Les Claypool on Tubs

by John Mendelssohn.

Taken from DRUM!, Volume 6, #1, February 1997.

Primus bass fiddler wanted to be a drummer so badly that he flailed the skins on his solo album, Holy Mackerel.

Turns out that the man who (if you don't count Geddy Lee, John Entwistle, Bootsy Collins and the late Jaco Pastorius) has influenced the course of electric bass guitar playing in our time more than any other, might just as easily have become a drummer! Back in high school, Primus' Les Claypool bought a bass rather than a snare drum, floor tom, bass drum pedal and so on only because he knew of a band that needed a bass player, and none who sought a drummer. But he never forgot his original attraction to the instrument of Moon and Morello, the Buddies Rich and Miles, and over the years his proficiency increased to the point at which, when it came timne to put down some drum tracks for several of the songs that make up his new, pithily entitled extracurricular album Les Claypool And The Holy Mackerel Present Highball With The Devil, he glimpsed someone who was equal to the task every morning when he shaved.

On some tracks Claypool used but one microphone, albeit a way expensive one that would be sorely unaffordable to anyone the American listening public has embraced less fervently than Primus. On others he used oodles. Unless he or she is a sound recording professional, one can hardly tell which is which! But after even a desultory listening, even a lame lay person could aver with confidence that our Les isn't one for close miking, the bane of epochs past.

Listening to the album's title track, such lay person might imagine that Claypool employed a sample of John Bonham's snare drum, but no such thing is the case. Indeed, he recorded this part late at night, and softly. While the rural Russian River community in which he and his clothing designer missus infant son dwell is sparsely populated, he was staunchly mindful of the ability of sound to carry, and, once carried, to annoy, and employed a delicate touch. He relates this, by the way, in a suprisingly resonant and manly baritone far afield from the constricted nasal twang with which he vocalizes on record.

Asked which performance he's proudest of (and, for that matter, by which he's most embarrassed), Claypool resonantly, if breezily, philosophizes. "They are what they are." And on that score gets no argument from us.

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