The A-Z of Red Hot Chili Peppers
Everything you need to know about the perennial Californian funk rock merchants
Love them, loathe them or simply know them as the band who give it away under bridges, Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the biggest bands in the world. Having dedicated their lives to funk-fuelled rock over the last three decades, the Californian quartet show no signs of packing it in, having released their eleventh full-length record, The Getaway, in June. Here then, is an alphabetical guide to our favourite funky monks.
A is for… Autobiography
The life of frontman Anthony Kiedis is laid on the slab with Scar Tissue, his 2004 memoir. The book, co-written by author Larry Sloman, details Kiedis’ life from conception until 2004, trailing through the innumerable highs and squalid, sinking depths of drug addiction, a troubled childhood and life in the Chilis. Initially expressing regret and discomfort about the autobiography’s confessional nature, Kiedis has since realised the value of his work: “People were reading it in hospitals, in prisons and schools and it was having a positive effect,” he told The Sun in June. “I realised that the whole point of writing that book wasn’t for me, but to show that somebody can go all the way down and come all the way back.” RHCP bassist Flea also announced plans to produce a memoir, but insists on writing it entirely on his own; given his inhuman commitment to the four-string, we may not see this book until he retires.
B is for… Back To The Future
While not quite beating ZZ Top’s ace cameo in Back To The Future Part III, Flea pops up in both the aforementioned flick and the franchise’s second outing, playing the part of uber-dickhead Needles. Part II has him try and coerce Marty McFly into a dodgy business deal, while Part III sees our Flea goading McFly into a drag race by calling him “chicken.” What a wind-up merchant.
D is for… Drugs
In the early days, certain members of the band would indulge in this and that to get the creative juices flowing. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, the Chilis’ third full-length, was arguably the high and low of this hedonistic downward spiral; then-guitarist Hillel Slovak allegedly put aside $2,000 of the budget exclusively for heroin.The musical result was eventually perfected by new producer Michael Beinhorn, this being the Chilis’ heaviest record to date and also spawning the Kiedis croon that’d later give us those hits even your mother knows. However, it wasn’t all fun and games; the ensuing tour saw Kiedis and Slovak’s heroin addictions spiral out of control, eventually culminating in Slovak’s death in 1988. Slovak’s arse-shredding guitar work appeared on their re-released cover of Hendrix’s Fire halfway through Mother’s Milk in 1989, exposing an even wider audience to his wonderful playing.
C is for… California
Home state of the RHCP, California has been an insurmountable inspiration for the band – as it seems to be for, well, just about every band to come from California. They all bloody write about it. Anyway, the Chilis’ seventh LP, Californication, is their highest-selling international release to date and is considered a modern classic by many, with the return of guitarist John Frusciante ushering in more of the chilled-out jam session vibes of yore. Fast-forward a few years and the band’s, er, not so brilliant ninth record, Stadium Arcadium, opened with the wonderfully bull-headed Dani California, one of the album’s few saving graces.
E is for… Extended Hiatus
The Chilis don’t do things by halves; 2006’s Stadium Arcadium was a two-disc beast and the band toured the knackers off of it. At the tour’s end, it became apparent that RHCP needed a break of some sort, seeing as they’d basically recorded, toured, recorded and toured for nearly a decade since 1999’s Californication. So an ‘extended’ hiatus was called in 2008 – Kiedis had a new kid to tend to, Flea learned music theory and worked with Thom Yorke on Atoms For Peace, Frusciante kept his solo career going while drummer Chad Smith worked with supergroup Chickenfoot and formed the best-titled side-project ever: Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats. Even with all this going on, the break lasted just a year, with the Chilis regrouping, minus Frusciante, in 2009 with touring guitarist Josh Klinghoffer in his place.
F is for… Funky Monks
Documenting the recording of 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, this documentary is a fascinating fans-only insight into the Chilis’ virgin recording process with Rick Rubin. Shot entirely in black-and-white, Funky Monks offers little in the way of gloss or sheen; this isn’t Scorsese shooting the Stones. This is four friends holed up in the spooky Houdini mansion, recording a funk metal masterpiece. Frusciante says a lot of weird shit about ghosts and Kiedis gives us a detailed explanation of Under The Bridge’s stark lyrics. We witness the beginnings of Breaking The Girl, which has the band hitting pots and pans – a spooky precursor to Slipknot recording there, with Rubin, over a decade later? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just some blokes hitting stuff that aren't proper drums.
G is for... Grammys
The Chilis have won an impressive six of their sixteen Grammy nominations. OK, two of them were for Stadium Arcadium, but the fact that the funky, inaccessible Give It Away earned a gong just reinforces the size of the band at the time of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Because, let’s face it, the Grammy Awards are a popularity contest; that the Peppers infiltrated them with something as weird as this is testament to the band’s power.
