Over the course of their 28 years, change has been a near constant for the Red Hot Chili Peppers … particularly when it comes to the man charged with playing guitar. Beginning with Jack Sherman, the Peppers have run through a string of ax men, including Hillel Slovak (who tragically died of a heroin overdose in 1988), Arik Marshall, Dave Navarro and, of course, John Frusciante, who not only played with the band the longest, but was famously responsible — in some form or another — for their biggest hits and best albums.
As you probably know by now, Frusciante continued the transitional trend when he left the Peppers during the hiatus that preceded their brand-new I’m With You album … leaving a rather sizable hole in the band’s lineup, and an even larger pair of shoes to fill.
Luckily, the band didn’t have to look far to find his replacement: 31-year-old Josh Klinghoffer, who was not only a friend of Frusciante but had toured with the Chili Peppers towards the end of their Stadium Arcadium trek. And no, they didn’t even think about going with anyone else.
“He was the only choice, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was our friend, and it’s just rare that you have someone who’s right there and completely overqualified for the job. I mean, that combination doesn’t happen every day, so to ignore it would have been stupid,” RHCP frontman Anthony Kiedis told MTV News. “And it felt really good to call your friend and ask if they wanted to play music, as opposed to going to a stranger and asking them that.”
So Klinghoffer stepped in and almost immediately found himself in the studio, as the Peppers began work on I’m With You. And if he was intimidated, well, the soft-spoken guitarist certainly wasn’t about to let his new bandmates know about it.
“I just tried to stay in the moment, remain present,” he said, smiling slightly. “I mean, I’ve known them for a long time, and knowing how they work and just how much they care about what they do … The band, from its inception, has always been about four people getting into a room and making music together. And that’s whether I brought in a chord progression or Flea did, or John in the past, or anyone before that, it was the same. We were doing it together.”
Of course, Kiedis was more effusive with his praise, saying that Klinghoffer not only fit in with the band but breathed new life into it. And it was because of him that I’m With You pushes the Peppers’ sound further than it’s ever gone before.
“We had a load of faith in Josh coming into this band, and it was kind of understood that we are a band of equals when it comes to writing and contributing. The more the merrier,” Kiedis said. “There’s something that happens during that process of just playing for the sake of playing, for communicating, for letting your abilities mingle with those of the guy next to you.
“Both Josh and Flea would come in with ideas, homework, that they had done, and since Flea had been to school to learn piano and theory, he was coming in more frequently with piano chords instead of bass lines,” he continued. “Josh kind of understands it without school, and Flea understands it, so their conversations were quite beautiful, and it sounded like Thelonious Monk talking to Coltrane or something. I mean that, honestly.”