The duo convinced Irons and Slovak to loin bank up with them under a new name, even though the drummer and guitarist wanted to continue pursuing What Is This, also. One of their early gigs as the reunited foursome was at a strip club known as the Kit Kat. It was there that they introduced their infamous “sox on cox” routine—walking onstage wearing nothing but a tubes sock over their private parts. The bit has become a hand trademark and an occasional schtick that will show up in their stage act even today.

The Cathay de Grand was another club where the Chili Peppers built a following and it wasn’t long before they were offered a record deal by EMI. The label assigned Andy Gill to produce the band’s first album. Gill had been the guitarist in the English band Gang of Four, who had been signed to EMI a few years earlier when they described their sound as “radical dance music.” It was a tag that could have been applied at that time to the sound of the Chili Peppers as well.

The album that resulted, which Kiedis (whose nickname was “The Swan”) wanted to title after the song “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes.” was named for the band and was something of a disappointment to them. For one thing, Irons and Slovak weren’t available for the sessions. Cliff Martinez did the drumming and J. Sherman played guitar, although Slovak did take part on some of the writing Kiedis also felt Gill didn’t fire them up enough in the studio.

Nevertheless, the Chili Peppers did have an album under their belts (or tube socks) and they were signed to a major label. That set them apart from hundreds of L.A. bands that could do no better than try to Iand gigs – maybe once a week at best—at any Hollywood club that would have them. But the Chili Peppers were a live band, first and foremost, and took pride in the excitement they created in a roomful of energetic youth.

“Our first live performances are pretty much in a class by themselves”, Flea said, not immodestly. “It’s a whirlwind of spontaneous anarchy, locked in with a cosmic hard-core soul groove.”

Kiedis expanded on this thought with,”Kind of like anarchic, psychedelic tornadoes swirling through your mind.”

Flea summed up by noting, “Bonecrunching, mauling funkiness.”

The year 1985 was when the Chili Peppers really got established in the minds a music critics and fens fans outside of the Los Angeles area as a potentially significant band. They had the good fortune to have George Clinton brought in to produce their second album, and Slovak was available to play on it. The choice of material also revealed that the Chili Peppers were a band with an historical perspective on American music, pulling out a song from the Meters, the renowned New Orleans group that had featured Art Neville on keyboards.

Kiedis was particularly thrilled at the opportunity to work with Clinton, whom he regarded as one of his idols. “George Clinton is amazing” he said. “He’s the ultimate hardcore funk creator in the world, ever. James Brown is the king of his field, but he was more pure funk. And George Clinton, if anybody ever wanted to ask you what was the greatest funk/metal ever, it would be Parliament/Funkadelic. Their music is so great that I don’t think people are even capable of understanding how great it is. Not necessarily the public, but the rock critics, for instance. I’ve actually heard. Something as unbelievable as Maggot Brain getting a bad review. Somewhere in Europe, CD re-release of Maggot Brain (Note: Funkadelic’s album from 1971] got a bad review, and to me that’s like giving Milli Vanilli a good review.

“He’s just a bottomless pit of funky creativity,” Kiedis said of Clinton, “who I have a great deal of respect for. And I’m so fortunate to have had that experience of making a record with him. It’s something I’ll never forget and I’ll always cherish it as just a blessing. It was a blessing to be able to hang out with him and learn from him and to be a part of his whole feeling there. He’s a very warm, lovable teddy bear of a funkateer and I wish him the greatest success for the rest of his life.  And I also had a great time fishing with him one time out behind his farm, in the middle of the country in Michigan. He’s got a little pond out back and one day he and I got up early and went out and caught breakfast.”

The album was called Freaky Styley and, in between the funk, there were brief interludes of characteristic silliness (“Thirty Dirty Birds”) and uncharacteristic tenderness (“Lovin’ And Touchin””). Flea agreed that working with Clinton had been a very healthy experience for them all.

“George Clinton is a beautiful person,” he said. “He’s like a very warm man, good to be around, great to work with. He’s very inspirational: he’s like an exploding cosmic love bomb that explodes in all directions.”

