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(Credit: Stefan Brending)

Music

How a Neil Young song inspired Red Hot Chili Peppers' Antony Kiedis

Anthony Kiedis is one of the most unmistakable frontmen in music. Whether that be in appearance or via his vocals, the long-term frontman of Red Hot Chili Peppers mixes his own unique style into a band that is comprised of three of the most well-respected musicians around. 

Flea, John Frusciante, Chad Smith and Kiedis all have their own vital role to play in the LA funk-goliath, and without either one, they would not be the same, as witnessed after both of Frusciante’s stints away from the band.

To imagine RHCP without Kiedis is unfathomable. His scat-like vocals and energetic stage presence give the band that edge, whilst the other three are hard at work being virtuosos. Kiedis is very much an anti-musician, providing a raw and necessary foil to the rest of the band’s panache. 

“I think the original idea of having a singer like Anthony was that everybody saw him as being very much like a non-musician,” Frusciante explained in a 2003 interview. “He comes at it from a standpoint of someone whose feelings for music are very concise, and he has a big capacity for feeling music, but he doesn’t know anything about music, or notes, or anything of these things.”

Given that he is not musically trained, or as Frusciante tactfully put it, a “non-musician”, he has tread his own path in approaching music. Whilst creating lyrics and melodies for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he has been known to draw on a wide variety of sources for inspiration. 

How a forgotten screenplay inspired one of Neil Young’s greatest songs

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Clearly having an emotional connection to music, as Frusciante explained, Kiedis’ first musical memory was hearing Neil Young’s classic ‘Heart of Gold’ aged 11. He said: “It moved me so much that I insisted my mother buy me the 45.” Featuring backing vocals from James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young’s 1972 classic is one of the most emotive songs of all time.

Taken from Young’s iconic album Harvest, it is Young’s only number one single to date and is one of his most beloved. It’s safe to say Kiedis wasn’t the only person so moved by the track he had to buy it. We’d wager if you asked many people, the track would have been their entry point into the vast back catalogue of Neil Young.  

Famously, Red Hot Chili Peppers even covered the track with rebel country icon, Johnny Cash for his posthumous boxset, Unearthed. Kiedis’ and the band’s love for Neil Young is well known, and they have covered his tracks at different points across their career, and even appeared at the Neil Young MusiCares Award in 2010.

Kiedis’ story shows that as a musician, you don’t necessarily have to be musically trained. There is always a possibility to veer off the beaten track and follow one’s own path. It’s clear that although he possesses no theoretical understanding of music, Kiedis is a highly talented musician. His tacit understanding of its pulse has helped to create some of the most iconic rock tracks of the last 30 years.

Listen to ‘Heart of Gold’ below.