Please note: I didn’t copy the full tabs for copyright reasons.
When ‘irreplaceable” guitar god John Frusciante got the funk out in 2009, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were on the ropes. Now they’re back in Britain for two mega-gigs, powered by the blood, sugar, sex and magic of Josh Klinghoffer
So here’s the problem. It’s 17 December 2009, and the biggest band on the planet has lost a limb. John Frusciante – the guitar visionary present at the bird of all the Chilis’ greatest moments – has quit for the second time, and suddenly the hiatus following the Stadium Arcadium tour looks like a full-stop. In a diplomatic Myspace statement, Frusciante’s solo aspirations make more sense than in 1992, when he left to focus on smack, painting and losing his teeth, but thanks to the internet, the worlds goes even more berseck this time around. Fans rage. Forums buzz. MTV pitches in with a list of possible replacements, from the just-about-feasible (previous Chilis player Dave Navarro) to the downright-daft (Nick Zinner).
Josh Klinghoffer didn’t even make the shortlist. As such, when the 30 year old was unveiled as Frusciante’s official sucessor in early 2010, the world took a moment before it clicked. He was perfect. Adept on multiple intruments from his A-list session years, but fizzing with original ideas, he’d been the Chilis backup man in 2007, was a close friend and collaborator of Frusciante, and had even inherited his ’67 Custom Tele. With last year’s I’m With You, cynicism evaporated, and you sense this month’s British mega-shows at Knebworth and Sunderland will be final vindication.
“I promised myself I would never read the internet pages,” says the ever-modest guitarist when we ask about early fanbase backlash. “All I can go on is what I see at the shows [and] it seems like everyone is really positive. I have a low self-opinion a lot of the time, and if I sat there and thought about the fact I’m not John, I might be equally quick to beat myself up…”
During an interview with Josh Klinghoffer, you may find yourself thinking: “lucky bastard”. In reality, luck is less of a factor than talent and balls. “I dropped out of high school when I was 15 and sorta devoted myself to becoming a guitarist,” he recalls. “I didn’t have any plans about what I was going to do with my life. I just knew that I wanted to play music… so I started playing guitar, mainly by figuring out other people’s music. Which I was pretty good at. So I became, in my mind, a guitarist pretty quickly, although then to now even, I feel like I missed out on bits of proper guitar education. I feel like I’ve been plying catch-up ever since.”
Aged 17, Josh met a “newly sober” Bob Forrest (the almost-famous frontman of LA post-punks Thelonious Monster) and in 2000, their band The Bicycle Thief opened on the Chili Peppers’ Californication tour. That’s when Josh’s phone started ringing: “I just started getting all these increadible invitations to join tours. Like, Butthole Surfers was my first one, and after that, Beck, PJ Harvey… then in the summer of 2006, I was probably-drunkenly at a Gnarls Barkley show – and I had been friends with Danger Mouse through working on a record with him and Martina Topley-Bird, where I played all the instruments pretty much – and I’d heard the keyboard player was quitting, so I said, ‘I think I can do it’. I woke up the next day going, ‘What did you say you would do?!’ So I became the keyboardist of Gnarls Barkley, and that band also opened for the Chili Peppers.”
Even this plum sesssion work didn’t scratch the itch. “It wasn’t my music I was playing,” explains Josh. “I started feeling like I was hiding, and not allowing myself to develop as a writer. I was on tour with these amazing people, and these incredible situations, but I was pretty unhappy at times, because I wasn’t letting myself develop. So I finally tried to give up being a touring musician for other people in 2008… and focused on putting my own band [Dot Hacker] together.”
When Josh’s gold-plated CV landed under the noses of Chilis triumvirate Anthony Kiedis (vocals), Flea (bass) and Chad Smith (drums), his hiring was apparently a no-brainer, even for the bass legend who has occasionally given a Caesar-style thums-down to guitarists in the past. “I love Flea’s style,” says Josh. “I love his approach, his ability to go from basically a lead bass player to a more subdued bass player, and back and forth in the same song, in the same 30-second span. I much prefer being less of a lead guitarist, and not being the one in the forefront. So I think my style and preference is suitable to Flea’s approach.”
