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Flea (1962)

Michael Peter Balzary

Type :  

  Summary  

Michael Peter Balzary , better known by his stage name Flea, is an Australian-American musician and occasional actor. He is best known as the bassist, co-founding member, and one of the composers of the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea is also the co-founder of Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a non-profit music education organization founded in 2001.

Originally a jazz trumpet prodigy, Flea learned to play bass in high school from close friend and future Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Hillel Slovak, who required a bassist for his band Anthym, and soon developed his own style. Flea joined the group, but quit several months later in order to play for the punk rock outfit Fear. He then rejoined Slovak to form an intended one-off band Tony Flow and the Majestic Masters of Mayhem along with fellow high school alumni Anthony Kiedis and Jack Irons; the impromptu collaboration would ultimately give birth to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Highly regarded as one of the best rock bass players of all time, his work as a bassist incorporates several musical styles, ranging from aggressive slap bass to more subdued and melodic techniques. Drawing influences from funk music and punk rock, Flea centers his playing on simplicity and minimalism while viewing complexity as a device that should be used in moderation. Aside from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he has collaborated with many artists, including Jane's Addiction, Atoms for Peace, The Mars Volta, Alanis Morissette, Johnny Cash, Young MC and P.

Flea has made numerous forays into acting, appearing in films that span many genres such as Back to the Future Part II and Part III , Motorama The Chase , Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , My Own Private Idaho , Suburbia and The Big Lebowski .

  Biography  

 early life
Flea was born in Burwood, Melbourne, Australia. His father, Mick Balzary, an avid fisherman, often took him fishing. When Flea was five, his family moved to Larchmont, New York for his father's career. In 1971, his parents divorced and his father returned to Australia. Flea and his siblings stayed with their mother Patricia, who soon remarried to a jazz musician. Flea's stepfather, Walter Abdul Urban (1941–2011), frequently invited musicians to his house, where jam sessions would often take place. The family moved again to Los Angeles, California, where Flea became fascinated with the trumpet. He had no interest in rock music at the time; he idolized jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. Balzary is of Hungarian and Irish descent.

His stepfather was an "aggressive alcoholic" who eventually became involved in shoot-outs with police. "I was raised in a very violent, alcoholic household," Flea later said, "I grew up being terrified of my parents, particularly my father figures. It caused a lot of trouble later in life." To cope, Flea began smoking cannabis at 13, and became a daily user.

Flea attended Fairfax High School, and was somewhat of an outcast due to his taste in music. However, he soon met Anthony Kiedis, and after a brief confrontation, the two became best friends. Kiedis recalled: "We were drawn to each other by the forces of mischief and love and we became virtually inseparable. We were both social outcasts. We found each other and it turned out to be the longest-lasting friendship of my life." Flea was turned on to rock music, particularly punk rock by a friend in high school named Hillel Slovak. Slovak asked him to be a bassist a in a punk band he was starting. He met Anthony Kiedis; they became roommates and after a time, they were offered a gig and played under a preliminary name. However, every show after that, they were referred to as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

 career
 1984–1990: First four albums
The band's concert repertoire grew to nine songs as a result of months of playing at local nightclubs and bars. The Red Hot Chili Peppers entered Bijou Studios to record a demo tape produced by the then-drummer of Fear and subsequently secured a record deal with EMI. Irons and Slovak however, decided to leave the Red Hot Chili Peppers in order to pursue a "more serious" future with rock band What Is This?. Flea ultimately respected the decision, but felt the band would be lost without them. He and Kiedis hired drummer Cliff Martinez and guitarist Jack Sherman to fill Iron's and Slovak's places, respectively. Andy Gill, formerly of Gang of Four, agreed to produce their first album. Gill and Sherman clashed with Flea and Kiedis; they continuously argued over music style, sound, and the album's production. Flea himself felt that the album was stiff and "a big mistake", but also admitted "we were just disrespectful and obnoxious". The band's eponymous debut album, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, was released on August 10, 1984 to largely poor critical and commercial review. After a relatively unfruitful tour, Sherman was fired in early 1985. Slovak, who had been contemplating a return to the Chili Peppers, rejoined the group after being encouraged by Flea.

