From California to the world. This is how simplified and at the same time huge is the parable of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who are celebrating 40 years of career and for several decades have been one of the most important stadium rock bands on the planet. Cultivators of an energy as funk as punk, their journey is full of encounters, disagreements, comings and goings, addictions, death and many classics that will remain forever and are still being sung.
What began in the downtime at school and early experiences in other bands ended up becoming a lifestyle for all of them: vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Michael Peter Balzary, better known as Flea; drummer Jack Irons and guitarist Hillel Slovak, who by dint of attitude and power immediately became entertainers on the Los Angeles underground circuit. That was the initial formation of the group that, however, disintegrated when they signed their first record contract.
Irons and Slovak decided to return to their seminal group called What Is This?, while the other two brought in drummer Cliff Martinez and guitarist Jack Sherman to shape the debut titled The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The album came out in 1984, it didn’t sell much and its presentation tour wasn’t a success either. The tensions in the recording with Sherman caused him to be expelled shortly after and Slovak returned to take charge of the guitar.
Only on the group’s third album, titled The Uplift Mofo Party Plan and released in 1987, would the original formation of the Peppers coincide for the first and only time: prior to its recording, Irons had also returned. But things were far from ideal. Kiedis and Slovak were addicted to heroin, and their moods and willingness to work were extremely volatile. After having spoiled a pre-production session by entering the studio asleep, the singer was expelled from the group with the order that he recover, that he begin the necessary rehabilitation to put himself in order a bit.
In that rehab, Anthony worked to get better, admitting it was the first time he had “been sober since I was 11 years old.” The singer had been introduced to alcohol and cannabis early and at that point in his life, almost 25 years old, his health was far from ideal. Being clean encouraged him and inspired him to write “Fight Like a Brave”, the song that opens the album in question and at the same time one of the hits from that work. Despite the fact that with The Uplift…they were improving their streak and growing as a band, tragedy was just around the corner.
During the tour, both Kiedis and Slovak suffered withdrawal symptoms when they decided to stop using heroin. But the guitarist couldn’t stand it and he left the group in the middle of the tour. Back in the United States, the rest of the Peppers tried to contact Hillel but he did not answer the phone: on June 27, 1988 he was found dead by the police in his apartment located in Hollywood. According to the subsequent autopsy, he had overdosed on heroin. With the tragedy fresh and the group in shock, Jack Irons decided to leave the Red Hot, never to return.
After dueling, the band called on John Frusciante and Chad Smith to fill the guitar and drum positions, respectively. In this way, the most classic and iconic formation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers was assembled: the one that recorded their best albums.
After the auspicious Mother’s Milk (1989), the first milestone would come. Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released on September 24, 1991 and became a classic as grunge fever spread around the world: Nirvana’s Nevermind was released the same day, and Pearl Jam’s Ten had come out almost a month before. . The Californians were different: exuberant, sexual, sweaty, melancholic, crossed by death and definitely more verbose compared to their predecessors. But what stands out most is Frusciante’s inventiveness and style on guitar, a trademark that made many of the album’s tunes immortal.
“Give It Away”, “Suck My Kiss”, “If You Have to Ask” and “Breaking the Girl” were four of the five singles from the album. The rest was “Under the Bridge”, which concentrates in a few minutes the recent past -up to that moment- of Kiedis. One night, returning from the studio where they were recording the album, a feeling of melancholy invaded the singer and he mentally reviewed his days of addiction.
At that moment, he remembered an episode that he marked as “the lowest point of my life”, according to what he recounted in his autobiography Scar Tissue. “When I got home, I took out my notebook and wrote everything down as if it were a song even though it was meant to be a poem to deal with my own heartbreak,” she wrote.
“I had a friend named Mario. He was an ex-con from the Mexican Mafia. He and I would wander the streets of downtown Los Angeles looking for our next fix. One particular afternoon, it was very hot and I had been up for days. He and I had found what we were looking for and we went to this bridge that is in the center of Los Angeles in this ghetto. There was a highway bridge and there was a little passage that you had to cross and only certain members of this Mexican gang, who were all ex-convicts, could go there,” Kiedis said.
“They let me in because Mario said that I was dating his sister, which was a lie just so we could go in there,” he recalled. As for what led him to write “Under The Bridge,” he stated, “I felt like I had wasted so much in my life, but I also felt an unspoken link between me and my city. I had spent so much time wandering the streets of Los Angeles and walking the Hollywood Hills that I felt that there was a non-human entity, perhaps the spirit of the hills and the city, that was watching me and watching over me. Even if I was a loner in my own band, at least I still felt the presence of the city I lived in.”
Blood Sugar Sex Magik has sold almost 20 million copies worldwide and, with such a success, it was worth the band to go out to eat the globe. However, tensions were the order of the day and Frusciante left the group in the middle of the tour they were carrying out in 1992, affected by the event the group was experiencing. For him, things would not get better, as in the time that followed he developed a heroin addiction that left him destitute and on the brink of death.
At the end of 1997, he entered a rehabilitation clinic and in April of the following year, already recovered, he received an invitation to return to the group. From there he began to cook the second great success of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and by the hand of Rick Rubin, who had produced them in Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Californication was released in June 1999 and was the successor to the discreet One Hot Minute, which the group had recorded with guitarist Dave Navarro. This album was the second great hit that the band gave in the 90s and with which they would once again be at the top of the sales charts, both for tickets and records. To work on it, they set up a sonic laboratory in which improvisation was the guiding guide: they spent a lot of time together jamming and imagining lyrics, with the enthusiasm of a new band that wears out strings in a garage but reconfigures itself to get back on top.
From the album, the singles “Scar Tissue”, “Around the World”, “Otherside” and “Road Trippin’” stand out, all with the classic pulse of the group but from a more catchy pop perspective. But the one that broke all kinds of records was the eponymous track “Californication”, a song that was about to be left out of work.
“Californication” was the most difficult song for the band when it came to finishing it and they decided to discard it. Based on Californian life and Hollywood fakeness, the lyrics came about after Kiedis’ trip to Thailand. Back in the studio, he felt the music didn’t go with the story and tasked Frusciante with fixing it. He almost didn’t get it, but about the hour, just before they went in to record it, he hit on the right riff and had to teach the band how to play it. Thus, they managed to round off one of their biggest hits.
Recently and almost 25 years after its publication, the video clip for “Californication” -remembered for simulating a GTA-style video game-, has more than one billion views on YouTube and reached a daily average of 290,000 visits on that social network. .
The lucky stars of Californication paved this new success for the group, which undertook bigger and bigger tours. In this plan, it was succeeded by By The Way (2002) and the double Stadium Arcadium (2006), with which they extended the streak. Around 2009, John Frusciante would once again leave the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the intention of devoting himself fully to his prolific solo career. He was replaced by Josh Klinghoffer, who made his first recording appearance on I’m With You until he remained in the band for the next 10 years.
In 2019, Frusciante would return to the group that in 2022 was reactivated in the recording aspect and twice: in April they released Unlimited Love and in October they came out with the double Return of the Dream Canteen, consolidating a total of 34 new songs that emerged from them. sessions and with which large doses of energy were injected to continue.
By 2023, the group already has scheduled functions in Oceania, Japan, Mexico, the United States and Europe. In addition, they are expected to arrive in South America to continue celebrating their 40 years on the road. “We have to be really good at playing these songs live and then it depends on the emotional health of the band. The tour is one of the great tests of survival and we will see what happens. I am always optimistic and I see no reason to stop doing what we are doing, ”Kiedis sealed in one of his last interviews.