Andy Gill’s Red Hot Chili Peppers Production Journal Sheds Light on Divisive Studio Moment
Gang of Four's Andy Gill passed away in 2020 and while in the midst of going through his belongings, Gill's widow Catherine Mayer has uncovered a key piece of history that sheds new light on the sessions that Gill had as a producer with Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Gill was brought on board to oversee production of Red Hot Chili Peppers self-titled 1984 debut album. As has been documented over the years, there were some tensions during the sessions (including a story of a turd being left on the production board), though Gill and the members of the band had been on better terms in recent years.
"Andy and Flea and Anthony have all spoken about artistic and personal tensions during the production of that first Chili Peppers album," says Mayer, referring to an argument that started over Gill's notes on the song "Police Helicopter." Flea shared his account in the liner notes for the album, while Kiedis went into more detail in his 2004 autobiography Scar Tissue.
“One day, I got a glimpse of Gill's notebook, and next to the song ‘Police Helicopter’, he'd written ‘Shit.’ I was demolished that he had dismissed that as shit. ‘Police Helicopter’ was a jewel in our crown," recalled Kiedis in his book. "It embodied the spirit of who we were, which was this kinetic, stabbing, angular, shocking assault force of sound and energy. Reading his notes probably sealed the deal in our minds that ‘Okay, now we're working with the enemy’, It became very much him against us, especially Flea and me. It became a real battle to make the record.”
Mayer has now found a journal containing Gill's notes from the sessions on the album and shared it online earlier this week. She explains with a visual of his notes next to each of the songs on the album, "The thing is, Andy never wrote 'shit' in his notes about 'Police Helicopter.' What he did do, as I realized when I studied the notebook, is potentially, in Anthony’s eyes, damn it with faint praise. As you can see, in this list labelled 'basics,' he lauds every track but one with words and phrases such as 'excellent,' 'exquisite' and 'in the bag.' Next to 'Police Helicopter,' he has written '??? Possible machine job.'"
Adding more insight into Gill's comments, Mayer writes, "The machine Andy is referring to is a drum machine. Here, in Andy’s own words, from a 2014 interview he gave to Diffuser, is a memory that chimes with the notebook: 'I remember having a wonderful argument with Anthony. We had a drum machine and I wanted them to kind of use it as a tempo to guide them, so they didn't speed up too much, and we had this argument. Anthony basically said that it had no soul, so it was therefore wrong to use it. I was really digging in on it, you know, it doesn't matter if it's got a soul or not, it’s going to keep you in time. It was this big old drum machine from the ’80s. At one point, he got on one end of it, and I got the other end of it, and we were shouting back and forth, ‘No! Yes! No! Yes! It's got no soul!’ Then he was calling the box ‘1984,’ meaning it's Big Brother."
Gill continued, "It's funny the arguments you have in the studio. So, the compromise was, Cliff Martinez, the drummer, was going to listen to it and put down a cowbell and they'd play to the cowbell, which had a soul, obviously. But not the drum machine itself, so that was the compromise."
You can see the photo in question with Gill's notes via Mayer's blog posting here.
Mayer reveals within her posting that the journal also includes drawings done by singer Anthony Kiedis as well.
While the journal entry adds some insight into the tension-filled story told from multiple sides by those involved, as Mayer stated all sides had been on better terms in recent years with Gill rekindling friendships with Flea and the Chilis in the years prior to his death. Flea and John Frusciante appeared on a cover of "Not Great Men" that appeared on last year's The Problem of Leisure: A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four tribute album. Flea also offered a eulogy at Gill's memorial as well.
Read more of Mayer's commentary on Gill's journal and association with the Red Hot Chili Peppers here.