Sorry the size of this magazine made it hard to scan as it was larger than the scanner and the layout made it hard to re-join multiple page scans so the article has been transcribed and only one scan has been made of each page has been included (omitting some of the text which is hard to read anyway because of the font/print and thin paper used)
Many thanks to Kathie Davis for the type-up!
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS:
CONVERSATION WITH KIEDIS
By Steve Roeser
There’s a certain high school in Los Angeles, in a section of that sprawling city where the California 5 freeway cuts through an area with Glendale on one side and Los Feliz, Silver Lake and a huge nature preserve and recreation spot called Griffith Park on the other. This area of the City of Angels illustrates the unsettling contradictions, extremes and multiple personalities of Los Angeles as accurately as anything.
Within an area of several blocks are two locations of note. One is where a young animator named Walt Disney founded his first studio in the early part of this century, when the dream machine that became Hollywood was just being born. The other is where cult members under the sway of Charles Manson claimed several of their victims in the infamous killing spree that rocked the city the summer of 1969.
That certain high school has outdoor basketball courts were pickup games happen almost every day. Sometimes, in recent years, a 30-ish local resident, a guy with short hair and piercing blue eyes, has been known to show up with his ball and get into a game. Good jump shot, passes off frequently, doesn’t hack you on the arms too badly on defense. He’s Michael Balzary. But just about everybody around the courts is aware he is actually better known as Flea, celebrated bass wizard of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
There was a time, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, when Michael Balzary could show up somewhere to shoot hoops and nobody would blink an eye. He was just another guy seeking some exercise and a little sports competition. But that was before the Chili Peppers were filling arenas around the world – the kind that pro basketball superstars compete in to thrill their fans – by playing their unique brand of Los Angeles funk ’n’ roll and entertaining millions with their crazy antics.
As one of the two remaining founding members of the band, Flea has always carried a great deal of the responsibility for creating the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 12 years after their self-titled debut album was released, the Chili Peppers are Los Angeles rock legends, as great in their own peculiar way as any of the heralded bands from a bygone era who called Los Angeles home. It might seem sacrilegious or ludicrous to some to put the Chili Peppers in the same hallowed category as the Doors, the Byrds, Love, Buffalo Springfield or the Beach Boys. But don’t be too shocked around the year 2009 or 2010, when you see the Red Hot Chili Peppers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
The other founding member of the Peppers still in the band, Anthony Kiedis, has written and sung about his love/hate relationship with Los Angeles throughout the group’s life. Probably his most famous song, the one most identified with him, “Under The Bridge” (“The city I live in, the City of Angels…”), has as much to do with the state of mind engendered by spending many years in Los Angeles as it has to do with drug addiction.
“Unfortunately, I have a little bit of an impregnable connection to that city, and I wish I didn’t.” Kiedis commented recently. “Because it really repulses me these days. You know, just sucking in that toxic cloud of hellish smog every day that I live is not a pleasant thought. But I do have a strong family tie to that city that I’ll probably never be able to sever. But I can see spending a lot more time in other places.”
Since the band’s background has been discussed many times in articles such as this (see Goldmine issue number 314, Aug. 7, 1992, “Stand By Me (And My Friends)” by yours truly), we’ll skip over a lot of those details this time ‘round – not that they’re trivial, especially if you’ve never delved into the minutiae before and you dig the band. It’s just that the facts surrounding the group can’t begin to compare with the music. And it’s the music that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are really all about.
Fairfax High, on Melrose Ave. in Hollywood. That’s where the story of the band began. Late 1970’s, some guys with too much energy, although not necessarily the most talent, gravitate toward one another. They form a gang, but not the kind that rides around in an old car at five in the morning looking for somebody to victimize. Their gang was peaceful, cool, creative and loony.
Although Anthony and Flea aren’t thrilled that their former record label, EMI, released a bunch of old Chili Peppers stuff a couple of years ago (a move that Kiedis disparagingly refers to as “the milking of the final cow”) under the title Out In Los Angeles, any thorough investigation of the roots and beginnings of this band ought to begin by checking out that collection. It contains the earliest rough recordings by the group’s original members, made in 1982, when these wonderfully insane characters were calling themselves Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem.
It includes the song “What It Is,” which Anthony and Flea recorded on a blaster in the middle of the night to show to their partners Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons the next day. (Slovak and Irons were original members of the Chili Peppers, but did not play on the band’s first album because they were committed to another group called What Is This. It also has several demos of songs which appeared on their first album, the one produced by Band of Four guitarist Andy Gill. It’s historically essential for the Chili Peppers fantatic, but Kiedis is still grinding his teeth because it’s out there.
“EMI was just contractually capable of putting out those records,” he said, referring to the 18-song “Best Of” compilation What Hits!? As well as Out In Los Angeles, “They weren’t records that we would have ever decided to put together ourselves. And I truly don’t remember if we had anything to say about the running order [of What Hits!?], but I’m sure that if we had put together the record it would’ve been slightly different than what it is.
“It’s just an uncalled-for release of songs that, you know, had no business really coming out at that point in time,” Kiedis said of the 1992 “hits” package, which included one of the band’s few legitimate hits records, the post-EMI era “Under The Bridge.” EMI licensed the recording from Warner Brothers, ostensibly to make the package more attractive to the record consumer who was looking to invest in a single Red Hot Chili Peppers album, perhaps out of curiosity about the group.
