Michael Peter Balzary a.k.a. "Flea"
born: Oct 16 1962, Melbourne
I stumbled upon this node on The Content Rescue Team's Nodes page. I was shocked that such a popular and "important" contemporary musician did not have a biography worthy of his own reputation. Having collated information from several websites and also my own knowledge, I'm hoping that this one will be.
Flea is the stage name and nickname of Michael Balzary, best known as the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He is famous for his funky slap bass style that forms the foundation of the original funk-metal band.
"Being a Red Hot Chili Pepper is about being free and not being tied down to anything; not trying to fit into any mold or any category and just as far as a lifestyle which
extends to the way you look, the way you talk. Anyone that would consciously
apply any sort of rock and roll cliches to their life obviously would not
be a Red Hot Chili Pepper and someone who had a love for music - particularly natural passion for funk music - would be someone who could be in the Red Hot Chili Peppers."
Born on 16th October, 1962 in Melbourne, Australia to Australian parents. His parents divorced while he was very young, and his mother remarried to a New York jazz musician called Walter Urban, Jr. In 1967, Michael moved to New York with his mother, stepdad, and sister Karen. His stepfather was a major influence - Michael learned to play trumpet and developed a keen interest in jazz.
In 1973, the family relocated to Los Angeles and Michael started at Fairfax High School. Playing trumpet with the L.A. Junior Philharmonic Orchestra, he showed great talent, but was teased at school for his unusual musical taste and odd Australian-American accent.
His first encounter with fellow pupil, Anthony Kiedis, was in 10th grade:
"I had this guy in a headlock and Anthony told me to let go of him or he'd kick the shit out of me".
Somehow this initial encounter led to the two becoming best friends. In 1979 they started hanging around with Jack Irons and schoolmate Hillel Slovak, forming a band called Anthym. It was around this time that Michael was re-christened "Flea". Being a four-piece rock band, Anthym needed a bassist, so Hillel taught Flea how to play bass guitar. Flea quickly became a very proficient bass player.
Flea's skills as a bassist were unsurprisingly intriguing to local bands in the L.A. music scene at the time. In 1981, he toured for a while with the up-and-coming hardcore punk band, Fear (contemporaries of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks). He was offered a permanent place in the band, but turned it down.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: The Early Years
In the mean time, Anthym had become Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem, playing strip bars along the Sunset Strip in the early '80s. In 1983, they changed name again - opting to call themselves the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea's uniquely funky slap bass style and Anthony's bizarre vocal style set them apart from other bands.
They secured a record contract with EMI, but before they could record their first album Hillel and Jack quit to concentrate on their other band - What Is This. Recruiting guitarist Jack Sherman and drummer Cliff Martinez as replacements, RHCP recorded their self-titled debut album. The highlight track was True Men Don't Kill Coyotes which stood out due to Flea's incredible slapped basslines.
By 1985, What Is This had folded, so Hillel was brought back to record their next album, Freaky Styley (produced by funk legend, George Clinton). With the return of Jack Irons for the 1987 release of The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, RHCP had finally recorded an album with their "proper" line-up.
Sadly this line-up would never record another album, as Hillel Slovak suffered a fatal heroin overdose on June 25, 1988. Flea was devastated:
"Hillel changed my life. If it wasn't for Hillel, there's no way I'd be sitting here now, because he turned me onto rock music."
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Mother's Milk to Present
After Hillel's death, Jack Irons left the band for good. John Frusciante, a dedicated young fan of the band, was chosen as replacement guitarist as he had been inspired by Hillel's style. Chad Smith was the replacement drummer. The first album recorded by the new line-up was Mother's Milk (1989), a minor commercial success featuring excellent funk covers of Higher Ground (Stevie Wonder) and Fire (Jimi Hendrix) as well as Knock Me Down - an ode to Hillel Slovak.
In 1991 the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their definitive album: BloodSugarSexMagik. Flea believed his distinctive bass style was being too widely imitated, so he didn't use slap bass technique on the album. This didn't prevent him from impressing on two of the hits from the album, Give It Away and Suck My Kiss. Flea was happy to play a subdued role in the smash hit ballad, Under The Bridge - unlike many gifted bassists, he always lets the song take precedence over his own showmanship.
Since BSSM, Flea's role in the band has been less prominent, as the band have drifted away from funk-metal towards a more radio-friendly melodic rock sound. However, his energetic live performances are still a real attraction, and he is incredibly popular with both fellow band members and fans. The last album, By The Way, showed a slight return to the band's funk-metal roots with tracks like Can't Stop and the title track allowing Flea to let loose with his explosive bass technique once again.
Other Musical Appearances
Flea is a widely respected musican, winning Bass Player magazine's Bassist of the Year award in 1996. This has meant that he has been much in demand as a guest musician alongside his work with RHCP. He used his trumpet playing ability to help Jane's Addiction on their studio debut, Nothing's Shocking. He has also been Jane's Addiction's touring bassist since Eric Avery refused to tour with them.
Other notable appearances include his role as guest bassist on Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know (Jagged Little Pill) and his frequent collaborations with artists such as Tricky and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony demonstrating the extraordinary breadth of his influence.
Myrigth has also written an excellent review of Flea's bass instructional video, entitled Flea: Adventures in Spontaneous Jamming and Techniques.
Flea favours Fender basses, particular the Fender Jazz Bass model. His current bass, the Flea-Bass is a signature model by Modulus Guitars that resembles a Fender bass. BloodSugarSexMagik was recorded with a Wal bass, while on One Hot Minute he used an Alembic Epic.
His amp set-up incorporates Gallien Krueger heads and Mesa/Boogie cabs.
Flea has always been a keen actor, making his debut appearance in 1983's The Wild Side (directed by Penelope Spheeris). He was also very good friends with child star, River Phoenix, who tragically went the same way as Hillel Slovak in 1993 at the age of 23. He is reported to have become very unwell due to grief following the loss.
After many small support roles in films, he finally picked up a lead role in 1999 with the part of Freddie in Jeff Santo's Liar's Poker. He also provides voiceover on the animated children's series, The Wild Thornberrys.
Films appearances include: