Karen Moss, Senior VP of Publicity at Warner Bros. Records, confirmed that Frusciante is back on board, but at press time had no statement prepared from either the guitarist or the rest of the band. She did say that the Chili Peppers are working on a new studio album which should be released some time next year.
David Katznelson, Warner VP of A&R and CEO of Birdman Records, which released Frusciante's 1997 solo album, Smile From the Streets You Hold, admitted surprise at the news (noting that he hasn't spoken to the guitarist in a month), but stressed that the decision should prove beneficial for the Peppers.
"To get him back in the band is a good thing for them," says Katznelson. "He's still a great guitar player, and I don't think people realize the significance that John played in the Chili Peppers' sound. He wrote the music for 'Under the Bridge' and 'Breaking the Girl.' It's great to get him in a room and hear him play the original version of 'Breaking the Girl' ... it's beautiful."
Katznelson also notes that Frusciante has recovered from the heroin addiction which brought the guitarist to the brink of poverty and death in the lean years following his departure from the Peppers. In a profile of Frusciante for Los Angeles' New Times in late 1996, writer Robert Wilonsky painted a grim picture of the guitarist as a gifted but tortured artist hanging precariously on the fringe of a tragic overdose. "I don't care whether I live or die," Frusciante told him bluntly, claiming to have first shot up right after the recording of BloodSugarSexMagik.
His addiction cost him many of his friends, and he witnessed firsthand the fatal consequences of abuse when he played at the Viper Room the same night actor River Phoenix, a friend and supporter of his solo work, died on the sidewalk outside. Nevertheless, Frusciante claimed to have made a conscious decision to become a junkie, and enjoyed the respite it gave him from the depression that set on after he left the Peppers. Ironically, notes Katznelson, the week that the New Times article came out, Frusciante was already well on the way to recovery.
"John has problems like anybody else does, but he's in a good way right now," says Katznelson. "He's one of those guys who can really turn himself around. Flea wouldn't work with him if he wasn't clean."
According to Katznelson, Frusciante and the Peppers' famous bassist have remained close friends over the years, occasionally working together in various temporary outfits. One such collaboration, the Three Amoebas (with Porno for Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins), even recorded a few jam sessions, but nothing was ever released. According to Katznelson, Frusciante's drug recovery might have stemmed from a promise from Flea that if he kicked his habit, they would be in a band together again.
In addition to last year's Birdman album, Frusciante released Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt on American in 1994. Katznelson says Frusciante of late had been focusing more on writing and painting than music, but noted that the guitarist had "a bunch of other stuff that I've been wanting to put out."
When and if these unreleased Frusciante solo recordings see the light of day may depend on how things go with his old/new band.
"I'm pretty amazed about this whole thing going down," Katznelson admitted. "We'll see what happens, but I hope it works out."