Red Hot Chili Peppers are an American rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1983. The group’s musical style primarily consists of rock with an emphasis on funk, as well as elements from other genres such as punk rock and psychedelic rock. When played live, their music incorporates elements of jam band due to the improvised nature of many of their performances. Currently, the band consists of founding members vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea (Michael Peter Balzary), longtime drummer Chad Smith, and former touring guitarist Josh Klinghoffer.
Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the best-selling bands of all time with over 80 million records sold worldwide, they have been nominated for sixteen Grammy Awards, of which they have won six, and are the most successful band in alternative rock radio history, currently holding the records for most number-one singles (13), most cumulative weeks at number one (85) and most top-ten songs (25) on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. In 2012, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The band’s original lineup, originally named Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem, featured guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons, alongside Kiedis and Flea. Because of commitments to other bands, Slovak and Irons did not play on the band’s 1984 self-titled debut album. Slovak performed on the second and third albums, Freaky Styley (1985) and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987), but he died from a heroin overdose in 1988. As a result of his friend’s death, Irons chose to leave the group. After short-lived replacements on guitar and drums, John Frusciante and Smith joined in 1988. The lineup of Flea, Kiedis, Frusciante, and Smith was the longest-lasting and recorded five studio albums beginning with Mother’s Milk (1989). In 1990, the group signed with Warner Bros. Records and recorded the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) under producer Rick Rubin. This album became the band’s first major commercial success, but Frusciante grew uncomfortable with the band’s popularity and left abruptly in 1992 in the middle of the Blood Sugar Sex Magik Tour.
Red Hot Chili Peppers were formed in Los Angeles by singer Anthony Kiedis, guitarist Hillel Slovak, bassist Flea, and drummer Jack Irons, all of whom were classmates from Fairfax High School. Originally going under the band name of Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem, their first performance was at the Rhythm Lounge club to a crowd of approximately 30 people, opening for Gary and Neighbor’s Voices. Inspired by punk funk acts like The Contortions and Defunkt, they “wrote” for the occasion, which involved the band improvising music while Kiedis rapped a poem he had written called “Out in L.A.”. At the time, Slovak and Irons were already committed to another group, What Is This? however, the performance was so lively, that the band was asked to return the following week. Due to this unexpected success, the band changed its name to Red Hot Chili Peppers, playing several more shows at various LA clubs and musical venues. Six songs from these initial shows were on the band’s first demo tape.
In November 1983, manager Lindy Goetz struck a seven-album deal with EMI America and Enigma Records. Two weeks earlier however, What Is This? had also obtained a record deal with MCA. Slovak and Irons still considered the Red Hot Chili Peppers as only a side project and so in December 1983 they quit to focus on What Is This?. Instead of dissolving the band, Kiedis and Flea recruited new members. Cliff Martinez, a friend of Flea’s and member from the punk band, The Weirdos, was the new replacement for Irons. The band held auditions for a new guitarist but decided after a few practices that Weirdos guitarist Dix Denney did not fit. Kiedis described the two final candidates, Mark Nine and Jack Sherman, respectively as a “hip avant-garde art school refugee” and a nerd looking guy with a combed-back Jewfro with an unknown background. Musically Sherman clicked right away with Flea and Martinez and was hired as Slovak’s replacement.
The band released their eponymous debut album, The Red Hot Chili Peppers in August 1984. Though the album did not set sales records, airplay on college radio and MTV helped to build a fan base, and the album ultimately sold 300,000 copies. Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill, who produced the album “didn’t embrace [the band’s] musical aesthetic or ideology, argued constantly with the band over the record’s sound.” Kiedis recalled, that “Andy’s thing was having a hit at all costs, but it was such a mistake to have an agenda.” Despite the misgivings of Kiedis and Flea, Gill pushed the band to play with a cleaner, crisper, more radio-friendly sound. The band was disappointed in the record’s overall sound, feeling it was overly polished and as if it had “gone through a sterilizing Goody Two-shoes machine”. The album included backing vocals by Gwen Dickey, the singer for the successful 1970s disco funk group Rose Royce. The band embarked on a grueling tour during which they performed sixty shows in sixty-four days. During the tour, continuing musical and lifestyle tension between Kiedis and Sherman complicated the transition between concert and daily band life. When the tour ended in October 1984, Sherman was fired. Hillel Slovak, who had just quit What Is This?, would re-join the band in early 1985.