Then came the real graft. AS a touring member, Josh realised, he’s only scratched the surface of the band’s 28-year catalogue. “There’s such a wealth of songs. When I went on tour with them as the sort of ‘backup guy’, they sent me a list of what they were playing to learn, and that’s what I focused on. The problem is that sometimes with a band that has this much music… certain songs don’t get as much time in the rotation. You’ve got to keep up on them. I’ve really got to do some reviewing, because it can be a month since I’ve played a song, and it’s on the setlist, I get up onstage, and I’m like, ‘Oh sh** – what’s the chorus?!’”
It’s testament to Josh’s chops that he mastered the slippery riffs of his forebears with minimal fuss. “None of [the songs] were too hard; the ones thar are hardest for me, we haven’t been playing,” he says. “It’s songs like Snow [Hey Oh]. and it’s not so much the guitar part… but for me, doing that part and the backup vocals along with it, which are very syncopated, that’s been difficult. I’m still getting comfortable with it. I don’t like playing songs when it’s not second nature. So Snow is one, and I know it’s a big hit, so we have to get it going. Doing the background vocals and the guitar part of The Zephyr Song is something I’ve been working on lately.”
If scepticism remains that Josh was a hired gun, it’s worth noting the four-way credit split on I’m With You. “There’s no real rules or anything,” he says of the writing process. “We did lots of jamming to write songs and we came up with tons of things. But we were trying to acquaint ourselves with each other musically, Josh, Flea and Chad had 10-plus years of musical language together that they spoke with each other, which I had to come in and start building. And no matter what, I would never have as much time as those three had together.
“For me,” he continues, “some of the new songs are difficult compared to some of the old Chili Peppers songs, because even though I wrote them with the band, I’ve had nearly 20 years of listening to Under the Bridge, whereas I’ve only had a year-and-a-half listening to Police Station or something off I”m With You. So even the fact that I was involved with the writing doesn’t mean I’m as familiar with the song. Which is a funny thing. Doing some of these I’m With You songs [live] has presented a challenge, because trying to achieve all the sounds and tones that I’ve overdubbed, I wind up doing a bit of tap-dancing on the pedals. And I happen to be the world’s worst ‘pedal-aimer’. I can be looking directly at where I’m supposed to put my foot, and I’ll still miss!”
Talking gear, then, and live sightings suggest that Josh is running with Frusciante’s baton of a 60s Strat. “Yeah, I think the vintage Fender is the perfect starting point to achieve some of the tones that are familiar with some of these songs,” he says. “Hillel and John both made use of vintage Fender Strats… I like old guitars [too]. For the Chili Peppers, I’ve bern mostly using three Strats onstage. One is Chad’s that I found when we were making the album. Ie’s a ’63, and has a really thick neck, which I usually don’t like. The other two I have on tour happen to be black and white Strats. One’s kind of a wacky Frankenstein Strat that played well and sounded good, and then I got one along the way in Stockholm. It’s from the 70s and it happens to have the thinnest neck I’ve ever seen on a Strat, and I really like thin necks – kinda like Jimmy Page’s sanded-down neck on his Les Paul. I have a ’67 Tele Custom that I sorta inherited from John somehow; it was his back-up Tele. I’ve got a 335 out with us, and a ner reissue Gretsch White Penguin, which is sort of an homage to John’s White Falcon.
“On I’m With You,” he continues, “I used mostly the ’67 Tele, Chad’s ’63 Strat, and here and there, there were a couple of ‘junker’ guitars like weird Airlines or Harmonys. The song Did I Let You Know was tracked with a 60s Magnatone Tornado. Amp-wise, we usually ran seven amplifiers going through this radial splitter. We were always able to pull up a combination of different amplifiers when I was doing overdubs. We’d sort of throw them all on, then track and see which one sounded good. It’s rare there’s a single amp; it’s usually a combination of a couple. The tracking amps usually are a Marshall Major, which I have on tour: the 200-watt, which John also used. That’s the bulk of the tone. I was also using Silvertones. On tour, I have the six-speaker Silvertone. In the studio, I was also using two-speaker version. I used Fender Super Sixes, Super Reverbs. Those are the main ones.”
