1963 – Solo artist and singer/bassist for the groups Primus and Sausage, Les Claypool is born in Richmond, Calif.
Leslie Edward “Les” Claypool (born September 29, 1963 in Richmond, California, U.S.) is a musician, best known for his work with the band Primus. Claypool’s mastery of the electric bass has brought him into the spotlight with his funky, creative playing style. Claypool mixes finger-tapping, flamenco-like strumming, and a Larry Graham-like slap technique, and Geddy Lee influences to develop his own unique style and has earned respect as one of rock’s premier bass talents, becoming an influence for younger bassists in recent years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, novelist, music producer, actor, and film director.
Claypool has also self produced and engineered his solo releases from his own studio “Rancho Relaxo.” In 2006 was 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, but was raised in El Sobrante, California in a working class family with a history of working as auto mechanics. His early education included Collins Elementary School and De Anza High School. Les’ parents divorced when he was a young child, but he says that he had a decent childhood, citing that he was never abused or severely bullied.
Claypool was able to develop his slap technique through listening to players like Stanley Clarke and Larry Graham. He also bought his first Carl Thompson bass, his trademark four string bass. (He now owns six, including a multi-wood fretless 6-string called the Rainbow Bass.)
In 1986, after the death of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, Claypool auditioned to play bass for Metallica, playing the song “Master of Puppets” on his bass. In Metallica’s Behind the Music, Claypool said that during the audition he jokingly asked the others if they wanted to “jam on some Isley Brothers tunes,” after which Lars Ulrich said he’s “not really used to playing this kind of music.” James Hetfield remarked that Claypool didn’t win the job because “he was too good.”
Main article: Primus (band)
Primus began as Primate with Les Claypool, guitarist Todd Huth and various drummers, most notably Jay Lane, in the mid-1980s, though Huth and Lane left shortly thereafter to pursue other projects. Claypool replaced them with guitarist Larry LaLonde and eclectic drummer Tim Alexander in 1989. Primus began selling out local clubs with their out-of-control live act and irreverent approach to music (their catchphrase was “Primus sucks!”).
From 1989 to 2000, Primus steadily became one of the most bizarre bands to gain significant mainstream airplay, headlining Lollapalooza in 1993, appearing on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien in 1995, and even making an appearance at Woodstock ’94 where they performed their Pork Soda hit “My Name Is Mud” and were pelted with mud (Claypool claims to have mud still in his speakers). Also, in 1997, they were asked to play, and record, the theme song for the animated television show South Park. Claypool and Tom Waits have recorded on each other’s records since 1991 and have continued to do so. In 1999 he let Activision use the song “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” on the hit video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
In 2000 Primus went on indefinite hiatus. A few months later in October Claypool officially disbanded them.
In late 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, which Claypool described as the first DVD with supplementary music, as opposed to the contrary. The band staged a two month tour in which they performed two sets per show, the second consisting of their 1991 release Sailing the Seas of Cheese in its entirety. They continued touring into 2004, even performing their 1990 release Frizzle Fry in its entirety.
In Mid-August 2006, a DVD release entitled Blame It on the Fish was added to the listings of Amazon and other online shops. Shortly thereafter, the website The PRP reported that a rumor had surfaced implying that the band was quietly planning a North American tour for November/December 2006.
On October 17, 2006, Primus released both their first greatest hits CD 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.
They Can’t All Be Zingers includes sixteen digitally remastered songs that span their entire career, including a previously unreleased and extended version of “Shake Hands with Beef,” the Tom Waits collaboration “Coattails of a Deadman,” and “Mary the Ice Cube” from the 2003 DVD and EP Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People.
Claypool has let the video game Guitar Hero 2 use the Primus song, “John the Fisherman,” one of two songs in the game using the actual recording instead of a cover.
Blame It on the Fish: An Abstract Look at the 2003 Primus Tour De Fromage contains live footage from the band’s 2003 reunion tour, interview segments and behind the scenes footage. The DVD includes a 70 minute feature film and 90 minutes of bonus material, including a 30 minute mockumentary about the band in 2065. Blame It on the Fish is directed by Matthew J. Powers, who directed Never Been Done, a documentary about Jon Comer.