George Clinton produced the next album, Freaky Styley (1985). Clinton combined various elements of punk and funk into the band’s repertoire, allowing their music to incorporate a variety of distinct styles. The album featured Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley on many of the album’s tracks. The band often indulged in heavy heroin use while recording the album, which influenced the lyrics and musical direction of the album. The band had a much better relationship with Clinton than with Gill, but Freaky Styley, released on August 16, 1985, also achieved little success, failing to make an impression on any chart. The subsequent tour was also considered unproductive by the band. Despite the lack of success, the band was satisfied with Freaky Styley; Kiedis reflected, that “it so surpassed anything we thought we could have done that we were thinking we were on the road to enormity.” The band appeared in the 1986 skate movie Thrashin’ (directed by David Winters and starring Josh Brolin) playing the song “Blackeyed Blonde” from Freaky Styley. During this time the band also appeared in the movie Tough Guys starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas performing the song “Set It Straight” at a Los Angeles nightclub.
In spring 1986, the band decided to begin work on their upcoming album. EMI gave the band a budget of $5,000 to record a demo tape, and the band chose to work with producer Keith Levene from PIL, because he shared the band’s interest in drugs. Levene and Slovak decided to put aside $2,000 of the budget to spend on heroin and cocaine, which created tension between the band members. Martinez’ “heart was no longer in the band”, but he did not quit, so Kiedis and Flea fired him. After the firing of Martinez in April 1986, original drummer Jack Irons rejoined the band to Kiedis, Flea, and Slovak’s great surprise, which marked the first time all four founding members were together since 1983. During the recording and subsequent tour of Freaky Styley, Kiedis and Slovak were dealing with debilitating heroin addictions. Due to his addiction, Kiedis “didn’t have the same drive or desire to come up with ideas or lyrics” and appeared at rehearsal “literally asleep”.
For the band’s third album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987), the Chili Peppers attempted to hire Rick Rubin to produce the album but he declined due to the band’s increasing drug problems. The band eventually hired Michael Beinhorn from the art funk project Material who was the band’s last choice to be their producer. The band’s early attempts at recording the album were halted due to Kiedis’ worsening drug problems which were so bad that the band briefly fired him. Beinhorn said the band went through hell recording The Uplift Mofo Party Plan due to Kiedis’ drug issues and that he was the one tasked to fire Kiedis. Following the band winning the LA Weekly “Band of the Year Award”, Kiedis was prompted to get clean in order to continue making music. Kiedis called his mother in Michigan for guidance and she promptly sent him to drug rehabilitation. After being in Michigan for a month, Kiedis called Flea to inform him that he was attending meetings and going cold turkey, no longer getting high. Kiedis said he was informed by Flea that they had auditioned singers and that one was hired but he could tell by Flea’s voice that they were not happy with him. A few days later, Kiedis received a phone call from Flea asking him “Do you think you’d want to come back here and maybe play a couple of songs and see how it feels to be back in the band?” Kiedis agreed to return and felt a “whole new wave of enthusiasm” due to his sobriety and wrote the lyrics to “Fight Like a Brave” on the plane ride home.
Kiedis rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Los Angeles to record The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Kiedis sat down with Michael Beinhorn to discuss the recording of the album; Kiedis planned to record the album in ten days and write the songs during the recording sessions. Songs began to form quickly, and the album took shape, blending the same funk feel and rhythms as Freaky Styley, with a harder, more immediate approach to punk rock. The album was recorded in the basement of the Capitol Records Building. The recording process for the album was difficult; Kiedis would frequently disappear to seek drugs. After fifty days of sobriety, Kiedis decided to take drugs again to celebrate his new music. His drug use “made a mess of the early recording process”, but the band still had an enjoyable time recording the album. The band was musically inspired by the return of their original drummer Jack Irons, who added “such an important and different element to our chemistry.” Slovak helped Kiedis record his vocals on the album. In between takes, Slovak would run around the studio out of excitement and say “This is the most beautiful thing we’ve ever done.”