Live, it’s another tonal cocktail. ‘My setup is therre different amplifiers running all at the same time. It’s a Fender Super Six, a Silvertone six-speaker, and then a Marshall Major through a Marshall 810 cabinet. I’ve kind of expunged with the 412 [cab] for the moment, so it’s a Marshall 810, and we’re driving it pretty hard with the 200-watt Major head. They’re all on at the same time, and depending on the room, my guitar tech dials a nice blend of the three of them using the John Frusciante amp theory – that you get it as loud as you can without breaking up. Like, right on the verge of breaking up, that’s where you get that crunchy tone.”
Josh seems less sure bout his distortion requirements. “I’m mixing and matching, and I’m not totally settled with what I’m using. But I’m using the DOD – the old yellow [preamp overdrive] that Yngwie Malmsteen used – and I’m using the Pigtronix PolySaturator. And then fuzz, I’ve been using for solos mostly, [is from] this custom guy out of Cincinnati called Wilson Effects. With my wah pedalm it’s the same one that Frusciante used: it’s the Ibanez WH10, made in a sh***y plastic case, but it’s the greatest wah I’ve ever heard. I’ve got tons of other effects – probably too many – and I’m trying to get rid of as many I can. We started big and are trying to scale down.”
Josh’s profile, by contrast, is getting bigger all the time. Did your session years prepare you for such a stadium-sized gig?
“Yeah, to a degree”, he replies. “Probably positively and negatively. I think of sessions as more of a ‘studio thing’, but touring with other people prepared me for stepping into a situation live that wasn’t necessarily my band. Stepping out onstage with the Chili Peppers for the first time was a crazy thing but it was pretty crazy to step out on stage with PJ Harvey. Or Beck. Being in other people’s bands showed me the most important thing is to be yourself… if the people you’re playing with will allow it.”
The Chilis have. Kiedis has described I’m With You as “a beginning”, and whatever you think of this 10th album, you can’t deny the veterans have let their new brother stamp his mark rather than ape his predecessors. “How would I compare my playing to John’s?” Josh ponders. “I think he’s more of a guitarist first than I am. He started playing guitar when he a kid and devoted himself to guitar. At an early age, he familiarised himself with songwriting, the culture of music, and theory through the guitar. Whereas I didn’t. I was a drummer fist. When I became a guitar player, I wasn’t interested in lead guitar playing at all. So John is more steeped in that tradition and more confortable doing it. I was never interested in being a lead guitar player and taking solos and doing that kind of stuff. I have to in this band, and it’s not something I really enjoy doing!”
Do you think your multi-instrumental skills impact on your guitar work?
“It affects the way I play guitar in the sense that it allows me to think of all the different space a song either needs filling or doens’t need filling.” he considers. “So the fact I can play other instruments or hear synthesizer sounds allows me to approach the guitar in an architectural or sonic way, rather than simply the techniques. I’m more conscious of other sounds and other people’s rhythms. My goal is to always be “at one” with the song and ‘at one’ with the people that I’m playing the song with.”
On I’m With You, he’s done exactly that. Josh Klinghoffer has brought a unity to the Chilis that they’d never have achieved with a faceless session drone or ego-ridden trophy guitarist.
The biggest band in the world has sproute a new limb, adn after pulling off the long shot or replacing Frusciante, it’s safe bet he’ll have a stormer at this month’s enormo-gigs. “I can’t believe that I’m going to be playing at Knebworth”, smiles the Anglophile guitarist. “I’ve always been a huge fan of anything English, even gone so embarrassingly far as sometimes putting an accent on and trying to lie to people that I’m from there” The only thing I can say to expect is a full, completely committed, rocking Chili Peppers shows…”
Joining the Dots
Josh Klinghoffer on his awesome ‘other band’, Dot Hacker
The Chilis might be the world’s best day job, but Josh has the ultimate bit-on-the-side in Dot Hacker: the alt-rock outfit he formed in 2008 with fellow session men Jonathan Hischke, Clint Walsh and Eric Gardner. Debut album Inhibition droppedin May, but if you’re expecting elasticated LA funk, think again. Dot Hacker is an experimental, rhythm-led, synth-flavoured proposition. “I always like to say the music I’d like to make is somewhere between Pan Sonic and Scott Walker,” he told Music Radar. “But I don’t sing like Scott Walker. I like electronicsm lush arrangements and interesting chord structures.”