The Chili Peppers made a couple of videos to promote the album. The video for the first cut on the album, “Jungle Man,” was mostly footage of the band playing to a live audience, plus backstage mayhem and a few moments of the photo shoot for the album cover, which had the band members bouncing and thrashing about on a trampoline. The clip was produced by Lindy Goetz, the band’s manager then and now. (Note: There was previously a video for “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes,” which had the band playing in a sand garden on a soundstage and dancing in day-glo warpaint, that is included on the Chili Peppers video compilation Positive Mental Octopus.)

The other Freaky Styley video the band made, produced and directed by Dick Rude for his Rude Productions, was the clip for the song “Catholic School Girls Rule.” Kiedis’s words are mostly unintelligible on the record (except for the line: “She’s got eyes like Marilyn Monroe”), but the video is highly (and appropriately) irreverent, to say the least.

Freaky Styley was a solid effort overall and its release bumped them up a notch in the eyes of the industry and critics, even though sales figures were still not spectacular. Goetz tried keeping them on the road, promoting the Chili Peppers in areas out-side of their Southern California home base. One L.A. area gig in that era saw a still-developing Guns N’ Roses open for the Peppers. But the band didn’t mind being second billed to LA, bands like X, whom they would open for in places like San Diego and Irvine, or sharing the stage with other young, up-coming bands like Fishbone. The guys in these bands regarded each other as friends, not competitors.

“I remember when there was a time when we were on tour with Fishbone,” Kiedis said, “and we were In Washington, D.C. and things weren’t going so well between Hillel and the band. We were actually considering telling him to ‘ship up or get out, shape up or ship out,’ or whatever expression is. And Angelo, the singer and sax player for Fishbone, caught wind of it. He sat me  down with a real intense sincerity in  his eye, and said, ‘Anthony, you know we’re a sinking ship, and we’ve got to stick together if we’re ever going to maintain a stronghold in this world of meaningless pop music, that’s only made for the sake of money. No matter how tough the times get, we really  have to stick together, ’cause we share a common bond of honesty and truth and soul,’ (Note: Truth And Soul is the title of Fishbone’s 1988 album].

“And that had a really profound effect on me,” Kiedis admitted. “It dawned on me that we did, in fact, have to stick together if we wanted to stay alive. And obviously, tragedy happened after that—Hillel died. But it really sort of changed my attitude about being supportive of, not only my friends, but of certain bands that are considered ‘underground’ in Los Angeles, but have so much more to say than the entire Top 40 combined.”

The Chili Peppers began taking advantage or their proximity to the Hollywood motion picture community when they weren’t on the road. They showed up in a movie about Skateboarding called Thrashin’. They appeared in the movie Tough Guys with Kirk Douglas, which also featured Saturday Night Live comic actor Dana Carvey. [Note: When the movie Wayne’s World, co-starring Carvey and directed by Spheeris, came out in early 1992, a Chili Peppers song (“Sikamikanico”) was included on the soundtrack album.]

Later, after their final EMI album had been released, their song “Taste The Pain” was featured in the movie Say Anything, which co-starred actress lone Skye. Skye who is the daughter of 1960s British pop star Donovan, was Kiedis’s girlfriend for several years in the late ’80s and appears la the Chili Peppers video for “Higher Ground.” Another song by the band, “Show Me Your Soul,” appeared on the Pretty Woman soundtrack album.

But the Freaky Styley album, in and of itself, didn’t alter the band’s fortunes that drastically. The best that could be said, aside from the fact that the band seemed to be on an even keel, was that the Red Hot Chili Peppers looked as if they were heading in the right direction. As 1986 wore on, the band looked around for the right producer to guide them through recording their third album. They hooked up with New Yorker Michael Beinhorn, who had previously been partners with Bill Laswell under the name Material.

Beinhom and Laswell had been hot producers in New York in the early ’80s. One of their projects had been the Herbie Hancock album Future Shock, which featured the hit single “Rock-It.” The team had split up, but Beinhorn was eager to relocate to Los Angeles and work with the Chili Peppers. Going into the project, Beinhorn said that it was his aim “to throw curves at them.”

“Actually,we slaved to get [their new song material] to a point where we could get it into the studio,” Beinhorn said. “They had only, really, five songs before we met. And those had to be reworked dramatically. Everything else on the record sort of got created while we were in pre-production. It was very difficult, extremely laborious. II took a lot of work and a lot of concentration. I think that my role is only as a catalyst, to bring people closer to what they actually want to do, what they feel is in themselves to do best. Beyond that, I can’t really add anything.”

One song that the band picked for the sessions was all set to go, since it was a rock classic by Bob Dylan. “Subterranean Home-sick Blues.” Kiedis commented on Dylan, in typical Chili Peppers fashion, that “he can’t dance for shit.” But then he gave his honest assessment of the legendary songwriter. “Well, you know, funk comes in all shapes and sizes.” Kiedis said, “and I’m sure that there is some brand of funk to be deciphered in (Dylan’s) music. Just because he was so great, that there’s gotta be an element of funk, otherwise he couldn’t have been so great… And he’s a great lyricist. That’s my favorite thing about him. He writes such amazingly interesting lyrics and he’s got so much to say. He’s such a potent social force in music. I really admire him for that. I know that it’s kind of trendy to say that I don’t care for his voice that much, but it’s the truth. I would rather hear Jimi Hendrix sing one of his (Dylan’s) songs, on any day, rather than hear him sing it. But obviously he puts his own soul into his music and I respect him for that. I just like Jimi Hendrix’s versions of his songs better.”

Beinhorn took the band through the handful of songs they already had and worked them to the point where the recording process could get underway. He moved into an apartment on the same block where Kiedis and Goetz lived in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, spending as much time as possible preparing for the actual sessions.

“It took from January to the end of July (1987), I’d say, to actually conceive of and finish the record,” the producer said. “That includes pre-production, which to me is a major part of the record. We started recording in May.”

What came out of all this work was The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, the only album, of the four they recorded for EMI, that truly captures the unbridled lunacy, total musical abandon and quest for spiritual freedom that summed up the essence of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their rawest form. Despite its commercial nosedive, it is a superior album in every way to its hit follow-up, Mother’s Milk, also produced by Beinhorn. From the first cut, “Fight Like A Brave,” to the last, Slovak puts on a fireworks display of rock guitar that few players since Hendrix have approached in terms of energy and emotion.

“They are some of the most easy-to-work-with, open people I’ve ever dealt with in my Beinhorn said of the Chili Peppers after completion of their first project together.”I think they are more open to another individual coming in and messing with their creative process in order to help take them further. In their own way, they’re extremely professional—much more so than a lot of other people I’ve worked with, who had a really difficult time with the idea of someone coming along and making very strong decisions of a creative nature that affected them. These guys were not about that.”

None of the cuts on the album could be described as weak, though the outright loony “Skinny Sweaty Man” was a song style the band was starting to grow out of. One song, “Party On Your Pussy,” was allowed to go on the album, but the band had to agree to have it identified on the out-side album artwork only as “Special Secret Song Inside.”

One powerful jam, “Backwoods,” had Kiedis reciting the lines, “Which springs to mind a very sinister minister kind of guy—a man named Little Richard …” Richard Penniman was another of rock’s pioneers who intrigued the Chili Peppers.

“Little Richard is a madman,” Kiedis said. “He’s another one of those freaks of nature. He is so out there, he is on another planet somewhere. But I think it takes that type of unusual behavior to create ground-breaking music. Without that type of personality, it’s doubtful that someone’s going to create something as completely new and original as he did. He is one of the all-time freaks in this industry and I don’t think his music would have been so different and so explosive if it hadn’t been for the nature of his freakitude. He’s also one of those people that was so original in his time that he’s had a profound effect on music to come after him. He’ll tell you that himself, that he had a profound influence on Jimi Hendrix, for instance.”

The band did cut a Hendrix song in the studio, “Fire” (which they were also playing on stage), but it was left off of Party Plan [Note: Flea did a bit of moonlighting in 1987, playing bass on the song “Leave My Monkey Alone” for Warren Zevon’s Virgin Records album Sentimental Hygiene. Clinton did the arrangement on the song.)

Another song on the album, “No Chump Love Sucker,” was essentially a sequel to the tune “Battle Ship” from Freaky Styley, but expanded and more revved up. “Behind The Sun” showed a newly melodic side to the band and featured Slovak on sitar.

