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Members have included Flea (born Michael Balzary, October 16, 1962, in Melbourne, Australia), bass; John Frusciante(born March 5, 1970, in New York; band member 1989-92; rejoined group 1999), guitar; JackIrons (born July 18, 1962, in California; left band in 1988), drums; AnthonyKiedis (born November 1, 1962, in Grand Rapids, MI), vocals; ArikMarshall (born February 13, 1967, in Los Angeles; band member 1992), guitar; DaveNavarro(born June 7, 1967, in Santa Monica, CA; band member 1994-1997), guitar; ChadSmith (born October 25, 1962, in St. Paul, MN; joined band in 1988), drums; HillelSlovak (born March 31, 1962, in Israel; died June 25, 1988), guitar; Jesse Tobias (band member 1993), guitar. Addresses: Record company--Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505.

From the time they formed in the early 1980s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have played an innovative blend of punk, funk, rap, and metal. While they gained most of their notoriety for their energetic and mostly nude stage shows as well as their battles with addictions, their sound exerted a strong influence on alternative rock throughout the 1990s. With various members undertaking solo projects or touring with other bands, and their lack of permanency in the lead guitar spot, the Peppers always seemed on the verge of breaking up. In 1999, though, they reunited the lineup that appeared on their 1991 breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik and released the album Californication to critical and popular acclaim.

The two men who have been Peppers from the beginning, vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bass player Flea, became close friends in high school in Los Angeles. They joined with fellow classmates Hillel Slovak on guitar and Jack Irons on drums to form the band Anthem. Anthem didn't last long, though. Flea left to play with the punk band Fear, while Irons and Slovak joined a group called What is This? Although all four of them remained busy with their own projects, they often crossed paths. One night they briefly reunited for a one-song jam performed on the spur of the moment at a Los Angeles club. This spontaneous gig went over so well that they soon became a regular presence on the Hollywood club circuit under their new name, Red Hot Chili Peppers.

They soon had a recording contract and a celebrity producer, Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill. What they didn't have was the freedom to all perform together on their first album, 1984's The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Under contract with What Is This?, Slovak and Irons were replaced in the studio by Jack Sherman and Cliff Martinez, better known for his work with Captain Beefheart. The album flopped commercially and failed to capture the energy of their live performances, which had become characterized by semi-nude bumping and grinding, with a lot of gymnastic leaping around the stage.

The band delved into their funk roots in picking the producer of their second album, putting the legendary George Clinton behind the board. The result, 1985's Freaky Styley, featured a horn section consisting of musicians who had played extensively with James Brown. While commercially not much of an improvement over their previous effort, musically the band showed signs of mastering their diverse and sometimes incompatible influences. Their next release, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan in 1987, found them with a more rocking sound than their previous effort. The album's lyrical content also cemented their raunchy reputation, which was either sexy or sexist, depending on one's point of view.

A Death in the Band

That reputation continued to grow with the cover of the 1988 EP Abbey Road, which had the band posed crossing the street in imitation of the famous cover of the Beatles' album of the same name. The Peppers, however, each wore nothing except a single, strategically placed sock While their audacious displays of public nudity gave them notoriety beyond their music, other excesses off-stage led to tragedy. That same year Slovak died of a heroin overdose. Distraught, Irons left the band. Kiedis and Flea, though, determined to carry on and recruited John Frusciante, a teenage fan of the band, to play guitar and Chad Smith on drums. They then dedicated their first album with this lineup, Mother's Milk,to Slovak's memory.

The Peppers' big breakthrough came in 1991 with the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik.For this album they teamed up with producer Rick Rubin, who had made his reputation producing heavy metal bands such as Slayer and Danzig. While the album had its share of metal, rap, and punk, the ballads, especially "Under the Bridge," stood out as a new form that the band had mastered. In naming Blood Sugar Sex Magik one of the best albums of the 1990s, Rolling Stone said, "The alternating slap of extremes perfectly nails not only the giddy highs and drawn-out lows of life in a city built on illusions but also the Chili Peppers' fight to beat their own worst excesses." The album propelled the band to superstar status, selling two million copies.

