At the dawn of the Nineties, four young men entered the decaying, allegedly haunted Harry Houdini mansion off the hilly curves of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon Boulevard. They reemerged into the smoggy Hollywood sunlight some months later with one of the seminal albums of the Alternative Nineties in the can. Those four young men were collectively known as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the album they made in the famed magician’s house, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
“With that album, we really grew into being the band that we always wanted to be,” Flea says. “It was like we took what was great about us and just gave a lot more depth to the instruments and structure. The album really captured a space and a time that was exciting and fun.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fifth album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was the band’s second record with John Frusciante, who was the third major RHCP guitarist. (Fifth, if you count the fleeting tenures of Blackbird McKnight and Jack Sherman.) Frusciante had played on the previous Chili Peppers album, Mother’s Milk, but was new to the band at the time and hadn’t quite found his footing. When sessions for Blood Sugar Sex Magik rolled around, however, he had grown confident enough to express his own mercurial personality through the band’s music. “John was really coming into his own as an artist at that time with us,” Flea says.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik was the Chili Peppers’ first album for Warner Bros. Records (they’d previously recorded for EMI), and it was their first project with Rick Rubin. A bearded mountain of a man, and something of a guru figure, Rubin earned the band’s trust enough to help them shape songs and arrangements. It was the start of a fruitful creative partnership that continues to this day.
“It’s a trip to see how much Rick Rubin has changed from that point in time,” Anthony Kiedis says. “Back then, he was just discovering the spiritual path. He’s very non-judgmental. When an evil bastard walks in the room, Rick doesn’t look on them like an evil bastard; he thinks, Well, maybe there’s something good about that person. So he’s an interesting guy, and these days he’s in ridiculously good physical shape and health. A year and a half ago he just started exercising and eating smart. And now he’s this glowing Neptune of a person you find walking down the beach with some lovely Colombian girl. He’s just a different cat than he was 20 years ago. But at his core, he’s still a lover of music more than anything.”
Blood Sugar Sex Magik was phenomenally well received upon its September 24, 1991, release. Yielding a string of hit singles, including “Under the Bridge,” “Give It Away,” “Suck My Kiss” and “Breaking the Girl,” the album kicked the Chili Peppers’ career into a new dimension. It continues to be a favorite today and has sold more than 17 million copies.
“It’s tricky to think that 20 years have passed,” Kiedis says. “When we play songs off Blood Sugar today, the last thing they feel is antiquated. I still have an absolute connection to playing those songs. It’s not like I’m beating a dead horse when I play them. They’re still vibrant and connected to now, in some way. So I guess the album is holding up, standing the test of time.”
Just a reminder that the Chili Peppers are featured in the Big '90s issue of Guitar Legends, which you can pick up in our online store here.