You Say It's Your Birthday: Les Claypool of Primus

by Randy Reiss.

Taken from Addicted to Noise, September 1997.

Also celebrating a birthday today is former Blind Melon bassist Brad Smith.

Blowing out birthday candles today is Primus frontman Les Claypool, born 34 years ago today in Richmond, Calif. Primus are best known for single handedly bringing prog-rock back from the dead in the early '90s, with Claypool's frantic bass thwacking marking their signature sound. Claypool's parents split when he was four and he ended up living with his mother, who's continual listening to AM radio had a great influence on his eclectic musical tastes. When Claypool entered junior high he tried his hand at numerous instruments, including trumpet, clarinet and bass. Discovering that he loved the rumbling sound of the bass inspired Claypool to stick with it. Claypool met future Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett in high school, a band he would fail to join years later after requesting at his tryout that they jam on a few Isley Brothers tunes. Claypool also met Mark Biedermann in high school, a guitarist with whom he formed the progressive-metal band Blind Illusion. It was during his stint in Blind Illusion that Claypool became obsessed with Rush, frantically studying Geddy Lee's fingering on the bass. Claypool also educated himself by learning to read music and play upright bass when he joined the school jazz band. Near the end of high school, Claypool began to gravitate more towards funk, using Stanley Clarke's I Want To Play For Ya as an inspiration.

By 1984, Claypool joined together with guitarist and old friend Todd Huth to form Primate. The band later changed its name to Primus because there was already a band by that name. It was during the embryonic stage that die-hard fans would tell the group how great they were, to which Claypool would reply "Nah, we suck." It soon caught on and fans started yelling "Primus Sucks!" at concerts as a sign of affection. In late 1988, Todd Huth left Primus and Claypool re-joined Blind Illusion, which now included future Primus guitarist Larry LaLonde. Blind Illusion went on to cut a CD entitled The Sane Asylum on Combat Records. Claypool convinced Larry LaLonde to fill the void left by Todd Huth and together they recruited Primus' sixth drummer, Tim "Herb" Alexander. 1989's Suck on This was recorded a mere month after LaLonde and Alexander became members and it became a college radio hit thanks to the tireless promotional work of Claypool and LaLonde. The trio used the profits from Suck On This to record 1990's Fizzle Fry.

In 1991 the band signed with Interscope and released Sailing the Seas of Cheese, an album Primus promoted by touring with such acts as Anthrax, Public Enemy and U2. 1993's Pork Soda, the band's fourth release, hit #7 on Billboard in its first week of release. Later that year, Primus headlined the Lollapalooza festival and Claypool lost hearing in his left ear due to a diving accident . In 1994 he joined Huth and drummer Jay Lane for a side project called Sausage. 1995 found Claypool restarting Primus and releasing Tales From The Punchbowl. May of 1996 brought Claypool and his wife Chaney the birth of their first son, Cage Oliver Claypool. Later that year, Alexander and Primus parted ways due to creative differences. Mere weeks after Alexander's departure, Les released his first "solo" project, Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel's Presents: Highball with the Devil. Earlier this year, Primus released The Brown Album, featuring new drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia, and joined such artists as Neil Young and Ben Folds Five on the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons Of Rock Developing Everywhere) Tour.

Other birthdays: Jerry Lee Lewis, 62; Jen Luc Ponty, 55; Tommy Boyce, 53; Nick Taylor (Bloodrock), 51; Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), 49; Mike Pinera (Blues Image/Iron Butterfly), 49 and Matt & Luke Goss (Bros), 29.

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