I have been listening to a lot of Primus lately, and it occurred to me, somewhere between "Glass Sandwich" and "De Anza Jig", that I have never mentioned the musical oddity that is Les Claypool. Most know of him as the man behind Primus as well as one of the world's greatest bass players, but few have really dug into his catalog and gotten a taste of the work outside of the Primus window. Well, few other than his die hard fans, of which he seems to have a cult following, but what would you expect with a musician of this caliber. So allow me if you will to elaborate on his body of work as I try to turn you on to some damn good music.
Frizzle Fry is the first official release from Primus that was not a live record. Frizzle Fry introduced a whole new era of sound, as it is nearly impossible to categorize what Primus sounds like (they are the only band to have their own ID3v1 genre tag). While most rock bands are driven by the guitars and drums, Primus is a bass-driven band. This can make the band a little hard to get into for those who have a more traditional preference of rock music. With this release came the minor hits "Too Many Puppies" and "John the Fisherman".
Sailing the Seas of Cheese
The bands major-label debut Sailing the Seas of Cheese is my personal favorite of their entire catalog, and is probably their best known work. A little easier to listen to than Frizzle Fry, this record has a loose feel with a little less seriousness attached to the subject matter of the songs. From start to finish, it is easily their best, containing the fan favorites "Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers" and "Tommy the Cat" (which features guest vocals by Tom Waits), "American Life" and "Here Come the Bastards", as well as the radio hit "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver". While playing at the over-commercialized Woodstock '94, Primus gave one of the best and most memorable performances with "Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers". If there is any Primus record that could be considered a good starting point, Sailing the Seas of Cheese is it.
1992 saw the release of the 5 song EP Miscellaneous Debris, which included a very faithful rendition of Pink Floyd's "Have A Cigar". I have always stated that Primus is the only band I approve of to cover Pink Floyd songs, and this cover track is a testament as to why. Also as a side note, this record is the first to feature Les Claypool's famous "Rainbow Bass", which is a 6-string fretless bass guitar, created by famed luthier Carl Thompson. Why does Claypool play a 6-string fretless bass? Because he is just that fucking cool.
1993's Pork Soda is the band's highest selling album to date, which kind of surprises me. The material is pretty dark and there was only one single released, "My Name is Mud". There are a lot of fan favorites off of this record however, including "DMV", "Mr. Krinkle" and "Nature Boy". As with "Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers", the band made a memorable performance at Woodstock '94 with the song "My Name is Mud", causing the crowd to fling mud at the band. This obviously pissed off Les Claypool, as his remarks no doubt show. This record is another good starting point for those who have not heard much by the band but would like to hear more.
Sausage - Riddles Are Abound Tonight
Sausage was the name of one of Primus' first demo tapes, which featured the original Primus lineup of Claypool, guitarist Todd Huth, and drummer Jay Lane. Both left Primus before the recording of Frizzle Fry to pursue other projects, but have since rejoined Claypool for other projects, including Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. The only single off the record was the title track, which also had a video made for it. It's not a bad record, but definitely not the one you want to base your opinion of Claypool's work off of.
Tales from the Punchbowl
I remember fondly the day this record was released. There's something almost surreal about waiting in line at a record store until to midnight for the release of a new record. I can't even remember the last time that happened, although this could be it. Nobody seems to get that excited over music any more, with the exception of those emo bands and whatever female pop star happens to be making the headlines and music these days. This record displays the band's slow drift into psychedelic sounds, which alienated some longtime fans, although I consider it one of their best efforts. The radio-friendly hit "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" still gets a hell of a lot of airplay, and probably still pisses off David Pirner. The record also features some of Primus' best work, including "Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats" (one of my all time favorite Primus tracks), "Mrs. Blaileen", "Southbound Pachyderm", "Glass Sandwich", "De Anza Jig", and "Over the Electric Grapevine". By far one of their best records yet.
Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel - Highball with the Devil
Released in 1996, this could be considered Claypool's first solo project. He plays most of the instruments himself, and while the album holds up on its own pretty well, it cannot be compared to his work with Primus. The album includes a guest vocal narration by Henry Rollins, as well as new Primus drummer Bryan "Brain" Mantia. There were no singles released for the record as far as my research has led me to believe, but here is a video of the band playing their Star Wars tribute song "Rancor", for your viewing pleasure.
