Born Michael Peter Balzary, Flea (nicknamed for his small stature as well as his onstage antics) is one of those rare bassists who you can recognise from a single note. From his early days as a sock-wearing punk funk in LA to the uncluttered global thump of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he remains one of the most iconic bassists of all time.
“To me, music has always been about reaching for that thing that feels beautiful,” Flea told me in a 2009 interview for Bass Guitar magazine. "But I have become more about serving the song, and less about - 'Hey, I can play some really amazing, trippy bass lines that will blow your mind.' I’m just devoting myself to being the best musician I can."
And so it was, as Flea celebrated his 60th birthday and marked the day with the Chili’s final show of 2022 at Austin City Limits Music Festival, that we took a look back at what we consider Flea's greatest moments.
Get Up And Jump - RHCP TV Debut
'Get Up and Jump' was the second single from the band’s 1984 self-titled debut album, and was also chosen for their TV debut. With frontman Anthony Kiedis jumping around the stage dressed in clown-like trousers, a bare-chested Flea delivers a frantic slap bass riff that drives home the restlessness of the track. It's just pure, un-confined, Flea-style energy.
Higher Ground - David Letterman Show
With Flea’s slap bass replacing the clavinet of the original Stevie Wonder hit, 'Higher Ground' remains one of his most widely recognised riffs. Here he is rocking a pair of stuffed animal pants on the David Letterman Show. With some help from bass legend Will Lee on backing vocals, of course.
Give It Away - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
The lead single from 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik (and the Chilli’s commercial breakthrough) remains an all-time Flea classic. The stripped-back guitar playing from John Frusciante gives Flea’s bass line even more room to shine. The accompanying video won the Best Art Direction and Breakthrough Video categories at the 9th annual MTV video music awards.
Aeroplane - One Hot Minute
The euphoric slapped octaves on 'Aeroplane', plus Flea’s funky bass solo, has to be the standout from One Hot Minute. And maybe the children’s chorus at the end, which featured Flea’s daughter Clara. RHCP purists rallied against the band’s 1995 effort, which had a heavier vibe to it thanks to the addition of Janes Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.
Around the World - Californication
The thrashing, muscular funk of 'Around the World' plays to all the Chili Peppers strengths and showcases a more mature, but still exciting side to Flea’s bass playing. Any doubts you might have had about the band’s vitality are quashed with a single listen. It's a push-everything-to-the-limit sonic overload.
The Star-Spangled Banner - LA Lakers
Back in 2016, Flea played a bass-only rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner before the LA Lakers faced the Utah Jazz in what was basketball legend Kobe Bryant's final professional game. Flea's performance was met with criticism from some basketball fans, though. “I know that people who like music liked it," said Flea. "I really don't have any concern for little small minds that get frustrated when they get blown. I thought it was beautiful.”
Hump de Bump - Stadium Arcadium
Taken from the Chili’s ninth studio album, the 28-song epic, Stadium Arcadium, the chorus line is classic Flea - an ultra-funky fingerstyle groove played with plenty of aggression. The final bar of this section features a blistering descending D Blues scale lick that you’ll need to practice slowly in order to play it as accurately as Flea does.
Dark Necessities - The Getaway
Their first release since 1989’s Mothers’ Milk without producer Rick Rubin behind the boards, Dark Necessities saw a shift from the Chili’s typical soundscape, with a layered piano intro setting the scene before Flea’s signature slap bass kicks in.
Obi-Wan Kenobi - Star Wars
There’s a lot more to Flea – than just slappin’ the bass. Over his career, he has racked up a number of onscreen cameos in films like Back to the Future, The Big Lebowski, Baby Driver and more. His first role – as a punk upstart called Razzle in the film Suburbia – was filmed before RHCP even released their debut album. More recently, Flea has found time to continue his acting side hustle, starring in Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series.
Tippa My Tongue - Return of the Dream Canteen
'Tippa My Tongue', the lead single from the band’s second album of 2022, Return of the Dream Canteen, finds Flea firing on all cylinders once again. "It's everything we are and ever dreamed of being," said frontman Anthony Kiedis. "We had no reason to stop writing and rocking.”
The band’s global stadium tour continues in January 2023 across New Zealand and Australia.
For more information on the new album and tour visit redhotchilipeppers.com