Interview with Jack Sherman
By Dave Hagen, July 30 2002
Jack Sherman (b. 1956) was the guitarist on the first, self-titled Red Hot Chili Peppers album which was released in August 1984. He became the band’s guitarist in early 1984 as original guitarist Hillel Slovak had other obligations and left in 1985 before the recording of the band’s second album “Freaky Styley.”
Many fans have been wondering what happened to Jack after he played with Chilis. Jack kindly agreed to do this interview to share his story about his days in the band and what it was like making the band’s first record. He also tells us about his work with Bob Dylan, George Clinton and his current band “In From The Cold.”
DH: How did it happen that you joined the band?
JS: My sister Gail called me saying that some pals of her from the scene were looking for a guitarist. Flea and I got in touch and set up an audition. I don’t remember Anthony being at the first one. I got called back a couple of weeks later and when I got home from the second audition there was a message on my answering machine in three part harmony kind of like the beginning of Twist and Shout going “you’ve got the gig, you’ve got the gig, you’ve got the gig” and then the phone hanging up. Very sweet.
DH: You mentioned “the scene.” Did you mean the whole undergorund/skate/punk rock movement in LA at that time? It must have been a very special to experience?
JS: I was referring to punk rock in general. I was into Talking Heads, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash etc. I wasn’t that tuned into the LA thing that much. I was more of a new waver than a punk rocker to be honest. Although, X was very popular and the Chilis got to open for them at the Hollywood Palace.
DH: How good friends were you outside the band?
JS: Well, Cliff Martinez was 2 years older than me and we kind of hooked up. We are still friends to this day. Anthony was kind of scarce a lot of the time. Flea and I socialized here and there and made attempts to spend some time together but I can’t say it was close or anything. I like Flea.
[Cliff Martinez who played drums on the two first RHCP albums now works with making film scores. He made the score for Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Traffic’ which Flea also contributed to. He has also played with ‘Captain Beefheart’ and ‘The Weirdos’ which featured members from the 80’s punkrock band ‘X’]
DH: Was it initially just meant as a temporary job replacing Hillel or did you think of it as a permanent position?
JS: It was an equal partnership. I was not privy at any time that Hillel might have wanted back in the band. Perhaps there were no plans for his return initially but I was naive that that was probably brewing later on.
DH: What was it like recording the first album? How did you like working with Andy Gill of the Gang of four?
JS: The vibe was very rough. Flea and Anthony only knew hostility as a communication method at that time. Cliff was very shut down. And I was just excited to be making a record. I enjoyed working with Andy. And Dave Jerden [Engineer on first album, Jane’s Addiction producer, also mixed Mother’s Milk] translated the guitar sounds very well. Flea and Anthony were huge ‘Gang Of Four’ fans so I think they were let down and confused that Andy didn’t make it happen for them. I had a lot less knowledge of the punk scene and was only tangentially aware of ‘Gang OF Four.’ Andy and I remained friends for a long time staying in touch for quite a while but I haven’t seen or talked to him in way too long.
DH: When the album was finished – what were your feelings towards it?
JS: Well, I had just gotten married by the time it came out. I remember playing it at home and being very excited to hear a record done. In all fairness I was trying to make the best of a situation that I was probably very reluctantly brought into. We all know the history now and are a lot older and wiser. I stuck to my guns in trying to be my own man as a musician and guitarist in the band. Initially they wanted me to be a clone of Hillel. There was no way I would approach things that way. I guess I wanted to hear my guitar coming out of the speakers.
DH: How many/which songs did you write in the studio?
JS: There were rehearsals and pre-production with Andy Gill and the band. One fond memory was a trippy day where we all wrote ‘Grand Pappy du Plenty’ [Instrumental piece that ends the first album]. That was probably the best memory along with spontaneously creating the opening solo to ‘Mommy Where’s Daddy’ and Andy saying “can you do that again”. That was also in rehearsal and fortunately I was able to remember what I had channelled and it became a major hook in the song. I am proud of that one. So in rehearsals the songs got extended and arranged a bit more. Some remained very short (Police Helicopter) to stay true to the punk style. But with others it was almost EP length when we finished it. There weren’t a whole lot of songs at the time. But we shared co-writing on most of the tunes.
DH: What were the live sows like?
JS: The shows were wild and fun mostly. I performed in LA and on the road with the band for a year. Sometimes Anthony’s aggression was aimed in my direction and I really hated it. He was pretty abusive and it didn’t seem ‘all in good fun’. Not at all.
DH: You left before Freaky Styley was recorded, what happened?
JS: I got fired.
[Original guitarist Hillel Slovak returned for the making of ‘Freaky Styley’ in 1985]
DH: When you were in the band what were your thoughts on the band’s sound?
I thought it was a bit too rough and immature sounding. I guess I was a bit of a perfectionist and hated when Flea would break his E string on the bass during the first song every night. I was too serious. Too much brown rice maybe… ha ha. Still, I wish that it had a bit more music to go along with the great and funny performing.
DH: In 1992 after BloodSugarSexMagik was released there were some legal issues between you and the band. What happened? What was it all about?
