Learn to play bass guitar like Flea from Red Hot Chilli Peppers- lessons in the techniques that made Under The Bridge and Mothers Milk such classics – with tab and chords
There are always ‘keynote’ bassists in every generation, those that inspire others to pick up the instrument and give it a go. In the ’60s Paul McCartney and James Jamerson (aka ‘the Motown guy’, bass player with label house band the Funk Brothers) raised the profile, and in the ’70s Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius pushed the envelope and caused jaws to drop all over the world. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please don’t write in screaming ‘what about so-and-so?’ – but to this roll call you simply have to add Michael Peter Balzary, the punk/funk groovemeister and bassist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the man we know simply as Flea.
Balzary was born in Melbourne, Australia on October 16th, 1962, and his family relocated to the USA when he was five. Thanks to his stepfather (his parents divorced in 1971) he developed a love of jazz, learning trumpet and becoming so proficient he was regarded as a prodigy by his teachers. His family settled in Los Angeles, and Balzary took up bass when close friend and guitarist in Anthym, Hillel Slovak, needed a replacement. The pair became friends with singer Anthony Kiedis (it was Kiedis who gave Balzary his nickname) and by 1984 the trio, with the addition of drummer Jack Irons, had become the RHCP.
They recorded three albums until, in June 1988, Slovak died of a heroin overdose and Irons subsequently quit the band. This tragedy led to the recruitment of guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, effectively creating the RHCP as we know them today. The next two albums recorded by this line-up, Mother’s Milk (1989) and Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991), marked the culmination of the band’s punk/funk style, and Blood Sugar… was a massive global success with 12 million sales to date. Obviously the history of the RHCP doesn’t end here, but for this workshop we’re focusing on Flea’s bass playing on Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Flea’s love of punk rock accounts for his aggressive attitude and highly physical approach to playing bass. When this was combined with exposure to bands like Defunkt, Parliament/Funkadelic and the slap bass playing of Bootsy Collins, it resulted in a highly kinetic approach, utilising fingers or thumb, that in turn, influenced and inspired many aspiring musicians to take up the bass – to sling it low and hit it hard.