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Slovak performing at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1983.
|Native name||הלל סלובק|
|Also known as||Slim
The Israeli Cowboy
April 13, 1962|
|Died||June 25, 1988
Los Angeles, California, USA
|Genres||Funk rock, punk rock, funk metal|
|Instruments||Guitar, talk box, sitar|
|Associated acts||Red Hot Chili Peppers, What Is This?|
Gibson Les Paul
Hillel Slovak (Hebrew: הלל סלובק) (April 13, 1962 – June 25, 1988) was an Israeli-American musician best known as the original guitarist and founding member of the Los Angeles rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. Prior to his death of a heroin overdose in 1988, Slovak recorded two albums with the band, Freaky Styley (1985) and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987).
Born in Haifa, Israel, Slovak immigrated with his family to the United States when he was five years old. Slovak met future band mates Anthony Kiedis, Flea, and Jack Irons while attending school in Los Angeles. He joined the group Anthym along with Irons while attending Fairfax High School; Flea would later join the group. Slovak, Flea, Kiedis, and Irons started Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1983, which became popular in the Los Angeles area, playing various shows around the city. However, Slovak quit the band to focus on his band What is This?, which had gotten a record deal, leaving the Red Hot Chili Peppers to record their debut album without him. He rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1985, and recorded the albums Freaky Styley and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan with the band.
During his career, Slovak developed a serious heroin addiction. He attempted to quit the drug many times, but ultimately succumbed to his addiction, dying of an overdose on June 25, 1988 at age 26. He was replaced by guitarist John Frusciante, who was greatly influenced by Slovak's playing style. Several Red Hot Chili Peppers songs have been written as tributes to Slovak, including "My Lovely Man". In 1999, his brother James Slovak published a book entitled Behind the Sun: The Diary and Art of Hillel Slovak, which features Slovak's diaries and paintings. Slovak was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on April 14, 2012, and his brother accepted on his behalf.
Hillel Slovak was born in Haifa, Israel to Jewish parents who were survivors of the Holocaust. His mother was of Polish descent and his father of Yugoslavian descent. The family emigrated to the U.S. when Slovak was five years old. They settled in the Queens borough of New York City, then in 1967 relocated to Southern California. As a child, Slovak developed an interest in art, and would often spend time painting with his mother, Esther. He attended Laurel Elementary School in West Hollywood and Bancroft Jr. High School in Hollywood, where he met future bandmates Jack Irons and Michael "Flea" Balzary. Slovak received his first guitar at age 13 as a bar mitzvah present, and would often play the instrument into the late hours of the night. During this time, he was highly influenced by hard rock music such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Kiss.
As a freshman at Fairfax High School, Slovak formed a band with Irons on drums and two other high school friends, Alain Johannes and Todd Strassman. They called their band Chain Reaction, then changed the name to Anthym after their first gig. After one of the group's shows, Slovak met audience member Anthony Kiedis, and invited him to his house for a snack. Kiedis later described the experience in his autobiography Scar Tissue: "Within a few minutes of hanging out with Hillel, I sensed that he was absolutely different from most of the people I'd spent time with...He understood a lot about music, he was a great visual artist, and he had a sense of self and a calm about him that were just riveting." Slovak, Kiedis, and Flea became best friends and often used LSD, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine recreationally.
Anthym's original bassist was deemed unsatisfactory, so Slovak began teaching Flea to play bass. Following several months of commitment to the instrument, Flea developed proficiency, as well as a strong musical chemistry with Slovak. When Strassman saw Flea playing Anthym songs on his gear he quit the band, with Flea quickly replacing him. Shortly thereafter, Anthym entered a local Battle of the Bands contest and won second place. Anthym started to play at local nightclubs, despite the fact that the members were all underage. After graduating from high school, the band changed their name to What Is This?. Flea left Anthym around this time to accept an offer of playing bass in the prominent L.A. punk band Fear. What Is This? continued on and performed many shows along the California coast.
Slovak, Kiedis, and Flea began to create their own music after finding inspiration in a punk-funk fusion band called Defunkt. The three formed a band with former Anthym-drummer Jack Irons called Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem. The band had only one song, entitled "Out in L.A.", and was formed for the purpose of playing the song once. The song was based on a guitar riff that Slovak wrote while "jamming" with Irons, and was not meant to become a real song until Kiedis decided to rap over the music. Following the group's first show at The Rhythm Lounge, the owner of the bar asked them to return, but with two songs instead of one. After several more shows, and the addition of several songs to their repertoire, the band's name was changed to Red Hot Chili Peppers.