Primus: The Beat A Dead Horse Tour 2006 began in November 2006 and was completed the following December.
Les Claypool let the DC snowboard team use the Primus song “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” in their 2007 movie “DC Mt. Lab 1.5”
1994 – 2001
In 1994, Claypool teamed up with guitarist Todd Huth and drummer Jay Lane to create an early Primus sound. Songs such as “Riddles are Abound Tonight” and “toyz 1988” (now known as “Toys Go Winding Down”) gave way to a whole new breed of music.
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.
Main article: Oysterhead
In April 2000, Claypool collaborated with Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Stewart Copeland (of The Police) as Oysterhead. Claypool and Anastasio had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate. Each had a mutual interest in playing with Copeland who had been a rock idol of their teen years. Also, Claypool and Copeland had an established friendship. Oysterhead were originally intended as a one time performance during Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Though timid of the band’s sudden and surprising popularity they eventually decided to record and tour. They released one studio album, The Grand Pecking Order, and toured before disbanding in 2001. They re-united for one performance at the 2006 Bonnaroo Music Festival.
The Frog Brigade
Main article: Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade
In May 2000 Claypool formed Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, an experimental ensemble in the vein of The Mothers of Invention. 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 like 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.
2002 – 2005
In 2002 Claypool released a studio album of the Frog Brigade, Purple Onion. Musicians on multiple tracks for Purple Onion include Eenor, Mike Dillon, Skerik, Jay Lane, Ben Barnes and Sam Bass (Dillon and Skerik were both from Critters Buggin while Barnes and Sam Bass were from Deadweight). This album includes “Whamola” which later appeared as a remix for the theme of South Park Season 10.
Main article: Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains
Also in 2002 Claypool collaborated with virtuoso guitarist Buckethead, Parliament-Funkadelic/Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and former Primus drummer Bryan Mantia under the name Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains (“C2B3”). Their concerts pushed the improvisational envelope by preparing no material and not rehearsing beforehand. At one of their shows they prepared sandwiches onstage for the audience to eat.
C2B3 re-united in 2004 to record The Big Eyeball in the Sky, an album with equal parts instrumental and vocal songs. The band began an 18-state tour of the US on September 24, 2004. The album features only one guest, the child-like multi-instrumentalist Gabby La La (noted as Gabby Lang on Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade’s Purple Onion) on vocals and sitar. She also opened on every show (sometimes to scathingly negative reviews) during the 2004 tour as a solo act with sometimes members of C2B3.
Claypool also produced and performed on Gabby La La’s first album, Be Careful What You Wish For…. Gabby La La is the first artist Les has signed to his label since Charlie Hunter in 1993. He has performed select shows with her (including the 2005 Bonnaroo Music Festival) and added her to his then new touring band, Les Claypool & His Fancy Band. The 2005 Fancy Band line-up also included Skerik, Dillon and Lane.
At the end of 2005, Claypool released 5 Gallons Of Diesel, a video retrospective of all of his work away from Primus.
Main article: Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo
Claypool’s first attempt at a feature length film, Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo, was shown on various film festivals in the late spring of 2006. The movie is a spoof of the jam band scene centered on the fake band, Electric Apricot, in the mockumentary tradition of Spinal Tap. The group performed low-key shows in the California area (most recently High Sierra Music Festival) for the filming of the movie. The members of the band are characterized as Steve Hampton Trouzdale (Adam Gates) on bass and vocals, Steve “Gordo” Gordon (Brian Kehoe) on guitar and vocals, Herschal Tambor Brillstien (Jonathan Korty) on keyboards and vocals, and of course Lapland “Lapdog” Miclovik (Les Claypool) on drums and vocals. The film debuted on March 15. During a question and answer session at the Tiburon Film Festival where the film debuted Claypool said that the yet unreleased DVD would have an accompanying soundtrack CD. The film has won other awards as well including Best Feature (audience choice) at the Malibu Film Festival. Claypool also said that the band would possibly perform a few select shows, but a tour is unlikely as Adam Gates has a job at Pixar which makes touring difficult.