“But EMI was gonna do it to try to make as much money as they could off of the popularity of what we were doing at Warner Brothers,” Kiedis added. “We titled the What Hits!? Record. I can’t remember if we sat on the back of a bus and tried to put in our two cents about what songs they should put out. But they rarely paid any attention to our requests, ever, so…”
The well-spoken front man for the band, seldom at a loss for words when-discussing matters related to the Chili Peppers, is also displeased with the state of the CD releases of their albums of the 1980s, recorded for EMI. The first four full length Chili Peppers albums came out on the label, but artwork is low-budget as part of the CD packaging, and info is minimal. In fact, the insert for the first album is blank on the inside, with not so much as a mention of the members of the band (for that record, Anthony and Flea were joined by Cliff Martinez on drums and Jack Sherman on guitar) or who the producer was.
“I always thought it was pretty cheesy that you just get this little sort of wispy slip of non-informational art work that they release the CDs with these days,” Kiedis said. “It’s just so much more fun to get a record, or a CD or a tape, and unfold it and be able to kind of read about the musicians that played on the record, and the lyrics. It would be cool if they put ‘em out [again] with the lyrics. It’d be fine with me.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers met the record-buying public on August 18, 1984, the date their first album was released. Up to that time they had been building their reputation in Los Angeles clubs such as Rhythm Lounge and the Cathay de Grand. It was at a strip club called the Kit Kat that each of the band members initiated the routine of coming out on stage (for at least part of the set) wearing nothing but a tube sock covering his private parts. This bit of shtick became highly-anticipated band trademark for the rest of the decade.
But the debut album, according to both Anthony and Flea, was not representative of where the band was at in that era, and did not convey the spirit of what the Chili Peppers were putting over in live situations. “I think the songs on it are really good,” commented Flea, as part of a 1995 Rockumentary program on the group that aired on MTV. “We had like a really intense, fiery emotion at that time and we didn’t capture in at all.”
The musical passion that fired up the Red Hot Chili Peppers was drawn from all areas and genres of music. The scope of their various inspirations is difficult to grasp easily, but largely explains the depth and range of the music they have created over the past dozen years. In the song “Deep Kick” on One Hot Minute, Kiedis recalls an experience from high-school years that may have involved Flea or some other friend (“Two boys in San Francisco…”), but he does recall a musical trip to the Bay Area as a teenager.
“I think another friend of mine by the name of Tree actually turned me on to Sonny Rollins,” said Kiedis. “I went and saw Sonny Rollins play at the Charlie Mingus memorial show in San Francisco. Right after Charlie Mingus died [in 1979], Sony Rollins and a bunch of other all-star/superstar jazz people put together a show and I actually saw Sonny Rollins live.”
The Chili Peppers reunited with Slovak in 1985. The Israeli-born guitarist had been playing with best friend Irons in the band What Is This, who released the EP Squeezed on the San Andreas Records label in 1984, so he was absent from the lineup while the Peppers recorded their first two discs. Glad to have their soul brother back in the fold, Sherman’s services were no longer needed and he became the first official ex-member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Martinez remained on drums as the band joined with Funkadelic kingpin George Clinton to record the album Freaky Styley.
Demos of songs from this second effort can also be found on the Out In Los Angeles release, as well as alternate mixes of the tracks “Hollywood (Africa)” and Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me To Stay.” Cover songs have always been a part of the Chili Peppers repertoire, so it was somewhat surprising when One Hot Minute arrived in 1995 with nothing but original material on it. Although not credited on the first album, Anthony’s lyrics to “Why Don’t You Love Me’ (“Why don’t you love me like you used to do?/My hair’s still curly and my eye are still blue”) were lifted directly from a song by country music legend Hank Williams.
“Hollywood” was based on a song done by the Meters from New Orleans. Over the next several years, the band would record songs by Bob Dylan (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”), Jimi Hendrix (“Fire” and “Castles Made Of Sand”), Stevie Wonder (“Higher Ground”), bluesman Robert Johnson (“They’re Red Hot”) and Iggy Pop (“Search And Destroy”). On Out In Los Angeles there’s even a live performance of a cheeky little ditty set to a melody by Thelonious Monk. The influences bearing upon the group were hot, heavy and coming from everywhere.
“I love the very first three ZZ Top records,” Kiedis said. “You ever hear those? There’s another one called Tejas [their fifth Warner Bros. album, 1976]. I love those records. I really didn’t get into their later stuff. Their more popular, commercial songs didn’t touch me. But for some reason I ended up with those early records and I love them.
“And obviously Neil Young is something that just doesn’t grow old. And the Beatles never cease to amaze me with their prolific genius. And jazz – just all different jazz records, from Ornette Coleman to John Coltrane to Charlie Mingus. I mean that is timeless stuff. Did you hear the record Spain? The bass player who played with Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden—Charlie Haden’s son is the guy in Spain who writes the songs. You should check that out. It’s powerful. And then it would have to come down to P.J. Harvey.”
Anthony and Flea were blown away by the positive and exciting experience of working with Clinton on the second Chili Peppers album. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that has lasted (When the group appeared on the 1993 telecast of the Grammy Awards, Clinton was on stage performing with them.) But as much of an improvement it was over their first, outing, Freaky Styley made little more than an underground ripple – no commercial impact.
