THE EARLY DAYS
The Red Hot Chili Peppers were formed under the name of Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem, in the early 1980s in Los Angeles, California. The founder members were vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Michael Balzary, guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack irons. Australian-born Balzary has been known throughout his career by the psudonym "Flea". Flea, Slovak and Kiedis, known in the early days as "Antwan the Swan", all attended the same high school and their abilities were evident even there.
Kiedis, who in the Chilis fulfilled the role of lyricist as well as vocalist, was a talented Poet in high school, while Flea played trumpet- something he still does occasionally for the Chilis, and Slovak had learnt guitar during those years. That these three decided to combine their talents with those of drummer Irons is unsurprising.
The band changed their name to "Red Hot Chili Peppers" in 1983 and performed many gigs on LA's Sunset Strip, featuring their tardemark live performance for many years- that of performing naked with the exception of a craftily positioned sock.
The band soon had a contract with EMI, although had to record without Slovak and Irons, who ill-advisedly decided to concentrate on their other band, "What Is This", and were replaced on the album by Jack Sherman and Cliff MArtinez respectively.
The alteration to the line-up affected the band, and their much hyped eponymous debut album was a disappointment. A couple of the songs, such as "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes" hint at the blistering nature of the band, but committing to vinyl, and without two members, took the kick out of the band's live performances.
THE MID TO LATE EIGHTIES
By 1985, "What Is This?" were no more, and Slovak and Irons returned to retake their places in the Chilis' line-up for the second album, "Freaky Styley", an improvement on the debut. The album was produced by funk rock legend George clinton- a clear nod to the funk/rock/rap hybrid they were beginning to cultivate. The album featured some deliciously quirky tunes such as "Thirty Dity Birds", "Yertle the Turtle" and the strangely anthemic "Catholic School girls Rule". However, the album still semed to be missing an element of the exhiliration of a Chilis live set- they couldn't recapture their spirit effectively enough on record.
The third album solved that- entitled "The Uplift Mofo Party Plan"1, this record finally managed to encapsulate the essence of the band- their rap cover of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues", performed even faster than the original, exhausts the listener in addition to the peroformer, "Fight Like A Brave" is almost a war chant, "Love Trilogy" has a reggae tinge, many songs have funk elements- the band's fusion was really beginning to take shape, and they had finally managed to capture their essence on record.
However, with success had come excess. The band, Kiedis and Slovak in particular, were struggling with drug addiction, and in June 1988, shortly after the release of "The Abbey Road EP", hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose. Irons decided to leave the band at this point, but Kiedis and Flea decided to keep the band going, embarking on a new chapter of their career without the two founder members they ahd lacked on the debut album.
A NEW LINE-UP
In replacing the deceased Slovak and departed Irons, the band decided against returning to the erstwhile Martinez and Sherman, and instead opted for Blacbird MCKnight, guitarist with george Clinton's "Parliament" and drummer DH Peligro,of the Dead Kennedys. This line-up didn't gel, so kiedis and Flea looked elsewhere,a nd what they found were drummer Chad Smith and guitarist john Frusciante. Frusciante was just 17, and a big Chilis' fan , when he was offered the role of lead guitarist,a nd once these new members were in place, the band cracked on with a fourth album, 1989's "Mother's Milk"
"Mother's Milk" had more of a metal feel to it than it's predecessors,adding yet another element to the band's sound. The big hit from the record was a joyful cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground", although the album does include several tracks of note- "knock Me Down" is heartfelt, and many tracks saw the sound now known as "heavy funk" being honed. A curious sidebar of the album is the innocuous instrumental "Pretty little Ditty", which, over a decade later,would form the basis of the CrazyTown song "Butterfly". There still seemed to be something missing- a piece that, added to the Chilis' jigsaw, would perfect them.