H is for… Hirst, Damien
Drafted in to work on the cover of the band’s tenth LP, I’m With You, conceptual artist Damien Hirst toned down his occasionally brutal style to match the Chilis’ musical direction. A kind of mash up between Hirst’s A Thousand Years and Medicine Cabinets – minus the severed, bleeding cow’s head and cabinets, respectively – I’m With You’s subtle depiction of a fly atop a pill is a striking, ambiguous image that completely redeems the botch job we suffered with Stadium Arcadium’s front cover.
I is for… Improvisation
As is the nature of the funk and psychedelia, the Peppers’ earliest efforts were heavily improvised, aided to no end by Slovak’s unique, free-flowing guitar style; this torch was passed on from Slovak to Frusciante, who jammed the beginnings of hit Under The Bridge on the spot as Kiedis sang it to him. While the band aren’t exactly the funky monks of yore any longer, they still feel free to bust out a random jam session when they please – live performances often spawn snippets of rare songs and cover tracks.
J is for… John Frusciante
Widely acknowledged as ‘the’ Chili peppers guitarist, John Frusciante was introduced to the band at the ridiculously young age of eighteen by ex-Dead Kennedys and then-RHCP drummer D.H. Peligro. John joined the Peppers because he wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll and do drugs. No, really; he was going to audition for Frank Zappa’s band, but was discouraged by the zero-tolerance policy the band enforced on drugs at the time. Oh well. He had a blast in RHCP, but left upon the commercial pressures of Blood Sugar Sex Magik; Frusciante fell into a horrifying addiction, documented most candidly in short film Stuff by friends Johnny Depp and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers. Frusciante returned for Californication and stayed on until the post-Stadium Arcadium business, returning to a fruitful solo career encompassing everything from electronica to post rock. We do miss him in the Chilis, though.
K is for… Kiedis, Anthony
The man behind the moustache is a creative contradiction. On one hand, he’s the bloke who sang The Zephyr Song and did more drugs than we see consumed in Trainspotting. On the other hand, he saved a baby’s life earlier this year when the Chilis were filming an episode of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. Aside from being briefly fired from the band due to going on drug hunts rather than showing up to gigs, Kiedis has remained a constant figure in the Chilis, providing a variety of staccato raps and mellow, tuneful vocal melodies to underpin those confessional, Charles Bukowski-style tales of debauchery. A very strange man, but he’s done quite well for himself, apparently. Cher apparently used to babysit him, which may explain something.
L is for… Line-ups
Threatening to cause unrest akin to when you ask someone what their favourite Pokémon, we pose the question: What’s your favourite Red Hot Chili Peppers line-up? Would it be the original four, with Flea, Kiedis, Slovak then Jack Irons on drums? The brief window with The Weirdos’ Cliff Martinez on drums and Jack Sherman six stringing? What about the Frusciante records? The weird-as-fuck-but-still-exciting One Hot Minute version? Or this newest, more stable edition of the Chilis featuring Josh Klinghoffer? Or any other incarnation of the group? Much like legendary bands such as, say, Ministry or the Misfits, RHCP have earned the right to be bickered over by their legions of fans.
M is for… Mike Patton
Forever the stirrer of sonic and figurative shit, Faith No More’s Mike Patton ignited a feud with Kiedis that was, to be honest, one of the funniest beefs going. Kiedis accused Patton of ripping off his moves in Faith No More’s Epic video. Mikey remained schtum. But then Californication. Oh, Californication; slated for release on the same day as California by Mr. Bungle – Patton’s other band and the Chilis’ labelmates – the record reignited the feud. California was delayed and, by the alleged request of Kiedis, RHCP threatened to cancel a whole run of festival dates in 1998 because Mr. Bungle were also slated to perform. Bungle got dropped from the festivals and, in retort, the band performed a Halloween gig dressed as the Peppers, playing a RHCP medley and, er, pretending to inject themselves with heroin. We hear the relationship between Mike Patton and Kiedis may still be a bit frosty, although the Chilis did break into an impromptu snippet of FNM’s We Care A Lot in 2014.
N is for… Nudity
They’ve always got their bloody kit off, haven’t they? Even as they approach middle-age and beyond, the Chilis refuse to neuter their nip-flashing antics, proudly performing shirtless. Still, it’s not a patch on doing gigs with just socks on their knobs, but you’ve got to know when to stop.
O is for… One Hot Minute
The band’s only recorded effort with Jane’s Addiction axeman Dave Navarro, One Hot Minute saw the Chilis refute the sound of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, if only due to Navarro’s heavy metal influence. This was the heaviest disc since The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, but with a noticeable lack of funk and more focus on, well, the riffs – that’s what happens when you get Dave Navarro to play in your band. The record saw the first ever lead vocal from Flea on, er, Pea; a follow-up song, entitled Circle Of The Noose, was recorded after the album and leaked earlier this year, but it didn’t do much good for the band. They just weren’t compatible. The songs were still there but the mainstream was too rigid to accept this incarnation of the RHCP, which was perhaps a good thing, seeing as Navarro didn’t actually like jamming. You’re in the Chili Peppers, mate!
