Anyone who’s spent the past few years watching “Screaming Woman” knows that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have an unusually difficult time dealing with the undead. But they can handle a bat, at least.
The thrashing Austin-based band recorded a new version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” about halfway through the 1999 album, “Under the Bridge,” with help from many of the same people who initially cut the song in the early 1990s (Don Was, Stuart Price, Andy Cuomo, some of the members of Bob Dylan’s Allman Brothers Band and Beck). “The Ghost of Tom Joad” was always expected to come back, and new members Flea and Chad Smith were reported to have been recorded over the summer.
But a recent appearance at the National Recording Preservation Center in New Orleans led to a different song getting the same treatment: “I Could Scream.”
The song, recorded with the exception of one drummer and Ross Robinson, frontman of the band Rumble, is a line-for-line remake of the Sting/David Bowie tune from 1983’s “Tumbleweed Connection.” In 2013, punk journalist Aaron Wojciechowski was searching the archives of FACT magazine for a song he’d heard the Chili Peppers cover, when he stumbled across this terrific take on “I Could Scream.” And lo and behold, Flea and his bandmate, bassist Josh Klinghoffer, performed it on their 2013 album, “The Getaway.”
(It’s not just some punk-rock fan recording, either. Aside from co-editors A.W. and J.K. and Wojciechowski, the other musicians responsible for the reworked version of “I Could Scream” were Luther Vandross on piano, Mike Post on trumpet, Lee Verner on drums and Oscar Kenton on bass.)
The version premiered Tuesday on the NPR station WAMU and followed the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ earlier performing of the song on the 2011 episode of “A Charlie Rose Show.” It’s worth noting that the New Orleans location is very similar to the setting where A.W. and J.K., co-founders of the grassroots punk media site IFCN.com, met the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2007. According to WAMU’s David Horsey, the two lived in a YMCA for four months.
Flea also mentioned that some of the visual artist Mark Leckey added his interpretation of the song in 2012 for California’s Adventure park. That addition introduced the song’s Christian Gospel sound. Both elements were extended to the new version.