Funk musician George Clinton was hired to produce the band's second album, Freaky Styley. The strong chemistry between Clinton and the Chili Peppers was felt instantly. Flea later referred to Clinton as "the warmest, kindest man in the world". Freaky Styley was released in August 1985. It received only a bit more attention than The Red Hot Chili Peppers with roughly 75,000 copies sold by year's end. Flea was somewhat indifferent to the poor album sales as he had recently proposed to girlfriend Loesha Zeviar, who was pregnant with their child. The band hired Michael Beinhorn, their last resort among potential producers, to work on their next album. What Is This? had finally disbanded, and Irons returned to the Chili Peppers in mid 1986 after Martinez was fired. Flea, Slovak and Kiedis especially were involved in heavy drug use and their relationships became strained. Flea recalled that "it began to seem ugly to me and not fun; our communication was not healthy". Kiedis became dependent on heroin, leaving Flea and Slovak to work on much of the album's material by themselves. Flea and Zeviar married, and she gave birth to their daughter, Clara.

Kiedis was briefly kicked out of the band, and given a month to rehabilitate. Kiedis completed the rehab and rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Los Angeles to record their third album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Flea has referred to the album as "the 'rockingest' record" the band has ever made. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan proved to be far more successful, commercially and critically, than the Chili Peppers' preceding albums; registering at number 148 on the Billboard 200. Following the Uplift tour, Slovak's drug use dramatically increased. Flea's relationship with Slovak faded, and Slovak became isolated and depressed. On June 28, 1988, Slovak was found dead of a heroin overdose. Flea reflected: "I didn't really know how to deal with that sadness, and I don't think knew how to deal with it either." Irons, who was taking Slovak's death particularly hard, left the group.

Flea and Kiedis took some time to collect themselves, but decided to keep the band together. Guitarist DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight and drummer D.H. Peligro were added, and the band entered the studio to record a new album. McKnight soon began to create tension within the group, as his style did not mesh with the rest of the band. Peligro, the former drummer of the punk rock band Dead Kennedys, was a friend of John Frusciante, an eighteen year old guitarist and avid Red Hot Chili Peppers fan. Peligro introduced Frusciante to Flea, and the three jammed together on several occasions. Flea was impressed with Frusciante's skill, and astonished by his knowledge of the Chili Peppers' repertoire. Flea realized that Frusciante could provide the spark McKnight was lacking. McKnight was fired, and Frusciante accepted an invitation to join the band. Peligro was fired shortly thereafter; the Chili Peppers brought in drummer Chad Smith as his replacement. Flea and Zeviar started to grow apart, and he began trying to recreate the memories of his adolescence by smoking marijuana on a daily basis. The Chili Peppers entered the studio, and completed recording of their fourth album, Mother's Milk, in early 1989. Upon release, the album was met with mixed reactions from critics, but received far more commercial attention, peaking at number fifty-eight on the Billboard 200. After this, Flea made appearances playing the trumpet on Jane's Addiction's 1988 album Nothing's Shocking, and bass on the critically acclaimed 1989 Young MC album Stone Cold Rhymin'. He would also appear in the video for "Bust a Move", the hit single from the same album.

 1990–1998: Mainstream success and side projects
The ensuing Mother's Milk tour put a strain on Flea's marriage. In order to make money, he needed to tour, and therefore spend time away from his family. Furthermore, he and Smith were arrested on charges of battery and sexual harassment after a performance on MTV's coverage of spring break; charges were eventually dropped. The band was, however, attracting over three thousand people per show; Mother's Milk had been certified as a gold record in early 1990. By the time Red Hot Chili Peppers returned to Los Angeles, Flea and Zeviar agreed to a separation. He tried to put the separation out of his mind by smoking marijuana and having sex with random groupies when the band was on tour for Mothers Milk.

