Red Hot Chili Peppers
Biography by Greg Prato
Few rock groups of the '80s broke down as many musical barriers and were as original as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Creating an intoxicating new musical style by combining funk and punk rock together (with an explosive stage show, to boot), the Chili Peppers spawned a slew of imitators in their wake, but still managed to be the leaders of the pack by the dawn of the 21st century. The roots of the band lay in a friendship forged by three school chums, Anthony Kiedis, Michael Balzary, and Hillel Slovak, while they attended Fairfax High School in California back in the late '70s/early '80s. While Balzary and Slovak showed great musical promise (on trumpet and guitar, respectively), Kiedis focused on poetry and acting during his high school career. During this time, Slovak taught Balzary how to play bass, while the duo encouraged Kiedis to start putting his poetry to music, which he soon did. Influenced heavily by the burgeoning L.A. punk scene (the Germs, Black Flag, Fear, Minutemen, X, etc.) as well as funk (Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & the Family Stone, etc.), the trio began to rehearse with another friend, drummer Jack Irons, leading to the formation of Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem, a group that played strip bars along the sunset strip during the early '80s. It was during this time that the quartet honed their sound and live act (as they stumbled across a stage gimmick that would soon become their trademark -- performing on stage completely naked, except for a tube sock covering a certain part of their anatomy). By 1983, Balzary had begun to go by the name "Flea," and the group changed their name to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Word spread quickly about the up-and-coming band, resulting in a recording contract with EMI. But before the Chili Peppers could begin work on their debut, Flea and Kiedis were dealt a disappointing blow when both Slovak and Irons announced that they were leaving to focus more on another band they were in, What Is This. With replacement members Jack Sherman (guitar) and Cliff Martinez (drums) filling in, the Peppers released their self-titled debut in 1984. But the absence of the two original members showed, as the album failed to capture the excitement of their live show. While the album didn't set the world on fire sales-wise, the group began to build a dedicated underground following with college radio buffs. By 1985, What Is This was kaput (after issuing a single self-titled album), as Slovak and Irons returned back to the Peppers, resulting in the George Clinton-produced Freaky Styley. While the album was an improvement over its predecessor, it still lacked the fire of the band's in-concert experience, a problem that would finally be solved with their next album, 1987's The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. The album was the group's first to make an impression on the charts, and they followed it up a year later with stopgap five-track release, The Abbey Road EP, in 1988. But just as the world was warming up to the Peppers, tragedy struck when Slovak died from a heroin overdose on June 25, 1988.
In the wake of Slovak's death, Irons left the group for the second and final time, while Kiedis (who was also battling drug addiction at the time) and Flea decided to soldier on. After a new lineup consisting of former Parliament guitarist Blackbird McKnight and former Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro didn't work out, the duo found worthy replacements in newcomers John Frusciante and Chad Smith. The new-look Chili Peppers hit pay dirt straight away, as their first album together, 1989's Mother's Milk, became a surprise hit due to MTV's exposure of their videos for a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and a song about their fallen friend Slovak, "Knock Me Down," as the album was certified gold by early 1990. The group knew that their next release would be the most important one of their career, so they moved into a mansion-turned-recording studio with producer Rick Rubin to work on what would become their most successful release yet, the stripped down Blood Sugar Sex Magik (their first for the Warner Bros label). The album became a monster hit upon it's September 1991 release (going on to eventually sell a staggering seven million copies in the U.S. alone), as it spawned such hits as "Give It Away" and the group's first Top Ten single, "Under the Bridge."
But not all was well in the Chili Peppers camp. Like his predecessor, Frusciante had become addicted to hard drugs, and abruptly left the band mid-tour in early 1992. Undeterred, the band enlisted new member Arik Marshall, and headlined Lollapalooza II in the summer. When the band returned to the studio to work on their sixth release overall, it quickly became apparent that Marshall didn't fit in, and was replaced by Jesse Tobias. But before Tobias could record a note with the group, he was handed his walking papers as well, and former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro signed on. After a lay-off of four years, the Peppers' much-delayed follow-up to BSSM was released in 1995, One Hot Minute. While the album was a sizeable hit, it failed to match the success and musical focus of its predecessor, as it became apparent during the album's ensuing tour that Navarro wasn't fitting in as well as originally hoped, and left the band in early 1998.
