Personalities | Red Hot Chili Peppers | Nineties | Rock

International fame seemed far away when, in 1983, upstaged by strippers the Red Hot Chili Peppers resorted to playing a cover version of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’ naked with socks covering their genitalia. This routine was to become a trademark.

Anthony Kiedis (born 1 November 1962, vocals), Michael ‘Flea’ Balzary (born 16 October 1962, bass), Jack Irons (born 13 April 1962, drums) and Israeli-born Hillel Slovak (31 March 1962, guitar) met at Fairfax High School in Hollywood, around 1980. Active in various bands, they first played Los Angeles clubs under the Chili Peppers banner in 1983. Influenced by funk, rap, jazz and punk rock, their frenetic intensity won a local following.

Getting Going

Signed by EMI America, only Flea and Kiedis appeared on the self-titled debut (1984) as Irons and Slovak were contractually tied to Mercury Records with another band, What Is Is?. Both returned when George Clinton produced Freaky Styley (1985) a more spirited affair showcasing the Peppers’ unique funk rock on tracks like ‘Sex Rap’ and ‘Lovin’ And Touchin’’. Sales were low and only long, grinding tours kept tattoo parlours in business.

The critical tide turned with The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987). Featuring cult single ‘Fight Like A Brave’ as well as an assault upon Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ this strong set was well marshalled by producer Michael Beinhorn. Further momentum came with the Abbey Road EP (1988) featuring the Peppers’ version of ‘Fire’ and a cover showing them walking across the famed Abbey Road crossing naked apart from their now trademark socks.

Too Much Too Young?

The Peppers embraced the vices as well as pleasures of the road and Slovak died of a heroin overdose on 25 June 1988. When Irons quit shortly afterwards to seek psychiatric treatment the end seemed nigh. After various auditions the Peppers regrouped with 18-year-old fan John Frusciante (born 5 March 1972) on guitar – who had to strip naked and show Flea an erect penis as part of the audition process – and former Toby Redd drummer Chad Smith (born 25 October 1962).

Although recorded in mourning, Mother’s Milk (1989) was a commercial breakthrough, spawning their first US hit single ‘Knock Me Down’. Switching labels to Warners for a reputed $7 million advance, Def Jam founder Rick Rubin produced the next Peppers album in a deserted house. As well as familiar fare like ‘Funky Monks’ and ‘Suck My Kiss’, Rubin coaxed the ballad ‘Under The Bridge’ out of the Peppers, which was another hit single. The album BloodSugarSexMagik (1991) went multi-platinum and the band was now international arena headliners.

In May 1992, a Far East tour was cancelled when Frusciante left the band citing stress and battle fatigue. The revolving guitar seat was filled twice in quick succession with Arik Marshall making his debut in front of 60,000 fans in Belgium before the band headlined the highly successful Lollapalooza II tour (1992). The Peppers were now public property even appearing in an episode...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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