John Anthony Frusciante (pronounced Frusciante.ogg [fruːˈʃɑːnteɪ] (help·info)) (born March 5, 1970) is an American guitarist, singer, songwriter, and record producer. He is best known as the guitarist of the alternative rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, with whom he has recorded five studio albums. Frusciante also has an active solo career, having released ten albums under his own name, as well as two with Josh Klinghoffer and Joe Lally, as Ataxia. His solo recordings include elements ranging from experimental rock and ambient music to New Wave and electronica. Influenced by guitarists of various genres, Frusciante emphasizes melody and emotion in his guitar playing, and favors vintage guitars and analog recording techniques.
Frusciante joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers at eighteen, first appearing on the band’s 1989 album Mother’s Milk. The group’s follow-up album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, was a breakthrough success. However, he was overwhelmed by the band’s new popularity and quit in 1992. He became a recluse and entered a long period of heroin addiction, during which he released his first recordings: Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt (1994) and Smile from the Streets You Hold (1997). In 1998, he successfully completed drug rehabilitation and rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers for their 1999 album Californication. Since then he has continued to record with the band and has received critical recognition for his guitar playing, ranking eighteenth on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” in 2003.
Frusciante was born in Queens, New York on March 5, 1970. His father, John Sr., is a Juilliard-trained pianist, and his mother Gail was a promising vocalist who gave up her career to be a stay-at-home mother. Frusciante’s family moved to Tucson, Arizona, and then Florida, where his father still serves as a Broward County judge. His parents separated, and he and his mother moved to Santa Monica, California.
A year later, Frusciante and his mother moved to Mar Vista, Los Angeles with his new stepfather who, he says, “really supported me and made me feel good about being an artist.” Like many young people in the area, he became intimately involved in the L.A. punk rock scene. At nine he was infatuated with The Germs, wearing out several copies of their record (GI). By ten, he had taught himself how to play most of (GI)’s songs in a tuning that allowed him to play every chord with a single-finger barre. Soon after, Frusciante began taking guitar lessons from an instructor who introduced him to the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Frusciante began studying guitarists like Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix at eleven. After mastering the blues scale, he discovered Frank Zappa, whose work he would study for hours. He dropped out of high school at sixteen with the permission of his parents and completion of a proficiency test. With their support, he moved to Los Angeles in order to develop his musical proficiency. He began taking classes at the Guitar Institute of Technology, but turned to punching in without actually attending and left shortly thereafter.
In late 1997, after more than five years of addiction to heroin, Frusciante quit it cold turkey. However, months later he was still unable to break addictions to crack cocaine and alcohol. In January 1998, urged by longtime friend Bob Forrest, Frusciante checked into Las Encinas, a drug rehabilitation clinic in Pasadena, to begin a full recovery. Upon arrival, he was diagnosed with a potentially lethal oral infection, which could only be alleviated by removing all of his teeth and replacing them with dentures. He also received skin grafts to help repair the abscesses on his ravaged arms. About a month later, Frusciante checked out of Las Encinas and reentered society.
Fully recovered and once again healthy, Frusciante began living a more spiritual, ascetic lifestyle. He changed his diet, becoming more health-conscious and eating mostly unprocessed foods. Through regular practice of vipassana and yoga, he discovered the effect self-discipline has on the body. To maintain his increased spiritual awareness and reduce distraction from his music, Frusciante decided to abstain from sexual activity stating: “I’m very well without it.” All of these changes in his life have led him to a complete change in his attitude toward drugs:
“ I don’t need to take drugs. I feel so much more high all the time right now because of the type of momentum that a person can get going when you really dedicate yourself to something that you really love. I don’t even consider doing them, they’re completely silly. Between my dedication to trying to constantly be a better musician and eating my health foods and doing yoga, I feel so much more high than I did for the last few years of doing drugs.
At this point I’m the happiest person in the world. These things do not fuck with me at all, and I’m so proud of that—you don’t know how proud I am. It’s such a beautiful thing to be able to face life, to face yourself, without hiding behind drugs; without having to have anger towards people who love you. There are people who are scared of losing stuff, but you don’t lose anything for any other reason than if you just give up on yourself.
