The Red Hot Chili peppers, also shortened to “The Chili Peppers” or abbreviated as “RHCP,” is an American rock band which emphasizes funk, as well as other elements from other genres such as alternative rock, psychedelic rock, rap rock, funk metal, and punk rock. Comprising of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, guitarist Hillel Slovak, drummer Jack Irons, and bassist Flea – this funk rock band formed in 1983 became one of the ’90s most recognizable groups. They had to go through the death of a member and departure of another to become a surprise success years after.
Formation and Early History
Heavily influenced by the Los Angeles punk music scene, school friends Anthony Kiedis, Michael Balzary (also known as Flea), Hillel Slovak, and Jack Irons formed Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem. While enrolled at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, they first performed at the Rhythm Lounge club to a crowd of about 30 people.
In 1983, the band changed its name to Red Hot Chili Peppers and played several shows at LA venues. That same year, their manager struck a record deal with EMI America and Enigma Records. However, Slovak and Irons were already committed to another band, What Is This? and this band snagged a record deal with MCA. Slovak and Irons quit Red Hot Chili Peppers to focus on the group, so Kiedis and Flea recruited drummer Cliff Martinez and Jack Sherman from Weirdos.
The band released their eponymous debut album in August 1984, and the band built a fan base, thanks to college radio and MTV. The band embarked on a tour, and while on it, the musical and lifestyle tension between Kiedis and Sherman complicated their transition between daily band life to concerts. Eventually, they fired Sherman in 1985, and Hillel Slovak rejoined, after quitting What Is This?
George Clinton produced the album Freaky Styley in 1985 and combined various punk and funk elements into the band’s repertoire that allowed their music to incorporate distinct styles. While recording the second album, The Chili Peppers were often indulged in heavy heroin use, which influenced the musical and lyrical direction of the album. It achieved little success and did not make an impression on any chart.
Drug Problems and Slovak’s Death
In 1986, The Chili Peppers worked with producer Keith Levene from PIL, since he shared their interest with drugs. Levene and Slovak put aside $2,000 of their budget for cocaine and heroin, creating a tension between the band members. Kiedis and Flea fired Martinez, but Irons unexpectedly rejoined the band. However, their attempts at recording the third album were halted due to their addiction, and Kiedis was briefly fired and entered drug rehab. After his release from the rehab, Kiedis rejoined the recording sessions, and the songs were formed quickly. The third album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, was released in 1987 and peaked at #148 on the Billboard 200.
However, this period marked severe drug addictions for Kiedis and Slovak. Both were often disappearing for days on end. Eventually, Slovak died from a heroin overdose in 1988 soon after the Uplift tour ended. Kiedis flew away and did not attend the funeral, and Irons left the band as he was devastated.
Band’s Lineup Change
After the Slovak’s passing and Kiedis’ and Irons’ leaving, the band needed new members. In 1988, the Chili Peppers hired DeWayne “BlackByrd McKnight as a guitarist and D.H. Peligro as the drummer. Kiedis re-entered rehab and finally confronted his grief after Slovak’s death. Soon after, he resumed his career with the band. McKnight was eventually fired after having a lack of chemistry with the band.
Peligro introduced guitarist and Chili Peppers fan John Frusciante to the band, and the latter performed his first show with the band in 1988. In November that year, the band fired Peligro due to alcohol and drug problems. They held open auditions and hired Chad Smith, who remained ever since.
Early ‘90’s Breakthrough
In 1989, the band released their third album entitled Mother’s Milk, which unexpectedly peaked at #52 on the US Billboard 200. Mother’s Milk was certified gold in 1990 and was the band’s first album to ship over 500,000 units.
After the success of their third album, the Chili Peppers left EMI and signed with Warner Bros. Records. This time, the band were healthier and more focused on their work. Their writing process for the next album was more productive, and by 1991, they have released Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The first single “Give It Away” became one of their best-known songs, and it won a Grammy Award for “Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal” in 1992. The second single “Under the Bridge” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The album itself sold over 12 million copies.
During the Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour, Frusciante was troubled by fame, which caused him to start a drug habit and isolate himself. He abruptly quit the band hours before a Japan tour in 1992. After launching auditions for the next guitarist, they hired Arik Marshall from Los Angeles Band. However, Marshall was easily dismissed in 1993 because he was too busy to attend rehearsals. Dave Navarro, from a recent split band Jane’s Addiction, eventually joined the Chili Peppers.
In 1995, the band released One Hot Minute after several delays. It was a darker, sadder record that incorporates heavy metal riffs and psychedelic rock. This album produced the Chili Peppers’ third #1 single, “My Friends.” The tour of the album started in Europe, but the US tour was postponed after Smith broke his wrist. Several shows were canceled as well, due to injuries, deteriorating band relationships, and drug use of Navarro and Kiedis. In 1998, Navarro left the band due to creative differences.
Return of Frusciante and Renewed Success
With no guitarist, the band was on the verge of breaking up. But in 1998, Flea convinced Frusciante to rejoin the band after he recovered from heroin addiction. Frusciante was happy to do so, and the next year, the band released their seventh studio album, Californication. It eventually became the most successful album of their career, as it sold over 16 million copies. It produced #1 rock hits such as “Californication,” “Scar Tissue,” and “Otherside.” Critics attributed the album’s success to Frusciante’s return and Kiedis’ vocal improvements. The album was supported by a two-year international world tour. The release and success of “Californication” helped cement John Frusciante’s status as one of The 10 Best Guitarists of the 1990s.
The Chili Peppers began writing their next album in 2001, immediately after the Californication tour. The album entitled By the Way was released in 2002. It was the band’s most subdued album, which focused on melodic ballads over rap and funk.
In 2006, the band released its ninth album, Stadium Arcadium. It was their first album to debut at #1 in the US charts and stayed there for two weeks. This album also won five Grammy awards. Their first single “Dani California” was the group’s fastest-selling single. For the world tour to support the album, Frusciante’s friend and collaborator Josh Klinghoffer joined touring the band.
After the last leg of their Stadium Arcadium tour, the band took an extended hiatus as they became worn out for years of non-stop work. In 2009, Frusciante left the Chili Peppers again so he can focus on his solo work. Klinghoffer replaced Frusciante for their tenth studio album.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers made a live comeback in 2010 to pay tribute to Neil Young. By 2011, the band has released a new album entitled I’m with You, and it topped the charts in 18 countries. The album was a success, as it gained them a nomination for a 2012 Grammy Award for Best Rock Album. In 2012, the band was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2016, the band released their eleventh album, The Getaway. It featured a single entitled “Dark Necessities,” in which actress Olivia Wilde directed the music video. The album made its debut at #2on the Billboard 200 chart.
The band was working on a new album in 2018, but the recording was delayed due to a benefit show. In 2019, Klinghoffer parted ways with the band, while Frusciante rejoined to take his place. In January 2020, the band confirmed that they had been working on new material with Frusciante. The full shows were scheduled for festivals in May but were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Few bands from the alternative rock era have thrived like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Undeniably, they created some of the most memorable and influential rock songs in history, including:
- Under the Bridge (1992)
- Californication (1999)
- Otherside (1999)
- My Friends (1995)
- Give It Away (1991)
- Knock Me Down (1989)
- Higher Ground (1989)
- By The Way (2002)
- Scar Tissue (1999)
- Snow (Hey Oh) (2006)
- Dani California (2006)
- Can’t Stop (2002)
- Soul to Squeeze (1993)
- Suck My Kiss (1991)
- Dark Necessities (2016)