1992 October RAW (108)

RAW 108







In the last eight years THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS have subverted and reshaped Rock as we know it, blending Punk, Funk and anything else you’d care to mention into a vociferous blend of manic rhythms and madcap antics. PHIL ALEXANDER moves his booty and gets down to an album-by-album breakdown of the Funky bunch’s career, filling in the Peppers’ story along the way.


EMI America, 1984


ROARING OUT of the LA Rock swamp. The Red Hot Chili Peppers emerged in 1984 with a debut album which kicked like a Funky mule, but still seemed imbibed with a hulking sense of Rock-ability.

Their roots, though, lay in the primordial ooze of Californian Punk Rock where founder-member Flea cut his teeth in seminal Hardcore heroes Fear, and, as the start of a formidable multi-media career, starred in Penelope The Decline And Fall Of Western Civilization’ Spheeris’ Punk flick Suburbia. Turning down the bass slot in John Lydon’s Public Image Limited, Flea chanced upon a group of like-minded individuals, weaned on the healing spirit of Funk and the anger of Punk, who included mega-lipped singer Anthony Kiedis (aka Antwan The Swan).

The meeting led to some jamming and the jamming led to a one-song, joke-styled gig where the makeshift band thundered their way through ‘Out In LA’ (a roughshod version of the cut initially set to appear on this debut). Amazingly enough, in the chaos and the energy a band was born.

Recruiting guitarist Jack Sherman and drummer Cliff Martinez, shows in and around Hollywood saw the band’s stature grow with every passing show, the Chili crew playing with kindred spirits like Fishbone and anyone who’d have them. A deal with EMI found itself thrust under the Chilis’ nose and the band ended up studio-bound with former Gang Of Four man Andy Gill.

Despite being at odds with Gill matters concerning spontaneity, the band’s debut album still boasted the kind of diversity which puzzled most innocent bystanders used to pigeonholing bands and unaware of the culture clash going on in LA.

Opening cut ‘True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes’ revolved around Flea’s ever-slapping bass line with Anthony Kiedis (aka Antwan The Swan’) rhymin’ and stylin’ over the top and already expressing his fascination for all manner of American Indian sentiments. Elsewhere, the band’s wicky, wacky trademarks tumbled out of the mix on the likes of ‘Green Heaven’, the surreal-sounding ‘Mommy Where’s Daddy’ and the bravado of ‘Out In LA’. The closing, soothing ‘Grand Pappy Du Plenty’ saw guitarist Hillel Slovack [sic] flex his six-string in a particularly tasteful manner, proving that there were more bows to the Chilis’ art.

In fact, while this self-titled debut didn’t quite hit the high mark which the Chilis would later attain, it set the template for all the excesses and Funkitudinal happenings they were to indulge in.


EMI America, 1985


THE INDULGENCE began on a massive way on their second offering

‘Freaky Styley’ which, to these ears. remains their finest body of work. Under the aegis of long-time influence-turned mentor George Clinton (the Funkadelic and Parliament weird-ster) and with ex-What Is It guitar wunderkind Hillel Slovak replacing Sherman. the Chilis let their freak flag fly openly and freely.

Kick-starting the whole party with ‘Jungle Man’, they hammered their way through 14 tracks that stank of sheer unbridled sweaty sex appeal and wigged-out mayhem. The second cut, ‘Hollywood’, was a spectacular reworking of New Orleans ’70s veterans The Meters’ original which the Chilis made all their own, while ‘American Ghost dance’ echoed ‘True Men…’ and a later cut ‘Fight Like A Brave’. Other highlights were the soulful ‘The Brothers Cup’ (resplendent with some great childlike vocals), the catatonic ‘Thirty Dirty Birds’, the stretch-necked ‘Yerdle The Turtle’ [sic]and the blasting cheek of ‘Catholic School Girls Rule’ (a nod back to Flea’s days as an LA Punk stalwart in bands like Fear – and a cut matched with a particularly salacious video).

Effectively, ‘Freaky Styley’ saw the Chills produce something which hinted at more than the odd out-of-body experience and it heralded their descent into all manner of excesses, spurred on by Clinton’s encouragement. It was the start of a period that would scar them for life.

Travelling with Clinton, they swooped over to Germany for a series of shows stopping of in the UK for a swift gig to coincide with the release of a 12-inch Dance mix of ‘Jungle Man’ (their first UK release. both ‘FS’ and the band’s debut not being released here until early 1990). In all honesty, the Chills first UK visit was uneventful, the band facing a barrier of incomprehension.



EMI Manhattan, 1987


WHILE ‘FREAKY Styley’ boasted both scope and the kind of sass which only Clinton could possibly drag into the light of day, The Uplift Party Moto Plan’ (produced by material’s Michael Beinhorn. chosen in preference to Malcolm McClaren) was a safe bet which paid off big time. While the Chilis had started to gain critical acclaim for their previous work Stateside, ‘… Uplift …’ went through the roof and suddenly the outfit found themselves sitting pretty. Something which they compounded with some ever- intensifying live shows in the US.

For the first time, courtesy of the support of assorted weekly music mags, the UK pricked up its ears and marvelled at this four-headed Funk machine, although the critics’ enthusiasm wasn’t shared by mass acceptance in Blighty.

Highlights of `…Uplift…’ included the smoochy ‘Behind The Sun’, a bizarre reworking of Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and the lurid ‘Special Secret Song Inside’ (still a live standard thanks to it’s lewd ‘n’ wonderful chorus!).

