20 Years Ago: Red Hot Chili Peppers Meet Jane’s Addiction for ‘One Hot Minute’
You could've called them the "Red Hot Chili Addiction." For a chunk of the mid-'90s, two of L.A.'s most legendary alternative groups merged like some kind of mutant robot to produce a single album of goth/metal/funk with a dash of psychedelia to taste.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers' previous studio album, 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik, was a monster, racking up seven million sales and turning the little band from L.A. into international superstars. It was all too much for guitarist John Frusciante, who ditched the band during their 1992 tour of Japan, returning to L.A. to shoot heroin and play his clarinet.
Another key event in L.A.'s alternative music scene occurred in 1991. Jane's Addiction were the yin to the Chilis' yang, every bit as adored in the city – but darker. The two bands were friends: Flea plays trumpet on Jane's major label debut, Nothing's Shocking. They shared bills, too. On July 19, 1989, for example, the two bands joined Thelonious Monster and Fishbone at Hollywood's Palace Theater for a fundraiser named "A Father's Rights Benefit." Flea would join a reunited Jane's Addiction in 1997.
So, for fans of either band or the L.A. scene, the newly liberated Dave Navarro filling Frusciante's shoes seemed like a natural fit. Sure, his style differed greatly from the Funky Monks, but it just made sense. After a short period with fill-in guitarist Arik Marshall to finish up the Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour, the band contacted Navarro and made it happen. In the April 1996 issue of Spin, Ann Magnuson described the resulting mutant beast: "If the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the Southland's rock 'n' roll face of comedy, then Jane's Addiction were the glum mask of tragedy, summoning up the fetishistically dressed demons of Santeria at every gig. By joining forces with Navarro, the Red Hot Chili Peppers fused an unholy alliance, the likes of which had not been experienced in L.A. since Dennis Wilson introduced Charles Manson to record producer Terry Melcher."
What Navarro brought to the Chilis was the same thing he brought to Jane's. In the latter band, his metal-flavored guitar style contrasted with frontman Perry Farrell's post-punk/art rock sensibilities. As a Chili Pepper, he'd bring the same diversity to his new band's predominantly funky sound. In March 1996, Guitar World wrote that "Navarro was deemed by many to be the best thing to happen to the band in a long time. His lava-hot touch is all over the Chili's current hit album... he lubricates the album's grooves with slick funk rhythms and power riffs, imbues song structures with strange sonic twists and drenches the whole affair in layers of intoxicating leads."
The guitarist switched to a Fender Stratocaster in order to replicate the band's sound, but the simple fact remained that he didn't gravitate toward funk. Although he claimed to enjoy playing it, he also admitted that he didn't listen to the genre. Funk's good-time vibe fit him like a borrowed suit. In the same Guitar World article, Navarro stated: "I enjoy dark music. And there was something so opposite about this, that, in a way, it was the darkest thing I've ever done. The guitar part in "Walkabout" is somehow the darkest music I've ever played. It's the exact opposite of how I feel. It's very unusual for me, and somehow it makes me sad."
It wasn't the only song that didn't float his Gothic boat: "Let's just say that if I were listening to the CD, there are some songs that I would skip, such as 'Tearjerker,' 'Walkabout,' and, perhaps, 'One Hot Minute,' depending on how I felt at the time... They don't really speak to me. I think that they could have been better."
Over the years, the blame (or credit) for darkening the Chilis' good-time vibe has landed on Navarro's shoulders, but there was simply a lot of darkness around the band. The deaths of Kurt Cobain and their good friend River Phoenix were still fresh wounds, Kiedis had relapsed after overcoming his addictions and Frusciante was essentially incommunicado. So there's plenty of blame (or credit) to share, but Navarro certainly did come with baggage: Just prior to the One Hot Minute sessions, Navarro was a key witness in the trial of his mother's ex-boyfriend – who stabbed to death both Navarro's mother and aunt in front of him when he was only 15 years old.
All of the above made the One Hot Minute sessions difficult. "A lot of the mood-shifting from song to song is basically the result of where the four of us were coming from, as human beings, when we made the record," he told Guitar World. "We were going through a lot of different emotional ups and downs, and that's how that record came about."
Kiedis had trouble coming up with material for whatever reason – his drug problem, writer's block, an inability to work up ideas with Navarro easily as he had with Frusciante and, prior to him, Hillel Slovak. "Anthony writes about personal things. Sometimes those things aren't as easy to get into as might be assumed by someone who doesn't do that kind of writing," Navarro said at the time.
He also shed some diplomatic light on the Chilis' penchant for jamming songs into existence rather than the more methodical songwriting method he'd experienced with Jane's. Allegedly this caused a lot of tension during the One Hot Minute sessions, but when speaking to Guitar World Navarro stuck to the facts: "The original music for 'Tearjerker' and 'My Friends' was written by Flea. When it came time to put it together with the band, he sat there and played everything, and we just played along. I didn't ask him what he was playing, and he didn't show me. We did it all by ear."
For many fans, "My Friends" is the album's shining moment, the song most similar to the Blood Sugar Sex Magik era of the band, both in tone and lyrical content. Although skeptics saw it as a desperate attempt to maintain fair weather fans.
Inevitably, though, any Red Hot Chili Peppers album comes down to Kiedis and Flea. To this day, they remain the only constants, and their friendship anchors the band. Magnuson wrote in her Spin article that "If you want to trace the origins of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, listen to 'Deep Kick,' a song that details the misadventures of the fabled Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn of rock." In an album full of autobiographical songs, this might be the most personal of them all.
One Hot Minute was considered a commercial failure, selling only ("only") two million copies. The band fired Navarro -- ostensibly due to his drug issues -- before the lineup could record a follow up (although nobody in the band was an angel). Since then, the Chilis have distanced themselves from the album. They haven't played any of the songs live since '96, though they've been known to play a riff or two, which makes One Hot Minute one of those records that's stuck in time, apparently never to be performed again. That's a shame, because 20 years on the album stands as one of the band's most interesting. The darkness and light of the Red Hot Chili Addiction was a truly interesting experiment.