“There are bands which are being over-looked who will be the mainstream in a few years,” Beinhorn said prophetically about the group in late 1987. “They always miss this in the record industry. They’re so willing, at a moment’s notice, to pass over what they consider to be fringe or alternative. They don’t realize that that is probably the stuff that is going to be it in a few years. It’s always a question of timing. This is the feeling I have about a group like the Chili Peppers. To me, they’re probably the best live band in the United States right now. They have a lot of potential. And surely someone in a record company who has some kind of power can see this. What’s a couple of thousand dollars extra in promotion?”

On January 20, 1988, an L.A. radio station sponsored an appearance by the band at, of all places, the Palomino in North Hollywood, a country and western nightclub that holds a few hundred people at best. The station broadcast news of the event to its listeners and they converged on the club in droves from all over the city for the free noontime show.

Flea, Irons and Kiedis took the stage and tried to get things started amid the confusion, with hundreds of crazed fans storming the club from every possible entryway and dozens of police squad cars lining up on the street outside. Slovak never even got his guitar plugged in. Flea ran the bass line from one of their new tunes, “Me And My Friends,” and he and Irons played the main riffs from “Them Changes,” the Buddy Miles/Band of Gypsys classic. But that was all. The cops told the Palomino managers to pull the plug on the show and empty the club.

It might have been a forgotten afternoon, just one more crazy day in the life of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but for the fact that it was one of the Iast times L.A. fans had a chance to see Slovak in action with the band. They went on the road shortly thereafter and right after they returned home Slovack, 25, met his death. In the midst of a recovery from heroin addiction, the guitarist had a relapse, overdosed and died. Kiedis was into drugs just as heavily—and continued to be for a couple of months after his friend’s demise—but he finally recognized the tragedy as a wake-up call to get his own life together, for his own sake as well as the band’s.

“Life is a whole series of gains and losses, you know,” Kiedis said. “When Hillel died, it was like somebody putting a shotgun up to my heart and pulling the trigger. Whenever there’s that large a void created in your life, you either have to fill it with something else or just go through life with a huge hole in your gut and a great deal of sadness. So Flea and I set out to find some people that we could become friends with and that we could love and make music with, to sort of fill that hole.

“Much less consideration was given to (disbanding the group) than to the positive consideration of continuing with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” the frontman said. “It just gave me a greater understanding of how fragile a life was, and how important it is to just stick with your friends in times of need – whether it’s your need or their need. You’ve got to be open to either helping or receiving the help of your friends, when you’re down in the gutter like that. Because there is never a situation so low and miserable that you can’t come out of it. You’ve got to get down before you get up. I think I have just refocussed my whole attitude about living, trying to look on the bright side admist all the bullshit in the world. Just trying to rise above that, with the help of your friends, through music, is really the only way that I can see to be happy.”

The summer of 1988 had the Chili Peppers in disarray, with Irons resigning from the band, Kiedis coming to terms with his own drug problems, and everyone connected to the band trying to make peace and make sense of Slovak’s death. By the fall, Flea and Kiedis took steps to try to reconstruct the band. Flea dipped into the punk scene he was once a part of to recruit former Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro. They tapped Clinton for his P-Funk guitarist Duane “Blackbyrd” McKnight, who had also played on the Zevon session with Flea the year before.

This new lineup got beyond the rehearsal stage, into some live performances, but ultimately it just didn’t jell. Flea and Kiedis wanted to get busy with Beinhorn on the next album, but work couldn’t begin on it until they had decided who the new permanent band members were going to be. They had to be a real band going into the studio, not some Steely Dan-like duo who brought in polished session players to fill in the blanks. They kept on looking.

Kiedis was invited by a friend, Bob For-rest, to sit in on some guitarist auditions he was holding for his band Thelonious Monster. One of those who came through the door was a 19-year-old kid from the San Fernando Valley who’d never been in a band before, John Frusciante. When Kiedis heard him play, he begged Forrest not to hire him. He knew that Frusciante had to join the Chili Peppers.

“I guess I was about 14 or 15.” Frusciante said of when he first got into what the Chili Peppers were doing. “Their music meant everything to me. I thought it was the most perfect, beautiful music that I had heard in my life, that was going on right now. I mean., would pay for my friends to go see them live, even though I didn’t have any money, just thought that everybody should them, because I thought they were just the most fantastic thing to ever hit the earth.

