SOME LIKE IT HOT
Against all odds and woeful weather conditions, PHIL ALEXANDER (blurb) and the ever-whingeing PETE ‘THE CREDIT CARD KID’ CRONIN (blurrs) hit the road with THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, in search of “Peppermania”, “freaky-tude” and “higher awareness”, only to find guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE listening to Welsh warbler Tom Jones (!), sticksman CHAD SMITH grappling in vain with Glaswegian accents and founder-members ANTHONY KEIDIS [sic] (aka ANTWAN THE SWAN, frontman) and bass chap FLEA getting down to earthy spirituality with nary a sock in sight!
DATELINE: A WIND-BLOWN SATURDAY
THE PLACE: SOMEWHERE OVER ENGLAND
TURBULENCE: NOT a scribe’s best friend. Fitting however that The Credit Card Kid and I should be thrown into the world of the Red Hot Chili Peppers by an unceremonious bucket-like haul up to the rain-soaked climes of Glasgow, courtesy of a scuttlin’ shuttle that feels like it’s Hellbound to say the least. It’s a cathartic experience. A kinda scene-setting for the frenzy to come. Y’see, the Chilis have lived in a frenetic vacuum for the last two years, ever since their last UK visit. In a face-to-face encounter they’re a daunting prospect, thriving on a surfeit on energy and enthusiasm tempered only by a relatively newfound desire to assume a far more professional stance.
SCENESHIFT: GLASGOW, QUEEN MARY UNION
Assuming the position is something the Chili chaps have become particularly good at. As The Credit Card Kid gets set to shoot the foursome with showtime rapidly approaching, it’s obvious that the quartet have gone pro! Pronto! They lark around and display the customary sense of Chili-like, codpiece-toting fun. Gone, however, are the fabled socks-on-cocks that saw them rise to notoriety.
Beneath the grins, grimaces and japery concerning what they euphemistically term Cronin’s ‘sausage roll’, there’s a strong desire to get the job done and obtain the photogenic results that matter. Could it be a case of good-time boys growing into the success of their latest album, ‘Mother’s Milk’, currently hovering around the gold mark (ie 500,000 copies) Stateside?
“Well, yeah, but it’s always been our intention to attain longevity and having fun was always part of that because the more fun you have the longer you continue doing it,” divulges Anthony in a swift pre-show chat. “Music is the greatest thing in my life, this band is the greatest thing in my life and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. If anything has changed, our level of diligence has definitely risen because we don’t have that many distractions. What we’re looking at is succeeding on a personal level. We need to create and we’re only concerned with being true to ourselves rather than due any commercial considerations,” concludes The Swan.
KNOCK ME DOWN
The ‘Distractions’ which previously dogged the band were in fact to prove fatal, culminating in the death of guitarist Hillel Slovak in June ’88, the unwitting victim of heroin addiction. The tragic loss of a talented guitarist, Slovak’s death also came close to leaving the Chilis for dead and saw the band plunged into a fit of acute depression.
“It was the most atrocious thing I’ve ever encountered. It wasn’t so much a band-related tragedy as a personally-related tragedy. I was very close to Hillel and I loved him very much,” states Anthony, having come to terms with the prying attitude of outsiders concerning such a personal event. “He was one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever shared my life with and then,” (snaps his fingers), “in one instance he was gone. No-one expected it and a totally mind-boggling sadness just overcame everybody. For about a month or so no-one even considered the band. What we went through was a very private, twisted grief session. Jack Irons, our drummer, quit the band, ‘cos that was the only way he could deal with it and Flea and I were faced with the decision as to whether to carry on with it at all.
“Being the only two consistent members, we have a really strong friendship and we both felt that music was the most powerful thing in our life and that the Red Hot Chili Peppers was the ideal vehicle for what we still wanted to do. Hillel’s death made our focus a lot more acute. It really gave us a slap in the face reminding us that while we’re alive we’re gonna make good with life.
“We decided that it was time to stop fuckin’ around. I also realised that personally I had the choice of staying miserable or stopping drugs and alcohol which had become a negative force in my life. I’ve been clean now for about 19 months. It’s just meant a vast improvement in the quality of my life and it’s allowed me to do what I want to do artistically.”