1997's Brown Album is quite a departure from the original Primus sound. The record is very bass-heavy and the subject matter is story-oriented. Tom Waits claims this is his favorite Primus album, and while I do not share that sentiment, it is certainly not their worst. The record features a few very good songs that received no radio play but still remain some of my favorite Primus songs, including the single "Shake Hands With Beef", "Fisticuffs", "Over the Falls", and "Coddingtown", which holds a special place in my heart due to my using it as the title of my fictional utopia I created for a high school English class assignment. Good times. Anyway, it's worth listening to, so go do it.
Primus' second EP Rhinoplasty is mostly a covers record with the exception of a live rendition of "Bob's Party Time Lounge" and "Tommy the Cat", as well as a remix of "Too Many Puppies". The disc also features the claymation video for their cover of Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Rhinoplasty also features Primus' cover of Metallica's "The Thing That Should Not Be", making them one of the first artists to take a truly horrible song and turn it into something worth listening to.
Antipop is the last Primus album, with the exception of the greatest hits package They Can't All Be Zingers that was released in 2006. This record is probably Primus' heaviest record, possibly due to a mix of the subject matter (disposable pop music) and the guest musicians who played on key tracks, including Tom Morello, James Hetfield, Jim Martin, Tom Waits, and for some reason which science nor common sense can seem to explain, Fred Durst. This record features a return to their early heavy sound, although it is probably my least-favorite Primus record. There was only one single released, "Lacquer Head", which was accompanied by a music video seen by absolutely no one due to MTV banning it. The video can be seen here however, in all of its YouTube glory.
Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade
Another Claypool side project, the Frog Brigade was a live band project playing covers and other Claypool songs on their first 2 live records. The first, Live Frogs Set 1 included old Sausage and Holy Mackerel tunes, as well as a King Crimson cover and Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond". The second live record, Live Frogs Set 2, features the band playing Pink Floyd's Animals in its entirety. Following the live records, the Frog Brigade then released their only studio album Purple Onion. Purple Onion is, in my own humble opinion, Claypool's most sporadic work yet, as it includes many musicians playing obscure instruments. I don't believe there were any singles released off the record, but if you are a Primus fan then you should give this a try. At the very least pick up Live Frogs Set 2, as Claypool and company do an amazing job covering Animals.
Oysterhead - The Grand Pecking Order
Oysterhead was a supergroup consisting of Claypool, Phish's Trey Anastasio, and The Police drummer Stewart Copeland. What was supposed to be a one time live show turned into an album of original material that is hard to classify. It seems at times to be an infusion of jazz, funk, and psychedelic, which I know sounds like something you would hear at a bong shop, but it is actually much better than it sounds. The songs lack the heavy feel of Primus, but the record contains some of Claypool's best bass work yet. If you are a fan of the Police, Phish, or Primus, you should enjoy this trippy record.
Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains - The Big Eyeball in the Sky
I had the pleasure of seeing this musical oddity live in 2004 at the Crest Theatre, and I have to say...wow. Holy shit, was this a trip. I would explain the visual freakshow displayed before me in my own words, but I fear I am at a loss for them. So, allow me to quote Les Claypool to give you an idea of what this show was like; "a traveling, oversized sock-puppet show spawned by the characters of a Tobe Hooper film and scored by Danny Elfman on bad acid". Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. The band consisted of Claypool, guitar weirdo Buckethead, Bernie Worrell of the Talking Heads, and Bryan "Brain" Mantia of Primus. The record is very good, being about as hard to classify as anything else Claypool has done. Not easy to listen to for those who have never heard of any of the people I have been talking about in the paragraphs above, but if you like any of the music I have mentioned, pick this one up.
Les Claypool - Of Whales and Woe
Another solo record for Claypool, although this is the first to feature only his name and him playing most of the instruments himself (more so than the Holy Mackerel). This record also contains the theme song for the television show Robot Chicken, which if you have never seen I suggest you correct that immediately. YouTube it or something. Anyway, the record is pretty good. It doesn't stray too far from the Primus sound, kind of like the Brown Album meets C2B3.
So that's about it. I could go into all the albums he has worked on, but I figure I will let you discover all of that on your own. Why the hell should I do all the work? Primus is rumored to be going into the studio this year to record the seventh Primus studio album. I can't wait. Until then, check out some of the material here and if you like what you hear, check out Claypool's book South of the Pumphouse. It is, like everything else he puts his name on, and interesting piece of work.
come with us, we'll sail the Seas of Cheese