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Music

Watch Red Hot Chili Peppers make their 1984 television debut

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are renowned for their changing line-ups. How Josh Klinghoffer got to record two albums with the band is considered a stroke of good fortune, considering that most guitarists whose name isn’t John Frusciante only record one album with the band, before Flea invites the composer behind ‘Under The Bridge’ back into the fold. 

Drummer Chad Smith has been an integral part of the band’s makeup since the late 1980s, but even he isn’t an original member. “People have been coming out,” the drummer recalled. “We’re so grateful that our fans are supporting us after all these years. We’re playing well and everyone’s in good spirits. Yeah, summertime’s fun — especially in Europe, where we just came from. There’s a lot of outdoor arena ones. It’s a little different from playing the indoor arena. European audiences are so passionate, they love coming out in the summertime. They’re really used to those shows. The weather doesn’t bother them. They’ve been doing those sort of festivals for a long time. It’s really fun, those European fans. They’re loyal. We’re just real lucky.”

Indeed, the only two constant members have been bassist and trumpet player Flea, as well as Anthony Kiedis, the band’s mercurial frontman. Their early material has often been compared to Gang of Four, which upset the band’s sensitive bass player, particularly when criticisms came from Andy Gill. 

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“[We] talked about everything, about that remark and why it hurt my feelings – that we had our own thing, but were grateful for the influence he had on us. He said he hadn’t meant it like that,” Flea remembered. “We talked about the arguments while recording our album and I apologised for anything I did that was offensive and he did, too. At the end, I was able to talk to him on the phone and say, ‘Andy, I love you’.”

The band’s first television appearance is replete with love and energy, as they embrace the camera with howls, disembodied yelps and salutes. This particular configuration featured guitarist Jack Sherman and drummer Cliff Martinez, and they were filmed on the Thicke of the Night talk show’s one and only season. 

The performance isn’t great. It’s bravado, big talk and gumption, before throwing themselves into the worst song in their canon: ‘True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes’. Sherman is a fine guitarist, but he’s no Frusciante, and Martinez lacks the flair Smith would bring to the band. Unsurprisingly, the host focuses on the two members who would make the transition to the end of the decade. 

The host, Alan Thicke, doesn’t really know what to make of their demeanour, and decides to comment on their choice of clothing — or lack of it, in Flea’s case. The bassist’s Australian accent is a bit more pronounced than it would be in later years, which is interesting. Naturally, his bass work is inventive, culminating in a finger-style precision that pushes the singer along. What the band boast isn’t technical skill, but raw energy, which is our polite way of saying, means they had to harness their craft. 

Kiedis once described himself in the following way: “I’m generally just a complete out-of-control rogue wandering the streets of life as a sensitive poet. But I try to apply a certain amount of discipline when it comes to practicing my music. And I do warm up before every show. I go into a shower and drink hot water with lemon and go, ‘Boop boop booooo-oo-oo-oo…ma-may-me-mo-mu-may-me-mo-ma.’”

If there’s poetry to be heard, it’s almost impossible to make out between the shrieks and scats he attempts in the microphone. The host is clearly bemused, and even interrupts the group at one critical juncture. The band had a long to way to progress as a live outfit, but this is a fascinating document on just how much the band could improve under the watchful of a precocious guitarist, and a brilliant percussionist. With Frusciante’s superior musicianship, Kiedis’ grunts had texture and contradiction, and backed by Smith’s tight groove, Flea’s bass had the breathing space to move, shift and burst as he wished it to. 

Frusciante clearly enjoys working with Flea and Kiedis as they do him. “What I found exciting when I started playing with them [again] is to see what I could do with a guitar,” Frusciante revealed. “For me, for the last 12 years, guitar was just something I practiced music with and it’s not such a big part of the music I make. So it was that idea of how many different worlds you can pull out of a Stratocaster.”

Where the band are going next is anybody’s guess, but judging by this erratic performance, they would be wise to keep Frusciante in their ranks for as long as possible. 

Stream the band’s 1984 television debut below.