“The wide variety of emotions in the music inspired me and I related to it really well,” Frusciante said, “and the fact that it wasn’t just one type of music, it was lots of things all molded together. Just the whole attitude of the band and the way they thought, and the way they looked and, just everything, I felt it was a direct extension of my own personality.”

Finding their new drummer wasn’t quite as simple, but after auditioning more than two dozen candidates, the band felt it had found the right man in Chad Smith. Early in 1989, work proceeded on the band’s fourth album, Mother’s Milk. One track, “Good Time Boys” (which turned out to be the album’s opening cut), was a high-powered tribute to their buddies on the L.A. music scene, the lyrics specifically mentioning John Doe (the leader of X), Thelonious Monster, Fishbone and fIREHOSE. [Note: BloodSugarSexMagik was dedicated to fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt, formerly of the Minutemen.] “We’ve done a number of gigs with Fishbone and fIREHOSE, and X, come to think of it.” Kiedis said. “What it is, it’s kind of the last of the dying breed. There’s a close brotherhood among the guys in these bands. We’re all good friends, and we spend a lot of time together, you know, playing music and touring, and just basically sharing the same philosophy of life and music, which is, ultimate honesty in the expression of music.”

[Note: It should be mentioned that the Chili Peppers count female rockers also among their circle of friends in L.A. Exene Cervenka is a member of X: the two lead singers of Mary’s Danish, another band friendly with the Chili Peppers, are both female. Kiedis, in particular, has also spoken highly of the all-girl hard rock band L7.)

The new album was dedicated to Slovak. One overt tribute to him here was the inclusion of “Fire” on the record, from the 1987 sessions. At only two minutes long, it’s a smouldering, breakneck version of the Hendrix standard. Memories of Slovak were also evoked by the song “Knock Me Down” (“If you see me getting high, knock me down …”),which Kiedis used to address his own demons of past drug dependency.

A surprise single to quickly emerge was the cover of the early ’70s Stevie Wonder song “Higher Ground.” Kiedis said that the tune was a natural choice for the band.

“I think ‘Higher Ground’ is perfect for us,” he said, “because of the way it translates to our sound. It’s kind of a raw, funky sound that he plays on the keyboard. It lent itself so perfectly to the bass guitar, that part. Obviously, the version we do has our own personality interjected into a song that he had already written, but it seemed like the perfect song to us. A definite challenge, but I think we tackled it …we didn’t sit around and say, ‘Here’s 200 Stevie Wonder songs. Which one do you wanna do?”Oh. I wanna do “Blame It On The Sun.””H mm, I was really thinkin’ “Ebony And Ivory” myself …’

“I believe in Stevie Wonder,” Kiedis said, switching to serious mode. “To me, he’s created some of the most beautiful and emotional music of the entire century. He has brought a great cleat of happiness and sadness and bewonderment into my life. He is the kind of person that I would like to play my music for, and feel proud of it.”

The practice of recording one or two cover songs per album, had begun with the Freaky Styley album, where in addition to Hollywood (Africa) from the Meters, the band had also done a remake of Sly Stone’s last hit record, “If You Want Me To Stay.”(Kiedis had recalled that a teammate on his junior high flag football team used to sing the tune in the huddle) The subject of SlY Stone was one that Kiedis, not long after confronting his own human feelings, was a bit reluctant to get into

“Sly Stone,” Kiedis mid slowly, letting out a big sigh, .is a perfect example of someone who had a very powerful message in his music that he didn’t necessarily live by himself. Which just goes to show you people in the field of music that are writing lyrics about a concept that they believe in, might not necessarily live that concept themselves.

“I like to believe that there’s hope for anybody,” Kiedis said. “He’s another one of my all-time favourites. I listen to his records all the time and they never grow old to my mind. And I don’t think that it’s ever too late for anybody to bounce back. I would like to see him bounce back just on a personal level, for his own peace of mind. .. I don’t know. I love him till the day he dies, juts because I think he’s written some of the most beautiful music ever, and he played it with such conviction. But it’s a very sad irony that he isn’t capable of living the message that his songs contain.”