After Frusciante had left the group, he released a pair of obscure solo releases, 1995's Niandra Ladies and Usually Just a T-Shirt and 1997's Smile From the Streets You Hold, yet rumors circulated that the guitarist was homeless, penniless, and sickly with a death-defying drug habit. After checking himself into rehab and putting his demons behind him, Frusciante emerged once again re-focused and re-energized, and promptly accepted an invitation to rejoin the Peppers once more. The group's reunion album, 1999's Californication, proved to be another monster success, reconfirming the Chili Peppers as one of alternative rock's top bands. The band put in a quick guest appearance on Fishbone's Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx before hitting the road to support the album. The following months found the band getting involved in bizarre situations and controversies. First, their refusal to play songs from One Hot Minute during the tour was an unpopular decision with some fans and a sore spot for Dave Navarro. Next, they reignited a personal feud between Kiedis and Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton by refusing to play a series of European concerts with Bungle. Patton responded with a "tribute" show for the Peppers, where Bungle mocked their stage moves, faked shooting up heroin, and imitated Kiedis's comments about Patton. They also played the ill-fated Woodstock '99 festival, where their headlining performance was met with piles of burning rubble and a full-scale riot. Tours with the Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam brought them into the next year without problems, but they stepped off the road after a planned stop in Israel was haulted due to security worries. They returned to the studio in November of 2001 and by the summer of 2002 they had a new album ready to drop, By the Way.
Guns N Roses
Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Greg Prato
At a time when pop was dominated by dance music and pop-metal, Guns N' Roses brought raw, ugly rock & roll crashing back into the charts. They were not nice boys; nice boys don't play rock & roll. They were ugly, misogynist, and violent; they were also funny, vulnerable, and occasionally sensitive, as their breakthrough hit, "Sweet Child O' Mine," showed. While Slash and Izzy Stradlin ferociously spit out dueling guitar riffs worthy of Aerosmith or the Stones, Axl Rose screeched out his tales of sex, drugs, and apathy in the big city. Meanwhile, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler were a limber rhythm section who kept the music loose and powerful. Guns N' Roses' music was basic and gritty, with a solid hard, bluesy base; they were dark, sleazy, dirty, and honest -- everything that good hard rock and heavy metal should be. There was something refreshing about a band who could provoke everything from devotion to hatred, especially since both sides were equally right. There hadn't been a hard rock band this raw or talented in years, and they were given added weight by Axl Rose's primal rage, the sound of confused, frustrated white trash vying for his piece of the pie. As the '80s became the '90s, there simply wasn't a more interesting band around, but owing to intra-band friction and the emergence of alternative rock, Rose's supporting cast gradually disintegrated, as he spent several years in seclusion.
Guns N' Roses released their first EP in 1986, which led to a contract with Geffen; the following year, the band released their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. They started to build a following with their numerous live shows, but the album didn't start selling until almost a year later, when MTV started playing "Sweet Child o' Mine." Soon, both the album and single shot to number one, and Guns N' Roses became one of the biggest bands in the world. Their debut single, "Welcome to the Jungle," was re-released and shot into the Top Ten, and "Paradise City" followed in its footsteps. By the end of 1988, they released G N' R Lies, which paired four new, acoustic-based songs (including the Top Five hit "Patience") with their first EP. G N' R Lies' inflammatory closer, "One in a Million," sparked intense controversy, as Axl Rose slipped into misogyny, bigotry, and pure violence; essentially, he somehow managed to distill every form of prejudice and hatred into one five-minute tune.
Guns N' Roses began work on the long-awaited follow-up to Appetite for Destruction at the end of 1990. In October of that year, the band fired Adler, claiming that his drug dependency caused him to play poorly; he was replaced by Matt Sorum from the Cult. During recording, the band added Dizzy Reed on keyboards. By the time the sessions were finished, the new album had become two new albums. After being delayed for nearly a year, the albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II were released in September 1991. Messy but fascinating, the albums showcased a more ambitious band; while there were still a fair number of full-throttle guitar rockers, there were stabs at Elton John-style balladry, acoustic blues, horn sections, female backup singers, ten-minute art rock epics with several different sections, and a good number of introspective, soul-searching lyrics. In short, they were now making art; amazingly, they were successful at it. The albums sold very well initially, but while they had seemed destined to set the pace for the decade to come, that turned out not to be the case at all.
Nirvana's Nevermind hit number one in early 1992, suddenly making Guns N' Roses -- with all of their pretensions, impressionistic videos, models, and rock star excesses -- seem very uncool. Rose handled the change by becoming a dictator, or at least a petty tyrant; his in-concert temper tantrums became legendary, even going so far as to incite a riot in Montreal. Stradlin left by the end of 1991, and with his departure the band lost their best songwriter; he was replaced by ex-Kill for Thrills guitarist Gilby Clarke. The band didn't fully grasp the shift in hard rock until 1993, when they released an album of punk covers, The Spaghetti Incident?; it received some good reviews, but the band failed to capture the reckless spirit of not only the original versions, but their own Appetite for Destruction. By the middle of 1994, there were rumors flying that the band was about to break up, since Rose wanted to pursue a new, more industrial direction and Slash wanted to stick with their blues-inflected hard rock. The band remained in limbo for several more years, and Slash resurfaced in 1995 with the side project Slash's Snakepit and an LP, It's Five O'Clock Somewhere.