After the band began to come to fruition, Kiedis began writing more lyrics. The lyrics would eventually become songs such as "Green Heaven" and "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes", and the band's concert repertoire quickly grew to nine songs as a result of months of playing local nightclubs and bars. Over the course of the next six months, the Red Hot Chili Peppers played many shows in L.A. clubs and became something of an underground hit. Slovak, Kiedis, and Flea moved into a small house in a high-crime area in Hollywood where they collaborated musically and continued their drug addictions. The threesome traveled to New York City to perform more shows and to "spread Chili Pepperdom". Shortly after the trip, Slovak moved out of the group's shared house to live with his girlfriend.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers entered Bijou Studios to record a demo tape and subsequently secured a record deal with EMI. Flea left Fear to pursue the Red Hot Chili Peppers. At the same time, What Is This? had also gotten a record deal. Since Slovak considered the Chili Peppers to merely be a side project and not a serious commitment, he left them to concentrate on What Is This? Flea ultimately respected the decision, but felt the band would suffer musically without them. He and Kiedis hired drummer Cliff Martinez and guitarist Jack Sherman to fill Irons' and Slovak's places, respectively. During the recording of the second What Is This? album, Slovak became frustrated with the band and contacted Flea about rejoining the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This came at an opportune time, as the group was dissatisfied with Slovak's replacement, Jack Sherman. Kiedis felt that Sherman's guitar work "didn't have the same spirit" that Slovak contributed to the band's sound. When Flea asked Kiedis how he felt about Slovak rejoining the band, Kiedis responded by saying "I'd give my firstborn son to get him back in the band." After the culmination of the promotional tour for their first album, Sherman was fired and Slovak rejoined the band.
Slovak returned to the Chili Peppers for their second album, Freaky Styley, which was released on August 16, 1985. 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 the rest of the group to work on much of the album's material by themselves. The band lived in Detroit for a portion of the recording of the album, where Kiedis and Slovak indulged in heavy cocaine use. When Slovak was under the influence, he would often wear brightly colored clothing and dance in a "shuffling" fashion, which became the inspiration for the song "Skinny Sweaty Man" from the band's next album. After Kiedis completed a stint in rehab, he rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Los Angeles to record their third album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Slovak felt a deep connection to the album; he reflected in his diary "It was so fun. I'm so extremely proud of everybody's work - it is at times genius." Slovak was the subject of the songs "Skinny Sweaty Man", "Me and My Friends", & "No Chump Love Sucker". He was nicknamed "Slim Bob Billy", "Slim", or "Huckleberry", and throughout the albums Kiedis calls him by these nicknames before he starts a guitar solo. On The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, Slovak experimented with different musical styles, playing the sitar on the song "Behind the Sun".
Slovak and Kiedis became addicted to heroin early in their careers, and Slovak often attempted to conceal his addiction from his friends and family. The band generally was more worried about Kiedis' addiction, which was much more open and noticeable to the other members, while Slovak was "much more subtle and much more cunning in his disguise." During the tour in support of Freaky Styley, Slovak's health began to deteriorate. Slovak and Flea would wrestle regularly on tour, but Slovak became too weak to participate. Kiedis commented on the situation: "I could tell that Hillel had no inner core of strength; he had been robbed by his addiction of the life force that allows you to at least defend yourself. It was a sad moment." A roadie of the band who was concerned for Slovak's health contacted his brother, James, who had been unaware that Slovak had ever used heroin.
Deciding to give sobriety a chance, both Kiedis and Slovak stopped using prior to their European tour in support of The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, and decided to help each other "steer clear" of heroin. An entry from Slovak's diary on January 21, 1988 discusses his attempts to "begin a new drug-free phase of [his] life". During the tour both experienced intense heroin withdrawal, with Slovak much more unstable than Kiedis. His withdrawal symptoms took a toll on his ability to play his instrument; at one point Slovak had a mental breakdown and was unable to play a show, leaving the rest of the band to play an entire set with no guitar. He recovered a few days later, but was briefly kicked out of the band and replaced by DeWayne McKnight for a few shows. After a few days with McKnight, the band decided to give Slovak another chance, and he rejoined for the European leg of the tour. Kiedis attempted to take Slovak to drug addiction counseling, but Slovak had difficulty admitting that his addiction was serious enough to require medical help.
