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(Credit: Stefan Brending)

Music

The musician who made Flea learn the bass

@josephtaysom

When Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea was growing up, he didn’t foster any ambitions to play the four-stringed instrument, but then one person came into his life, and it all changed.

Flea always had an obsession with music from an early age, but rock ‘n’ roll was a world away from what he listened to. His mother’s husband was Walter Urban Jr., a proficient jazz musician who opened his eyes to that universe, but it was down to his friends to teach Flea about the bands of the day and make him want to join a group himself.

The bassist’s jazz background is audible in his funky sound and played a crucial part in becoming one of his generation’s most talented players. His school friend, Hillel Slovak, encouraged Flea to pick up the instrument, which turned out to be his greatest decision.

Slovak had a band called Anthym, who were short of a bassist. It gave him the idea to ask his musically-inclined friend to learn the instrument. It was an idea that Flea had never previously given any thought to, and he remains eternally grateful to the late guitarist for asking him to join the group.

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Although he didn’t stay in the group for long, they later formed Red Hot Chili Peppers together. Tragically, Slovak passed away from an overdose in 1988, and he’s been with Flea spiritually ever since. When the Chili’s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, Flea thought of his late friend, who was responsible for making it all possible.

Speaking to Rolling Stone immediately after the ceremony, he said: “I never would’ve played bass if not for Hillel. I was a jazz trumpet player, and he said, ‘Dude! You should learn how to play bass and be in my band.’ Two weeks later, we were on stage at the Troubadour.”

He added: “Anthony, Hillel and I raised each other, and they schooled me on Zeppelin and Hendrix. Hillel really loved rock & roll. He lived for it, so going into the Hall would have been a dream. To share this moment with him in the spirit world is sad and tragic, but also beautiful.”

Everything the Chili’s have done since Slovak’s heartbreaking death is because of him, and there will always be a gaping hole where he once stood. On a more positive note, those halcyon days spent as teenagers listening to rock records provided Flea with his musical education and will live with the bassist forever.