Hillel Slovak (הלל סלובק) also known as Slim/ Pan Handle Slim/ The Israeli Cowboy
Born: April 13, 1962, Haifa, Israel – Died June 25, 1988 (aged 26), Hollywood, California, USA
Instruments: Guitar, vocals, talk box, sitar (1980–1988) Fender Stratocaster/ Gibson Les Paul
Red Hot Chili Peppers, What Is This?, Addie Brik
There’s no doubt how beautifully RHCP has developed over the years and despite their eccentric demonstrations and vile behaviours, they’ve had some treasures brewing within their extensive dome, which till today still stands as part of their exclusive attributions to the music scene for over 2 decades now. In spite of ringing out the culture that was so often laced with addiction, they have somehow managed to arrive in 2013 – and alive! Sadly though, not all of them made it. John Frusciante may have played a signifying role in RHCP‘s backtrack catalog but before Frusciante, there was Hillel Slovak.
Hillel who was born on April 13, 1962 in Acre, Israel was the founding member and original guitarist of RHCP, a famous California based rock band that was formed back in 1983 with drummer, Jack Irons. Slovak and Irons had known each other since childhood and had developed a close bond very early in their lives.
Hillel developed his musical talent early in his life when he started playing the guitar at 13 years old shortly after receiving it as a birthday present from his uncle. Both Hillel and Irons were a big fan of the band KISS and would often dress up like their favourite band members with heavy make-up and do miming to all their songs. Hillel was extremely serious in learning how to play the guitar and since he was also a big fan of Jimi Hendrix, he would practise hard at perfecting his art. He spent much of his time listening, studying, working and copying Hendrix‘s style to perfection thus opening a career path in music.
Hillel met Anthony Kiedis when he spotted Kiedis wearing ‘Anthym‘ pin badge (which was one of Hillel’s previous band) and invited Kiedis to hang out and through Kiedis, he eventually met Flea. Now, Flea could be one of the greatest bassist in the music industry today but he was formerly a trumpet player with no prior training or even interest towards playing the bass. Hillel was the one who taught Flea how to play bass. At the time RHCP was formed, Hillel and Irons were still with ‘What is Hits‘ so when both group was offered recording deals, Hillel decided to go with What Is Hits instead of RHCP as he found the former to be a more serious band and better career choice between the two. RHCP who was also offered a recording deal at the same time however decided to proceed the recording by replacing both Slovak and Irons position and role in the group.
What It Hits failed to reached the success that the group hoped for and Hillel started having doubts over his decisions of joining What Is Hits and expressed his desires to return to RHCP to Anthony Kiedis. He came back to RHCP in time for their second album ‘Freaky Styley’, which was released in August 1985 and Jack Irons returned to RHCP the following year as the band released their 3rd album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan released in 1986.
Hillel’s return to RHCP also marked the time where he got heavily involved with drugs and together with Kiedis who shared similar passion with Hillel in using dope, the whole debauchery started to effect their performance. Kiedis took off to the rehab several times to kick off the habit and somehow the band managed to work through their problems to see the issue of ‘Me And My Friends’ – a track that was mainly about their friendship, which marked Slovak’s name in the lyrics. This significant moment and track marked as one of Hillel‘s happiest time in RHCP.
While Kiedis has sought help for his addiction on multiple occasion, he somehow always returned to the same path. From there onwards, the focus was heavily placed on him as his addiction became worst and everyone was afraid that he was just going to die one of these days. He was taking heroin in huge volumes and his addiction demanded frequent usage so almost everyone knew and was clear about his misadventures. Hillel on the other hand was more astute in his addiction and was far more crafty at covering his tracks. It could also be said that he made a mistake into believing that he had his addiction under control and created an ambience, in which he was in total control of his escapade that soon turned out to be a form of denial.
“They were all afraid that I was going to die because I would just take too much too often for too long a period of time,” Kiedis would confess. “Hillel was much more subtle and much more cunning in his disguise. He had everyone believing he had it under control…He was just more in denial. Hillel thought he had power over the dark side.”
From Jeff Apter’s book: Fornication: The Red Hot Chili Peppers Story’
Not too long after that Hillel’s overall stature started to deteriorate and the band finally realised that he was in far more malady than Kiedis. Hillel‘s condition worsened at the time the band embarked on their The Uplift Mofo Party Plan tour and he appeared to be falling dangerously off track. Hillel almost got fired from the band and his brother was notified about his worsening condition. Angelo Moore managed to talk Kiedis out doing so telling him that Hillel needed all the support he could get from his friend throughout the treacherous times. The band continued to tour and both Hillel and Kiedis vowed to stop using drugs throughout the tour since there was lack of dealer’s contacts abroad and the excuse was a befitting bargaining chip.
Like every other addict who is stuck far in the web of heroin addiction, Hillel and Kiedis made many attempts at taking the final vow of quitting the drug forever and like it’s always bound to happen, whenever the line was clear and the dealer was near, that’s the first place they headed to and that’s exactly what happened when they arrived back in LA. Having stopped doing heroin for a notable period of time, upon arriving in LA the urge to start using again and the yearning for another hit started to nest in their minds. So Hillel took the shortest route of committing to his addiction as he went straight to his dealers and scored some stash. Weather the heroin was just too strong or the result in the gap of usage, the final hit somehow contributed to his final breath in this world. Hillel died while trying to finish his final painting hunched over it while the heat of his cigarette painted a hole into the canvas. The art became the final witness to his end. He was found 2 days after his initial death.
As the Jewish custom had it, Hillel went through an autopsy on the 29 June 1988 and was buried the following day at the Jewish section (Mount Sinai Memorial Park) of Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles. He was only 26 years old. All members of RHCP was present at his memorial with the exception of Anthony Kiedis who fled to Mexico on a drugs binge for being unable to cope with Hillel‘s death. Most people only found out about the young guitarist death from the obituary section in L.A Times.
Jack Irons also left the band after as he became extremely depressed with Hillel‘s passing and wasn’t able to cope with it and became clinically depressed. Kiedis and Flea continued RHCP to honour Hillel‘s legacy since the band was formed by him and it would be a tribute for his honorary contribution to the music scene.
Josh Frusciante who replaced Hillel as the band’s new guitarist also stated that he learned the ways Hillel played guitar for the band and had converse with Hillel a few months before his death.
Kiedis eventually visited Hillel’s grave sometime later after much persuasion from his councelor, Bob Timmons so Kiedis can move on from the melancholic phase of loosing a good friend, a brother and beloved band member. Kiedis who at first had no desire to be there, eventually opened up and within minutes was crying at the sight as he bid his final goodbye to one of music’s most promising guitarist and the original member of RHCP.
Hillel’s artwork, diaries and letters were published by his brother in 1999 to honour the memories of the young and talented guitarist, ‘Behind the Sun: The Diary and Art of Hillel Slovak.’