Sunday, April 8, 2012

The #33 Guitarist of the Rock Era: John Frusciante

Here we are all the way up at #33, and a guy largely responsible for the success of the Red Hot Chili Peppers:
#33:  John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Peppers, solo
25 years as an active guitarist

John Anthony Frusciante was born March 5, 1970 in Queens, New York.  He was the former lead guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and has released ten solo albums.

John became interested in the group the Germs and taught himself to play the chords in their songs.  He began studying guitarists like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and David Gilmour.  After mastering the blues scale, Frusciante discovered and studied the music of Frank Zappa.  After moving to Los Angeles, he began going to the Guitar Institute of Technology but lost interest.

When he was 15, Frusciante went to a concert by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and became a big fan.  He learned all the guitar and bass parts from the Chili Peppers' first three albums and idolized guitarist Hillel Slovak.  John became acquainted with Slovak and the two spoke months before Slovak's death.  John became friends with D.H. Peligro, the drummer of the group the Dead Kennedys.  Peligro invited Flea, the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to join he and Frusciante in jamming together.  

Slovak died of drugs and drummer Jack Irons left the Chili Peppers in the wake of the disaster.  Flea and lead singer Anthony Kiedis were determined to go on and added Peligro on drums and DeWayne McKnight on guitar.  McKnight didn't work out and Flea suggested auditioning Frusciante for the group.  Kiedis agreed that he would be a good replacement for McKnight, who was fired.
Frusciante joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers when he was 18 years old, first appearing on the album Mother's Milk in 1989. John went into the studio emulating Slovak's guitar work but producer Michael Beinhorn wanted Frusciante to play more of a harder, heavy metal tone that would represent a new direction for the group. Frusciante and Beinhorn fought often over the sound but the producer ultimately won. 

The Chili Peppers isolated themselves in an old mansion in Hollywood Hills, California for the duration in recording their next album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Frusciante also started a side project with Flea of the Chili Peppers and drummer Stephen Perkins called the Three Amoebas. The trio recorded 10-15 hours of music, none of which has never been released.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik was an incredible success, selling over 13 million copies worldwide. The album turned the Chili Peppers into rock stars. Frusciante was shocked by this fame and struggled to deal with it. "We're too popular," he would say--"I don't need to be at this level of success." It was too high, too far, too soon for John. He told his bandmates prior to a show at the Club Quattro in Tokyo on May 7, 1992 that he was leaving the band.
After this experience, John became a recluse and succumbed to drug addiction. He fell into deep depression, believing he could no longer write music or play the guitar. Then to cope with the depression, he increased his use of heroin and began a life-threatening deep spiral downward. Frusciante released his first album--Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt in 1994 that was recorded prior to his addiction and followed that up with Smile from the Streets You Hold in 1997. By his own admission, the latter was released solely for the purpose of getting drug money.
The following year, after five years of addiction, John completed drug rehabilitation at Los Encinas in Pasadena, California to his credit and curiously rejoined the Chili Peppers for their amazing album Californication in 1999.  
Now, John says "between my dedication to trying to constantly be a better musician and eating my health foods and doing yoga, I feel so much more high than I ever did doing drugs."

Two years later, he recorded another solo album--To Record Only Water for Ten Days.  The album, written during the Californication tour, included typical cryptic lyrics from Frusciante but musically less avant-garde.  The material strayed from the alternative rock music he had just written for Californication, focusing on New Wave and synthesizers. 
In 2001, Frusciante began recording his fourth album with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, By the Way.  Frusciante worked to improve his contribution as lead guitarist by concentrating on including "great chords".  While working on this release, John also wrote most of what would become his album Shadows Collide with People and songs for the movie The Brown Bunny.I

Frusciante then went on a tear, releasing an unheard of six solo albums in 2004, each exploring different genres and using different techniques in the recording studio.  These were titled The Will to Death, Automatic Writing, which he put together with a short-lived group (Ataxia) that included a couple of his Chili Pepper bandmates, the DC EP, Inside of Emptiness, A Sphere in the Heart of Silence and Curtains.
In 2005, Frusciante went into the studio to work on his fifth and final album with the Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium.  His guitar work is solid on the album, including the funk-influenced work found on Blood Sugar Sex Magic as well as more melodic solos.  Many critics find the influence of Jimi Hendrix throughout and John agrees with this assessment.  Frusciante began using a full twenty-four track mixer for maximum effect, working on over-dubbing guitar progressions and changing harmonies.  He utilized guitar effects more than he had before, and also played various other instruments on the project, including synthesizers and the mellotron. 

Ataxia released their second and final album, AW II in 2007.  After the tour that supported Stadium Arcadium, the Red Hot Chili Peppers agreed to a hiatus of indefinite length.  Frankly, the members were exhausted.  Frusciante quit the group during this time but did not publicly announce his decision until the band began working on their next album.
In 2009, John released The Empyrean, a concept album that was produced between 2006 and 2008.  Ex-Chili Peppers bandmate Flea, Johnny Marr, the former Smiths guitarist and friend Josh Klinghoffer help out on the album.  

Frusciante continued to collaborate with other artists.  He helped the group the Mars with their albums The Bedlam In Goliath and Octahedron and also began an electronic duo with Aaron Funk under the name Speed Dealer Moms.  Frusciante also played guitar for the group Swahili Blonde on their album Man Meat in 2010.  He also was the executive producer for Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's movie The Sentimental Engine Slayer and worked with Rodriguez-Lopez on two albums in 2010:  Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & John Frusciante and Sepulcros de Miel, which featured a quartet.

John has also worked with the Wu-Tang Clan, George Clinton and others.  He played guitar on an album by French singer Catherine Ringer and on another album from Swahili Blonde, Psycho Tropical Ballet Pink.

Frusciante displayed talent on the guitar from the beginning, but he has worked to consistently make himself better.  He shifted his focus in playing more rhythmic patterns, inspired by the complexity of the work from Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen.  Frusciante's sound comes from his affinity for vintage guitars--all his guitars were made before 1970. 

John's skill is his phrasing rather than virtuosity.  John believes that guitar mastery has not evolved much sing the 1960's and considers the players of that decade unsurpassed.  He is a fan of technique-driven guitarists like Randy Rhoads and Steve Vai but doesn't emulate them.  Instead, Frusciante used various forms of distortion and tries to break as many "stylistic boundaries" as he can. 

Hendrix and Hillel Slovak have been Frusciante's biggest influences, but he was also inspired by David Bowie and T. Rex as well as Frank Zappa, the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Kraftwerk.  His other varied influences include David Gilmour, lead guitarist of Pink Floyd, Leadbelly, the Human League, Depeche Mode and New Order.  Frusciante says "I'm always drawing inspiration from different kinds of music and playing guitar along with records, and I go into each new album project with a preconceived idea of what styles I want to combine."

After having all his guitars destroyed in a fire, the first guitar John bought after getting back with the Chili Peppers was a 1962 red Fender Jaguar.  He most often uses a 1962 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster and treasures his 1957 Gretsch White Falcon.  For acoustical work, nearly all of his work is on a 1950's Martin O-15. 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers were voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on December 7, 2011. Flea of the group said about Frusciante: "He left us so many great gifts. He's a phenomenal musician and songwriter who gave so much to our band. He really took us to a higher level."  
Yet another wizard on the guitar. For the guitarists from here on out, they're all the best of the best. If John Frusciante keeps it up, he'll likely continue to move up the list. As of now, he ranks #33 for the Rock Era*...

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