Frusciante, in one of his first interviews after recording with the group, also had thoughts on Stone. “Yeah, that’s a crazy thing, as far as the contradiction between his life and his lyrics,” he said. “He’s obviously feeling them inside of him but a lot of the time, the world, the way it is right now, can just bring you down so much that you have to resort to… whatever, even being an asshole, or definitely doing drugs. Sometimes it just turns out that way.  Some of the purist, most beautiful people I’ve known have had big problems with drugs.

Another song on Mother’s Milk that held special significance for band members was the rap tribute “Magic Johnson,” cut in honor of All-Star captain of the Los Angeles Lakers, a basketball team that had served as an inspiration to the young Chili Peppers since high school. “I love to see Magic Johnson smile” Kiedis had said in the mid-80s. “He’s a big music fan. I think might get him for our next video. He loves to invite friends over to the big music room in his mansion and play DI. I love the Lakers.”

Four years later, still long before Johnson’s premature retirement from the Lakers, Kiedis elaborated on the effect Johnson had had on the group and why they wanted to play tribute to him on their album. “Not only is there such a beautiful relationship between the sport of basketball and music,” Kiedis said, “but (Johnson) is probably one of the biggest influences on the band. Just the style of basketball that he plays , where it’s a style of assisting and supporting and helping the other guys on your team to do well, so that the team as a whole can excel. That’s the same approach the Red Hot Chili Peppers take to making music.”

“It’s four people supporting one band,” Kiedis pointed out. “None of us are out there soloing to attain egocentric, grandiose delusion of rock herodom or anything like that. It’s all about playing a part to make the songs sound better. And we really learned that lesson quite powerfully from Magic Johnson, and the Lakers in general. Not to mention that when anybody can reach that level of superstardom and still be a humble, loving, considerate, compassionate human being at the same time, you now there’s something to be learned from that. He embodies the whole ideology to me and we try to perpetrate that with the band.”

Despite a new earnestness and seriousness in discussing their influences and their music, the Chili Peppers were no less capable, after Slovak’s death, of the type of Three Stooges repartee that they had been famous for from the beginning. [Note: The group’s songs are published under the name “Moebetoblame Music.”] A good example is this exchange between Frusciante and Kiedis, when the guitarist was giving a seri-ous response to a question about what he attempted to bring to the band musically.

John Frusciante: “I’m formally self taught. I know how to write for the orchestra. I know how to write for the horns. I can write for any instrument you want me to write for.

Anthony Kiedis: Skin piccolo?

John Frusciante: I can write for the skin piccolo and the male organ. But all I really care about is playing like I’ve got a huge cock.

EMI gave Mother’s Milk the kind of push that it hadn’t bothered to supply the band with after their first three albums were released, and the effort paid off. The videos for “Higher Ground,” “Knock Me Down” (which included an appearance by Fish-bone’s Angelo Moore) and “Taste The Pain” got good play on MTV and other video shows and, as a live draw, the Chili Peppers were hotter than ever. The album took off, making an excellent showing on the sales charts.

While they were in Los Angeles, preparing for a major tour, Flea relaxed by playing with other friends on the local scene. He and Frusciante started up a punk band called Hate and played some Hollywood clubs. When word about Hate became too wide-spread, the two Chili Peppers played down their involvement in the project, Frusciante even saying that it was two guys who looked like them, who were just claiming to be in the Chili Peppers to draw crowds to the gigs. Flea also played trumpet in a floating aggregate of musicians and singers (including members of Fishbone and Thelonious Monster) who called themselves Trulio Disgracias. [Note: Flea played a nice trumpet solo on “Taste The Pain” and is featured on the horn again on the album’s short instrumental jam with Smith and Frusciante. “Pretty Little Ditty.”) In 1989, too, Flea produced the Song “Walk On Water” for the Monster album Next Saturday Afternoon (Relativity Records).

Whatever the Chili Peppers were doing in 1989 that they hadn’t done before—and they had done it all before, just as well, if not better—this time it was going over with a larger segment of the record-buying public. As far as Kiedis was concerned, the band was merely being true to its own best instincts, and the music was a reflection of the things that mattered to them the most.