In September 1987, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan was released, becoming their first album to appear on any chart. Although it peaked at only No. 148 on the Billboard 200, this was a significant success compared to the first two. During this period however, Kiedis and Slovak had both developed serious drug addictions, often abandoning the band, each other, and their significant others for days on end. Slovak’s addiction led to his death from a heroin overdose on June 25, 1988, not long after the conclusion of the Uplift tour. Kiedis fled the city and did not attend Slovak’s funeral (referenced in the song “This Is the Place” from 2002’s By the Way), considering the situation to be surreal and dreamlike. After returning to L.A. following his departure after Slovak’s death, Kiedis, Flea, Irons and manager Lindy Goetz had a meeting to figure out what to do next. Irons decided he had to leave the group, saying that he did not want to be part of a group where his friends were dying. Irons, who would battle through years of depression, went on to become a member of Seattle grunge band Pearl Jam many years later. With Slovak dead and Irons quitting, Kiedis and Flea debated whether they should continue making music, but ultimately decided to move ahead, hoping to continue what Slovak “helped build.”
After losing two of the original band members, Flea and Kiedis started looking for musicians to fill those spots. Shortly after Irons’ departure they chose as Slovak’s replacement DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight, former member of Parliament-Funkadelic and who at one point briefly filled in for Slovak, when he was temporarily fired. D. H. Peligro of the punk rock outfit Dead Kennedys replaced Irons. Kiedis and Flea had been friends of Peligro for many years and even had a joke band together called Three Little Butt Hairs. With a new lineup set, Kiedis decided to enter rehab to fix his drug problem. Kiedis entered a rehab facility in Van Nuys called ASAP. After two weeks into Kiedis’ rehab he was taken by his counselor, Bob Timmons, to finally visit Slovak’s grave. Kiedis had no desire to be there; however, Timmons urged him to talk to Slovak. Within minutes, Kiedis had opened up and could not stop crying. Thirty days later, Kiedis left rehab and was ready to resume his career with the band. Three dates into the tour, McKnight was fired, because the chemistry was not there with the other three. McKnight was with the band long enough to record one song, “Blues For Meister” (drums were performed by Jack Irons – bass and drums were recorded before Slovak’s death), a song sung by Flea. McKnight was so unhappy about being fired he threatened to burn down Kiedis’ house.
Shortly after McKnight’s firing, Peligro introduced Kiedis and Flea to a teenage guitarist named John Frusciante. Kiedis actually had met Frusciante a year earlier outside of one of the band’s shows. Frusciante was originally directed to audition for the band Thelonious Monster, but Kiedis said that he knew right away that Frusciante would be in his band. An avid Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, Frusciante was, according to Flea, “a really talented and knowledgeable musician. He [Frusciante] knows all the shit I don’t know. I basically know nothing about music theory and he’s studied it to death, inside and out. He’s a very disciplined musician—all he cares about are his guitar and his cigarettes.” Frusciante performed his first show with the band in September 1988. The new lineup immediately began writing music for the next album and went on a short tour dubbed the Turd Town Tour, although in November, Kiedis and Flea felt the need to fire drummer Peligro due to his own drug and alcohol problems. Much like McKnight, Peligro did not take the news well. Flea stayed in bed for days after making the decision. Years later, Kiedis said firing Peligro was one of the toughest things the band ever had to do, although Kiedis became a major part of Peligro’s road to sobriety, which began right after he was fired.