For those who are not close to the world of rock group signings and major label record deals, the non-performance of a sophomore effort by a band can spell doom for a recording career. It is around this time that the label is reassessing its decision to fish this particular group out of the local club scene and give them a shot at stardom. (“Maybe we were wrong…”) It’s getting near to make-or-break time. The Chili Peppers were a great live band (and still are today), but that didn’t translate into record sales.
A perfect example of what could have happen to the Chili Peppers is the sad story of the band Momma Stud, a talented five-man soul/funk/rock group who where signed out of the band Momma Stud, a talented five-man soul/funk/rock group who were signed out of the Hollywood club scene by Virgin Records around 1990. Their debut album, Cockadoodledo, was a strong showing of songs and musicianship. It was co-produced by Bernie Worrell, a key Clinton collaborator in the P.Funk organization, and John Hanlon, who had just finished recording and engineering the Neil Young and Crazy Horse album Ragged Glory. But when Cockadoodledo came out and sold less than 25,000 copies, Virgin got cold feet. Momma Stud was unceremoniously dropped from the label, never to be heard from again. They didn’t even get a change to record a second album.
But the Chili Peppers were a band with nine lives and at least as many potential members. By this time (1986, heading into ’87) Anthony rented an apartment by Universal Studios in the valley. One of his neighbors, on a little side street near Vineland and Ventura, was a young record producer named Michael Beinhorn, who had recently relocated to Los Angeles from New York City, where he had been a production partner with Bill Laswell. They called themselves Material, their most notable success resulting from their work with Herbie Hancock on the album Future Shock (Columbia, 1983), which yielded the hit instrumental “Rock-It.”
Beinhorn, who has since gone on to produce Soul Asylum (Grave Dancers Union) and Ozzy Osbourne (Ozzmosis), would prove to be a significant factor in the band’s career. He guided their recording efforts for the rest of the ‘80s, making the Chili Peppers more professional, instilling a greater sense of confidence in them and getting them to take their music more seriously. Most importantly, Beinhorn believed in the band, saw their potential and wouldn’t let them settle for being second-rate.
Beinhorn came into the scene by bringing New York’s hot remixing engineer John “Tokes” Potoker (who had just finished doing some final shaping on the Rolling Stones album Dirty Work) along.
It was at this time that the original Chili Peppers became a group again: drummer Jack Irons returned to the fold (as Slovak had done earlier). As Martinez became the second ex-member of the Chili Peppers, the reappearance of Irons in the group invigorated the others. This was, after all, the most-excellent reunion of the original band of lunatics, Los Faces, also known as Tony Flow and the MMMM.
This was the lineup that made the first Beinhorn-produced album, which came to be titled The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. For longtime, hardcore fans of the Chili Peppers, this is the band’s watershed. As Henry Rollins would put it, “This is the bomb.” Slovak was at his peak as a guitarist and his playing throughout this record is large, too put it modestly. It is his defining moment as a musician and the highlight of his brief career. For fans who came on board after hearing “Give It Away” or “Under The Bridge” in the ‘90s, Party Plan is the one early Red Hot Chili Peppers album that you must check out.
It is also the only Chili Peppers album that Irons played on. Irons became a member of Pearl Jam after the hugely successful Seattle group parted company with their original drummer. Long before Pearl Jam even formed, Irons knew an aspiring singer/songwriter from San Diego named Eddie Vedder.
“Jack had been friends with Eddie since before Eddie was in Pearl Jam,” Kiedis said. “And they had a very close friendship. I think Eddie really sort of looked up to Jack, as kind of a teacher. And when that position became available, I’m sure Eddie wanted nothing more than to play with Jack. I think that, overall, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Jack Irons included, were kind of instrumental in inspiring Eddie to want to play music in the beginning.
“I can remember Jack tellin’ me, “Yeah, I’ve got this friend, he wants to start a band. You know, he really likes what we do,’ but I told him, “Whatever you do, don’t try to be liked us. Just do your own thing, because you’ve got your own natural abilities.’ It was just a peculiar conversation that I remember Jack relaying to me. But I think Jack was pretty much the master of his own destiny in [winding up in Pearl Jam].”
While the foursome was in England, they “suited up” for a photo session in front of EMI’s famed recording facility on Abbey Road. The attire consisted of nothing more than the well-worn tube socks, and Kiedis, Irons, Slovak and Flea strolled single file across the familiar roadway in mock tribute to the cover of the Beatles album Abbey Road.
This would later serve as the cover shot for the Chili Peppers release The Abbey Road EP. Kiedis considered the question of the Beatles versus the Stones, and the issue of perseverance in the music business.
“Just the whole time when the Beatles and Rolling Stones were kind of in that competitive mode is kind of amusing, really, to look back on,” Anthony said. “And I’ve definitely been touched by the amazing songwriting ability of the Rolling Stones. I love what they do and their songs are great. It’s a great thing to grow up listening to. But they’ve never been the sort-of ‘end-all’ for me, as artists. On a career level, no. I mean, I find them entertaining and historically interesting as a band.
“As far as one big, monumentally important band in my life, I would have to be a Beatles man over the Rolling Stones, personally,” Kiedis said. “I don’t really see any band in the world preserving as long as the Rolling Stones. I don’t know how they do it or where they get it from, but it is truly amazing. Their longevity is astonishing. And I would be well-surprised if we turned out to have that sort of longevity. But you never know.”