JOHNNY, KICK A HOLE IN THE SKY
‘MOTHER’S MILK’ itself bears out some of the band’s anger and urgency. With initial possible members DH Peligro (ex-Dead Kennedys, drums) and Blackbird McKnight (ex-Parliament/Funkadelic, guitar) falling by the wayside (“That chemistry just didn’t work out.” – Anthony), the dynamic duo stumbled across the then-18 year old John Frusciante and Michigan-born Chad Smith and set about rehearsing for the album almost immediately. Frusciante was the first to join up.
“He was just perfect. Flea ran into him at a jam in Hollywood and I saw him at an audition later on. He’s fresh, funky and full of life,” comments Anthony, a compliment returned by the guitarist.
“They were my favourite band in the whole world!” gushes John. “The beautiful thing about them was that they were so diverse. And now that we’ve actually go used to playing together we can stretch out and do whatever we want to do,” states John with a grin and a pull on a Marlboro.
“It was weird when I first joined the band because we recorded the album after I’d been in the band for just a few months and Chad had actually been in for just two weeks. I was still a little bit confused about my position and we were just like four individuals. Music is all about welding people into a unit and with all the touring we’ve been doing we’re now like an eight-armed cosmic octopus! A kinda four-headed monster of freaky-tude!” exaggerates the 20-year-old.
Frusciante’s overt confidence coupled with his tender years is understandable. A rabid Punk Rock fan at an early age (“I was into LA Punk Rock like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, etc.” –JF) who convinced his father to buy him a guitar after he’d learnt how to play the whole of the Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ album on his grandfather’s old acoustic before discovering Jimi Hendrix, Frusciante plank-stalks armed with an incredible energy, charisma and a set of fretboard antics that swing with Funk, Punk, Metal and most importantly Soul. A born natural.
“Yeah, he’s just an extension of what we were doing before he joined,” states Flea. “He just embraced the whole Chili philosophy and attitude. He knew all our songs. Basically, he’s just a weird kid who sat in his room for 15 hours a day, chain smoking cigarettes and learning musical theory. All that comes out on stage.”
THE BROTHERS CUP
Along with Frusciante, new boy Chad Smith has helped revitalize the Peppers and inject a shot of adrenalin into the proceedings. Tall and rather gangly, Smith is blessed with a fine line in tour stories which aid him to overcome the fact that he bears an unfortunate resemblance to Slave Raider frontman Chainsaw Caine.
“Yeah, we took one look at Chad when he walked into the audition and we just thought, ‘Nah, he ain’t right! He’s too tall and too goofy’!” quips Anthony. “He wasn’t really familiar with the band. Then he sat down behind the drums and he was like 40 gorillas attacking the kit! We just started laughing hysterically. We had to ponder the situation for a couple of days to see whether we could live with this guy. Whether we could marry this guy and spend the rest of our lives with him- ‘cos that’s what it’s like in the Red Hots, a four-man marriage, a brotherhood. He was just too good to let go.”
A veteran of the Michigan scene and a former member of Toby Red (“A band you’ll never have heard of, but we were signed to RCA.” –CS), Chad sees himself in slightly more complimentary terms than those levelled at him by his singer.
“Let’s face it, they needed somebody to kick their ass from behind the drum kit,” chuckles the big man. “Actually, when it comes to drummers most people don’t know that there’s been a change! That’s kinda cool. I like being anonymous!”
Despite such supposed anonymity it hasn’t stopped Chad from attracting the attention of fans of a dubious sexual persuasion, with particularly strange tales emanating from the band’s Japanese tour. Thus a night in Glasgow, is a far more sober affair with problems being more of a linguistic nature rather than caused from any confused sexuality!
“I tell ya’, the accents over here are really harsh, man! We haven’t mastered them yet!” chortles Chad. “Up here is Scotland they’re real weird! Ha!”
By the time the four hit the stage the linguistic difficulties haven’t eased up. The Credit Card Kid is well miffed at the foursome’s constant imitations during the photo shoot. The band’s attempt at English accents, however, are still as jerky as ever and sound quite ridiculous.
“There’s lager on this stage! I don’t dance on your throat so don’t throw lager on this stage!” yelps Anthony with his finest impersonation of Prince Charles as he cavorts around the boards. He falls about as the lager flies stagewards from the audience with even greater speed.
Musically speaking, the Chilis are hot but far from burning. The opener, ‘Out in LA’ is lukewarm and it takes a considerable amount of time for things to boil. Sound problems and the fact that Flea’s fingers still feel raw after the first night of the tour in Sheffield add to the general unease. Yet, by the time the band launch into ‘Hollywood’ towards the tail end of the set (a track preceded by ‘Heaven’, a new cut) they’ve hit their inimitable stride.