Despite his experience as an addict, Frusciante does not view his drug use as a “dark period” in his life. He considers it a period of rebirth, during which he found himself and cleared his mind. Frusciante has since stopped practicing yoga, due its effects on his back, but he still tries to meditate daily.
In early 1998, the Red Hot Chili Peppers fired guitarist Dave Navarro and were on the verge of breaking up. Flea told Kiedis, “the only way I could imagine carrying on [with the Red Hot Chili Peppers] is if we got John back in the band.” With Frusciante free of his addictions and ailments, Kiedis and Flea thought it was an appropriate time to invite him back. When Flea visited him at his home and asked him to rejoin the band, Frusciante began sobbing and said “nothing would make me happier in the world.” With Frusciante back on guitar, the Chili Peppers began recording their next album, Californication, released in 1999. Frusciante’s return restored a key component of the Chili Peppers’ sound, as well as a healthy morale. He brought with him his deep devotion to music, which had an impact on the band’s recording style during the album. Frusciante has frequently stated that his work on Californication was his favorite.
During the Californication world tour, Frusciante continued to write his own songs, many of which would be released in 2001 on his third solo album To Record Only Water for Ten Days. The album was stylistically unlike his previous records, less markedly stream-of-consciousness or avant-garde. However, the lyrics were still very cryptic and its sound was notably stripped down. The songwriting and production of To Record Only Water for Ten Days were more efficient and straightforward than on his previous recordings. The album strayed from the alternative rock he had just written with the Chili Peppers on Californication, focusing more on electronic and New Wave elements. Instead of focusing mostly[vague] on his guitar work, Frusciante experimented with a variety of synthesizers, a distinctive feature of the record.
In 2001, Frusciante began recording his fourth album with Red Hot Chili Peppers, By the Way; he considered the time to be among the happiest in his life. He relished the chance the album gave him to “keep writing better songs”. While working on By the Way, he also composed most of what would become Shadows Collide with People, as well as the songs created for the movie The Brown Bunny. His goal to improve his guitar playing on the album was largely driven by a desire to emulate guitar players such as Andy Partridge, Johnny Marr and John McGeoch; or as he put it, “people who used good chords”. The album marked Frusciante’s shift to a more group-minded mentality within the Chili Peppers, viewing the band as a cohesive unit rather than as four separate entities. By the Way was released in the U.S. on July 9, 2002.
Frusciante’s musical style has evolved. Although he previously received moderate recognition for his guitar work, it was not until recently that music critics and guitarists alike began to fully recognize it: in October of 2003, he was ranked eighteenth in Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time”. Frusciante attributes this recent recognition to his shift in focus, stating that he chose an approach based on rhythmic patterns inspired by the complexity of material Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen produced. On earlier records, however, much of his output was influenced by various underground punk and New Wave musicians. In general, his sound is also defined by an affinity for vintage guitars. All the guitars that he owns, records, and tours with were made before 1970. Frusciante will use the specific guitar that he finds appropriate for a certain song. All of the guitars he owned before quitting the band were destroyed when his house burned down in 1996. The first guitar he bought after rejoining the Chili Peppers was a 1967 red Fender Jaguar. His most-often used guitar, however, is a 1962 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster which he has played on every album since joining the Chili Peppers, and their ensuing tours. Frusciante’s most prized instrument is a 1957 Gretsch White Falcon, which he used twice per show during the By the Way tour. He has since stopped using it, saying there was “no room for it”. Virtually all of Frusciante’s acoustic work is played with a 1950s Martin 0-15.
Frusciante uses a variety of vocal styles on his solo albums, ranging from the distressed screeches on Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt and Smile from the Streets You Hold to more conventional styles on later records. With the Chili Peppers, Frusciante provides backing vocals in a falsetto tenor, a style he started on Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He thoroughly enjoys his role in the Chili Peppers as backup singer, and says that backing vocals are a “real art form”. Despite his commitment to the Chili Peppers, he feels very strongly that his solo material and his contributions to the band should remain separate. When he returned to the Chili Peppers in 1999, Kiedis wanted the band to record “Living in Hell”, a song Frusciante had written several years before. Frusciante refused, feeling that the creative freedom he needs for his solo projects could conflict with his role in the band.