The lead Chili Pepper also considered the validity of a comparison between Jagger/Richards and himself and Flea: “They just happen to be the most famous rock ’n’ roll duo of the last 30 years or something, but there are many parallels. There are many songwriting duos out there. I see a parallel, but no more so than, say, what D. Boon had with Mike Watt in the Minutemen. It’s just sort of two people growing up together and ending up in a band together, writing music together.”
The Peppers did some hard touring behind The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, but once again, the album was a difficult sell. Critically it was a success, but there was no radio-friendly single that emerged. Perhaps it occurred to Slovak that the Chili Peppers were not really making it and that he should have remained with his other band, What Is This. Whatever was going through the guitarist’s mind, by spring 1988 he was struggling with a severe heroin problem. In late June, the news flashed that he had overdosed and died in his Los Angeles apartment.
Kiedis, who had his own drug problem to deal with (a situation which formed the basic scenario for “Under The Bridge”), spend the next several years talking about Slovak in interviews. He also wrote the wonderful song “My Lovely Man,” that appears on the band’s BloodSugarSexMagik album, in memory of his zany, departed friend. “When Hillel died,” he said in an interview with this writer a year after the death, “it was like somebody putting a shotgun up to my heart and pulling the trigger.”
Slovak’s influence has remained with the Chili Peppers throughout the years since. Although it was purely coincidence, the interview with Kiedis for this story took place June 27, the date on which Slovak had died eight years earlier. His eventual replacement, 19 year old John Frusciante, was a Slovak disciple who had never played in a band before. Tragedy would now form the basis for a whole new reality for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
As Slovak was gone forever, so now was Irons, who chose not to continue. As they bid farewell to the third and fourth ex-members of the group, Anthony and Flea pondered the situation.
They now needed to find a new drummer as well as a new guitar player if the band was to carry on. A shellshocked call to George Clinton resulted in the temporary recruitment of the onetime P.Funk guitarist Duane ‘Blackbyrd” Mc Knight, who stepped in and played with the Chili Peppers on stage during the second half of ’88.
But Kiedis and Flea were desperate to reconstruct the proper band chemistry before going back into the studio to record the next album with Beinhorn. They were both friends with Bob Forrest, leader of the Los Angeles band Thelonious Monster. Anthony sat and listened while Forrest auditioned new guitarists for his band. One of the players who came through the door was Frusciante, a raw but brilliant talent who stood apart from the others. When Kiedis got a load of him, he immediately begged Forrest not to take him for his own band. “This kid has to play with the Chili Peppers,” Kiedis said.
On Mother’s Milk, the first album with Frusciante and new drummer Chad Smith, the opening track “Good Time Boys” sings the praises of Los Angeles funk/punk/rock colleagues such as Forrest and his Monster-mates, John Doe and X, Mike Watt and Firehouse, and Fishbone. Kiedis maintains that these musicians are no less important to him now than they were in the old days.
“Definitely, always,” he said. “Because those people are all my friends. And I think that they’re all exceptionally wonderful musicians and writers and artists. And it’ll always be a very cherished era in my memory banks. But I think that they’re still pretty vital in their own way. Obviously, Henry [Rollins] is the greatest workaholic of the modern rock world. And you know, Bob Forrest, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of him yet. That guy is just a stunning songwriter. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he put his bid in for yet another stand.
“And Fishbone put on some of the greatest live shows that I’ve ever seen,” Kiedis added, “Angelo Moore, to me, has gotta have some more juice in him. Because that man was writing beautiful words and performing them with all of his heart. And Jane’s Addiction: not only do we play with Dave Navarro now, but Porno For Pyros is still blowing my mind, personally.
“Their most recent record is just something that I could listen to, in a time when there’s so much alternative-by-numbers bullshit getting put out, that all sounds the same – the same sounds and the same goofy, alternative songwriting style. Porno For Pyros comes out and is just different and beautiful and amazing. But Perry [Farrell] is, uh – he’s the king.”
While Farrell may be the, uh, king, it’s Earvin Johnson who is the Peppers’ favorite magician.
Anthony, as well as Flea, have been basketball fans for a long time, big fans in particular of their local team, the Los Angeles Lakers. They recorded a song for Mother’s Milk called “Magic Johnson,” lauding the team and the on-court heroics of one of the NBA’s all-time greats, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who hails from Anthony’s home state of Michigan. Two years after Mother’s Milk came out in 1989, Johnson announced that he was quitting basketball because he had found out that he was HIV-positive Kiedis admitted that Johnson’s announcement hit home hard with him.
“It did, just ‘cause I was such a hugh fan of his,” he said. “You know, it had that same sort of effect as when John Lennon died. Just someone that you looked up to, and were so mesmerized by what they did professionally. To fall ill like that was pretty shocking.
“But even more shocking, in a beautiful way, than that day for me, was the day that he re-entered the NBA to play with the Lakers, HIV-positive. Going from relative obscurity, compared to where he had been in the NBA, to back in [the competition], just really sends a wonderful message to the world about what it is to rise above so-called handicaps and setbacks. And to kind of get the bull back by the horns and ‘go for yours.’
“And it didn’t end in the picture-perfect way,” Kiedis pointed out, “with him quitting the team again. But, still just the fact that he came back and showed the entire world that somebody could compete at that level with HIV, I think pretty much changed the entire world outlook on the disease. I don’t think you could do something more honorable than that in a lifetime.”
