Happy Birthday to Leslie Edward “Les” Claypool – born September 29, 1963
Leslie Edward “Les” Claypool (born September 29, 1963) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, composer, author and actor best known as the bassist and lead vocalist of the band Primus. Claypool’s playing style on the electric bass mixes tapping, flamenco-like strumming, whammy bar bends, and slapping.
Claypool has also self-produced and engineered his solo releases from his own studio, “Rancho Relaxo”. 2006 saw the release of a full-length feature film Electric Apricot written and directed by Claypool as well as a debut novel South of the Pumphouse.
Claypool was born September 29, 1963, in Richmond, California, and was raised in El Sobrante, California, in a working-class family of auto mechanics. Claypool decided to become a bass player, pursuing the instrument from the age of fourteen. Claypool has cited Larry Graham, Chris Squire, Tony Levin, Roger Waters, Geddy Lee, Paul McCartney, Geezer Butler, Bootsy Collins, Stanley Clarke, and John Paul Jones as his musical influences.
He went to school with and was a friend of guitarist Kirk Hammett, later of Metallica. For several years before forming Primus, Claypool worked as a carpenter.
In 1986, after the death of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, Hammett encouraged Claypool to audition for Metallica as Burton’s successor. In Metallica’s Behind the Music, Claypool said that he jokingly asked the others if they wanted to “jam on some Isley Brothers tunes” during the audition, a reference to his little experience in the thrash metal scene. Metallica frontman James Hetfield remarked that Claypool was not offered the job because “he was too good” and “should do his own thing.” Claypool said later that he was unaware of Metallica’s success and influence and auditioned mainly out of friendship with Hammett, and further stated he would not have fit in with the band.
Primus began as Primate in the mid 1980s, with Claypool on bass, Todd Huth on guitar, and various drummers, most notably Jay Lane, though Huth and Lane left shortly thereafter to pursue other projects. Claypool replaced them with guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander.
Claypool is considered to be the leader of the band, as well as the driving force behind its blending of funk with other genres. Claypool frequently utilizes the slap-bass technique, prominent in funk music, and is the only member of Primus who comes from a funk background. Because of Claypool’s strong funk influence, Primus is often described as “thrash-funk” or funk metal, though Claypool dislikes these labels, stating: “We’ve been lumped in with the funk metal thing just about everywhere. I guess people just have to categorize you.”
From 1989 to 2000, Primus was one of the most unusual bands to gain significant mainstream airplay, headlining Lollapalooza in 1993, appearing on Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 1995, and even appearing at Woodstock ’94, where they performed their Pork Soda hit “My Name Is Mud” and were consequently pelted with mud by the audience, much to the band’s displeasure. In 1991, the band was featured in the cult classic movie Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, performing “Tommy the Cat” live. Claypool and Tom Waits first recorded on each other’s records in 1991 and have continued to do so since. In 1997, Primus was asked to play and record the theme song for the animated television show South Park. In 1999, he allowed Activision’s use of the song “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” in the popular video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Primus went on hiatus in 2000.
In mid-2003, Claypool reunited with former Primus drummer Tim Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde to record a DVD/EP called Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People. In October of the same year, the band embarked on a two-month tour in which two sets were performed per show, the second set consisting of their 1991 release Sailing the Seas of Cheese being performed in its entirety. Primus continued touring into 2004, performing their 1990 release Frizzle Fry as their second set, as documented on the DVD Hallucino-Genetics: Live 2004.
On October 17, 2006, Primus released both their first greatest hits album, They Can’t All Be Zingers, and their third DVD, Blame It on The Fish, subtitled An Abstract Look at the 2003 Primus Tour De Fromage. The band toured in 2006 on their Primus: The Beat a Dead Horse Tour 2006, and played at a small number of festivals in 2008.
In 2010, Alexander, who had left the band for the second time due to lack of interest, was replaced by Jay Lane, who had not played with the band since 1988. The band subsequently resumed touring after the free June 2010 Rehearsal was released later that year, and a studio album, Green Naugahyde, was released in 2011.
In 2013, Lane left Primus for the second time to focus on his other band RatDog, who were coming off hiatus at the time, and was replaced again by Alexander. Primus’ eighth studio album, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble, a re-imagining of the soundtrack from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was released in October 2014.
In 1996, Claypool produced, engineered and released a solo album, “Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel presents” Highball with the Devil. Claypool is credited with bass, drums and vocals on several tracks as well as guitar. Also on the album are Mark “Mirv” Haggard, Adam Gates, Jay Lane, Joe Gore, Charlie Hunter and Henry Rollins. The accompanying tour included Haggard and Gates on guitars with Bryan “Brain” Mantia on drums. It was announced during the Holy Mackerel tour that Mantia had been chosen to become the next Primus drummer.
The Frog Brigade
In May 2000 Claypool formed Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, an experimental rock group. Claypool was asked to put together a band for the Mountain Aire Festival in Angels Camp, California. The band “of the most incredible guys (he) could possibly find” debuted that Memorial Day weekend and played a number of other festivals including moe.down. Originally he was going to call the band “Les Claypool’s Thunder Brigade.” Claypool states:
I originally was going to do the two drummer thing with Herb and Jack Irons, so I was gonna call it the Les Claypool Thunder Brigade. Michael Bailey from Bill Graham Presents said to me that it may sound a bit too heavy for the Mountain Aire crowd and to perhaps try something a little different that had to do with the event itself. Since it was home of the Calaveras County Frog Jump… hence the Frog Brigade and then it evolved into Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.
The Primus hiatus allowed him to return to his musical roots, playing songs by bands such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and The Beatles. Claypool has called the Frog Brigade his “mid-life crisis band.” From a set of October shows recorded at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco Claypool released two Frog Brigade live albums, one being a cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals. The line-up included Todd Huth, Eenor, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane, Skerik and Claypool.
The Frog Brigade is also noted for Claypool’s being accepted into the jam band scene. Live Frogs Set 1 won “Best Live Album” at the second annual Jammys. Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti are both members of Bob Weir’s band Ratdog. Claypool performed with “The Rat Brigade” when opening for Ratdog once in 2000 and again in 2007. The Rat Brigade includes Claypool, drummer Lane and keyboardist Chimenti, with guest appearances by saxophonist Kenny Brooks and Bob Weir. Both years Claypool also guested on the Ratdog set.