Upon returning home, Slovak isolated himself from the rest of his bandmates, and struggled to resist the drug without the mutual support provided by his friends, Kiedis in particular. He stopped painting and writing in his diary during this time, and little is known about his life the weeks following the tour, aside from a phone call to his brother on June 24, in which Slovak told him that he was having difficulty staying clean despite his desire to stop taking heroin. A few weeks after the band returned from the tour, the members attempted to get in contact with Slovak, but were unable to find him for several days. Slovak was found dead by police in his Hollywood apartment on June 27, 1988. After his autopsy, authorities determined that he had died two days earlier on June 25, 1988 due to a heroin overdose. He is interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California. His last recording, a cover version of The Jimi Hendrix Experience song "Fire", would later appear in the The Abbey Road E.P. and album Mothers Milk.
Following Slovak's death, Kiedis fled town and did not attend his funeral, considering the situation to be surreal and dreamlike. Although he found the death to be a shock, he initially was not "scared straight" and continued to use heroin. However, a few weeks later, his friend convinced him to check into rehab and visit Slovak's grave, which inspired him to get clean for five years. Irons was unable to cope with Slovak's death and subsequently quit the band, saying that he did not want to be part of something that resulted in the death of his friend. Irons has suffered from severe depression since Slovak's death. Kiedis and Flea decided to continue making music, hoping to continue what Slovak "helped build".
Slovak was primarily influenced by hard rock artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and Led Zeppelin. His playing method was highly based on improvisation, a style commonly used in funk music. He also was noted for his aggressive playing style; he would often play with such force that his fingers would "come apart." Kiedis observed that his playing evolved during his time away from the group in What Is This?, with Slovak adopting a more fluid style featuring "sultry" elements as opposed to his original hard rock techniques. On Uplift, Slovak experimented with genres outside of traditional funk music including reggae and speed metal. His guitar riffs would often serve as the basis of the group's songs, with the other members writing their parts to complement his guitar work. His melodic riff featured in the song "Behind the Sun" inspired the group to create "pretty" songs with an emphasis on melody. Kiedis describes the song as "pure Hillel inspiration". Slovak also used a talk box on songs such as "Green Heaven" and "Funky Crime", in which the sounds of his amplified guitar would be played through a tube into his mouth and then back into a microphone, creating psychedelic voice-like effects. Slovak helped to incorporate new sounds in the group's work, including adding occasional drum machines. Despite the fact that the group billed itself as "The Organic Anti-Beat Box Band", Kiedis states that Slovak showed the group that drum machines could be used as artistic instruments.
Slovak's work was one of the major contributing factors to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' early sound. When Kiedis and Flea were searching for a new guitarist to replace Slovak, Kiedis likened the experience to "shopping for a new Mom and Dad" because of his influence over the band. Flea, who originally listened exclusively to jazz, added that Slovak introduced him to a new genre of music, saying that "it was Hillel who first got me into hard rockin'". He was also a huge influence on a young John Frusciante, who would later replace him as guitarist in the band. Frusciante based a lot of his playing style on Slovak's work, and explained, "I learned everything I needed to know about how to sound good with Flea by studying Hillel's playing and I just took it sideways from there." Just like Slovak before him, Frusciante developed a heroin addiction. Unlike Slovak, Frusciante eventually managed to break and defeat the habit. The songs "Knock Me Down" (from Mother's Milk) and "My Lovely Man" (from Blood Sugar Sex Magik) were written as tributes to Slovak. In 1999, a book titled Behind the Sun: The Diary and Art of Hillel Slovak was published. The book was authored by Slovak's brother, James Slovak, and features writings from his brother's diaries, paintings, photos and hand written notes from Kiedis and Flea.
On December 7, 2011, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were announced as 2012 inductees to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Kiedis expressed his excitement with Slovak's induction, explaining "He's a beautiful person that picked up a guitar in the 1970s and didn't make it out of the 1980s, and he is getting honored for his beauty". Flea echoed those comments on the same day: "Hillel grew up loving rock and roll so much, he hasn’t been here for some time, but I know how much it would mean to him. It’s a powerful thing."
With Addie Brik
With What Is This
With Red Hot Chili Peppers