There were two covers on Mother’s Milk, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground” and the Jimi Hendrix rock classic “Fire,” The Stevie Wonder remake, helped by a good video that got decent exposure on MTV, was the first Chili Peppers record in their five years of trying that actually sparked some identification with them in the collective mind of the record-buying public. It was a song with a positive message that the band successfully updated for a new generation.
The Hendrix cover was a track that had been cut before Slovak’s demise, so it featured him on guitar. Although it had already been released on The Abbey Road EP, its inclusion on the album provided some closure for the band and made Slovak a part of Mother’s Milk, which was dedicated to him.
A side note to the release of the album was that the attractive young woman pictured on the cover threatened to sue EMI and the band after it came out. Although the art work obscured her partial nudity from the waist up, the woman claimed that when she posed for the photo session, she did not think that a shot showing her exposed breasts would end up being used on the cover of the group’s album. The matter was settled soon afterwards.
A short instrumental on the album, titled “Punk Rock Classic,” featured the trumpet playing of Flea, who had once played as a member of the Los Angeles Junior Philharmonic and has also put in a stint as a member of the punk band Fear. The first Chili Peppers album closes with the atmospheric instrumental “Grand Pappy Du Plenty,” which sounds as if it could’ve been part of a movie score.
Around the time of Mother’s Milk, one track from the album, “Taste The Pain,” was used in the move Say Anything. Another non-album track, “Show Me Your Soul” (co-produced by Norwood Fisher of Fishbone), was placed on the soundtrack to the movie Pretty Woman. Kiedis admits that the band, several members of which have also done some acting here and there, would probably like to provide a complete score or soundtrack to a movie some time in the future.
That’s well within the realm of possibility,” he said. “Just based on our proximity to that world, it could easily happen. But most of our soundtrack songs [so far] have been rather incidental. You know, we never set out to write a song for a movie. What usually happens is we write a few too many songs, to fit on a CD. And then the stuff that we have left over we usually sell to the highest bidder for a soundtrack. Because it just seems better that they should be heard in some context than not at all.”
Mother’s Milk changed a lot of things for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It went gold in terms of sales and got them over the hump at a most crucial point in their career. Its completion also brought them to a crossroads with EMI, a company the band had mixed feelings about. The label had given them their initial shot as recording artists, but in the years since, the band had become disenchanted with the relationship. They had an eye toward signing a new deal somewhere else.
Several companies were interested in the Chili Peppers on the heels of the strong showing of Mother’s Milk, but Warner Brothers had an edge in the negotiations. Although Sony was reportedly offering more money to the group, the fact that Time/Warner had MTV as part of its operations and could promote the band with incessant airings of its videos 24 hours a day was a significant factor in the Red Hot Chili Peppers going with Warner.
“I feel fortunate that it took us as long as it did to sort of get popular,” Kiedis commented. “I think if it would’ve happened to us in our first couple of records, like it does so readily these days with MTV, you know, these teen-age bands come out and become huge overnight sensations with the aid of MTV, and their perspective is pretty small and stilted. Whereas with us, we had been together probably for seven or eight years before anybody really took notice of us. And it gave us a long, gradual piece of time to kind of get acclimated to the world that we would be living in. And I feel grateful for that.”
For the first time since the hand had started making albums, there was no change in its lineup as the Chili Peppers moved on from Mother’s Milk and EMI to the recording of its first project for Warner Brothers. But the change of labels brought with it certain expectations. And now the band would also be working with a new producer, Rick Rubin. He was about the same age as Anthony and Flea and shared much of their taste in music. Rubin was also very successful for such young man, heading his own record label (formerly Def American, now American Recordings) and having hit records with such disparate acts as Slayer, Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys. Instead of bringing the band into a regular recording studio, he found a house in Hollywood Hills for the Chili Peppers to record in.
“I thought being in a house, in an environment different than they’d ever been in before, would give the whole project a different flavor.” Rubin told Goldmine in 1995. “And I think it helped, as opposed to going to a recording studio every day, which they had done many times before. It just changed the feel of the whole project. It wouldn’t have been as interesting for a new band – let’s say if it was a band’s first or second album. What I thought was fun about the idea was, this was a band, for a younger band, that had made a fair number of albums prior. And just to kind of clean the slate of everything they had done before in the studio and start with a fresh approach.”
Rubin’s idea worked wonderfully, resulting in what is probably the best Chili Peppers album of them all, BloodSugarSexMagik. At almost 75 minutes, it is also their longest opus by far. Rubin realized they had a lot of good tracks as they were completing the project in the summer of 1991 and thought that Warner Brothers might consider releasing it as a double-CD set.
“There were another four songs that weren’t on the record [when it came out],” Rubin said. “I thought it should have been a double album. It should have been two CDs, with between 12 and 13 songs on each. It would have been much more digestible in that format. The record company recommended that it be on one CD, and had us just put as much of it as we could on one CD. So four songs got left off, and that was so that people wouldn’t have to pay so much for it in the stores. Which I could understand.
“But I think it does make it harder to digest the material in the format that it’s in,” Rubin maintained, “being 18 songs in a row, something like that. But I thought that volume of material would have been okay, as long as you stop and take a breath and then change CD’s. Or maybe live with one CD for a few weeks and then move on to the next CD. It would have been more digestible.”