Frusciante’s 67 Tele got another rum-out on Inhibition, alongside a Fender Starcaster and Rickenbacker. “I tracked a lot of it with a ’62 Jaguar that’s kinda my dressing room guitar,” he tells TG. “I wouldn’t say I have a definitive Dot Hacker amp yet. That Silvertone 212 of the six-speaker one I have in tour with the Chilis, I’ve used for Dot Hacker before, and that’s one I tracked most of the album with.”
Dreamy soundscapes like Puncture are heavily effects-driven, and alongside an Electro-Harmonix Holy-Grail. Boss DD-3 and Boss DM-2, Josh says the Korg MS-20 Synthesizer is key. “It has a really good filter section, so I ould run [the guitar] through the high pass and the low pass filter on that one.
“I’ve got a lot of newer modular gear as well. certain songs were run through different filter, reverbs and delays, which were done after the actual tracking and after the pedals that were used for the tracking. But I’m really open-ended at the moment with Dot Hacker”
Evolution of Sound
TG traces the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar sound with the styles of five key playes, from the early days of Hillel Slovak and Jack Sherman, throug Dave Navarro, to John Frusciante and his replacement, Josh Klinghoffer
Line-up changes can signal life or death for a band, but over their three-decade career, the Chilis have bounced back from personnel shifts with a new dynamic and refreshingly accessible sound. Numerous guitarists have stepped in throughout the years to tour and record with the band, but what stands out is how each guitar player encompasses the style of his predecessors while introducing elements relevant to current musical trends.
In the 80s, Jack Sherman and Hillel Slovak established the band’s signature funk rock styling while reflecting elements of both punk and contemporary 80s pop. John Frusciante maintained the ‘funky punk’ vibe into the 90s, but acknowledged the intensity of the hugely popular grunge scene. After Frusciante’s first departure in 1992, Dave Navarro forged a more straight-ahead rock sound while identifying with the 90s alternative rock movement. On Frusciante’s return in 1998, the band took a more commercial approach with a greater focus on radio friendly hit songs.
Josh Klinghoffer currently bolds the reins and, while maintaining the wide pallet of sounds already established by his predecessors, he regularly delivers textures reminiscent of an aggressive Jimi Hendrix. Check out the tab examples over the following two pages for an insight into how each of these players has developed the Chili Peppers sound.
One of Jack Sherman’s approaches was to double the bass groove. This adds depth by thickening the arrangement and presents the riff in different registers. Take care with timing by listening to the placement of the bass notes and drum hits that coincide with the guitar phrase.
Slovak often presented elements of commercial 80s pop songs through the use of effects on his guitar sounds. Use heavy compression and reverb to recreate the vibe. Make sure maintain the tempo after the rests – it’s all too easy to rush into the 16th note sequences.
Frusciante (Early Era)
During the 90s, Frusciante introduced a grungy edge by adding intensity to the strumming patterns, often using more drive in the guitar tone and letting some open strings ring against chord changes. Use a decent amount of pick attack and wide strum to emulate the sound.
Dave Navarro (Rhythm)
Navarro adapted the band’s sound by introducing a more generic distorted rock tone and less of the dynamic funk nuances of the previous players. For this riff, set you gain higher and keep your pick attack consistently hard. This establishes a thicker and more agressive tone.
Dave Navarro (Lead)
This example highlights how Navarro would bring his alternative rock flavour to the guitar melodies. This lick uses sliding octaves to imitate Dave’s vocal-like phrasing, establishing a bright sound with a major 3rd (F#) before switching to a minor 3rd(F), which adds a darker and more sinister edge.
Frusciante (later era)
This sparse rhythm part demonstrates how the band’s songwriting focus took a more commercial direction, often within a melancholy ballad feel. Get the chords to build by letting the notes ring over each other, particularly while the Hendrix-style triplet embellishments take place.
Josh Klinghoffer (Rhythm)
An approach that Klinghoffer uses is to create internal melodies around a single chord. In this example, the phrase is based around an Am7, and the chord extension notes around the shape are used to build the melody. Focus on keeping all notes ringing while you manipulate the shape.
Josh Klinghoffer (lead)
Klinghoffer’s lead style is not only reminiscent of Hendrix in his note choices, but also in his use of effects. His lead tone often consists of distortion, delay, wah-wah and a Dunlop Rotovibe. Focus on playing behind the beat for a relaed, laid-back feel.
Many thanks to JoshKlinghoffer.org for help with the transcript!