Of Whales and Woe and the Fancy Band
Main articles: Of Whales and Woe and Les Claypool’s Fancy Band
On May 30, 2006 Claypool released a solo album, Of Whales and Woe, with guest appearances by Skerik, Mike Dillon and Gabby La La. This album includes the song “Robot Chicken,” which is the theme song of the popular Adult Swim show. His son Cage and his daughter Lena even make a special appearance on the song “Back Off Turkey.” The release was followed by a tour of the U.S. with the following lineup: Les Claypool – bass, vocals; Skerik – sax; Mike Dillon – vibraphone, percussion; Gabby La La – sitar, theremin; Paulo Baldi – drums. This lineup is called Les Claypool’s Fancy Band and did national tours in both 2006 and 2007. A live DVD, Fancy, recorded from the 2006 tour was released in 2007. The audio track includes a mix of both soundboard and taper recordings.
South of the Pumphouse
Main article: South of the Pumphouse
Claypool’s first book, South of the Pumphouse, was released on July 1, 2006 by Akashic Books. Copies of the book were sold during Claypool’s 2006 tour of U.S.A. following the release of Of Whales and Woe. The book is a dark, clever tale of brothers, murder, drugs, and fishing, and it has been likened to the work of Hunter S. Thompson. Claypool gave his first interview about the book to The Book Standard, on May 11, 2006. South of the Pumphouse is currently in its fifth printing.
Poster for Les Claypool’s 3rd Annual New Year’s Eve Hatter’s Ball Extravaganza 2007
Poster for Les Claypool’s 3rd Annual New Year’s Eve Hatter’s Ball Extravaganza 2007
2007 – present
Besides touring in the Summer of 2007 nationally with the Fancy Band, Claypool performed that October with a version of the band, dubbed the Fancy Trio. The trio consisted of Les, Skerik on saxophone, and Mike Dillon on drums, vibraphone and percussion. They played at The Echo Project, an inaugural ecologically minded 3-day festival in Fairburn, Ga on The Boukeart family farm. The set was similar to that of The Fancy Band’s tours, culling from Les’ solo and Frog Brigade albums, as well containing a cover of “One Step Beyond” by Madness and teases of other songs, including several Primus tunes, throughout their improvisational jams.
For many years Claypool has done a New Years Eve show at The Fillmore in San Francisco, California. More recently the New Years Eve show has been an Annual New Year’s Eve Hatter’s Ball featuring a hat contest. December 31, 2007 was the 3rd such annual event.
In 2008 a United States tour spanned from February 29 to April 5. It kicked off at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina and ended at The Warfield in San Francisco, California. The 2008 tour was a quartet featuring Claypool, Dillon, Skerik and Baldi.
During the year Claypool also performed several shows with Primus at festivals across America and Canada.
Pig Hunt is a film directed by James Isaac to be released in 2008. Claypool contributes previously unreleased material and plays the role of “The Preacher”.
Les composed all of the music for the upcoming Wii game Mushroom Men, to be released in October 2008.
He lives near the village of Occidental in Sonoma County, California with his wife, Chaney Claypool, his son, Cage Oliver Claypool, and his daughter Lena Tallulah Claypool. His home is called “Rancho Relaxo” after a Simpsons episode where Marge gets sent to a spa of the same name. He records most of his music at his home. He is famous for his wacky sense of humor and overall very eccentric personality. He has recently been very open about his liberal politics and his dissatisfaction with current president George W. Bush.
Claypool is an avid fly fisher, and even appeared as a special guest on a 2004 taping of Fly Fishing the World filmed in Idaho and a 2005 taping in Quebec, Canada. Both episodes are available on the extras section of 5 Gallons Of Diesel.