In spite of perceived format problems, the album had lots of great music on it, as well as hits waiting to happen. “Give It Away” and “Under The Bridge” were the monsters, with “Breaking The Girl” and “Suck My Kiss” also strong contenders for hit status. Of course, the latter song, as with “Aeroplane” on One Hot Minute, was disadvantaged in the radio world by Anthony’s preference for the word “mother-fucker” in his lyrics. (The video for Aeroplane, which came later, edited out the word as well as the term “fucked.”) But the Chili Peppers were poised to get more play than ever in the 90s.
“I am not that analytical to… keep sort of a comprehensive tab on exactly who it is who follows us or who listens to us or who comes to our shows,” Kiedis said. “Obviously, we reached a lot more people when we made BloodSugarSexMagik, because it just sold a lot more, and it was the first time that we really go rocked on the radio. So there’s more people listening, but a whole different scape of folks. I’m not sure, I think it’s constantly changing.
“I mean, when we used to play clubs in Los Angeles in the early ‘80s, that was just the local art freaks of Hollywood who used to come and check out what we did. Although some of them may still pay some attention, I don’t think it’s the fan base [anymore], so to speak. But you know, it doesn’t really matter to me. I just kind of roll along.
The video for “Give It Away,” positioned as the first single from the album when it was released in the fall of ’91, was directed by Stephanie Sednaoui and captured the song’s raw, tribal energy.
The song’s video probably has a lot to do with the “Weird Al” Yankovic parody of “Give It Away” that surfaced some time later, which he titled “Bedrock Anthem,” working in references to the Flintstones cartoon characters. Weird Al also did a sendup of the Chili Peppers video and the opening bit of his “Bedrock Anthem” incorporated a partial parody of “Under The Bridge.”
“I would say that ‘Give It Away’ is probably the best video that we ever made, overall,” Kiedis said. “I thought that ‘Warped’ was a really exciting video, that we made with Gavin Bowden. I like that one. Just the sheer intensity of that video I thought was pretty exciting. And there’s ones that I wouldn’t even want to be shown. Silly, silly stuff. There’s some that I’m proud of and there are some that I think are just purely ridiculous.”
Perhaps that latter category would include the video for the song “Soul To Squeeze,” which was not included on either BloodSugarSexMagik or One Hot Minute, but ended up being used for the movie Coneheads. Even the participation of Saturday Night Live funny man Chris Farley could not enliven this one, set amidst the world of traveling carnival workers.
The video for ‘Under The Bridge” was directed by filmmaker Gus Van Sant, who had directed the talented young actor River Phoenix in the movie My Own Private Idaho. It was probably Phoenix who introduced Van Sant to the Chili Peppers, as he was a friend of the band. Five years after Slovak’s drug-related death, Phoenix would meet a similar end. Unlike Slovak, the young actor wouldn’t die alone in a small apartment, but within arm’s reach of his friends and family members during a festive night out.
Flea was present that night at the West Hollywood/Sunset Strip nightclub called the Viper Room, which is co-owned by actor Johnny Depp. Flea is also friends with Depp, who played in bands before making it as an actor. (When Depp formed a group called P with Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers, Flea played on their album.) Phoenix ingested a lethal mixture of drugs while partying at the club on Halloween weekend 1993, and collapsed outside on the sidewalk. Flea rode with him in the ambulance to the hospital emergency room, but Phoenix did not hold on.
The song “Transcending” on One Hot Minute, written by Flea and Kiedis, is about River Phoenix. He was yet another creative person linked to the world of Hollywood and the circle of the Red Hot Chili Peppers who was unable to deal with his pain in a survivable fashion.
One person who did survive, thankfully, was Frusciante. But he had to sacrifice his position within the band in order to do so. After three pressure-packed years picking up the slack as the guitar slinger in what was now one of the world’s most popular rock bands, Frusciante was frazzled and unhappy. He was coping well enough in the early part of ’92, when the Chili Peppers were the musical guests on Saturday Night Live, with Roseanne hosting. But it was getting tougher for him.
Frusciante was apparently still in the group when some of the band’s 1992 live work was caught on tape. A soundboard recording of fairly good quality was made, and is still circulating, as a bootleg under the title Get The Funk Out. (The Chili Peppers have never released a live album. The occasional live track, such as “Castles Made Of Sand” captured at the Phantasy Theater in Cleveland in November of ’89, is all that has surfaced.) This bootleg combines parts of at least two separate shows, because the tape includes two different versions of “Nobody Weird Like Me,” a song from Mother’s Milk.
But it must be from the tour in support of BloodSugarSexMagik, because “If You Have To Ask” and “Blood Sugar” are also on the tape, which also includes a version of the Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Right before the guitar break in “Me And My Friends,” Anthony raps, “Take it, Johnny, take it.” There’s also a bootleg of a performance in Japan, which was the end of the line for Frusciante. The band needed him and didn’t want him to quit, but the kid phenom couldn’t take it anymore and asked to return home. The rest of the tour in that part of the world, which included stops in Australia, had to be called off.
