flea red hot chilli peppers bassist

Flea

I don’t know how my dear followers came to the bass guitar. But for me, it all started with Flea… When listening to RHCP as a child, I suddenly focused on the bass guitar (or Flea focused me on it). Then I started looking for the basslines in any music I listened to. The sound of a bass guitar was like a guiding thread that led me through the song. And now, when I hear “Airplane” or “Coffee Shop” in my player, my face lights up with an involuntary smile, which is why passers-by may consider me crazy… Well, let them do that.

Flea is a musician, bassist, founder, and permanent member of the legendary band Red Hot Chili Peppers, perhaps the last funk rock fighters on this planet. He’s also an actor who gave us the following nasty characters: Needles from Back to the Future and a skinhead from The Big Lebowski.
As a musician, he fused funk, jazz, punk rock, and psychedelia in his work. Hardly any bassist has created so many recognizable riffs that have become the hallmark of the band and the symbol of entire decades of musical culture. Californication, Otherside, Dany California, or more up-to-date Go Robot and Dark Necessities have one thing in common: a recognizable bass line. Flea is here with us!

rhcp bass player flea
Flea with Modulus bass

Michael Peter Balzary, aka Flea

His parents did not immediately realize their kid was Flea. That is why they named the baby Michael Peter Balzary.
Although Flea is an American musician, he was born in 1962 in Melbourne, Australia. He is of partial Hungarian and Irish descent. Later, his family moved to the USA. Soon his parents divorced, and his mother married a jazz musician. Michael received his nickname Flea as a child because he could not sit still. He was always moving and fussing. Little has changed over the years.

On the one hand, his stepfather often gathered with his jazz friends at home and arranged spontaneous rehearsals, which affected Flea’s passion for music, brass instruments, and jazz. On the other hand, Flea’s stepfather was also an aggressive alcoholic. The childhood of the future musician was not easy. He was a street kid and began to smoke marijuana at 13.

I was raised in a very violent, alcoholic household…

Flea

At the same time, he started playing the trumpet, completely immersing himself in jazz. Everything changed dramatically after making friends with Anthony Kiedis and Hillel Slovak (future vocalist and guitarist of RHCP).

The Start of Red Hot Chili Peppers

After meeting Anthony Kiedis and Slovak, Flea became interested in rock music and punk rock and took up the bass guitar for the first time. Hillel Slovak explained to him the basics, and Flea was instantly addicted to the bass guitar, starting to develop as a musician. During that period, he briefly played in the hardcore punk band FEAR, which undoubtedly greatly influenced his style and approach to music in the future.
The formative years of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were not easy. The first three albums received negative reviews from critics and mixed reviews from listeners. In addition, vocalist Anthony Kiedis and guitarist Hillel Slovak were taking heroin, which, quite logically, soon led to severe addiction and big problems among the musicians.

It began to seem ugly to me and not fun; our communication was not healthy…

In 1988, guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose. The band took this event very hard and broke up for a while.

Hillel Slovak the first guitarist of Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Hillel Slovak

John Frusciante

The band received a second wind with the arrival of eighteen-year-old John Frusciante. Frusciante has been a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan since childhood, and Flea was impressed by how well he knew the band’s repertoire and generally could understand the music. The band also soon recruited drummer Chad Smith. With its golden line-up, the band recorded their relatively successful album Mother’s Milk and toured extensively. Flea married, which made him the father and breadwinner of the family. He took on more responsibility.

The band’s producer was the famous Rick Rubin. To record the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the band moved into a mansion that used to belong to illusionist Harry Houdini. Here the guys were immersed in a cozy creative atmosphere. In the first four albums, Flea used more slap, but here he attached great importance to the melody of his parts. They improvised a lot with new members looking for ideas. The band was finally recording an album without feeling pressure or fear. There is a brilliant documentary called Funky Monks about this period of the band.

The album has become one of the gems in the discography of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Since that moment, the band has gained worldwide fame and cult status. The thorny path of RHCP has taken more than thirty years. The band went on several years of hiatus. Frusciante left and returned… They recorded platinum Californication, By The Way, the monumental Stadium Arcadium, and the recent (eleventh) Getaway. I don’t know where you can get inspiration for so long and not burn out, but Flea succeeded. He could avoid the most relevant problem – copying himself, which is twice as difficult for a bassist.

michael peter balzary aka Flea

Flea outside RHCP

In addition to participating in one of the most popular bands in the world, Flea also worked quite productively outside the gang. In the late 1990s alone, as a session bassist, he participated in the recording of more than 40 albums by other musicians. He recorded songs with Tom Waits and Atoms for Peace. There were plans to release a solo album, which, unfortunately, never came true. It’s a pity. The song Pea sounds divine, but try to imagine the album…))

“Pea” – RHCP

Some interesting facts:

  • Since 1984, he has appeared in over 20 movies and TV series. Among the most famous are Back to the Future, The Big Lebowski, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
  • In 1993, he performed with Nirvana and had a trumpet solo in their most iconic Smells Like Teen Spirit.
  • In 1999, Flea performed naked at the Woodstock Festival.
  • Flea’s $4.8 million home in Malibu was destroyed in a wildfire in 2007.
  • At a concert in Hyde Park in London, the band earned $17 million, an absolute record.
  • In 2012, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
  • Flea has been breeding bees since 2015. Yes, Flea is the beekeeper…)
  • His favorite bass guitar is the 1961 Fender Jazz Bass.
needles back to the future actor
As Needles in “Back to the future”

Flea’s creative activity is unrealistically successful. It is difficult to say how many projects he is involved in and where he draws energy and inspiration. One thing is clear: from the 1980s to this day, Flea has been a frenetic generator of the best music and deservedly one of the greatest bassists of all time.
In addition, he is a concerned citizen, activist, and philanthropist. Since the late 1990s, he has been taking an active part in the involvement of young people in political activities and voting in elections. In 2001, he founded the Silverlake Conservatory of Music in California. It is a non-profit educational institution for talented children.

I just wanted to fill the void that public education has cut from their curriculum… I grew up in LA public schools and was in the music department. It was really an important thing for my life, it gave me something to hold onto, and it was an important access for me. Without music, I would’ve gotten into a lot of trouble, and there are a lot of kids like me out there.

Flea

In September 2005, the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed Under the Bridge as part of a fundraising concert for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They raised a total of $30 million.
In addition, Flea actively fights for nature and environment conservation. Besides, he has repeatedly spoken out in favor of changing US laws regarding firearms.

Automatic… Semi-automatic… I don’t care. I am against them [guns]. Melt them all down and turn them into sculptures. There is no need for them on Earth.

Flea

In 2019, Flea released his long-awaited book Acid for the Children. The book tells readers about the musician’s childhood and life before RHCP. The book ends where the Red Hot Chili Peppers begin.

acid for the children

Bass Guitars

As you have probably guessed, Flea is an incredibly versatile musician who likes to experiment. Over his long musical career, he played all possible bass guitars. So as not to stretch the article, I will only talk about the main ones.

  • Fender. He used both Jazz Bass and Precision at various times. Fender modeled the Flea Signature Bass after his Shell Pink ’61 Jazz Bass.
  • Musicman. He collaborated with the company for quite a long time and was their endorser. He played 4- and 5-string Stingray.
  • Spector. These are high-quality bass guitars made in the USA and the Czech Republic.
  • Wal. These are boutique bass guitars that Justin Chancellor also loves.
  • Modulus. Flea almost entirely spent his Californication Tour with the bass guitar Modulus. If someone is not in the know, Modulus is a custom shop manufacturer of premium bass guitars with a graphite neck.
  • Fleabass. In 2009, Flea founded the Fleabass Company, whose main goal was to provide beginner musicians with inexpensive instruments of decent quality.
  • Since 2016, he has returned to the Fender Family and plays a custom shop Fender Jazz Bass with a 22-fret reinforced graphite neck.
    The musician confessed his great love for experimenting with effects. Some brands caught in the lens are Boss, MXR, and Electro-Harmonix.

Flea’s Bass Technique

Diversity and continuous development are the bassist’s tenet. For over thirty years of his career, Flea has changed his style from aggressive and fast slapping to melodic lines and classic fingering. He combined punk, funk, jazz, and rock music to create his unique sound, character, and philosophy.

Any instrument is just a vehicle to express who you are and your relationship to the world. No matter what level you’re doing it on, playing music is an opportunity to give something to the world.

Flea

In 2009, Rolling Stone readers ranked Flea the second-best all-time bassist, behind John Entwistle (The Who). Flea also took the bass position in an imaginary “ideal band” where Freddie Mercury could be the vocalist, Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham played drums, and Jimi Hendrix should take the place of the guitarist.
According to the musician, he gradually realized the importance of space between notes. Less is more. He started playing simpler and smaller notes than in his early recordings. His approach to music writing has also changed. Instead of joint jams, he began to compose parts and music alone.
I cannot help but mention a funny phenomenon: Flea’s technique and playing style has changed from album to album, but at the same time, he is always recognizable from the first note!

Conclusion

Red Hot Chili Peppers are a milestone in world music and pop culture. It is not the second decade but the second century that millions of fans shake their heads to the beat of their music, to the rhythm of Flea’s bass guitar.
Unique, furious, restless, not recognizing any restrictions in making music, and so different, Flea has become an idol and role model for many of us. Numerous bassists and musicians worldwide found themselves and their way into music, trying to copy his playing technique.

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