Chili Peppers Book: Part Scrapbook, Part Love Letter

Red Hot Chili Peppers i i

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been together for 25 years. Stephen Stickler/Courtesy of It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Stickler/Courtesy of It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers
Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been together for 25 years.

Stephen Stickler/Courtesy of It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers

Over the 25 years they've been together, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have survived drug addictions, overdoses and the ever-fickle music scene. They still managed to record nine albums, including Grammy-award-winners Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Stadium Arcadium.

Their first book, The Red Hot Chili Peppers: An Oral/Visual History, is an inside look at their journey. The band's bassist, Michael Balzary, spoke to Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz about the early days and explains why his band spends so much time naked.

Balzary's not really sure where his nickname — Flea — came from. It might have originated with his longtime bandmate, Anthony Kiedis, or old friend and founding Chili Pepper Hillel Slovak, but it definitely fits.

"I was always jumping around a lot," he says, "and I am a little guy."

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His background is in jazz; Balzary was raised in a jazz household and started playing the trumpet in junior high. In high school he met Slovak, who played guitar in a rock band. He would watch the band rehearse and says he thought it looked really different.

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"They were having so much fun, and it was so not regimented and not controlled," Balzary says. "It really felt good to me to get away from what my parents wanted and what they were teaching me in school."

When the band sacked their bass player, Balzary stepped in. Two weeks later he was on stage at a nightclub in Hollywood.

Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988, but not before co-founding the Chili Peppers and making a profound impression on Balzary.

"If it weren't for him, I never would have played the bass, never would have had the Chili Peppers," he says. "But more than that, he was a brother, a beloved friend."

Slovak, Kiedis and Balzary lived together for a time and could often be found undressed. Balzary says it all started as a joke between the roommates, but then they took it outside.

Right after signing with EMI Records, Balzary and Kiedis pulled a stunt that almost got them dropped. "We said we wanted to meet the president of the company," he says. Denied, they tracked him down in a high-level meeting, stripped, jumped on the table and danced around.

"The last thing it was was calculated," he says. "The expressions on their faces were something that I hold dear to my heart."

The band wasn't goofing off all the time, though. Of all their nine albums, a couple stand out for Balzary. "I felt like Californication really captured us as a band," he says. "It captured the feeling that the band gives me when we play. It was a real all-for-one, one-for-all feeling when we made it." He says their latest, Stadium Arcadium, encompassed all the band has done over their history.

After all their time together and success, Balzary says he still loves to hear his band's music on the radio, especially when he's in the car. "I wonder if the guy next to me can hear it!"

The Chili Peppers will have new songs on the radio soon. They're recording now, and the band shows no sign of slowing down.

"We love music," Balzary says. "We're willing to put in the work and we're willing to put in the time."

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