Many thanks to the late RHCP Universe for offering to share scans at the close of the website.
From the confines of dust-filled rehearsal rooms in LA to the sunny stages of the Big Day Out to their recent tour of the US with Fishbone and Stone Temple Pilots, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are a band peaking more than a decade after their career began. Photographer and friend, Tony Woolliscroft, travelled the globe with the Peppers for the last two years, capturing the group in an exclusive, uninhibited style rarely seen before. He reminisces about sex, drugs and life on the road with a pre-show Anthony Kiedis backstage at the New World Theatre in Chicago.
Where did the Peppers play their first show?
Our very first show was at the Café De Grand in LA, which was on a night called the “Rhythm Lounge.” We played one song.
What was the first real tour like?
We were crammed into a blue Chevy van and it was a month after our first record came out, and we had our friend Bob Forrest as our roadie and our manager come along with us. We just smoked tons of pot, and drove around the country and played shows. Not only were we crammed in the van but all our equipment was in there as well, but it was great. At that point when we went somewhere to play it was like we were the four motherfuckers from Fairfax and we were a gang.
What was the maddest tour that you have done in terms of sheer hedonism?
Back in the mid ’80s, before we were popular, hedonism was a lot more prevalent. When no one knew who the fuck we were—just these punk rock weirdos from LA ripping the shit up off the road—it was exciting and challenging to sleep with different girls in every town and get absolutely annihilated and drink alcohol and steal things and break things and crash cars… that all made sense. It doesn’t anymore.
Did it ever get seriously out of control?
I think it was always out of control. A lot of beautiful order can come out of chaos and sometimes the inevitable tragedies smack you and catch your attention and you think, “Wow, that hurts.” But that’s just life. Thank God for the lessons.
Have you ever gone completely insane on tour?
Insanity for me has a number of definitions. I haven’t gone thoroughly insane since the ’80s when I used to absolutely lose my conscious contact with the universe on tour, when I was getting fucked up. But now I don’t go out on the road and get wasted; I get lonely and I get tired and depressed, I might even fall into a little bit of self-pity from time to time before I can slap myself out of that.
Your problems with drugs have been well documented. Does being on the road make it hard to keep on the straight and narrow?
No. On the road is actually the easiest place for me to keep clean. It’s when I have idle time that my demons get to conniving against me.
Your current tour is obviously far away from the early days…
You are so right, but people always think we are more satisfied with the experience now. But in reality we were so amazed by our place in life at that time. You know, going on the road in that blue Chevy van and there actually being clubs with people waiting for us in places like New Orleans and Ohio. We were young and really had no idea what it was supposed to be like, so every night we went out there and played with everything we had. That was one of the most beautiful times of this band. It was new and explosive and no one had ever heard or seen anything like it before.
What was the most frightening show you ever played?
I was frightened at a show where I knew the police were there to arrest me, and they got there before the show and they were going to let me play and arrest me straight after. That was a little bit disconcerting. We have played some outdoor street festivals, like in LA there used to be one called the Street Scene, and we were out on the stage rocking somewhat naked and not to their liking. The cops surrounded the stage and after we had finished they strongarmed us out of the area just as James Brown was getting up to take the stage! So cops are the most scary thing about being on the road, the impending doom of constantly being arrested for doing the sock thing.
In the early days, how much did you expect to get paid for a gig?
Anywhere from $50—we got that for our first show but then we quickly went up to $200 by show four. I actually had to sit the promoter down in a urinal because he was just trying to give me half. Limey Dave (a promoter) offered us a stunning $350 for show number six and seven, at which point I thought, “OK, there’s money to be made doing this.” I was the bouncer, manager, collector. I always got the money. I would not take no as an answer.
Where did the idea to do the socks on cocks come from?
I used to do it to impress this girl around the house. I was probably 17 and I used to greet her at the door with a sock on my dick… what can I say? I was young. It seemed like a good thing to do. As for performing, it’s a great image. The first time that we ever did the socks on cocks on stage was at the Kit Kat which was a strip club.
How do you cope from being away from your family?
Well the girlfriend I miss like a motherfucker, and she’ll be in Pittsburgh tomorrow and I’m flying from Cincinnati to meet her and I’m all jacked up on herbal, sexual enhancers and I can hardly wait. You know, we do the late-night, all-night phone thing which is sometimes good but sometimes it can be quite maddening because I can’t touch her or smell her. I email her everyday, call her, same as my Mum, my Dad and my sisters. It’s tough. If I had a kid I would go crazy. I love it when Clara [Flea’s daughter] comes out on the road, it’s genius.
Do you all still travel on the same bus?
We have actually split up into two buses, not that we don’t like each other, but because we like to sprawl, and we have these pretty two nice buses which both have two bedrooms, which is good since we have these long-ass drives, all through the night to do a show the next day, so we’ve pampered ourselves. Then we can have friends come on the bus, and a masseuse to take care of us, and Louis (Tour Manager) rides with me and Chad, and Flea and John ride together.
What happens on an average tour day?
There’s no rhyme or reason, it really depends on what time you go to sleep. I get up and have a glass of water, then a glass of protein, my cup of English tea, Twinings, then a bowl of cereal, then a little sunshine and a little exercise before I get on the bus. Then I get into my herbs, my Elk Antler herbs, and horny goat weed.
Any personal rituals before you go on stage?
We get in a circle and hold hands, and focus on why we are here, and try to get to the spirits out there so we can be in this moment, so we can be alone with the audience and the rest of the world can disappear, and get this invisible hum going around us so we become connected. Most of the time it works—I can’t imagine going on stage without it, but every now and then you get a bad night no matter what preparation you do.
What’s the biggest tantrum you’ve ever thrown on tour?
The thing that really pisses me off is when my voice doesn’t work, like when I go out there and blow out my voice through screaming too loud. But my idea of a tantrum is just to torture myself. I haven’t gone outwardly ballistic for a long time. I’m not really that guy today.
What’s the most frustrating thing about being on the road?
Same kind of stuff that would frustrate me at home—the occasional left-handed bout of depression, or not being able to necessarily take care of your head. If you have any kind of spiritual melody to begin with it’s a little bit harder, but fuck frustration. It’s a great life and I should kiss the ground every day I wake up.
Many thanks to Invisible Movement for the transcript