By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
"My biggest strength as a musician is that I sound like myself, not anybody else. I think the main point of music is expression"
Bass Player Magazine
Discovering players and having a closer look at their unique approaches and individual personalities in relation to their instruments has been a fascinating journey, this particular spotlight is really one that breaks the mould and is about as punk rock as you will ever get.
An instantly recognisable figure and staple in the bass guitar community respected for his playing capabilities as much as his on stage antics.
A straight talking, no nonsense character that expresses himself through his instrument and beyond; an artist, an actor, and everything in between, as a player this man is relentless and highly animated, every performance is a statement and every studio recording is a textured artistic piece.
A key figure in one of the most important trios of our generation, we can only be describing one man: the endlessly charismatic Michael Peter Balzary aka… “Flea”!
The Youth Of A Funk Star 🎺
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 16th October 1962 Michael Peter Balzary was born. Hailing from a Hungarian father and an Irish mother, having initially been born in Australia the family quickly moved to the Big Apple 🍏 when Michael was four years old to support his father's career.
It seems overly familiar in that generation that parents would have to move country or move great distances to enable themselves to secure longterm work.
Unfortunately a few years into the move things became unsettled and his parents divorced, his father moved back to Australia, Michael followed him to Australia to spend time with his father and completed three years of schooling over there.
Michael and his sister Karyn settled down with their mother Patricia in New York after a lot of backwards and forwards to Australia throughout the adjustment period and accepting the separation of their parents. Patricia would go on to marry Jazz musician Walter Urban, it's this significant moment that opened a new realm of discovery for a young impressionable Michael.
The fascination with music and its culture began here for a young Michael, his stepfather water would have musicians visiting the house continually and they would have extensive jam sessions working through stuff and putting pieces together.
Michael would sit in and observe and was completely infatuated by the energy and sound he was hearing from the jazz musicians.
As he began to attend school he was an immediate outcast due to his music tastes, with many of the other children into the modern disco and dance music of popular culture Michael was sporting Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie records.
“There were jam sessions at the house all the time, and the people would play music that just blew my mind. As a kid having no preconceptions about music, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever experienced. These guys would pick up these things and start blowing and sucking and hitting and plucking, and it made me so happy I’d roll around on the floor laughing.
That was the first time I felt the real beauty of music. I’d been exposed to music before, but I never got into it; it was just there, and I was into playing ball and stuff. I had never actually seen people play. When I was 11, Walter got me to start learning the trumpet, and I played all through junior high school and high school in the jam bands and orchestras. I also played in the L.A. Junior Philharmonic and the LACC Jazz Band.”
Source - http://thechilisource.com/1992-february-bass-player-flea
A key moment in time was when Michael formed a companionship with another outcast at the school, Anthony Kiedis. Initially meeting through a confrontational situation the pair recognised their similarities and formed a life-long bond, they’ve been inseparable ever since.
Once in with the out crowd Michael really began to find his identity and delve into his love of music and formally express himself as an individual.
So let's come to the name and how it came about... Michael Peter Balzary was known for his inability to sit still or concentrate on one area. His flitting personality and nature gifted him the nickname “Flea”, initially he was known to his friends as Mikey B. “The Flea” which would eventually evolve into the singular - Flea.
An iconic name in the world of rock 'n' roll and the world of bass guitarists. So let's dive into the iconic player and how he became to be the Bass Player he is today.
“I don’t know shit about bass, but I’ll talk to you anyway.”
Flea - Bass Player Magazine 1992
In the world of bass guitar it’s hard to find many names to sit above Flea in regards to iconic status, revered as a complex, funky, and somewhat frantic player you would imagine his musical roots with the instrument to be intense and theoretically charged… In fact it’s quite the opposite and couldn’t be more primitive & punk rock if it tried.
“In high school, I met Hillel Slovak. He had a band, and he asked me if I was interested in playing bass. I had never played bass before, but I went out and bought a Fender Mustang and played my first gig after only two weeks—three sets! Hillel also got me into rock music. Before I met him, I was listening to Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, and other trumpet players. Hillel introduced me to Zeppelin, Rush, and Hendrix—the Hendrix really got me. Then I got into the Bill Bruford Band with Allan Holdsworth and Jeff Berlin, the Dixie Dregs, and other fusion stuff. I was in Hillel’s band, What Is This, for a few years. By 1982, I had shaved my head and gotten into taking acid and acting wacky and crazy, and the next thing you know I had quit Hillel’s band and joined the punk band Fear. It was a complete turn—all of a sudden I was playing bare-bones, raw-energy punk rock.”
Flea - Bass Player Magazine 1992
Few rock groups of the '80s broke down as many musical barriers and were as original as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who evolved from fun-loving party boys to alt-rock elder statesmen over the decades. Perfecting a rousing musical style that combined funk and punk rock together (with an explosive stage show to boot), the Chili Peppers spawned a slew of imitators in their wake, but still managed to be the leaders of the pack into the 21st century.
Making noise on the Los Angeles scene with early albums such as 1985's Freaky Styley and 1989's Mother's Milk, they made a huge breakthrough with 1991's landmark Blood Sugar Sex Magik, a multi-platinum smash hit that spawned some of their most recognized songs, "Give It Away" and "Under the Bridge." That album's success was bested in 1999 with another catalog peak, the chart-topping Californication, which found the band in a more reflective and melodic state.
Excerpt - Allmusic.com
Flea Booms 💥 🎸
“I took one lesson when I started playing bass. I was having a great time with the instrument, banging it and hitting it with a cup and everything; I walked into the lesson, and the guy said, “I want you to learn this music.” It was “Take It Easy” by the Eagles. I said, “Fuck this—no way!” So I never went back.”
Flea - Bass Player Magazine 1992
Flea has such an individual style and attack, there really isn't anything quite like it and he is so unique as a musician and performer he cannot be stereotyped in anyway.
As you can see from the many photographs of his instruments they are heavily worn and used - in the right way - to their limits! This is of course due to his frantic nature of playing at his very animated stage performances.
Such an explosive player would of course require a very highly durable and highly reliable string, Flea must have gone through many string manufacturers and construction styles until he settled on what would work for his highly demanding needs.
GHS the long-standing American manufacturer is the 'go to' brand for countless professional musicians and rock stars alike. Legends and icons have put their faith in GHS over the decades and this long-standing collaboration reflects their flawless integrity as a heritage manufacturer.
Here's what GHS have to say about Flea's signature bass guitar string set.
“GHS Boomers Flea Signature Bass Guitar Strings
The Red Hot Chili 🌶 Peppers count on Flea to provide that hard driving bottom end and these strings are a crucial part of that signature sound. Using the Bass Boomers formula found in their entire line (nickel-plated steel with a special combination of stainless steel and nickel-plate on the low E string), Flea is able to provide the bottom end to the RCHP sound that has inspired many for decades.
The GHS Boomer Bass guitar string is just a solid, quality string. A very popular bass guitar string.
These strings have nickel-plated steel for the wrap wire, with the low E & B having a combo of stainless steel and nickel-plate, wound on a hexagonal core. They also have a nice mid range punch.
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