Happy Birthday to Michael Peter Balzary (Flea) – born October 16, 1962!
Michael Peter Balzary, better known by his stage name Flea, is an Australian-American musician, best known as a co-founding member and one of the composers of the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers with whom he was inducted in 2012 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Flea briefly appeared as the bassist for such bands as What Is This?, Fear and Jane’s Addiction. More recently he has appeared as a member of the rock supergroups Atoms for Peace, Antemasque, Pigface and Rocket Juice & the Moon. Flea has also collaborated with other artists, including The Mars Volta, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Alanis Morissette and Young MC.
In 2009, Rolling Stone’s readers ranked Flea the second-best bassist of all-time; John Entwistle placed at number one.
Flea has made occasional forays into acting, appearing in films that span many genres, such as Suburbia, Back to the Future Part II and Part III, My Own Private Idaho, The Chase, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thrashin’, Dudes, Son in Law , and The Big Lebowski, in addition to voicing the character Donnie Thornberry in The Wild Thornberrys animated television series and films. In 2014, Flea returned to acting in the film Low Down.
Flea is the co-founder of Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a non-profit music education organization founded in 2001 for underprivileged children.
Michael Peter Balzary was born on October 16, 1962 in the Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley, Victoria. He is of Hungarian and Irish descent. His father, Mick Balzary, an avid fisherman, often took him fishing. When Flea was five, his family moved to Larchmont, New York for his father’s career. In 1971, his parents divorced and his father returned to Australia. Flea and his siblings stayed with their mother Patricia, who soon remarried to a jazz musician. He was first called “Flea” as a child for his seeming inability to sit still, and the nickname stuck ever since.
Flea’s stepfather, Walter Abdul Urban (1941–2011), frequently invited musicians to his house, where jam sessions would often take place. The family moved again to Los Angeles, California, where Flea became fascinated with the trumpet. He had no interest in rock music at the time; he idolized jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. His stepfather was an “aggressive alcoholic”, who eventually became involved in shoot-outs with police. “I was raised in a very violent, alcoholic
Flea, who was then nicknamed Mike B the Flea, attended Fairfax High School, and was somewhat of an outcast due to his taste in music. However, he soon met Anthony Kiedis, and after a brief confrontation, the two became best friends. Kiedis recalled: “We were drawn to each other by the forces of mischief and love and we became virtually inseparable. We were both social outcasts. We found each other and it turned out to be the longest-lasting friendship of my life.” Flea was turned on to rock music by Hillel Slovak, and particularly punk rock by Anthony Kiedis. Originally a jazz trumpet player, Flea learned to play bass from Slovak, who shortly after asked him to be a bassist in his band, Anthym. Flea soon developed his own style and joined the group, but quit several months later in order to play for the punk rock outfit Fear. He then rejoined Slovak to form an intended one-off band: Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem along with Kiedis and Jack Irons, all of them at the time inspired by the free funk band Defunkt and the neoyorkian hip hop act Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.
First three Red Hot Chili Peppers albums (1984–1987)
The band’s concert repertoire grew to nine songs as a result of months of playing at local nightclubs and bars. The Red Hot Chili Peppers entered Bijou Studios to record a demo tape produced by the then-drummer of Fear and subsequently secured a record deal with EMI. Irons and Slovak, however, decided to leave the Red Hot Chili Peppers in order to pursue a “more serious” future with rock band What Is This?. Flea ultimately respected the decision, but felt the band would be lost without them. He and Kiedis hired drummer Cliff Martinez and guitarist Jack Sherman to fill Irons’s and Slovak’s places, respectively. Andy Gill, formerly of Gang of Four, agreed to produce their first album. Gill and Sherman clashed with Flea and Kiedis; they continuously argued over music style, sound, and the album’s production. Flea himself felt that the album was stiff and “a big mistake”, but also admitted “we [he and Kiedis] were just disrespectful and obnoxious”. The band’s eponymous debut album, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, was released on 10 August 1984 to largely poor critical and commercial review. After a relatively unfruitful tour, Sherman was fired in early 1985. Slovak, who had been contemplating a return to the Chili Peppers, rejoined the group after being encouraged by Flea.
Funk musician George Clinton was hired to produce the band’s second album, Freaky Styley (1985). The strong chemistry between Clinton and the Chili Peppers was felt instantly. Flea later referred to Clinton as “the warmest, kindest man in the world”. Freaky Styley was released in August 1985. It receive Michael Beinhorn, their last resort among potential producers, to work on their next album. What Is This? had finally disbanded, and drummer Irons returned to the Chili Peppers in mid-1986 after Martinez was fired. Flea, Slovak and Kiedis especially were involved in heavy drug use and their relationships became strained. Flea recalled that “it began to seem ugly to me and not fun; our communication was not healthy”. Kiedis became dependent on heroin, leaving Flea and Slovak to work on much of the album’s material by themselves.
Kiedis was briefly kicked out of the band, and given a month to rehabilitate. Kiedis completed the rehab and rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Los Angeles to record their third album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987 Flea has referred to the album as “the ‘rockingest’ record” the band has ever made. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan proved to be far more successful, commercially and critically, than the Chili Peppers’ preceding albums, registering at number 148 on the Billboard 200. Following the Uplift tour, Slovak’s drug use dramatically increased. Flea’s relationship with Slovak faded, and Slovak became isolated and depressed. On 28 June 1988, Slovak was found dead of a heroin overdose. Flea reflected: “I didn’t really know how to deal with that sadness, and I don’t think [Kiedis] knew how to deal with it either.” Irons, who was taking Slovak’s death particularly hard, left the group.
Flea and Kiedis took some time to collect themselves, but kept the band together. Guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight and drummer D.H. Peligro were added, and the band entered the studio to record a new album. McKnight soon began to create tension within the group, as his style did not mesh with the rest of the band. Peligro, the former drummer of the punk rock band Dead Kennedys, was a friend of John Frusciante, an eighteen-year-old guitarist and avid Red Hot Chili Peppers fan. Peligro introduced Frusciante to Flea, and the three jammed together on several occasions. Flea was impressed with Frusciante’s skill, and astonished by his knowledge of the Chili Peppers’ repertoire. Flea realized that Frusciante could provide the spark McKnight was McKnight was fired, and Frusciante accepted an invitation to join the band. Peligro was fired shortly thereafter; the Chili Peppers brought in drummer Chad Smith as his replacement.