When the tour was over, the Red Hot Chili Peppers severed ties with EMI and signed with Warner Bros. Records. Rick Rubin, who had rejected an opportunity to produce The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, agreed to produce their next album. Flea had largely used the principal slap bass technique on the band's preceding four albums, and decided to downplay this style in favor of more conventional, melodic bass lines. To record the album, Rubin suggested a mansion that once belonged to magician Harry Houdini. Flea felt it was "a creatively fertile situation", and decided to bring his daughter Clara with him. He and the rest of the band, excluding Smith, remained inside the house for the entire recording process. When not writing or recording the album, Flea spent a large portion of his time with Frusciante smoking large quantities of marijuana. The emotions Flea felt during the album's recording were like nothing he had ever experienced:

When we made Blood Sugar Sex Magik we spent a lot of time jamming—every day, for hours and hours. I remember during that time Anthony went off and made a movie, and for a long time it was just me, John and Chad, and we'd just go in there and play. Me and John were hitting the bong and we just rocked and grooved forever. It was the first time we went in to make a record where there wasn't this feeling of being sort of intimidated by what was going to happen.

When Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released on September 24, 1991, it received an overwhelmingly positive critical response. The album peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 200, and went on to sell over seven million copies in the U.S. alone. The album's ensuing tour was critically acclaimed—the Chili Peppers commonly performed shows with over twenty thousand in attendance. Seattle-based grunge band Nirvana also toured with them during the West Coast leg of their United States tour. The massive attention the Chili Peppers started receiving, however, caused Frusciante to feel extremely uncomfortable, and he abruptly quit the band during the Japanese leg of the album's tour. The band hired guitarist Arik Marshall to complete the remaining tour dates.

Marshall was fired at the end of the tour, and the band added former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro to record a new album. Kiedis was in the middle of a heroin relapse, which forced Flea to assume the role of lyricist, something he had not yet done. He wrote most of the song "Transcending", and the intro to "Deep Kick". Flea also wrote the lyrics to an entire song; "Pea", in which he both played bass and sang. These three songs appeared on the Chili Peppers' sixth record One Hot Minute, which was released on September 12, 1995. The album received mixed reviews and was significantly less commercially successful than Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The One Hot Minute tour was ultimately cut short due to various injuries Kiedis and Smith received, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to go on hiatus. Flea began to practice yoga, and slowly decreased his marijuana consumption. Due to the Chili Peppers' inactivity, Flea joined Navarro in a Jane's Addiction reunion tour in 1997, filling in for ex-Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery. Rumors spread that the band was breaking up, until Navarro stated otherwise: "I want to clarify that the Chili Peppers are not breaking up ... Flea and I are more than happy to do both projects, time permitting."

Flea also had plans to record a solo album. He asked Chili Peppers manager Lindy Goetz to help him promote the record and his future solo career. Flea eventually abandoned the idea in favor of offering his bass services to other artists. He performed on over forty records from 1995 to 1998, ranging from Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill to former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt's debut solo album Ball-Hog or Tugboat?. He also worked with Tori Amos and Michael Stipe on a track for the soundtrack to the 1995 Johnny Depp film Don Juan DeMarco. Navarro was fired from the Chili Peppers in 1998, and Flea questioned whether or not the Red Hot Chili Peppers would stay together: "... the only way I could imagine carrying on is if we got John back in the band." Frusciante had completed drug rehabilitation in 1997 after a severe addiction to heroin and crack cocaine left him on the brink of death. Flea visited Frusciante in early 1998, inviting him back to the Chili Peppers; an emotional Frusciante readily accepted.

