What John Frusciante brought to the Red Hot Chili Peppers was indispensable. A keen ear for melodicism and deep knowledge of music theory, especially at the young age that was when he first joined the band, automatically changed the direction of the group from punk-funk party animals to more mainstream-friendly alternative rock.
There’s a reason why the band always held an open door for Frusciante to come back. Apart from his knowledge, his playing was the perfect combination of the band’s preferred funky jamming and the more concise and restrained harmonic skills that added an extra layer of sophistication that hadn’t been present in the band’s songs prior his arrival. Basically, Frusciante could rip, but he could also delicately pluck or intricately solo.
His guitar part throughout the Chili Peppers’ ‘Give It Away’, off their mammoth 1991 LP Blood Sugar Sex Magik, is a great example of the dichotomy inherent in his six-string playing. Opening with a wild riff that incorporates full string bends, Frusciante lays back with some chromatic ascending and descending lines. Flea’s bass is the main star of the song anyway, and Frusciante is happy to lay back during the verses while the bass bobs around and around.
It’s during the choruses that Frusciante amps up the energy. By simply strumming his guitar as hard as he possibly can, he produces sheets of noise that swirl around your brain as Chad Smith whacks away at the drums and Anthony Kiedis spews his signature blend of nonsense.
The only time that Frusciante gets to show off his real technical prowess comes during the solo. Instead of going with the standard fretboard fireworks, Frusciante opted to record a slow-moving solo and flipped the tape backwards so that it would play in reverse. It’s the kind of thing that’s impossible to replicate in a live setting, so most of the time Frusciante opted to simply play a few sparse notes in its place.
The results are indicative of all facets of Frusciante’s playing: the frantic and energetic shredder, the delicate and methodical musician, the melodic and catchy songwriter, and the experimental and atypical sonic explorer. It’s impossible to define Frusciante with just one song, but ‘Give It Away’ probably comes closer than any other within the Red Hot Chili Peppers canon.