By Leon Wilson from Sydney, Australia (Flea) [CC BY 2.0]
Michael Peter Balzary or Flea is best known as the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His funk slapping and melodic grooves has inspired a new generation of bass players.
Born on October 16th, 1962 in Australia, he moved to New York when he was 7 years old. At 11, his family relocated to Los Angeles, California. His step-father was a jazz musician who had frequent jam sessions at their home. As a child Flea had a love for Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong so he took up trumpet.
He met Anthony Kiedis in high school and they instantly became best friends. Kiedis and other school friends helped Flea expand his musical tastes to punk, funk and rock. He learned bass at age 17 from his friend Hillel Slovak and played in a few bands before starting the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
RHCP are one of the most successful funk/rock bands of the 90s and 00s. As a founding member Flea is a central part of their sound. In early albums, he brought frantic funk with punk ethos but since BSSM (Blood Sugar Sex Magic) he started emphasizing melody and minimalism. After One Hot Minute Flea contributed more to the songwriting, most notably with the song Pea. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14, 2012.
In the mid-90s he did session work for several artists including Alanis Morissette, Sir Mix-a-lot and Jane’s Addiction. In 2012 Flea released his first solo EP Helen Burns.
Flea is on the majority of modern top ten best bassists’ lists. His bassline in Give it Away is often touted as one of the greatest. He has reinforced the importance of bass in modern rock music.
- Musicman Stingray
- Spector Ns-2
- Spector LV
- Wal Mach II
- Fender Jazz
- Modulas Flea Bass
- Custom Fender
- Gallien-Krueger 2001RB
- Gallien-Krueger 410 & 115 cabinets
- MXR Micro Ampz
- Electro Harmonix Q-Tron
- Boss ODB-3
- Dunlop 105Q
Flea was synonymous with Musicman Stingray in his early career. He played a Spector Ns-2 on Mother’s Milk and a Spector LV on Uplift Mofo Party Plan.
On the majority of BSSM he used a Wal Mach II. For One Hot Minute he used an Alembic epic. He played his treasured 1961 Shell Pink Fender Jazz for Stadium Arcadium.
Live, he used a Modulas Flea Bass with lane poor pickups and an aguilar preamp with a Badass Bridge. He is currently using a sliver custom shop Fender with an aguilar humbucker.
He sets up his bass with a very low action and changes his strings every day. Flea tapes down the pots on his bass so they don’t slip. Bass is set to max, and the treble is low.
His amp is a Gallien-Krueger 2001RB running into three 410s and three 115 cabinets.
He uses his own signature set of GHS Boomers roundwound, 45 to 105 strings.
MXR Micro Amp for boost and an Electro Harmonix Q-Tron for filter effects. For distortion, a Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive and for Wah, a Dunlop 105Q.
In his early career he primarily used a funk slap style bass playing. His slap technique is unusual in that he slaps with his thumb down towards the floor. Flea makes regular use of octaves, and pops them all over the fretboard. Some of his lines are mistaken for slapped, but are actually plucked very aggressively.
His melody is rarely in unison with the guitar but still supports and compliments it. Flea rarely uses a pick, exceptions are on the songs Don’t Forget Me and Parallel Universe.
Blood Sugar Sex Magic, 1991
Blood Sugar Sex Magic, 1991
One Hot Minute, 1995
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Image By Leon Wilson from Sydney, Australia (Flea) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons