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|Also Known As:||Mike Balzary, Michael Balzary||Died:|
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For nearly three decades, bassist Flea provided not only the deep grooves for the iconic alternative act Red Hot Chili Peppers, but also its heart and soul by keeping the act alive throughout its myriad changes in personnel and musical direction. A manic, kinetic presence in the band's live performances and music videos, his speedfreak energy belied a background in jazz and punk rock that informed both the nimbleness and intensity of his playing. His talents helped to elevate the band from offbeat funk-punk act to a genuine rock band, with Grammys and a worshipful fan base laying credence to the title. He also helped to bring the group together when it threatened to break apart on numerous occasions due to drug addiction, physical and mental fatigue, and changes in musical tastes. In doing so, he became a respected figure in rock, as well as an in-demand guest player for the likes of Alanis Morrissette, Jane's Addiction, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Jewel and countless others. In 2011, Flea and his fellow Chili Peppers were named as 2012 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The designation confirmed what most fans and critics had felt about Flea all along - he was a one-of-a-kind talent.Born...
For nearly three decades, bassist Flea provided not only the deep grooves for the iconic alternative act Red Hot Chili Peppers, but also its heart and soul by keeping the act alive throughout its myriad changes in personnel and musical direction. A manic, kinetic presence in the band's live performances and music videos, his speedfreak energy belied a background in jazz and punk rock that informed both the nimbleness and intensity of his playing. His talents helped to elevate the band from offbeat funk-punk act to a genuine rock band, with Grammys and a worshipful fan base laying credence to the title. He also helped to bring the group together when it threatened to break apart on numerous occasions due to drug addiction, physical and mental fatigue, and changes in musical tastes. In doing so, he became a respected figure in rock, as well as an in-demand guest player for the likes of Alanis Morrissette, Jane's Addiction, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Jewel and countless others. In 2011, Flea and his fellow Chili Peppers were named as 2012 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The designation confirmed what most fans and critics had felt about Flea all along - he was a one-of-a-kind talent.
Born Michael Peter Balzary in Mt. Waverly, Melbourne, Australia on Oct. 16, 1962, he was the son of Mick and Patricia Balzary, who relocated with their son to New York when he was five years old. They divorced shortly thereafter, and Flea's mother married jazz musician Walter Abdul Urban. Their home in New York and later Los Angeles became the site for jam sessions with other musicians, which led Flea to develop a fascination for jazz trumpet. Urban was also an alcoholic with violent tendencies, which made home a terrifying place for Flea. He soon turned to daily marijuana use as a means of coping with the stress. While attending Fairfax High School, Flea found himself on the outskirts of the social scene due to his musical interests. Nicknamed "Flea" for his spastic bursts of energy, he soon found kindred spirits in two fellow students, Anthony Kiedis and Hillel Slovak, who not only shared his outcast status, but also embraced it as a badge of honor.
Slovak soon introduced Flea to rock-n-roll, with a particular emphasis on psychedelia and punk. He also showed him how to play bass, and by the early 1980s, Flea was playing in Slovak's Anthym before enjoying tenure in the aggressive veteran punk outfit, Fear. He then rejoined Slovak in what was initially intended to be a one-time-only band called Tony Flow and the Majestic Masters of Mayhem, with Kiedis and drummer Jack Irons. Their high-energy shows, which combined elements of punk, '70s funk and hip-hop with heavy doses of manic humor, developed a following on the Los Angeles club scene. The group soon changed their name to the Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea and his bandmates recorded a demo tape that attracted the attention of EMI Records, but shortly before entering the studio to record their debut album, both Slovak and Irons quit the band to pursue a more "serious" career with their other band, What Is This? Flea and Kiedis quickly recruited drummer Cliff Martinez and guitarist Jack Sherman for their eponymous 1984 album, which flopped upon release. Slovak was soon back in the fold, and the band set to work on their sophomore release, Freaky Styley (1985), with legendary funk godfather George Clinton aboard as producer. It performed slightly better than its predecessor, and in 1986, Irons returned as the band's drummer. During this period, Flea also experimented with acting, playing punk fans and various hooligans in "Suburbia" (1984), "Thrashin'" (1986) and "Dudes" (1987).
The reunion of the Chili Peppers' original lineup did little to reverse what appeared to be the band's imminent demise. Flea, Slovak and Kiedis had each become heavy drug users, with Slovak and Kiedis sliding into debilitating addictions to heroin. These issues created tension within the group as they prepared to record their third album, forcing Flea to oversee much of the record's material by himself. After forcing Kiedis into rehabilitation, they eventually released The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, which broke onto the Billboard Top 200 in 1987 and broadened the band's appeal among college listeners. But their success was overshadowed by Slovak's death from a heroin overdose the following year. Irons soon left the group, which found itself in disarray.
They eventually regrouped, adding 18-year-old guitarist John Frusciante and powerhouse drummer Chad Smith to their lineup. The new Chili Peppers recorded their fourth album, Mother's Milk (1989), which rose to No. 58 on the Billboard chart and pushed them even closer to stardom. It also minted Flea as one of the most formidable bass players in the business, and one equally capable of playing thunderous hardcore punk and the intricate popping and slapping bass lines popularized by Larry Graham as part of Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station. He was soon playing bass and trumpet with acts as varied as the psychedelic alternative group Jane's Addiction and rapper Young MC. The latter's single, "Bust a Move," provided many mainstream fans with their first view of Flea's bristling energy and offbeat presence in M.C.'s music video. Flea also added more films to his growing list of acting roles, including appearances in the Chet Baker documentary "Let's Get Lost" (1988) and turns in "Back to the Future Part II" (1989) and "Back to the Future Part III" (1990).
The Chili Peppers reunited in 1991 to release Blood Sugar Sex Magik, a runaway success on the strength of an unlikely hit, the mournful ballad "Under the Bridge." The band soon embarked on a major tour, playing large arenas with another up-and-coming act, Nirvana. To cope with the relentless pressure, the band slipped back into old habits, with Flea returning to daily marijuana use and Kiedis relapsing into heroin addiction that would eventually bring him close to death. Frusciante unraveled during the Japanese leg of the tour and left the band at the height of their popularity. They quickly recruited ex-Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, but the resulting album One Hot Minute (1995) was plagued with problems, including Kiedis' health issues, which forced Flea to take over as the group's primary songwriter. The album generated poor reviews and sales, and a subsequent tour was cut short due to injuries suffered by both Kiedis and Smith. Sensing that his life was spiraling out of control, Flea decreased his drug use and found solace in yoga. He also joined the reunited Jane's Addiction on a 1997 tour, and worked steadily as a guest musician of choice for the likes of Alanis Morrissette, Patti Smith, Johnny Cash and the Clash's Joe Strummer. There were also acting roles, most notably in Gus Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho" (1991), starring his friend River Phoenix - whom he had been partying with at L.A.'s Viper Room the night the actor collapsed and died on the sidewalk in 1993 - "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1997) and "The Big Lebowski" (1998), as well as a recurring turn as the voice of the unintelligible, semi-feral toddler Donnie on "The Wild Thornberrys" (Nickelodeon, 1998-2004).
In 1998, Flea brought the Chili Peppers together for songwriting sessions in his garage. Both Kiedis and Frusciante had beaten horrendous drug addictions, but their confidence in recording new material for the band was shaken. A year would pass before the release of Californication (1999), which became the best-selling album of their careers up until that time. The band soon returned to the road with renewed vigor, while Flea launched a long-gestating dream project by founding the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a non-profit educational organization devoted to providing students with music programs. The year 2001 was devoted largely to the band's eighth album, By the Way, which also earned critical acclaim and major sales figures, as well as record-setting ticket sales for live shows in London's Hyde Park. However, the album also underscored a growing schism between Flea and Frusciante, who preferred a more rock-oriented sound to the group's signature funk grooves.
Flea and Frusciante had settled their differences by the time the band laid down the tracks for the ninth album, a double-CD effort called Stadium Arcadium (2006). A massive world tour followed, after which the Chili Peppers went on hiatus for the next three years. Flea kept himself busy by enrolling in music theory classes at the University of Southern California, where he studied composition and trumpet. He also announced plans for an instrumental solo record while providing the rhythm for a wide variety of musical acts, including Atoms for Peace, which backed Thom Yorke of Radiohead on his solo efforts. In 2009, the Chili Peppers ended their hiatus to return to the studio, though without John Frusciante, who had again left the band to pursue his own musical ideas. Josh Klinghoffer was brought into the fold to provide guitar for the band's 10th album, I'm With You in 2011. That same year, he launched another side project, Rocketjuice and the Moon, with Blur's Damon Albarn and Afrobeat icon Tony Allen shortly before the Red Hot Chili Peppers were announced as part of the 2012 class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
By Paul Gaita
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CAST: (feature film)
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