 1998–2007: Californication, By the Way and Stadium Arcadium
The band, with Frusciante back on guitar, began writing new songs during the summer of 1998 in Flea's garage. He and Kiedis were less confident in writing the album, after the disappointing results of One Hot Minute. Flea had also recently broken up with his girlfriend of two years, Marissa Pouw, causing him to enter a state of depression, which was only lifted when his daughter, Clara, comforted him after several weeks of crying.

Flea was heavily influenced by electronica during the writing and recording of Californication and he attempted to emulate this when writing bass lines for the album. Californication took less than two weeks to record; by contrast, One Hot Minute took over a year. When Californication was released on June 8, 1999 it received overwhelmingly positive critical reviews and sold fifteen million copies worldwide—more than Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The Chili Peppers played Woodstock 1999, with Flea playing completely naked—something he would do again at the Reading and Leeds Festivals the same year as well as several other Californication tour concerts.

Flea felt like the public school system was seriously lacking in exposing children to music by drastically reducing, and sometimes eliminating, art related programs. He founded the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a school dedicated to help youth progress in music, because of this. "I just wanted to fill the void that public education has cut from their curriculum. They've dropped the ball by cutting out music programs," Flea laments, "I grew up in LA public schools and was in the music department. It was really an important thing for my life, it gave me something to hold onto, and it was an important access for me. Without music I would've gotten into a lot of trouble and there are a lot of kids like me out there. I just wanted to try to provide something like what I got."


Red Hot Chili Peppers spent most of 2001 writing their eighth studio album, By the Way. The entire band began listening to more melodic, textured music that would reflect heavily on the album. Frusciante became the driving force behind By the Way, causing initial strife between him and Flea. If the bassist introduced a funk rhythm into his bass lines, the guitarist would consequently disapprove. By the Way was released on July 9, 2002 to positive critical reviews. Although not as successful as Californication or Blood Sugar Sex Magik, By the Way would go on to sell over nine million copies worldwide. The ensuing tour, however, was extremely profitable; the Chili Peppers performed three concerts in London's Hyde Park to over 250,000 attendees and a total gross accumulation of $17.1 million. It became the highest grossing concert at a single venue in history.

After another two year world tour, the Chili Peppers wrote their ninth studio album Stadium Arcadium. Unlike By the Way, both Flea and Frusciante were more musically conjoined when writing the record. They found inspiration in Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eddie Van Halen among others. The double album was ultimately released on May 9, 2006 to generally positive reviews, selling over seven million copies in less than two years. In November 2007, Flea's $4.8 million Corral Canyon home in Malibu was burnt down by a wildfire. The location was not, however, his primary residence and had been vacated pending sales.

 2008–present: Chili Peppers hiatus, return to school and I'm with You
After the band announced a long hiatus due to exhaustion, Flea enrolled in music classes at the University of Southern California. Beginning in the fall of 2008, the bassist is studying music theory, composition and jazz trumpet. Flea attributes his interest in attending such courses to a newfound desire to widen his appreciation and understanding of music: "it’s so much fun to learn this stuff because I never knew anything. I played trumpet in the school bands. I learned things I liked to play on my trumpet but I didn’t learn why this note goes with this note and why it produces that sound. Or how to create tension in the composition Knowing the structure is really fun." Flea also revealed plans to release a mainly instrumental solo record that was being recorded in his home; guest musicians include Patti Smith and a choir from the Silverlake Conservatory.

Flea is also a part of Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke's live band with Joey Waronker, Mauro Refosco and Nigel Godrich. The band performed two shows in Los Angeles in early October 2009, including the entirety of Yorke's 2006 solo album, The Eraser. The ensemble adopted the name Atoms for Peace and said they would perform dates leading up to an appearance at the 2010 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

The Chili Peppers ended their hiatus in October 2009 though were without guitarist John Frusciante, who quit the band in order to pursue other musical interests. Frusciante was replaced by Josh Klinghoffer. The band began rehearsing and writing for their tenth studio album.

On March 20, 2011, Flea ran the LA Marathon to raise money for the Silverlake Conservatory of Music through Crowdrise. Flea was also featured in Runner's World magazine discussing his preparation for the race.

In April 2011, Flea finished second in an online poll conducted by Contact Music to name the best bass guitarist in rock music. Flea lost to the late John Entwistle of The Who. Rounding out the top five were Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee and Les Claypool.

On April 21, 2011, Flea appeared on the radio show of The Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, giving a interview and jamming with him.

Flea commented about the Chili Peppers new album on April 30, 2011 through his Twitter page, saying the new album is a beautiful thing, a new thing, a warm thing full of love and violence and deep funky grooves for humans.

On June 9, 2011, Flea announced that he is giving away a personally customized bass guitar covered with graffiti and a one-on-one bass lesson as a prize in a eBay auction. The auction will benefit Style Wars, a 1983 documentary on early hip hop. The auction will raise money for restoring the film’s negatives. Brad Pitt, James Franco and Spike Jonze also took part in the auction which ended on June 11, 2011.

In June 2011, Flea was voted the second-best bass guitarist of all time by the readers of Rolling Stone magazine, being surpassed only by John Entwistle of The Who.

In a June 23, 2011 interview, Flea discussed the band's return and how he almost quit the Chili Peppers during their hiatus. Flea said that he just felt like he wanted to take two years away just to really look and see if the band was something we should still be doing." "Things had gotten dysfunctional and not fun, even though I thought we were making great records, doing great shows and were a really powerful, mighty thing as a band. I was proud of what we did." "For me, the biggest thing during the time off, and what really made me want to continue doing the band, specifically after decided he didn't want to continue in the band anymore, I just realized, Anthony, man, he's my brother, I love him so much, and we started this band when we were kids. I wanted to keep that going, I never want to let that go. Playing with him is something, even though I can do other things that are exciting and beautiful and I always will do those things and I'll always want to grow and do music outside of the band, the thing that we have is special to us and something that is blood."

The Red Hot Chili Peppers released their tenth studio album, I'm with You on August 29, 2011.

Flea played bass on 2 songs on Tom Waits's 2011 album Bad as Me, released on October 21.

On October 27, 2011 it was announced that Flea's side-project with Damon Albarn and afrobeat legend, Tony Allen would be called Rocketjuice and The Moon. According to Albarn on where the band's name came from, someone in Lagos did the sleeve design and that’s the name he gave it which he said he is fine with because trying to find a name for another band is always tricky. The band will make their live debut on October 29, 2011 in London and their debut album will be released in 2012.

On December 7, 2011, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were announced as 2012 inductees into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Flea commented on the induction by saying "It’s always been easy for me to pooh-pooh these awards — the Hall of Fame too. But I inducted Metallica a couple of years ago, and it was really a beautiful thing to see as all these people were being inducted. It made me love it. I love halls of fame anyway — the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Hall of Fame. So I feel grateful for the recognition of what we have done and for the hope and potential of what we’ll continue to do.”

 personal life
From 1985 to 1990 Flea was married to Loesha Zeivar (Loesha's name still remains tattooed on Flea's chest). Together they had one daughter, Clara Balzary, who was born in 1988. Clara has been featured in many Chili Peppers books and documentaries including the band's Funky Monks documentary. She also has appeared at many shows and as a child even provided artwork for the band's t-shirts and promotional material. As an adult, Clara was most recently in the short-lived band, The Tints and is also an aspiring artist and photographer, taking the promotional photographs for the new Red Hot Chili Peppers record. Loesha currently works as a Resident Technician at the Pasadena Recovery Center and was featured on the reality series, Celebrity Rehab. Flea is a fan of English football team Sheffield United

Flea married for the second time in 2005 to model, Frankie Rayder. They had their first child together, Sunny Bebop Balzary, who was born in 2005. John Frusciante is the Godparent of Sunny.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Michael Balzary", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.