Road to Fame: Red Hot Chili Peppers


Maayan Matsliah, staff writer

In the early ’80s, a merely four-person band performing in local Los Angeles arenas had not even the slightest clue of the fame awaiting them down the road. Currently holding the record for the most weeks spent on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart (a whopping 87 weeks), along with having reached first place on the Billboard Chart with thirteen of their singles, it is safe to say that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been wildly successful in its industry.  Although the ensemble may seem picture-perfect upon first glance, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had quite the bumpy road to fame.

Originally formed in 1980 by vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Micheal Balzary (also known as Flea), guitarist Hillel Slovak, and drummer Jack Irons, the band first united under the name Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem. This group of school friends came together through their shared musical passion and talent, combining funk and punk rock to create a unique genre of tunes. The band gained quite a loyal underground following. After officially changing its name to Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1983, the ensemble released its first studio album in 1984. Composed of only four songs, this album turned out to be one of the bands’ least successful to date. Vox News describes the album to have been “monotonous and boring,” which seems to have been an opinion shared by the public upon the release of this album. “It’s the Chili Peppers in their infancy, but there are hints of their coming popularity in the lyrical references to Los Angeles and the signature Flea bass lines,” Vox News said.

The following few albums released by the band were just as unsuccessful as the first. In 1987, however, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan reached the Billboard 200 charts, peaking at a ranking of 148. 1987’s Uplift Mofo Party Plan album was forged in fire as the purest distillation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers definitive sound, and it is the blueprint which would serve as the musical basis of all that would follow throughout the band’s expansive career,” according to Classic Rock History.

Although excited about finally reaching some level of success, the ensemble was not able to celebrate this success for too long. Not long after the release of this album, the band’s lead guitarist, Slovak, died of a heroin overdose on June 25, 1988. Having been using this drug since early his teenage years, Slovak’s addiction only continued to worsen as his band began stirring up attention. Irons, having had the closest relationship with Slovak out of the entire group, quit the ensemble in order to recover from this loss. Despite half of their band quitting, Keitis and Flea decided to continue producing music. The duo channeled their pent-up emotion as the fuel that would inspire and motivate their upcoming album. On the hunt for new members, the pair ended up recruiting guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Gaylord Smith. 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers released its fourth album, Mother’s Milk, in 1989. This album was considered to be “the album that bridged the gap between the early work of the Chili Peppers and their later commercial success. Of all the Chili Pepper albums, Mother’s Milk is the most punk and the angriest,” according to Vox News. The album was yet another surprise hit, and “went gold by early 1990,” according to Britannica. More successful than any of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ previous albums, Mother’s Milk landed at number 52 on the US Billboard 200.

Up until this point, most of the ensemble’s members viewed the Red Hot Chili Peppers as just a side hustle, focusing most of their attention on outside projects. The band had initially expected (and intended) to stay local, so the success of the album was much of a surprise. It was also at this point that feuds among band members began to rise. Because the Red Hot Chili Peppers was only intended to be a side gig, some of the members were rather reluctant to continue producing music when they realized that the band was beginning to stir up attention. Nevertheless, the ensemble persisted and continued pursuing its musical career.

The release of the band’s album Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991 brought it yet another wave of fame and glory. “Under the Bridge,” one of the songs featured in the album, placed as the band’s first top-ten single, ranking at #2 on the Billboard Top 100 at its peak popularity. According to Vox News, “‘Under the Bridge’ started out as a poem that Kiedis wrote about scoring heroin,” and was dedicated to the band’s founding guitarist, Slovak. The fame attracted by this song led the ensemble into a whole new world of fame; at this point, “the only two bands who outsold RHCP were Nirvana and Pearl Jam,” said Vox News. In addition, this album also included the ensemble’s first Grammy Award-winning song “Give It Away.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers continued to produce music, each album/song outdoing the previous. The single “Around the World,” released in 1999, was yet another song dedicated to the band’s members who had been struggling with drug usage. When John Frusciante rejoined the ensemble after successfully getting over his heroin addiction (with help from his loyal friend, Flea), the band released “Around the World,” setting records once again. Nevertheless, “no single song held this band together. It was Flea that helped RHCP maintain an audience, and it was Flea who found new members and provided the songs with continuity, just like his bass line does on ‘Around the World,’” said Vox News.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers released its seventh studio album in 1999. Californication, one of its most famous albums to date, sold over 15 million copies worldwide and was the final push the band needed in order to “make it” in the industry.  It was not only the ensemble’s status and fanbase that grew as it progressed through its career, it was also its musical style. The band’s members, initially “sex-obsessed jerks [evolved] into laid-back rock-and-roll legends,” said Vox News. 

Following Californication, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released By the Way (2002) and Grammy-winning Stadium Arcadium (2006). Although having a seemingly smooth path in the industry, disagreements among Red Hot Chili Peppers’ members continued to persist. In 2008, the band announced that it would be taking a break. The following year, guitarist Frusciante announced that he would be leaving the band in order to pursue a solo career in music. After recruiting Josh Klinghoffer, who had previously played with the ensemble on its Stadium Arcadium tour, the band released the album I’m with You in 2011. This album brought back the funk, heavy-bass roots that the Red Hot Chili Peppers had in its infant stages. Although the band lost its guitarist, Frusciante, with the publication of this album, it continued on its journey to success. Earning over $39 million from album sales and concert tickets, the Red Hot Chili Peppers made Forbes annual list of the World’s 25 Highest-Paid Musicians for 2012,” said Audio Ink Radio. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later that year, marking the band as a group of legendary superstars that will truly never be forgotten. 

In reunion with the much-loved Frusciante, the band went on tour in late 2022 in order to promote its two latest albums, Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen. Fans were ecstatic upon seeing the band made up of all its initial members on its Global Stadium tour. “It did not occur to me to actually give a new RHCP album a chance in 2022 but I like the sound of this increased Frusciante presence,” tweeted Patrick Cosmos. One fan here at Tenafly High School expressed her hope that the band stays intact. “I wish the Red Hot Chili Peppers would be able to solve their problems… they won’t unlock their fullest potential if they keep breaking up and getting new members,” Andrea Salvador-Martinez (’25) said.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers has come a long way since embarking on its road to fame; starting off as a group of sex-obsessed jerks producing funk-rock music as a side gig, the band has evolved to be an iconic rock-and-roll band that holds 25 music awards to its name. With over 120 million records sold wide and an extremely devoted fanbase, the ensemble is rightfully referred to as one of the world’s greatest rock bands to date. No matter what genre of music you usually listen to, I highly recommend you listen to any of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs; I promise, you will not regret it.