Rose remained out of the spotlight, becoming a virtual recluse and doing nothing but tinkering in the studio; he also recruited various musicians -- including Dave Navarro, Tommy Stinson, and ex-Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck -- for informal jam sessions. Remaining members were infuriated by Rose's inclusion of childhood friend Paul Huge in the new sessions when both Stradlin and Clarke were excluded from rejoining the band. And a remake of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" was essentially the straw that broke the camel's back, as Rose cut out some of the other member's contributions and pasted Huge over the song without consulting anyone else. By 1996 Slash was officially out of Guns N' Roses, leaving Rose the lone remaining survivor from the group's heyday; rumors continued to swirl, and still no new material was forthcoming, though Rose did re-record Appetite for Destruction with a new lineup for rehearsal purposes. The first new original G N' R song in eight years, the industrial metal sludge of "Oh My God" finally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days. Soon after, Geffen issued the two-disc Live Era 1987-1993.
2000 brought the addition of guitarists Robin Finck (of Nine Inch Nails) and Buckethead. 2001 was greeted with Guns N' Roses' first live dates in nearly seven years, as the band (who consisted of Rose plus guitarists Finck, Buckethead, bassist Stinson, former Primus drummer Brian Mantia, childhood friend and guitarist Paul Huge, and longtime G N' R keyboardist Dizzy Reed) played a show on New Years Eve 2000 in Las Vegas, playing as well at the mammoth Rock in Rio festival the following month. A new album was announced for a summer release, but the date came and went without any CDs hitting the shelves. A summer tour of Europe was planned, but before tickets could go on sale Rose announced that the tour was cancelled and the band went into seclusion until New Years Eve of 2001. They played almost the exact same set as the year before, but they still managed to brew up some news by not allowing any former members to watch the show. Slash tried to get onto the guest list, and even claims to have tried to sneak in through a security guard. Manager Doug Goldstein released a statement taking full responsibility for the banning of former members, claiming that he was not sure of their intentions and he wanted to avoid making Rose nervous.
2002 started with no new Axl news, instead seeing former members Slash, Duff, and Izzy work together on new material for Stradlin's new album. Rose eventually ended up in music news as he fired producer Roy Thomas Baker from the group's newest recording sessions, adding him to the superstar list of producers that had been attached to the project at various points (including Moby, Mike Clink, Youth, Bob Ezrin, and many others.) Slash's contributions to Izzy's album didn't make the final cut, but rumors of a new band featuring former members McKagan, Sorum, and Slash began circulating by the end of the spring. A slew of Japanese and British festival dates were set in the spring, but the mysterious new album continued to elude fans as the release date was pushed into the fall of 2002. Before those concert dates rolled around, guitarist Paul Huge left the group, quickly replaced by former Love Spit Love member Richard Fortus.
An appearance at MTV's annual Video Music Awards helped garner interest in the new lineup, but a rusty performance from Rose and an interview where he said his new album wasn't coming out anytime soon didn't do much to further their cause. That summer, the band started on their first tour in almost eight years, and they managed to fulfill all of their commitments in Europe in Asia. Sadly, they caused a violent and destructive riot in Vancouver when Rose failed to show up for the first date of their North American tour. Tour openers CKY were especially inconvenienced, as Rose had only asked them days before to reroute from California to Canada for the show. A few shows managed to come together, with Rose hitting the stage quite late at certain dates. But Rose didn't show up for a Philadelphia concert after allowing both opening acts to go on beforehand. The costly vandalism that followed the announcement was enough to convince tour backers Clear Channel to cut their ties with the group, ending the tour and convincing CKY to verbally thrash the group on their website. While he was up to his old shenanigans with the retooled lineup, former members Stradlin, Slash, Sorum and McKagan finally put an end to the rumors and announced that they were searching for a vocalist for a new, Axl-free band.
The years between albums have grown into a running joke in the music industry, Interscope's frustration with the millions dumped into the recording has become secondary to Rose's reclusive insistence to perfect his material. By leaving the industry on such a strong note, Rose's image has been frozen in time as the frustrating, angry, yet sensitive genius behind the microphone, an image he might not be ready to live up to as the years go by. Despite what happens to most groups that have stayed out of the limelight for ten years, the legend of Guns N' Roses continues to grow with each year. Whatever may happen with the new lineup, the five original members continue to enjoy celebrity status despite having their post-GN'R material show less than enthusiastic sales. By writing one of the most critical hard rock albums of all time, they have secured their status as the most vital force to hit the mainstream rock scene in the 80's.