Watch a “17-Year-Old” John Frusciante Shredding Like Steve Vai in the ‘80s

John Frusciante performs with his band IKE in the San Fernandi Valley, CA in 1987.
(Image credit: Matthew Goodman/YouTube)

Even as a teenager, John Frusciante could shred with the best of them. 

Check out this rare clip of the guitarist performing with his band IKE in 1987, prior to joining the Red Hot Chili Peppers the following year.

Clearly influenced by the fretboard wizardry of ex-Frank Zappa guitarist Steve Vai, the ambitious virtuoso was aiming high from a young age.

Frusciante even considered auditioning for Zappa’s band, though decided against it once he realized his lifestyle wouldn’t be in step with the expectations of the unswervingly sober musical genius.

Nevertheless, Frusciante aspired to the reach same level of technical proficiency as his guitar hero.

I felt very connected to [Steve Vai]. I loved the way he talked about the instrument and the way he talked about his practice

John Frusciante

In 2021, he spoke of his admiration for Vai on Sirius XM’s Guitar Greats show. “There was an issue of Guitar Player in [February 1983] that had [Zappa] on the cover with a tiny, little electric guitar,” he recalled. “It had an extra interview [with] who was then the guitar player in his band, Steve Vai, and it was called Zappa’s Little Italian Virtuoso.’”

Of Italian heritage himself, Frusciante goes on to say, “I felt very connected to this person. I loved the way he talked about the instrument and the way he talked about his practice… There had never been a guitar player in Frank Zappa’s band who could do those things.”

Guitar Player issue February 1983

(Image credit: Future)

“[Vai’s] duties in the band are mostly to play the hard-written lines and real complicated stuff that is beyond my capability,” Zappa told Bill Milkowski in 1983. “All that whammy bar stuff on Stratocaster.”

Vai’s superlative skills were the result of sheer hard work and dedication to practice. 

“I used to divide my day into about 12 hours,” he explained to GP’s Tom Mulhern. “The first nine hours were divided into three equal sections. I used to be ridiculous, because I would overload myself. I had finger exercises, scales, and chords. Eventually I added reading.”

Committing himself to a similarly intense regime, Frusciante regularly embarked on lengthy practice sessions, all the while lapping up as much of Vai’s recorded material as he could, including the Alcatraz album Disturbing the Peace and David Lee Roth’s Eat 'Em And Smile.

While speaking of Frusciante in this 2020 interview, Vai told Paul Reed Smith, “He’s such a dedicated player.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers perform at First Avenue Nightclub in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 16, 1988.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers perform at First Avenue Nightclub in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 16, 1988. This Turd Town Tour line-up comprises drummer D.H. Peligro, bassist Flea, Vocalist Anthony Kiedis and guitarist John Frusciante. (Image credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In the above clip captured on tape in 1987, Frusciante is seen using a Vai-style SuperStrat and Zappa-endorsed Carvin X-100B amp.

He used the same rig to perform with the Chili Peppers after replacing founding guitarist Hillel Slovak in 1988.

In the following clip shot on October 8th that year, Frusciante is seen at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in L.A. playing one of his earliest gigs with the band.

This line-up includes former Dead Kennedys drummer D. H. Peligro (1959-2022) with whom Frusciante had struck up a musical friendship several months prior.

When they hit the stage, vocalist Anthony Kiedis introduces the Chili Peppers’ new recruit (who happens to be dressed in a comedy Superman outfit): “This is John. He’s only 18 years old.”

If you want to get your fingers and brain in sync with the exercises Frusciante uses before every gig, check out the John Frusciante Guitar Workout.

Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as GuitaristTotal Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.