P is for… Politics
Although a lot of their music concerns sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and other random things we’re not quite sure about, RHCP have always been a fiercely political force, focusing in particular on the sordid state of our environment amidst other causes. They supported the Rock The Vote campaign all the way back in 1990; they’ve shown support and played at benefits for Al Gore, Barack Obama and, most recently, Bernie Sanders; oh, they also did a gig for the Dalai Lama.
Q is for… Quixoticelixer
A curious B-side from the Californication record, Quixoticelixer clearly shows the evolution of the Chilis while also glimpsing back to glory days. The first half is a mellow, very Californication track, featuring classic Kiedis verses and a beautiful vocal harmony on the chorus; then, about halfway through, the funk kicks you. But it’s restrained. Controlled. It’s not loose and rabid like old material, even featuring curious Beach Boys-esque backing vocals. It’s a crime this didn’t make the cut for the album.
R is for… Rick Rubin
Initially refusing to work with the Peppers due to their insane drug habits, Rubin turned down the opportunity to produce The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. A few years later, however, the enigmatic producer was enticed by the band’s cleaned-up act and shiny new Warner Bros. deal, twiddling the knobs on the classic Blood Sugar Sex Magik and every RHCP release up to and including I’m With You. Slipknot’s Corey Taylor claimed that Rubin is “overrated and overpaid”, but the Chili Peppers did all right, eh?
S is for… Smith, Chad
He might look like Will Ferrell, but the Peppers’ sticksman Chad Smith was initially seen as a wild card based on his audition. Why? His hair was too long. Since coming to their senses and giving Smith a job, the band have held onto one of the most sought-after musicians in the business; our Chad’s worked with everyone from Johnny Cash to, er, Jake Bugg. Aside from the various side-projects mentioned earlier, Smith spends some of his time in the education system, teaching music classes and delivering seminars to lower-ranked schools. Oh, and he had a drum-off with Will Ferrell for charity. What a lovely bloke.
T is for… Thornberry, Donnie
It’s Flea! Donnie’s played by fucking Flea!
U is for… Under The Bridge
A massive single for the Chilis, a wake-up call to the mainstream that they were missing a trick with this band and… well, the song’s about scoring drugs and harsh, incomprehensible loneliness, isn’t it? The chorus of "I don't ever want to feel like I did that day / Take me to the place I love" remains as haunting as it was upon release, as does the warbled choral section – featuring Frusciante’s mum! A departure from most material on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Kiedis hid the lyrics from bandmates until pushed by Rubin to give it a go; good job he did, looking back.
V is for… Video game
The video for Californication’s title-track is the Chilis’ most watched clip on YouTube and probably the band’s definitive piece of work, both in the context of their career and the world which it sat in. Depicting the band as video game characters – think sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto or Tony Hawk – the video has the Peppers get up to all sorts of mischief; Kiedis one-ups Axl Rose, swimming with sharks before surfing on one of the creatures’ backs; Flea saves a bear (the sweetheart); John runs through a porn set and Chad snowboards off a cliff and lands on a train. Obviously.
W is for… Woodstock 1994
The band may well be infamous for their Woodstock ’99 gig. They played Hendrix’s Fire. People started setting stuff on fire, but their appearance five years prior held much more significance for the Peppers. Their debut show with Navarro at 1994’s Woodstock festival saw the band dressed as giant lightbulbs – Navarro wasn’t cool with this – and ripping through Aeroplane, Pea and Warped from the upcoming One Hot Minute. And yes_. Lightbulbs._
X is for… XM, Sirius
Lithium, a channel on XM Sirius Radio, became Red Hot Chili Peppers Radio for an entire week on the run-up to The Getaway. Hosted by comedian and long-time chum Chris Rock – who, in 2012, also inducted the band into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame – Red Hot Chili Peppers Radio featured songs spanning the group’s entire discography, alongside influential tracks handpicked by the band themselves and exclusive, lavish commentaries on writing, recording and life on the road with the funky monks. Still, though. A week. Impressive.
Y is for… Yertle The Tertle
Culled from the closing throes of 1985’s Freaky Styley, Yertle The Tertle is a summation of the Chilis at that time: straight-up sonic strangeness, characterised by funky time signatures, Flea’s popping bass, yelped vocals and lyrical focus on weird shit like Dr. Seuss. Elsewhere on the record, Kiedis explores the legend of Flea, their Hollywood stamping ground and even devotes a song to Catholic schoolgirls. Won’t hear that sort of stuff on The Getaway, we assure you.
Z is for… Zephyr Song, The
The sonic personification of Marmite. The step from Californication that was, in the eyes of old RHCP fans, too far. The Zephyr Song is a sticky sweet, lovely little ditty that basically anyone in the possession of functioning ears will recognise. Hit or shit? Refresh your memory and decide for yourself, eh?