1988 Blind Illusion – The Sane Asylum
1988 Primus – Sausage (demo)
1988 Primus – Sucking Songs (demo)
1989 Nov Primus – Suck On This
1990 Feb Primus – Frizzle Fry
1991 May Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese
1992 Mar Primus – Miscellaneous Debris
1993 Apr Primus – Pork Soda
1994 Apr Sausage – Riddles Are Abound Tonight (Original 1988 Primus lineup)
1995 May Primus – Tales from the Punchbowl
1996 Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel – Highball with the Devil
1997 Jul Primus – Brown Album
1998 Aug Primus – Rhinoplasty
1999 Phonopsycograph Disk – Live @ Slim’s / Turbulence Chest
1999 Apr Buckethead – Monsters and Robots (Claypool features on and co-wrote 6 of the 13 tracks)
1999 Oct Primus – Antipop
2001 Apr Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade – Live Frogs Set 1
2001 Jul Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade – Live Frogs Set 2
2001 Oct Oysterhead – The Grand Pecking Order
2002 Sep The Les Claypool Frog Brigade – Purple Onion
2003 Oct Primus – Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People
2004 Sep Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains – The Big Eyeball in the Sky
2006 Jun Les Claypool – Of Whales and Woe
2006 Oct Primus – They Can’t All Be Zingers
2008 Mar Electric Apricot – Quest for Festeroo (soundtrack) (Claypool features on and co-wrote 5 of the 12 tracks)
Soundtracks and compilations
1988 – Germ’s Choice: A KUSF Compilation (promo for KUSF radio, featuring Primus’ demo of “Tommy the Cat”)
1991 – Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (soundtrack, featuring the Primus track “Tommy the Cat”)
1991 – Guitars that Rule the World (promo for Guitar World magazine, featuring the original track “Filet of Soul” by Alex Skolnick with Claypool and Brain)
1993 – The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience (featuring the original Primus track “Poetry and Prose”)
1993 – Radio 501 (promo for Levi’s jeans, featuring the original track “Can’t Live Without” by Claypool, Jay Lane & Rob Wasserman)
1994 – Airheads (soundtrack, featuring the original Primus track “Bastardizing Jellikit”)
1994 – Brainscan (soundtrack, featuring the Primus track “Welcome to This World”)
1998 – Chef Aid (South Park soundtrack featuring the original Primus tracks “South Park Theme” and “Mephisto and Kevin”)
1999 – Family Values Tour 1999 (live album, featuring the Primus tracks “Laquerhead” and “My Name is Mud”)
1999 – Celebrity Deathmatch (soundtrack, featuring studio version of “The Heckler”)
2000 – Nativity in Black II (Black Sabbath tribute album featuring a cover of “N.I.B.” recorded by Primus and Ozzy Osbourne)
2002 – Crank It Up (promo for NASCAR on FOX, featuring a cover of the Commander Cody track “Hot Rod Lincoln” recorded by Claypool)
2002 – Bonnaroo Music Festival 2002 (live album, featuring the Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade track “Locomotive Breath”)
2002 – Bonnaroo Vol. 2 (live album, featuring the Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains track “Number Two”)
2004 – Concrete Corner: October Sampler 2004 (featuring the Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains track “Junior”)
2004 – Bonnaroo Music Festival 2004 (live album, featuring the Primus track “Frizzle Fry”)
2004 – Not In Our Name (benefit compilation album, featuring the Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade track “David Makalaster II”)
2006 – Barnyard (soundtrack, featuring the original track “Hittin’ the Hay” by North Mississippi Allstars with Claypool)
(Claypool on bass unless otherwise noted)
1992 – Tom Waits – Bone Machine (on the track “Earth Died Screaming”)
1994 – Firehose – Big Bottom Pow Wow (featuring Claypool in discussion via telephone call)
1994 – Rob Wasserman – Trios (on the tracks “Home is Where You Get Across” and “3 Guys Named Schmo”)