“In a world that was based on conformity and mediocrity.” Kiedis said, “there is so little to choose from. I think music is a big part of growing up; it’s a big part of rebelling against society, which is also a very important part of growing up. I mean, if nobody rebelled, then we’d be living with the same ideas that were around hundreds of years ago. Rebellion breeds growth and change, which is necessary to go on living a positive life. Since music is such a big part of that process, I think the impact can be profound on people growing up, or on people that are, maybe, adults, but there’s always room to grow. I should hope that I’ll be growing mentally and spiritually until the day I die.

“The effect that we had on John… John Frusciante is a perfect example,” Kiedis said. “Here’s a kid out in the valley, pretty disgusted with the conformity scene of music. He finds a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers that really represents a free-thinking way of life and way of music—playing whatever you feel like, regardless of the standards or the conceptions set by society. We really give people an avenue to feel a part of. Here’s a band that’s doing, not anything else that the record industry sets up. These rigid categories, we defy that. And I think people can relate to that, as teenagers, or whatever. They can apply it to their own lives.”

Frusciante added that, “Even though I can look at music from a trained view, I also share the same attitude that Flea or Anthony might have, which is really the only thing that matters: that you’re playing directly what’s coming from your heart. And for different people, there’s different means to that. If you feel like learning about composition and stuff, and that’s your thing, and you feel that gives you more of a means to be able to communicate your emotions through your hands, then that’s what should do.”

As noted, “Fire,” featuring the final guitar solo by Slovak on a Chili Peppers record was included on Mother’s Milk (although had previously come out on the Abbey Road EP, which featured the four band members lampooning the cover of the Beatles’ final album, by having them cross the London road in the exact same spot, but wearing-

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of course—nothing but their socks) and it is a highlight. Frusciante also had the opportunity to demonstrate his spiritual link with Hendrix when the band started playing “Castles Made Of Sand” as part of their live set. It was recorded when they played it one night in late November 1989 at the Phantasy Theatre in Cleveland, later showing up on a special CD release that also featured an outtake from the Freaky Styley sessions, “Millionaires Against Hunger.” (The song is simply titled “Castles” on the CD.)

By 1990, Mother’s Milk had earned gold record status and it had vindicated the band, after some had doubted the ability of the Chili Peppers to impress with substantial record sales. They had rebounded from the loss of Slovak and Irons in a way that no one thought they could do so quickly. Despite a couple of run-ins with the law on the road, life was getting better for the band. Flea had become a father, Kiedis was straightened out from substance abuse, Frusciante and Smith fit in well with the group.

The one thing they did want to change was their record label affiliation. The success of the latest album wasn’t enough to wash away all of the displeasing things the Chili Peppers had experienced earlier on with EMI. Their contract was up and they didn’t want to re-sign. (They had the comfort of knowing that David Bowie was jumping ship at the same time.) By the early part of 1991, the Chili Peppers had signed a deal to record for Warner Brothers.

The rest of the story is more familiar to the average pop music fan, just because of the massive exposure the Chili Peppers have had over the past year, a circumstance which more or less coincides with their decision to sign with Warner-Brothers. In the fall of 1991, their first album for the label, BloodSugarSexMagik, was released to critical raves. Produced by Rick Rubin, whose impressive track record included work with the Beastie Boys. Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy and Danzig, the album clearly offers more range and depth than anything that came before It from the Chili Peppers. The old fans ran out and bought it, of course, but there was new interest and new enthusiasm surrounding the band with this record.

One element was the first single, “Give It Away,” a tremendous slice of contemporary rap ‘n’ roll propelled by Flea’s imaginative bobbing bass figure and inspired lyrics from Kiedis that invoke the spirit of Bob Marley and Stone (-Confide with Sly and be the wiser Then came a tour with Nirvana, whose album Nevermind had become a staggering smash, selling millions. [Note: Coincidence or not, a song on the Chili Peppers’ Freaky Styley album was called “Nevermind’) Nirvana was the opening act, but the Chili Peppers no doubt won some new fans during this time.

