Former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight recently talked about the his short but tumultuous time with the band and explained why their professional relationship didn’t last.
DeWayne McKnight reveals how the band bailed out on him
He has played with the likes of The Headhunters (and recording with Herbie Hancock while with the band), both subdivisions of George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic, and even Miles Davis, Blackbyrd has an impressive career.
McKnight’s name carries a lot of weight within funk guitar circles, but not many fans know about his short stint as the RCHP guitar player following Hillel Slovak’s untimely death.
McKnight joined the Chilis in 1988, played some shows, recorded one song (“Blues for Meister”, later released on the 1994 compilation “Out in L.A.”), and parted ways with the band due to creative differences during that same year when he got replaced by John Frusciante.
Speaking to Guitar World in a new interview, McKnight reveals that he was actually invited to play with the Chilis as a stand-in for Slovak on a couple of occasions even before Slovak’s death. On each occasion, McKnight recalls getting dropped last-minute, as Slovak would return to play the show:
“So, this is something that many people don’t know: a couple of times before Hillel Slovak passed, the truth is that he’d left the band, and during those periods, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had asked me to play with them.
“I believe that this happened on at least two occasions where they’d call me because Hillel had left again. I’d come in and learn however many songs they had at the time – all of them, not just some – and we’d plan for me to play with them.
“We did this at least twice, and all the way up to the day of the gig, I’d have a feeling that something was happening, you know? And both times, it was the day of the gig, and Flea and Anthony [Kiedis] would come to me and say, ‘Hillel is back; we don’t need you after all.’
“You might even say that they had gotten me in there to coax Hillel back; at least, that’s how I saw it. But I don’t know how it went, and I don’t know what they felt because I never talked about that with them.”
The guitarist noted how his status within the band was never clear. Asked whether there ever were any conversations about him officially becoming a member, he answered:
“Not with me. If Anthony and Flea had one internally, I couldn’t tell you that either. But there was no discussion about that, and there was no ‘You’re in the band’ moment. And that was tough, and I had thoughts about it, but I tried to push it out of my mind.”
According to McKnight, the main reason why things didn’t work out between him and the Chilis was that Kiedis and Flea wanted him to play as close to Slovak’s style as possible; something McKnight thought would do nobody justice:
“But when it comes to the soul of guitar, Hillel and I are two different beings with two different frames of mind. For example, one time, we were playing a song live – I don’t remember which one – and at the end of the song, Flea came over to me and said, ‘Hillel didn’t play it like that.’ All I could say to that was, ‘Sorry. Hillel is not here.’ So, there’s your chemistry; that’s what it was like.”