JS: Ouch. I was trying to be responsible and look into my royalties and stuff for the first time in my life. I got some disturbing news from an anonymous source in the Capitol Records Royalty Department that the band had been touring on royalties that had been withheld from me and that if I was smart I should get a lawyer. I panicked a bit. Initially I got an accountant and then things got ugly. I was newly involved in dealing with dysfunctional family issues and child abuse stuff and was big on trying to learn to stick up for myself. I wish things had happened differently. It was a real drag. And the lawyer I got was turning into a bigger problem then the one I was trying to solve. Ahh… Live and learn.
DH: Did you participate in any of the band’s videos? True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes? What was that like?
JS: Yes. “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes.” Great song title. Oh, that was fun. I had the cute ideas of us going back into the sand at the end. So they reversed the film. Anthony is very creative visually. The day glo paint thing was awful to put on and we did it again at the Roxy theatre a while later. We practically duplicated parts of the video live. But it did look great. It was a long, fun day playing, dressing up and faking the tune over and over. I found an unstrung prop guitar and used that. I think it is a cool video.
DH: How would you describe the band’s songwriting at the time?
JS: ‘Mommy Where’s Daddy’ is my fondest memory. Flea came in with the bass line one day at rehearsal. I came up with that chord and Cliff came up with the beat pretty darn fast. Then one day when we were cutting demos Anthony busted into that little girl voice. I almost died. I thought it was so friggin’ brilliant. Right on the edge of creepy and nasty yet perfectly innocent and soulful. Kind of describes the Chili Peppers I suppose.
Anthony did his lyrics on his own and often wasn’t around at rehearsals, which was a little strange. Some of the tunes were already written like ‘Green Heaven,’ which I relate to totally. Although, I never swam with dolphins and Anthony probably has. The social view of the lyrics are right on and it is a good rap. In true funk band form everyone contributed to the music to create grooves and riffs. Not traditional songwriting per se. There really are no rules but I am from the Beatles, Dylan, Stones folky school as far as what I like and respect the most. I loved and love Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Mountain all sorts of stuff. And I was and am a huge P- Funk fan.
DH: What do you think about the band’s sound today?
JS: Well, if we take the word ‘sound’ literally “Californication” is an amazing recording. Rick Rubin. Dead on natural sounding, incredibly big and dry and in your face. They are making the kind of melodic music I would have loved to have tried to do with the band when I was in it. I love pop music. And I think I read an interview with Flea who I believe said they kind of accidentally became a pop band. I was very strongly chastised by him when I tried to suggest certain chord progressions or anything softer back then. I like what they are doing now a lot. I haven’t heard ‘By The Way’ yet but I do plan to get it and check it out.
DH: I was speaking to Flea about how much he loves “Grand Pappy Du Plenty.” I think it’s an amazing track, how did you manage to build it up like that?
JS: Cliff did percussion on found objects like sheet metal and car brake drums and other things like that. I think the tape machine was sped up when we recorded and then slowed back down to make those sounds. I did a bunch of guitar groans and noises while Andy pushed the controls on a Lexicon Reverb. We improvised a lot of the effects. All in first takes.
DH: What did you do after playing with the Chilis? Any other musical projects?
JS: I feel really blessed to have performed on record with Dylan and George Clinton, two songwriting giants. I played on Dylan’s “Knocked Out Loaded” on a Kris Kristofferson song called “They Killed Him” that Bob covered. And on “Cool Joe” on “R&B Skeletons in the Closet” with George. Great times. After Chilis I started to do more session work and got into the sideman thing. I went to Europe and played the MTV New Year’s Ball with Charlie Sexton. He was 17 at the time. Now he is in Bob Dylan’s band. I still write and hang sometimes with Tonio K. I was in his band in the late 80’s. We did a tour with the KINKS. I love recording and wish there was more going on in LA right now. Things are changing. Home studios. Digital recording. On and on. I also did a bunch of television and movie soundtrack stuff with a keyboardist/composer named Barry Goldberg. Barry was in a band called “The Electric Flag” in the 60’s. He was part of some heavy rock history. He played with Bob Dylan at the famous gig when Dylan first went electric. He is a Chicago blues musician, incredible roots rock and blues piano player.
DH: You are currently playing with a band called “In from the Cold.”
JS: ‘In From The Cold’ is the band I started and collaborate on with drummer/composer Gary Mallaber. Gary played on some big records a while back. ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ and many other hits with Steve Miller Band. He is the drummer on the Van Morrison album “Moondance.” Loads of classic rock stuff. It is our original music project. We got out on stage in Gary’s hometown of Buffalo last summer. We are finishing up more tunes now and planning some moves.
DH: What does your music sound like?
JS: Oh, that question. Just kidding! Actually, I think you can hear some of our tunes on MP3. Our site is www.infromthecold.net. I would describe the music as wide ranging, cross-generational pop rock with strong grooves and great lyrics and melodies.
DH: Last of all, do you have any contact with Anthony, Flea or Cliff today?
JS: I have occasionally run into Flea at some health food restaurants in LA. We had a pretty good chat not too long ago. I would like to talk with him some more some time. I saw Anthony when I was out with my son Robin a while ago at a popular natural bakery in LA. As I said earlier, Cliff and I have been friends all these years. In fact, I just saw him last night.
Thanks a lot Jack for sharing this with all new and old RHCP fans!
Many thanks to Dave for sending this to me to share.