The Chili Peppers were again without a drummer and were forced to hold open auditions. Denise Zoom, a friend of the band, suggested Chad Smith, claiming he was the best drummer she had ever seen. The band agreed to audition Smith, but he was late and the last drummer to audition. Kiedis recalled the first time he saw Smith by saying, “I spied this big lummox walking down the street with a really bad Guns N’ Roses hairdo and clothes that were not screaming I’ve got style”. Smith was a six-foot three-inch tall drummer who, according to Flea, “lit a fire under our asses”. From the moment they started jamming, Smith and Flea instantly found chemistry. Kiedis said the audition with Smith “left the band in a state of frenzied laughter, that we couldn’t shake out of for a half an hour”. Smith was so much different from the other three. Kiedis, Flea and Frusciante were heavily influenced by punk rock, whereas Smith’s taste in heavy metal music and his biker appearance contrasted with their punk rock views. Kiedis informed Smith he would be hired on one condition: as an initiation to the band, Smith had to cut his long hair. He refused, though Kiedis was not about to argue with the much larger Smith. Smith was hired as the band’s fourth drummer in December 1988.
Unlike the stop-start sessions for The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987), where Kiedis would frequently disappear to seek drugs, pre-production for Mother’s Milk (1989) went smoothly. The band recorded basic tracks during March and early April 1989 at Hully Gully studios in Silver Lake; songs like “Knock Me Down” were formed from jam sessions without any input from returning producer Michael Beinhorn while “Sexy Mexican Maid”, “Stone Cold Bush” and “Taste the Pain” (which was recorded prior to Smith joining and features Fishbone drummer Philip “Fish” Fisher) were written with Peligro. Although there had been stress and conflict during the recording of other Chili Peppers albums, the Mother’s Milk sessions were especially uncomfortable due to Beinhorn’s incessant desire to create a hit. Frusciante and Kiedis were frustrated with the producer’s attitude. In the same month, the Chili Peppers embarked on a short tour to break in the new lineup.
The band’s mix of hard rock, funk and hip hop has been recognized as being influential to genres such as funk metal, rap metal, rap rock and nu metal. In a 2002 interview with Penthouse, Anthony Kiedis stated “We were early in creating the combination of hardcore funk with hip-hop-style vocals. We became, maybe, an inspiration to Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Linkin Park – all these other bands that are doing that now.”
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame In April 2012. The induction lineup was Kiedis, Flea, Smith, Klinghoffer, Frusciante, Slovak (who was represented by his brother James), Irons and Martinez; Frusciante did not attend, though he was invited. Dave Navarro and Jack Sherman were not inducted; Sherman said he felt “dishonored”. The band performed three songs; “By the Way”, “Give it Away” and “Higher Ground”, which included Irons and Martinez on drums. It was the first time Kiedis and Flea had performed with Irons in 24 years and Martinez in 26 years.
- Anthony Kiedis – lead vocals (1983–present)
- Flea – bass, backing vocals, trumpet, piano (1983–present)
- Chad Smith – drums, percussion (1988–present)
- Josh Klinghoffer – lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals, piano, keyboards, bass (2009–present), rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards (touring 2007–2009)
- John Frusciante – guitar, backing vocals, keyboards (1988–1992, 1998–2009)
- Hillel Slovak − guitar, backing vocals (1983, 1984–1988;his death)
- Dave Navarro − guitar, backing vocals (1993–1998)
- Jack Irons − drums, percussion, backing vocals (1983, 1986–1988)
- Jack Sherman − guitar, backing vocals (1983–1984)
- Cliff Martinez − drums, percussion (1983–1986)
- DeWayne McKnight − guitar (1988)
- D.H. Peligro − drums, percussion (1988)
- Arik Marshall − guitar (1992–1993)
- Jesse Tobias − guitar (1993)
80s Studio albums
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984)
- Freaky Styley (1985)
- The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987)
- Mother’s Milk (1989)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers 1983 Tour (1983)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers 1984 Tour (1984)
- Freaky Styley Tour (1985–86)
- The Uplift Mofo Party Tour (1987–88)
- Turd Town Tour (1988)
- Mother’s Milk Tour (1989–90)