Whatever that missing piece was, they had clearly found it by 1991's "Blood Sugar Sex Magik", their first album on the Warner label.. perhaps the missing piece was new producer Rick Rubin2. Their ability to switch between genres was becoming breathtaking- "Under The Bridge", a song written by Kiedis about heroin addiction, is a classic ballad- feeling, a heartbreaking tune, but the lyrics give the subject matter away- "Under the bridge downtown/ Is where I drew some blood". The album, however, also contains the hip hop/funk number "give It Away"- a song almost entirely sung in innuendo, "My Lovely Man", a tribute to Slovak. "breaking the Girl" and "I Could Have Lied" are mellow songs about emotional problems, the preposterously titled "Mellowship Slinky in B Major" and "Sir Psycho Sexy" demonstrate that the band still had their sense of fun.
After the "blood Sugar" tour, Frusciante surprised the band by leaving- by this point he too was addicted to hard drugs and heading for a burnout. Arik marshall replaced him on tour for a time, and Jesse Tobias was a memeber, but neither for long enough to record anything. That job went to Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.
The only album recorded by the Chilis during Navarro's spell in the band was 1995's "one Hot Minute", and the album is a step back- admittedly there are quality songs- "my friends" is another good mellow number, "walkabout" is a good rap numnber, and the hit single "Aeroplane" was catchy, but the musical sope and excellence of "Blood Sugar" was nowhere. The band clkearly began to relaise that life with navarro was not working out, and he left the band in early 1998.
During his six year sabbatical, Frusciante had recorded his first two solo albums, 1995's "Niandra Ladies and Usually Just a T-Shirt" and 1997's "Smile From the Streets You Hold", but had blown his money from the Chilis, was at times living rough, and was a serious drug addict. In 1998 he checked into rehab and, once he appeared to have recovered from his addictions, accepted the Chilis' offer for him to retake his position in the band after the departure of Navarro.
TURN OF THE CENTURY
The Chilis' last album of the twentieth century is widely regarded by fans to be their second best, behind "Blood Sugar". The album in question is "Californication". The songs on it are as diverse and exuisite as those on "Blood Sugar",a nd the sense of fun is clearly noticable, especially on "Around The World" when the lyrics run out, and Kiedis just uses his own variety of scat. The title track is a rant against Hollywood and Americanisation, songs such as "Scartissue", "otherside" and "road trippin'" are from the mellow end of the Chilis' Spectrum, while otehr tracks such as "Get on Top" and "i Like Dirt" tend towards the heavier end of that spectrum.
The first chilis' album of the 21st century, "By The Way" is their mellowest album so far- Kiedis dopes break into rap a couple of times- including on the title track, but the mood of the album seems lighhter, and at times they even seem to be striving for Beach Boys harmonies. For those fond of the chilis' mellower moments, the album is glorious, although some fans lament the absence of some of the harder music of the past.
The Red Hot Chili peppers have released two greatest hits albums- 1992's "What hits?" and 2003's less imaginatively titled "Greatest hits". they ahve also issued a live set "Out In LA", a remix collection and a collection of covers. All of these other than "Greatest hits" were released oN EMI, and after the band had left the label, so it is possible that they ahd little or no control over their release.
- Michael 'Flea' Balzary- Bass (all albums)
- John Frusciante- Guitar (albums- Mother's Milk, blood sugar sex magik, californication, by the way))
- Jack Irons- Drums (albums- Freaky Styley, Uplift Mofo Party Plan)
- Anthony Kiedis-Vocals (all albums)
- Cliff Martinez- Drums (albums- Red Hot Chili Peppers)
- Dave Navarro- Guitar (one hot minute)
- Jack Sherman- Guitar (album- Red Hot Chili Peppers)
- Hillel Slovak- Guitar (albums- Freaky Styley, uplift mofo party plan)
- Chad Smith- Drums (albums- mothers milk, blood sugar sex majik, one hot minute, californication, by the way)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984, EMI America)
- Freaky Styley (1985, EMI America)
- The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987, EMI America)
- Mother's Milk (1989, EMI America)
- Blood Sugar Sex Majik (1991, Warner)
- What hits (1992, EMI)
- One Hot Minute (1995, Warner)
- Californication (1999, WEA)
- By The Way (2002, WEA)
- Greatest Hits (2003, WEA