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(Credit: Stefan Brending)

Music

How The Who's Pete Townshend helped Flea become a rockstar

@josephtaysom

Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea can precisely pinpoint the crucial moment he wanted to become a musician, and he owes it all to The Who’s Pete Townshend.

The Australian-born artist was raised in California, and it was there that he became friends with Anthony Kiedis. While music had always been part of his life, the realm of rock was a foreign entity to him until The Who opened his eyes to this blistering new world. Previously, he’d never considered the genre a possibility, and since that night, Flea has never looked back.

His mother married jazz musician Walter Urban who, in turn, introduced Flea to the likes of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. With this upbringing, Flea always assumed he’d go down this route with his musicianship, and his interest in jazz made him an eccentric oddity at school.

Although nobody else understood his passion, Flea didn’t care, and it only made it more special to him. All of his friends were fans of rock music, and the bassist couldn’t comprehend why it appealed to everyone — until he saw The Who, and suddenly, it finally made sense.

In 2021, Flea paid tribute to Pete Townshend in an emotional Instagram post to commemorate the guitarist’s birthday. He wrote: “I saw The Who perform a couple of years before I started playing bass and joined a rock band”.

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Flea added: “I still just wanted to be a jazz trumpet player for my life but when I witnessed Pete Townshend channelling the great spirit and dancing wild rhythms around the Forum stage, I thought, ‘If I ever play in a rock band I wanna be like him.’ It’s all I’ve ever tried to do. Happy birthday to the transcendent Pete Townshend.”

His adolescent friendships with future bandmates Anthony Kiedis and Hillel Slovak encouraged him to explore rock music. Slovak even taught Flea to play the bass, although he had ulterior motives.

If it wasn’t for witnessing The Who in concert, Flea wouldn’t have had the intuition to learn an instrument and join a band. He’d have emulated Townshend on the guitar if it was up to him, but Slovak needed a bandmate on bass in Anthym, and Flea slotted straight in.

Even though he only began playing the bass because Slovak needed to fill a vacancy, Flea is now one of the most iconic bassists on the planet. His performances are still brimming with energy despite almost being 60, and he is the jewel in Red Hot Chili Peppers’ crown.

Although the band are loathed in some quarters, the sheer talent of Flea isn’t up for debate. He adds a vivacious dosage of flair, which is simply irresistible and makes the Chili’s tick similarly to Townshend with The Who.

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