John Frusciante: Greatest Red Hot Chili Peppers Moments - Rolling Stone
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John Frusciante: Eight Great Moments With Red Hot Chili Peppers

With the guitarist returning to the band’s lineup for a third time, we look back at the reasons he’s a fan favorite

Portrait of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, left to right, Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante, Chad Smith, and Flea in Central Park in New York, New York, October 28, 1989. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante, Chad Smith, and Flea in Central Park in New York, New York, October 28, 1989.

Paul Natkin/Getty Images

When Red Hot Chili Peppers announced in late 2019 that guitarist John Frusciante would be rejoining their ranks, they delivered the answer to many a fan’s funky prayers. In his two earlier stints as the band’s lead guitarist — first from 1988-1992, playing on Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik, then again from 1998-2009, coinciding with their Californication comeback era — Frusciante was a crucial collaborator, adding guitar-solo grandeur, harmonic sunshine, and psychedelic flavor to their sound. They’ve made memorable music without him, but not as much, nor quite as memorable; for most fans, his presence is what marks the difference between classic Chili Peppers and everything else. It remains to be seen what the Frusciante III era will bring, but in the meantime, here are eight reasons we’re glad he’s back.

give it away

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“Give It Away”

Director Stéphane Sednaoui’s black-and-white video for “Give It Away” was a breakthrough moment for the band overall, but it was also a brief glimpse into a very rare fashion statement from the star guitarist. In between scenes of his color guard moves and full-band shots, Frusciante’s most iconic visual is when he wears mirrored pants with his then-signature mohawk (RIP) and plays guitar between his legs. The guitar shots are filmed from the ground, offering some trippy and phallic imagery. Then again, “trippy and phallic” is essentially the RHCP motto. —B.S.

Portrait of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, clockwise from upper left, Chad Smith, Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante, and Flea in Central Park in New York, New York, October 28, 1989. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Paul Natkin/Getty Images

“Pretty Little Ditty”

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ best-known lineup came together on 1989’s Mother’s Milk. Frusciante had been an avid fan of Hillel Slovak, the band’s founding guitarist, and joined the band just a few months after Slovak’s death of a heroin overdose in 1988. He immediately helped the Chili Peppers branch out from their trademark high-energy funk rock, as heard on this chilled-out feel-good instrumental, which features Flea on trumpet in addition to bass. “He knows all the shit I don’t know,” Flea said of the guitarist at the time. “I basically know nothing about music theory and he’s studied it to death, inside and out. He’s a very disciplined musician — all he cares about are his guitar and his cigarettes.” —H.S.

GERMANY - FEBRUARY 12:  Photo of John FRUSCIANTE and RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS; John Frusciante performing live onstage, playing Fender Stratocaster guitar  (Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns)

Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty Images

“Under the Bridge”

It’s impossible to think of the Chili Peppers’ biggest hit and not picture John Frusciante in the music video, standing in front of a desert backdrop wearing a stocking cap and plucking out the song’s lovely intro on his Fender Jaguar. The fingerpicked passage — a direct nod to Hendrix’s “Little Wing” prelude, according to the guitarist — perfectly establishes the song’s bittersweet mood. “My brain interpreted it as being a really sad song, so I thought if the lyrics are really sad like that I should write some chords that are happier,” Frusciante said. —H.S.

John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers during Red Hot Chili Peppers in Concert - January 20, 2007 at U.S Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. (Photo by Joey Foley/FilmMagic)

Joey Foley/FilmMagic

2007 Live Jam

Some of the best moments on the Stadium Arcadium tour weren’t songs at all. They were wild, funky jams that showed just how tight, and adventurous, the Chili Peppers could be at the same time. Frusciante was the real star in these moments, and a great example is the finale of their show in Poland in July 2007. The band had just encored with 1993’s “Soul to Squeeze” and 1991’s “The Power of Equality” when Anthony Kiedis called for a “freestyle.” It lasted nearly eight minutes, with Frusciante starting out meditatively, playing repetitive and tasteful notes — before taking everyone on a journey to space. Frusciante moves between wah-wah, space guitar, jazz, and more throughout the piece. It peaks around the five-minute mark, when, eyes closed, he climbs up the neck both violently and blissfully. As great as Chad Smith and Flea are, it feels like they’re even trying to catch up to Frusciante here. —P.D.

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 24: John Frusciante and the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform part of the bands "Stadium Arcadium" tour at the Oakland Arena on August 24, 2006 in Oakland California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

“How Deep Is Your Love”

For many shows on Stadium Arcadium tour — in between tearing through favorites like “Parallel Universe” and newer songs like “Snow (Hey Oh)” — Frusciante would take the spotlight and perform a stripped-down cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love.” His falsetto is so velvety it would make the Gibb brothers proud, yet he transforms the disco standard into a soulful burner all his own. —A.M.

scar tissue

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“Scar Tissue”

John Frusciante’s original departure from the Red Hot Chili Peppers after the success of Blood Sugar Sex Magik set the band adrift for much of the Nineties (with all due respect to replacement guitarist Dave Navarro) — but when when he came back in 1998, everything just clicked right back into place. The first glimpse fans had of their stellar comeback album Californication came when the leadoff single “Scar Tissue” hit MTV and rock radio in May 1999. This was a mature band reflecting on their difficult past, climaxing in a mind-blowing guitar solo by Frusciante that sent the band into the 2000s with an incredible burst of momentum. —A.G.

Md19 - 20020611 - Madrid Spain : Members of the Us Band Red Hot Chili Peppers (from L) John Frusciante Michael Flea Anthony Kiedish and Chat Smith Pose For a Photocall Prior to Addressing a Press Conference For the Release of Their Sixth Album 'By the Way' in Madrid Tuesday 11 June 2002 Epa Photo Efe/mondelo Spain MadridSpain Us Band Red Hot Chili Peppers Present New Lp - Jun 2002

Mondelo/EPA/Shutterstock

“The Zephyr Song”

For the follow-up to Californication, Frusciante took the reins in the creation of RHCP’s most underrated record. He spearheaded the laidback melodies and somber backing vocals found on By the Way, most notably on the title track, “Dosed” and “The Zephyr Song” — the latter a hazy stunner that deviates from the band’s signature funk sound and leans into dreamy psychedelia. “Writing By the Way has been one of the happiest times in my life,” he said that year. “It’s been a chance to just keep on writing better songs and improving my guitar playing.” -A.M.

John Frusciante of The Red Hot Chili Peppers waving to the audience and performing during the Red Hot Pit Stop in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup All-Star Challenge Saturday, May 20, 2006, at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/WireImage)

Kevin C. Cox/WireImage

‘Stadium Arcadium’

RHCP’s first Number One album turned out to be their last for more than a decade with Frusciante. At the time, it promised a new direction for the ideal line-up of the funk-rock quartet: Band morale was an all-time high, meaning that the work was more cohesive and balanced than ever before. As a double album, Stadium Arcadium was a huge, ambitious risk — and it paid off, thanks in large part to Frusciante’s continuously evolving approach to guitar. For this album, he looked to his friends in the Mars Volta and singers like Brandy for inspiration. “I’m crazy about the album Aphrodisiac,” he told SPIN in 2006. “A lot of the blues things in my playing were coming more from singers like her and Beyoncé than from guitar players.” In the studio, Frusciante layered his tracks, ditching the breeziness of the past two Chili albums for something meatier, as heard on “Dani California” and “Especially in Michigan.” It’s one of his finest moments in the band, all the more so now that we know it was a (temporary) farewell. —B.S.

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