At around the same time Kiedis and Flea were getting to know one another, fellow student Hillel Slovak was busy teaching himself guitar. Slovak's enthusiasm for KISS and Jimi Hendrix rubbed off on Flea, who, with some reluctance, took up the bass. By the time the three friends graduated in 1980, Slovak and Flea, along with drummer Jack Irons, had formed a band called Another School and were slogging it out on the L.A. club circuit. Meanwhile, Kiedis had begun taking classes at UCLA, although he occasionally found time between studies to act as Another School's M.C.
After leaving for a brief tenure with the hardcore band Fear, Flea reunited with Slovak and Irons in 1983. Appropriating a moniker used by Louis Armstrong's jazz quintet in the 1920s, the trio christened themselves the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and once again began making the rounds on the L.A. club circuit. During a particularly raucous performance, Kiedis joined the band on-stage, and immediately the chemistry between him and the group was apparent. Within six months, the Chili Peppers — now a foursome — had landed a contract with EMI.
Released in 1984, the Chili Peppers' eponymous debut (which was produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill) failed to generate much interest on the part of record buyers. The band's live performances, however, were another matter. Slovak and Irons, who had opted out of the band just before it entered the studio (they were replaced by Cliff Martinez and Jack Sherman), rejoined the group, and the new old lineup further tightened its blend of funk, punk, thrash, and rock. Often the group performed wearing nothing but strategically dangled tube socks, and in at least one instance, the band's relaxed policy regarding nudity garnered Kiedis a $1,000 fine for indecent exposure.
For its second album, the Chili Peppers enlisted P-Funk legend George Clinton to help accentuate the funkier side of the band. Titled Freaky Styley, the 1985 release further solidified the group's hybrid sound, but sales remained abysmal. More threatening to the group than its lackluster record sales, however, was the fact that both Kiedis and Slovak had begun to dabble in heroin. During a grueling tour in support of Freaky Styley, the drug habits of both men escalated.
With the release of The Uplift Mofo Party Plan in 1987, the Chili Peppers' commercial fortunes took a turn for the better. Though the album stalled at No. 148 on the Billboard charts (it was, in fact, the first release by the band to chart at all), when coupled with the Chilis' growing fan base the improved sales seemed to portend well for a major breakthrough. Following a tour of Europe, during which time Slovak and Kiedis supported one another's efforts to remain drug free, the band members went their separate ways for a brief respite prior to starting work on a new album. It was at this point that disaster struck.
On Friday, June 24, Slovak phoned his brother with the unsettling news that he was considering using heroin again. Despite his brother's efforts to dissuade him, Slovak succumbed to his old habit, with horrific consequences. On the following Monday, police discovered that Slovak had died from a lethal combination of cocaine and heroin.
Devastated, Kiedis decided the time had come to address his own substance abuse in a serious manner, and he retreated first to Mexico, and then to a rehab center in California. Irons, fearful that Kiedis was hurtling toward the same fate as Slovak, opted to leave the band entirely. (He subsequently became the drummer for Pearl Jam.) Ultimately, however, Kiedis and Flea decided to carry on, and in 1989 the two set about finding replacements for Slovak and Irons. John Frusciante was a quick choice as guitarist, and, after a series of auditions, Chad Smith was selected to fill Irons' shoes.
Released in September 1989, Mother's Milk left no doubt that the retooled Chili Peppers was a force to be reckoned with. On the strength of hits such as "Knock Me Down" and "Higher Ground" (a cover of the Stevie Wonder single), the album became the band's first gold album. After signing to Warner Brothers, the group began work on a follow-up, with ace producer Rick Rubin at the helm. Aided by heavy rotation on MTV, 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik broke the band in a big way, with songs like the propulsive "Give It Away" and the ballad "Under the Bridge" giving full range to the group's songwriting skills. In addition to reaching platinum status, the album earned the Chilis their first Grammy Award.
Just as the Chili Peppers seemed at the height of their powers, however, personnel troubles once again threatened to shatter the band. Disenchanted with the group's success, Frusciante distanced himself from the other members and became progressively less communicative. On May 7, 1992, shortly after the news came that the Chilis would be headlining Lollapalooza that summer, Frusciante announced that he was quitting. For the next two years, the band relied on a revolving door of guitarists — including Arik Marshall, Zander Schloss, and Jesse Tobias — to see them through a series of tours. Meanwhile, Frusciante retreated home to L.A. and embarked on his own descent into heroin addiction.
With the addition of former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro as a more or less permanent member, the Chili Peppers started work on a new album in late 1994. Released in August 1995, One Hot Minute went platinum in a mere two months, but the making the album had been an arduous process. Unlike Frusciante, whose jam-oriented approach to songwriting meshed perfectly with the rest of the band, Navarro preferred working out his guitar parts with a meticulous precision that required solitude. Despite some splendid moments together — including a triumphant appearance at the Woodstock '94 festival and a No. 1 cover of the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster" — the alliance between Navarro and the other Chili Peppers seemed tenuous from the start.
Meanwhile, Flea had kept in touch with Frusciante throughout the guitarist's bout with heroin addiction. In August 1997, a group of friends convinced Frusciante to enter rehab, and the guitarist emerged free of his habit. The following April, after discussing the idea with Kiedis and Smith, Flea asked Frusciante if he would be interested in reuniting with the Chili Peppers. The guitarist leapt at the proposition, and a year later the group entered the studio to begin work on a new collection of songs. The resulting album, Californication, was released on June 7 to mostly favorable reviews.
The summer of 1999 found the reunited Peppers touring in Europe, with a couple of dates in California and a July appearance at the now-infamous Woodstock '99 debacle in Rome, N.Y. The Peppers then spent the early part of 2000 touring extensively in promotion of Californication with the Foo Fighters as the opening act. That fall found the revamped band experiencing one of its greatest triumphs to date. At September's MTV Video Music Awards — where all four members showed up sporting fresh mohawks — they not only won two awards, but were also honored with the 2000 Video Vanguard Award for their body of work.
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