But success didn't bring peace. Frusciante reacted against the sudden fame and fortune. Known for his near-obsession with guitar playing, the trappings of celebrity didn't sit well with his vision of what a musician should be. He would later tell David Fricke of Rolling Stone, "It got into my head that stardom was something evil. If you were a rock star, you were trying to put people on." Frusciante's tensions built to the point that he tried to quit the band right before a scheduled performance in Japan. Although Flea convinced him to stay for the show, Frusciante left soon afterward, opening what would turn out to be a revolving door for the lead guitar position in the band.

Guitarists Came and Went

Frusciante's first two replacements never appeared on a Chili Peppers album. First came Arik Marshall, who lasted for a year, and then came Jesse Tobias, who made it through a couple of months. Then in 1994 the band brought former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro on board. Having not released an album in the four years since the incredible success of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the band finally came out with One Hot Minute in 1995. Not everyone found the album worth the long wait. Although it went platinum, its sales fell well short of those for Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Critically, the verdict was mixed. Essi Berelian, in Rock: the Rough Guide, saw the songwriting as "a testament to a band at the peak of their creativity," while Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone wrote that "they sounded like dinosaurs on 1995's miserable One Hot Minute."

Once again, the band took a long break from the recording studio. In fact, the next couple of years were so trouble-filled that it became doubtful that there would be any more Chili Peppers. Following a tour that became notorious for the number of scheduled shows that never took place, the band members went their separate ways for a while. Then, in 1997 Flea served as the bass player when Navarro, Perry Farrell and others got together for a Jane's Addiction reunion tour. Besides these side projects, both Navarro and Kiedis relapsed into drug addictions. Then, to make matters worse, Smith and Kiedis both suffered injuries in separate motorcycle accidents.

The band's survival seemed even more unlikely when they once again lost their guitarist. Musical differences, and perhaps personal ones, between Kiedis and Navarro led to the latter's leaving. Working together in the studio had been difficult because the Peppers took a spontaneous approach to song writing and arranging, while Navarro liked to record several guitar tracks to work from for a song's final version. A threesome without a guitar player, the remaining band members began to doubt that they would continue as a unit. Flea told Melody Maker magazine, "I wasn't sure about the band's future and wasn't really interested. There was a point where it was feeling like a job and like no fun."

Instead of dissolving, though, the band improbably returned to the lineup that had brought them their largest success. Despite Flea's professed lack of interest in the band's future, he invited Frusciante to rejoin them. Frusciante himself had just gone through a long period of substance addiction that had landed him in the hospital in early 1998. Shortly thereafter, Flea negotiated Frusciante's return to the band, where he was literally welcomed with open arms by Kiedis. In describing their first rehearsal together, Kiedis told Gavin Edwards of Rolling Stone, "[W]hen he hit that first chord, it was so perfect--this blend of sounds from these people who I hadn't heard play together in so long."

The resulting album from this reunion, 1999's Californication, turned out to be one of the Chili Peppers' greatest successes. Working once again with Rubin as producer, the quartet put together a work that sold well and received some of the best reviews of the band's work. Sheffield called it "easily their best album ever." While familiar sexy funk and tender ballads filled the album, the songwriting displayed mature and thematic unity. Fricke described the album as "a bittersweet thing about bright possibility and broken promises." Kiedis himself told Fricke that the album's theme, from its title down to its individual songs, explores California as a place where reality doesn't live up to its romantic reputation: "[T]his weird, magical place that is really kind of the end of the world, the Western Hemisphere's last stop."

While they retained their flair, their frenzied gymnastics on stage, and their sense of humor, the Chili Peppers' lyrics showed the lessons of their years. The first single and hit off Californication was "Scar Tissue," a meditation on the past by Kiedis. While some doubted that the band would remain intact long enough to achieve anything more, the success of Californication demonstrated their resilience. Eight years after the Red Hot Chili Peppers first made their mark with music reviewers and buyers, they regrouped to do so again, establishing themselves as one of the major rock acts of the 1990s.

by Lloyd Hemingway

Red Hot Chili Peppers's Career

Group formed in Los Angeles as Anthem, early 1980s; played first show as Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1983; released first album, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1984; first reached the charts with the album Mother's Milk, 1989; released multi-million selling Blood Sugar Sex Magik,1991; released One Hot Minute, 1995; released Californication,1999.

Red Hot Chili Peppers's Awards

Rolling Stone Music Award for "Scar Tissue," 1999.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Red Hot Chili Peppers Lyrics

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