Happy Birthday to Leslie Edward “Les” Claypool – born September 29, 1963!
Leslie Edward “Les” Claypool 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.