Back in the dressing room with post-show cans of the local brew McEwans in hand, however, there’s the all-round admission that it wasn’t by any means a top-notch Chili gig.
If anything, the real triumph is witnessing the motley crew attracted by the Chilis that makes up the thousand-strong audience: Metalheads who headbang manically to the band’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ and dig their swift romp through AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’. Hip-hoppers who groove to ‘Good Time Boys’, unaware that Flea wrote the bass line to Young MC’s chart topping US hit, ‘Bust A Move’ without being credited. Punk Rockers who dig The Dead Kennedys and groove to the Chilis’ acapella version of the Pistols’ ‘Anarchy In the UK’ but probably don’t realise that the ever-active Flea was once in seminal LA Punk outfits such as Fear and the Circle Jerks although he didn’t record with either of them. It’s the ultimate crossover crowd. A furious musical fusion that touches upon grooves as danceable as they are hard hitting. Weird and wonderful.
NOBODY WEIRD LIKE ME
Similarly in the US, it seems that the same fusion of fans has occurred. It’s seen them gain the recognition they so richly deserve as the perpetrators of a wild hybrid style which numerous imitators have tried to incorporate into their stage presentation (ever wondered where Faith No More’s frontman, Mike Patton, copped a load of licks from?). Furthermore, gold status for ‘Mother’s Milk’ also appears to mark a significant change in taste as far as Stateside record buying tastes are concerned.
“The music scene is definitely changing in the US, but it’s still a commercial venture and that means a lot of music is produced to a copycat formula,” spits Anthony. “There’s little creative growth in mainstream music. The underground movement’s been growing with bands like Fishbone, Bad Brains and the Chili Peppers laying the foundations for increased popularity. It’s a shame that bands like that don’t get the recognition that New Kids On The Block, Milli Vanilli or The Pet Shop Boys do, because, those three bands really have nothing to offer when it comes to soulfully motivated jams I’d like to think that there’s a musical revolution happening underground.”
“The great thing now is that when I turn on the radio I hear Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and The Red Hot Chili Peppers,” adds Flea with a grin. “In one sense it’s really beautiful because we’re communicating with so many people but …” (faltering at his own pretentiousness) “Actually, it’s just really fuckin’ good! There’s no way to describe it! I’m just damn proud!” he giggles.
As the band begins to wind down and prepare to head back to the hotel on the bus, leaving an air of frenzy behind, Flea exchanges a few parting words.
The son of a struggling Jazz bass player who’s slogged his guts out for little reward, he realises exactly how lucky he is to have achieved so much. It’s meant seven years of hard graft and the rewards are only just beginning to make themselves felt.
“For us the important thing is to remember exactly why we started doing this. It’s all to do with energy that’s above any day-to-day reality. That higher awareness you reach on stage. It isn’t a religious thing but it is a spiritual thing where people come together under one groove. Coming to the UK we get to go back to that type of thing. It’s a humbling experience because at home the last show we played was in front of 14,000 people opening for the B-52s and the night before we headlined in front of 6,000. I guess we haven’t got that ‘Peppermania’ thing going here!” chuckles the bass player with his cactus-like tuft of green hair quivering with mirth atop his head. “The thing that’s so exciting is that we’ve really grown so much over the last year. It’ll show on the next album. We’d love to do that with Brian Eno producing. We love everything he’s ever done- Roxy Music, Talking Heads, Devo. They’re all great. If he won’t do it, though, we’ll do the next one ourselves. We just finished a track called ‘Show Me Your Soul’ for the soundtrack of Pretty Woman,” (starring Richard Gere), “and Norwood from Fishbone sat in as producer. It was cool and was the first time we hadn’t had a guy with the ‘producer’ tag in the studio with us. It turned out great and just proved to us how much we’ve grown. It seems strange, but after seven years it’s really just begun; I can’t wait to get writing again!”
As the enthusiasm cuts through the exhaustion it becomes clear that The Red Hot Chili Peppers have tasted pain and come back fighting. Rare as it may seem they’ve also begun to break some serious ground. As Anthony puts it, “It takes times to wriggle yourself into people’s souls!”
The wriggle, it appears, is about to turn into a full scale shake!