But the one performance they gave, in February 1992, that may have had the greatest impact of their career, only consisted of two songs. It so happened that they were playing them on Saturday Night Live. The second song was the ballad “Under The Bridge.” which grew out of an experience Kiedis had had when he was alone in Los Angeles and using drugs a few years earlier. In the weeks and months that follow… “Under The Bridge” gave BloodSugar a new surge renewing interest in the album with the song itself becoming a huge hit. Suddenly, as their former producer Beinhorn had predicted five years earlier, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had entered the mainstream of the music scene.

There was at the conclusion of the Saturday Night Live telecast, standing arm-in-arm with Madonna (who had also appeared on the show). The announcement was made that the band would headline the Lollapalooza ’92 festival tour which had been started the previous year by Perry Ferrell of Jane’s Addiction. Then came the Rolling Stone cover in June, with the band members staring out at the world in all their naked, tattooed glory.

The only thing missing from that picture was John Frusciante.  After three years as a member of the Chill Pepper; having made major contributions to the two albums that put the band over the top, the young guitarist admitted that he could no longer deal with the strain and pressure of touring. In Japan in May, with the group scheduled to continue on to Australia and New Zealand, Frusciante told his bandmates that he could no longer give what he felt it took to create great music with the Chili Peppers. Flea and Kiedis didn’t try to stop him from going home, as complicated as the situation was, from a business standpoint. They tried bringing in a replacement for the balance of the tour dates, but the plan didn’t work out and the dates had to be postponed until a new man joined the group permanently on guitar. [Note: Just before going to press with this article, the Chili Peppers announced the addition of Arik Marshall on guitar.]

Setbacks have been a way of life for the Chili Peppers, and Kiedis praised Frusciante for his outstanding talent and the contributions he made to the group. (Irons, incidentally, has continued his career, and is a member of the band Eleven.) BloodSugar turned out to be a great album, selling over a million copies by the summer of 1992, and its nearly one and a quarter hours playing time shows the band to be brimming over with musical ideas. The material was almost all new (though the album closes with a rocking acoustic version of Robert John-son’s “Red Hot” and a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Search And Destroy” came out with some remixes of “Give It Away”) and it showed great strides in Kiedis as a lyricist, in particular.

If you look objectively at the history of the Chili Peppers, it bears a reasonable resemblance to the dynamics of another band with a long and impressive legacy, the Rolling Stones. Just as the Stones’ continued existence is based primarily on the ability of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards—who have known each other since childhood—to maintain their belief in one another and work together, the existence of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is based almost solely on the friendship and chemistry between Kiedis and Flea. If either one of them quits, the group will be finished. The same is true of Jagger and Richards in the Stones.

Just as the Stones suffered a major blow with the death of founding member Brian Jones. the Chili Peppers experienced the same thing—at a similar stage in their history—with the death of Slovak. Both bands went on to greater things. The guitar player who took the place of Jones in the Stones, Mick Taylor, did not ultimately remain with them. Similarly, Frusciante, coming in on the heels of Slovak’s death, was seen as the guitarist who would be with the Chili Peppers for many, many years. Now that appears not to be the case. Taylor and Frusciante both helped their respective bands make outstanding albums, but their tenures couldn’t be sustained due to various internal problems.

But Kiedis and Flea are the heart and soul of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and they have kept the group going, through good times and bad. Even in 1992, with all the success the band was experiencing, obviously all was not roses. But Kiedis seemed to put it in perspective with another Laker analogy, referring to all-time great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose unparalleled basketball career had extended beyond 20 years, when he was well past the age of 40.

“Kareem is the greatest and I’ll always think of him as someone who represents the ultimate in longevity,” Kiedis said. “And that’s something that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are going to strive for, as well.”

Source Credits

Michael “Flea” Balzary and Anthony Kiedis interview with the author. New York City 1985

John Frusciante and Anthony Kiedis interview with the author, Hollywood, California. August 30. 1989

Conversations with Anthony Kiedis, 1987 and 1988, Hollywood and North Hollywood, California

Interview with Michael Beinhorn. Los Angeles 1987

Note For Note. No. 3, Summer 1988: “Live Notes”—Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Palomino

“Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Naked Truth” by David Fricke Rolling Stone, June 25. 1992

Special Thanks To: John Potoker, Eddie Rivera, Kim Jones and Anthony Kiedis.

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