The band fuelled their wacky image with the ‘Abbey Road EP’, a four-track affair, which featured the tribal ‘Backwoods’ as its lead track and boasted a shot of the Chilis crossing the famed Abbey Road zebra crossing (as used by The Beatles on their LP cover), sporting socks over their privates and little else. Diligent sources close to the band seem to recall that on the day of that particular photo shoot the Chilis were all ill to the point where Anthony was still violently throwing up prior to the session and was more than anxious about his distended belly.

To the rest of the outside world, though, the Chilis rode (bareback of course!) into the Rock history books as the band whose socks, as far as the UK was concerned, were more famous than their records

Despite this blaze of publicity, all was not well in the Chilis’ camp. The excesses they’d inherited from their ‘Freaky Styley’ period continued and in June ’88 the supremely talented Slovak died from a heroin overdose. The effect on a band who’d lived as a family was devastating.


EMI USA, 1989


STUNNED BY Slovak’s death Jack Irons quit (later forming 11), leaving Flea and Antwan with the option of sobriety or death. Fresh from detox, they set about rebuilding their shattered lives. It wasn’t easy, the duo hanging on for dear life as they attempted to stay clean. Musically, though, it was time to get busy once again. Scouring the underground and Funk scenes simultaneously, the pair enlisted former Dead Kennedys man DH Peligro (drums) and ex-Parliament/Funkadelic bass head Blackbird McKnight. A lethal partnership on paper, according to Kiedis “The chemistry didn’t work out”, leaving the Chills back at square one.

Enter a young kid by the name of John Frusciante who, when he stepped into the band was a mere 18 years old. A rabid Punk fan from an early age (“I was into LA Punk Rock like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks” – JF), he’d learnt to play the whole of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks’ album on his grandfather’s old acoustic guitar before discovering Hendrix.

Frusciante’s Hendrixian swirl was reinforced by the arrival of Michigan tub-thumper Chad Smith. Originally a Hard Rock drummer who’d been in little-known, RCA-signed outfit Toby Red, the gangly individual was an unlikely choice for the band.

“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!’” Kiedis told RAW back in February 1990 as the band toured the UK in support of ‘Mother’s Milk’. “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.”

Despite the hysterics, Smith, a man with the propensity for pointing his drumsticks at any unsuspecting photographers, became a fully-fledged member of the Chilis’ brotherhood, finding himself in the studio in the space of two weeks to record ‘Mother’s Milk’. The album itself was a joyous celebration of life, tinged with reflection and hope.

The first single, ‘Knock Me Down’, dealt with Slovak’s passing, while in contrast ‘Sexy Mexican Maid’ saw the Chilis throw in a prime slice of their patented slice of machismo, and ‘Punk Rock Classic’ nodded in the direction of timeless influences with a plea for David Letterman to put the band on his Stateside late night show. Elsewhere, the Chilis also turned in a pair of neat covers in the shape of a hyperspeed version of Hendrix’s ‘Fire’ (a live fave from way back when originally featured on the ‘Abbey Road EP’) and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, their live set also including AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’. A peach of a comeback. ‘Mother’s Milk’ drew critical acclaim from all quarters (Hell. even Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler used his megamouth to sing the Chills °raises’) which soon translated itself into sales in the US. By the time the Chills toured the UK in early 1990, ‘Mother’s Milk’ hit gold pay dirt in the US, shifting 500,000 units before going platinum and causing all manner of Pepper-mania.


Warner Brothers, 1991


THE FOLLOW-UP to ‘Mother’s Milk’ had to be strong and yet the Chills were themselves stronger after some three years of playing together. Added to the band’s eclectic mix was the fact that they enlisted the services of kindred genre-welder Rick Rubin as a producer.

Always a band ready to toy with the extra-terrestial, the Chills spaced out and moved into a mansion in Laurel Canyon to record the album. Built in the 1920s, it was meant to have been the place where The Beatles first took LSO and where Hendrix lived temporarily. It was, of course, haunted as Frusciante gleefully told RAW in September 1991.

“I heard a female ghost there.” he enthused, bug-eyed. That was the only time I had any sexual experience there. I was sleeping in the hall and I got really turned on by this female ghost who was getting fucked above me, so I jacked off. The rest of the time, all my sexual energy went into my playing.”

The sensual mood of `BSSM’ is evident throughout and yet, among cuts like ‘Suck My Kiss’ and the emotive ‘Breaking The Girl’, it also harked back to Hillel in the highly spiritual ‘Under The Bridge’. A massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic, it saw the band hit the road with a vengeance, channeling their energy into a speed ball of raucous Funk-a-teering.

Frusciante, however, was starting to lose his sense of perspective. Babbling about playing in colours during interviews, he also began playing different song intros and it soon became apparent that the band were almost on the brink of falling apart. Seeming permanently depressed, with Kiedis confessing as much during a British tour in March this year(see RAW 94).

Frusciante left shortly after, leaving the band almost stranded on the eve of the gigantic Lollapalooza tour planned for this Summer. Once again, the Chills needed a six-stringer and they needed one bad. Cooped up in LA they auditioned like mad, again dredging the underground until they found Arik Marshall. Playing his first shows with the Chills in Belgium in July (see full review in RAW 102), the d the acid test in front of an enthusiastic crowd and a bill that included diverse acts like Lou Reed and Bryan Adams.

The Lollapalooza tour which the Chilis have just completed seems to have added a new lease of life to a band who seemed set to take a sabbatical or call it a day entirely. Quite whether they’re as happy as way back in their sock-wearing days remains a moot point, but the fact remains that now more than ever the world has come around to their way of thinking. The sky, as far as the Chili Peppers are concerned, is the limit

(The final page is an advert for a competition and as it’s long passed, the text wasn’t copied).



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