The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: The Chili Peppers – Red, White and Blue
In August 1985, Simon Witter received a phone call from George Clinton saying that the P-Funk All-Stars show at London's Hammersmith Odeon that weekend had been cancelled, but that the support group was already in the country and had blagged themselves a gig supporting Muddy Waters' keyboard player. Thus began Witter's love affair with LA's Red Hot Chili Peppers, interviewed for an NME piece that ran the following month--Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
"Jacques Cousteau is a big influence on our music," announces Hillel Slovak. "We go backpacking in the Sierras every year."
Say what?! Run that past me again. Are we talking about the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the dirtiest lowdown kinda guys around? We are! Pass the Alka-Seltzer!
Talking to the most crazily perfect punk-funk band ever to frazzle a stage is no joke. Frontman Antwan The Swan - in keeping with the band's notoriously spontaneous character - has pissed off to Paris with a severe case of the lovebug (he also missed his plane back to LA). Drummer Cliff Martinez (ex-Weirdos, Captain Beefheart) rarely opens his mouth, and so I'm left to decipher the preposterous motormouthings of semi-aboriginal bassist Flea (once described as "less modest than Dave Lee Roth") and goofy Israeli guitarist Hillel. What did I ever do to anybody?
Having personally witnessed their live act (Black Flag frantically twanging Bootsy's Rubber Band) at Dingwalls in late August, I thought I'd made a great discovery until, two breathless days later, and a mere few hours before they left these fair isles, the Peppers deposited their press kit in my lap. Therein lay testimony to the fact that for well over a year now, the amassed rock critters of the US have been blazing a snail's trail of drool in the shell-shocked wake of this deranged combo. Hit the Smirnoff, I wisely decided, and go easy on the superlatives.
The Peppers spread a highly contagious musical infection called Freaky Styley. Despite the spring-heeled bounce in their hair-raising hardcore storm - and their productive affair with Funkmaster George Clinton - the Peppers' soul stew remains predominantly, ragingly punky.
Onstage the hip-stepping howl of their skintight hardcore lurch is perfectly complemented by a demented visual act based on hyperventilating bumper cars. No producer can hope to immortalise this multi-sensual mania, but George Clinton (producer of their new album Freaky Styley) has come commendably close.
The Peppers claim to have discovered Funkadelic only after the comparisons were made, but it is in P-Funk that we can best nail down their disparate influences. Their new album continues the generic cross-breeding that Funkadelic practiced - on Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On, Cosmic Slop, etc. - from the black side of the racial border. Only now they're white, and the guitar noise in this volatile reaction is punk, not acid rock.
A little history... necessity was not the mother of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, all otherwise gainfully employed at the time of their one-song unrehearsed debut (a spontaneous guest spot at a friend's gig). Flea, who formed the Peppers after refusing John Lydon's offer to join PIL was the bassist with LA's notorious Fear, and also the skinhead star of the Penelope Spheeris film Suburbia, whilst Hillel and original drummer Jack Irons were with What Is This. But the effect of this "joke" appearance (playing 'Out in LA'), and the club-invited return match, was such that, within a month, the Peppers had become the hottest act in their native Hollywood.