The band returned to Los Angeles to regroup. As summer approached they were due to headline the second year of the Lollapalooza Festival with Pearl Jam. They brought in local talent Arik Marshall to play as a stopgap measure while they fulfilled their touring commitments. But Marshall’s role proved to be somewhat like the part Blackbyrd McKnight had played in the band’s history four years earlier – another hired gun, not a Chili Pepper for keeps. In terms of players who recorded with the band, Frusciante was now the fifth ex-member.
“To be vital and to write music that means something, or means something to me, and means something to the band and that is exciting to play, is kind of a challenge,” Kiedis said. “And I think whenever that stops is when we’ll stop playing. But right now I think we still have ideas and things to say and sounds to create.
“We’ve also been kind of accidentally helped along by the fact that we keep playing with different musicians, which presents a whole new, exciting set of circumstances to write music under. But as fate would have it, we keep ending up with different guitar players.”
As 1992 ended, it started to become very clear that Marshall would not fill the bill as a full-time band member. The Peppers were very interested in wooing Dave Navarro, the guitarist in Jane’s Addiction until that band broke up in 1991. They had looked for Navarro earlier when Frusciante had given up, but he was not available. Now, the Chili Peppers resorted to holding open auditions to try and find a suitable guitarist, an exercise they later realized was nonsensical.
They actually did offer the job to Jesse Tobias, who was a member of an Los Angeles band called Mother Tongue. Tobias gladly accepted and Rolling Stone ran a photo of him smiling above a story reporting that the band’s search for replacement to fill Frusciante’s shoes was finally over. Tobias was in—for a cup of coffee and a few rehearsals, that is. Then he was out again.
But then Navarro became a free again once more, and the Chili Peppers made another pitch. Navarro wasn’t sure he was right for the group but agreed to join anyway. By Labor Day 1993, the former axeman of Jane’s Addiction was a full-fledged member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And that’s how it has remained ever since.
By this time, after selling millions of copies of BloodSugarSexMagik and winning a Grammy, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were celebrities, and they were rich. They could afford to buy houses, cars, whatever they wanted. They were also subjects of a book, Red Hot Chili Peppers, written by pop-music journalist Dave Thompson.
“You make sacrifices no matter what,” Kiedis mused. “If you’re unsuccessful you make sacrifices and if you’re successful you make sacrifices. But having done both of them, I’m grateful for both. And I think that I could be as miserable or as happy under either scenario, depending on my whole emotional state of affairs. I like the fact that I got to experience both: just sheer poverty, and then the opposite end of the spectrum. The thing about making’ a bunch of money at a certain point in your life, for me, is all about just passing it along. Takin’ care of Mom and Pops, that sort of thing.”
Kiedis acknowledged that, had Frusciante remained in the band, a follow-up to BloodSugarSexMagik would have come about a lot sooner. As it turned out, there was a gap of four years between their first Warner Brothers album and the second. They had to spend a lot of time with Navarro to get used to his personal vibe, his musical vibe and his way of working within the Chili Peppers.
“I think the next record we make with Dave will happen a lot quicker and a lot easier than the first record we made with him,” Kiedis said. “But I think it’s always like that. Your first record with a new musician in the band is kind of a test, and a little bit of a struggle. We’re actually gonna set out to make another record in the very near future, instead of waiting a whole long time and staying out on the road forever.
“It was a totally different ball game when Dave joined the band. Just an extremely different person, different way of working. We didn’t have those many years of friendly togetherness that we had developed when John was still in the band. Just an extremely different person, different way of working. We didn’t have those many years of friendly togetherness that we had developed when John was still in the band. But it’s all different. Dave works differently, he writes differently, he works in the studio… he likes to sort of be by himself and kind of meticulously get into what he’s doing.
“Whereas, when we were recording BloodSugarSexMagik with John,” Kiedis recalled, “it was all about ‘whatever happens, happens, and that’s what’s gonna go on the record.’ It was all about the first take with John. He didn’t want to play anything more than once. It wasn’t about over-dubs and things like this. It was just about ‘whatever came out.’
“Dave is sort of the master manipulator of the studio. He likes to get in there and get tricky with all of the technology and everything. And that works for him. That’s what he’s good at and that’s how he gets his sounds and he gets his feelings, going that route. But, I mean, it’s way too different to ever explain in this conversation. It’s hard to express.”
The new lineup of the Chili Peppers took off for Hawaii to hand out together and write music. It was an excursion designed to free their minds, get everybody in synch with one another and to escape the oppressiveness of smoggy, war-torn Los Angeles, where Navarro grew up.
The member of the group who may not even need to get away from the extreme lifestyles of the rich and gaseous of L.A. is good-humored, even-tempered Chad Smith: the unobtrusive on in the band. He has not only been the drummer in the Red Hot Chili Peppers far longer than anyone else but has grown into one of the best drummers in rock. He does his job well and makes funny faces when it’s time for the photo sessions, but in many ways he appears to be just too happy and contented to actually be a member of this notorious band.
“He’s stabilizing, because he’s just very consistent,” Kiedis said about Smith and his nearly eight years of working with him. “You know, he’s not a wild card in the deck. You know what to expect from Chad. “He’s gonna be there, he puts in the hard work and he’s very reliable. So it is kind of stabilizing. He’s the least likely to go off the deep end at any given time. Whereas pretty much everybody else in the band could disappear into a cloud and you’re not exactly sure when they’re going to re-emerge. Where Chad just shows up.”