1996 – Alex Lifeson – Victor (on the track “The Big Dance”)
1998 – Jerry Cantrell – Boggy Depot (on the tracks “Between” and “Cold Piece”)
1998 – Metallica – Garage Inc. (banjo on the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover “Tuesday’s Gone”)
1998 – Bloem de Ligny – Zink (vocals on the track “Capsule”)
1999 – Tom Waits – Mule Variations (on the track “Big in Japan”)
1999 – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band – Live On (on the track “Oh Well”)
1999 – Limp Bizkit – Significant Other (on the track “Trust?” and the bonus track “The Mind of Les”)
2002 – Gov’t Mule – The Deep End, Volume 2 (bass and vocals on the tracks “Greasy Granny’s Gopher Gravy” and “Drivin’ Rain”)
2003 – Gov’t Mule – The Deepest End, Live In Concert (bass and vocals on the tracks “Greasy Granny’s Gopher Gravy” and “Drivin’ Rain”)
2004 – Tom Waits – Real Gone (on the tracks “Hoist That Rag”, “Shake It” and “Baby Gonna Leave Me”)
2005 – Jack Irons – Attention Dimension (on the Pink Floyd cover “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”)
2005 – Adrian Belew – Side One (on the tracks “Ampersand”, “Writing on the Wall” and “Matchless Man”, with Danny Carey drumming on those tracks also)
2005 – Gabby La La – Be Careful What You Wish For… (bass and percussion throughout)
2005 – Mat Callahan – A Wild Bouquet (bass on the track “I See the Light”)
2006 – Adrian Belew – Side Three (on the tracks “Whatever” and “Men in Helicopters v4.0”)
2006 – Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (tracks not specified)
Television show theme songs
1997-2000 – South Park: seasons 1-4 (“South Park Theme” by Primus, released on Chef Aid, 1998)
2000-2006 – South Park: seasons 4-10 (various remixes of “South Park Theme” by Primus, unreleased)
2006-present – South Park: season 10 (remix of “Whamola” by Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade featuring lyrics from “South Park Theme” by Primus, unreleased)
2005-present – Robot Chicken: seasons 1-3 (released on Of Whales and Woe, 2006)
1992 – Primus – Miscellaneous Debris
1992 – Primus – Cheesy Home Video
1998 – Primus – Horrible Swill: A Tawdry Look at Primus on the Road in 1998 (Fan Club promo video)
1998 – Primus – Videoplasty
2002 – Rising Low (Documentary by Mike Gordon)
2002 – Various Artists – Live From Bonnaroo Music Festival 2002 (featuring Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade and Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains)
2003 – Gov’t Mule – The Deepest End, Live In Concert
2003 – Primus – Animals Should Not Try to Act like People (DVD/EP set)
2004 – Primus – Hallucino-Genetics: Live 2004
2004 – Various Artists – Live From Bonnaroo Music Festival 2004 (featuring Primus)
2005 – Les Claypool – 5 Gallons Of Diesel
2006 – Primus – Blame It on the Fish: An Abstract Look at the 2003 Primus Tour de Fromage
2007 – Les Claypool – Fancy
2008 – Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo
1999 – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”
2006 – Guitar Hero 2 – “John the Fisherman” – (Playstation 2/Xbox 360)
2008 – Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars – original exclusive theme music – (Wii)
* Six Carl Thompson basses:
o Multi-wood fretless 6-string Rainbow Bass
o Walnut fretted 4-string
o Maple fretted 4-string (backup for the walnut 4-string)
o Ebony fretted 4-string
o Fretless 4-string
o Fretted 6-string
* Fender Jazz Bass
* Kramer bass
* Rickenbacker 4003 bass
* Semi-acoustic Eko bass
* Zeta electric upright bass
* Kay upright bass
* NS Design electric upright bass
* Tune fretless six-string bass (used primarily before he got the Carl Thompson Rainbow Bass)
* the Whamola bass
* A Bassjo, a 4 stringed combination between a bass and a banjo.
* Ampeg bass heads
* Mesa Boogie bass cabinets
* Gallien Krueger practice amps