The whole band showed up in New York State in August 1994 for Woodstock ’94, one of the most remarkable non-events of recent times, but one that the Chili Peppers would have had a hard time refusing to participate in, given the worldwide satellite telecast of the proceedings. They came out on stage wearing not tube socks, but gigantic lightbulb headgear, a la the Residents. Navarro wasn’t thrilled to be part of the gag, as Kiedis make clear to the audience that day from the stage (“We forced him to do it”). It was Navarro’s first appearance with the band.
“I always get nervous before we play,” Kiedis admitted. “I don’t know about apprehension. I think we all felt self-consciously comfortable with the fact that we were a new band and that it would be okay. It’s not like we were going out there with somebody who hadn’t been around the block. Dave Navarro comes with a bit of a reputation and a history. And that turned out to be a gas. That show was a gas for us.”
Then it was down to work on the next album. Actually, work had already begun, as Smith had cut his drum tracks two months before the Woodstock 25th anniversary weekend. Rubin admitted that, in the course of trying to finish the album eventually released as One Hot Minute, “…Anthony got sick, and then lyrics weren’t coming and it just turned into a mess.” Flea was also out of commission for a time, but the record did get finished and released in ’95.
“I think that the Chili Peppers, up until [BloodSugar], had put certain limitations mentally on what they thought they should be doing,” Rubin said. “And [One Hot Minute] is the furthest thing from what people would perceive a Chili Pepper record to be, if they’d never heard the last record. Although I don’t think it’s all like [Blood-Sugar]. It’s really a song-based record. Historically, the Chili Peppers made groove-based records, that had kind of words to the grooves. And this record is much more of a ‘song-y’ record.”
One of the best tracks on One Hot Minute is the tune” Coffee Shop,” which mentions a certain trailblazing rocker in the lyrics (“We can dance like Iggy Pop”). The Chili Peppers had recorded Iggy’s “Search And Destroy” a few years before and it came out on a CD single with some remixes of “Give It Away.” Kiedis says he was somewhat of a latecomer in discovering the genius of Iggy, but he’s now a strong believer.
“It wasn’t probably until about five or six years ago, maybe, that I really got into the Stooges,” Kiedis said. “But when I did – you know, that stuff is electrifying. And Iggy is electrifying. I think he’s a true legend of rock ‘n’ roll and nothing short of a true legend. He came out and played with us for our encore at Madison Square Garden, when we played there. And it was so weird, ‘cause I would say 70 percent of the audience just didn’t have a clue who this guy was! And here’s somebody with more life in him than the entire audience put together. And they just didn’t know! They didn’t get it.”
Kiedis is in awe of Iggy, the “Godfather of Punk.” After all, the Igg-ster is almost old enough to be his Dad, and he’s still out there on stage throwing himself around like a rag doll in heat. Even thought the Chili Peppers did cancel part of their summer tour this year, if Kiedis ever thinks he might be getting too old to do what he’s always done as front man for the band, he know that Iggy Pop will put him to shame.
“I still let that wind take me where it will,” he said about his attitude toward performing on stage. “But as I sit here on the phone with you right now, I felt like I have a broken back and as soon as I hang up, I’m going to get a dose of acupuncture. Last night we played in Prague, a sold-out indoor show, and the kids were just intense. The audience was so intense that we had to give it everything we had.
“And somewhere, performing ‘One Big Mob,’ I think I landed upside down on my back, on a monitor or something. And I became paralyzed with pain. We managed to finish the show, but I take a beating. I take a total beating. I went on our last tour with a hairline fracture in my tibia. I figured out a way to play with that. And I fell off a stage in Pittsburgh and ripped my calf muscles off of my leg.
“I had to go to the hospital and finish that tour with a cast around my calf—which happened to be my one good leg. So it’s definitely a traumatizing experience. But it’s also the sign of a good show. When you come off bleeding with bones poking out of you, you know that you put on a good show.”
In the rock ‘n’ roll world of the 1990s, if you’re over 30 years old, you’re regarded with suspicion. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are virtually looked upon as elder statesmen; they’ve been around for more than a dozen years as a recording act. If there luck holds up, they’ll be around for at least a dozen more, making music that is packed with sweat and emotion. Although maybe they will ease up some more on those juvenile aspects that used to be so omnipresent.
“It definitely takes a certain amount of mental and physical and spiritual stamina to do what we do,” Anthony said. “To go out on the road and travel around for years on end, playing live shows. And then come home and start the whole process over again by writing songs and recording them and then setting out on the road again.
“But I think I’ve had as much severe emotional and physical weakness as I have strength. It’s just kind of the combination platter. Usually the strength comes through when I need it to and then I’ll go off and fall to pieces and kind of have to put myself back together again.
“Other than that,” Kiedis said, “I just feel like one of the luckiest guys in the world to be doing what I’m doing and doing it with my best friends. And traveling around, having a chance to express myself, and to get paid for in the meantime.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers Selected U.S. Discography
|EMI||529665||Out In L.A||1994|
|EMI-Manhattan||90616||The Red Hot Chili Peppers||1984|
|EMI-Manhattan||48036||The Uplift Mojo Party Plan||1987|
|EMI||90869||The Abbey Road EP||1988|
|EMI||50285||Taste The Pain||1989|
|Warner Bros.||40261||Give It Away||1991|
|EMI Records USA||94762||What Hits!?||1992|
|Warner Bros.||45733||One Hot Minute||1995|