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Leslie Edward "Les" Claypool (born September 29, 1963 in Richmond, California, USA) is a bassist and lead singer, best known for his work with the alternative rock band Primus. Claypool's mastery of the electric bass has brought him into the spotlight with his funky, creative playing style. Though he cites bass virtuoso Geddy Lee of Rush as his greatest influence, Claypool mixes heavy metal finger-tapping, flamenco-like strumming, and a Larry Graham-like slap technique to develop his own unique style. Claypool has earned respect as one of rock's premier bass talents and has become an influence for younger bassists in recent years.
Les Claypool was born on September 29th, 1963 in Richmond, California, but was raised in El Sobrante, California in a working class family with a history of working in auto-mechanics. Les's parents divorced when he was a young child, but he claims to have had a decent childhood, citing that he was never abused or severely bullied.
As a teenager, Claypool was turned on to rock legends such as Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix by classmate Kirk Hammett (of Metallica fame). After picking up the bass at the age of fourteen and developing his chops in the school jazz band, Claypool played in a local cover band called the Tommy Crank Band where he was able to develop his slap technique through listening to Stanley Clarke and Larry Graham. He also bought his first Carl Thompson bass, his trademark four string piccolo. (He now owns six, including a multi-wood fretless 6-string called the Rainbow Bass.)
In 1986, after the tragic death of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, Claypool auditioned to play bass for Metallica. It is rumored that his failure to obtain the position was due to his style's being "too funky". In Metallica's Behind the Music, Claypool said that during the audition he wanted the others to "jam on some Isley Brothers tunes", after Lars Ulrich asked whether he's "not really used to playing this kind of music". James Hetfield remarked jokingly that Claypool didn't win the job because "he was too good."
He also played for Blind Illusion, a San Francisco Bay Area thrash metal band, where he first played with Larry LaLonde (who had left the band Possessed to join Blind Illusion). With Blind Illusion, he recorded the "Sane Asylum" album, in 1988, and then quit with LaLonde to form Primus.
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 metal guitarist 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" with predictable results (Claypool claims to still have mud in his speakers).
The year 2000 saw Primus on indefinite hiatus, leaving Claypool to form Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, a jam band in the vein of Phish. The band debuted at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and played a number of other festivals including moe down. In October he officially disbanded Primus. This 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." In addition to two live albums (one being an exact cover of Pink Floyd's Animals), the Frog Brigade has released one studio album, 2002's Purple Onion. Claypool has also collaborated with Trey Anastasio and Stewart Copeland in jam-rock project Oysterhead.
Claypool also collaborated with virtuoso guitarist Buckethead, funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and former Primus drummer Brain under the name C2B3 (Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains) a name encompassing all members of the band. 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 members to eat.
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.
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 vox 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.... He has also performed select shows with her (including the 2005 edition of the Bonnaroo Music Festival and has added her to his new touring band, Les Claypool & His Fancy Band (also featuring Skerik on saxaphonics, Mike Dillon on percussion, and Jay Lane on drums). Gabby La La is the first artist Les has signed to his label since Charlie Hunter in 1993.
At the end of 2005, Claypool released 5 Gallons Of Diesel, a video retrospective of all of his work away from Primus.
Claypool's first attempt at film, Electric Apricot, 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 band was originally rumored to include Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and Ratdog on guitar but those rumors were slowly put to rest after their first low-key show. 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 go by the assumed names (real identities in parenthesis) of 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 15th and received praise from fans of Les Claypool. No DVD release date has been announced, but during a Q+A session at the Tiburon Film Festival where the film debuted Claypool said that the film would indeed have an accompanying soundtrack CD. Claypool also said that the band would possibly perform a few select shows, but a tour is unlikely as Adam Gates, AKA Electric Apricot bassist Steve Hampton Trouzdale, has a job at Pixar which makes touring difficult. Electric Apricot's website can be found at www.electricapricot.com.
On May 30, 2006 Claypool released a solo album, Of Whales and Woe, with guest appearances by Gabby La La, Skerik, and Mike Dillon. This album includes the song "Robot Chicken", which is the basis of the name and 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; Gabby LaLa - sitar; Paulo Baldi - drums; Skerik - sax; Mike Dillon - marimba. This new lineup is also known as Les Claypool's Fancy Band.
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 recent 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.
Most recently Claypool performed in a one-off Primus gig, with its original lineup (Les Claypool, Larry Lalonde and Tim Alexander), at the Hedgpeth music festival on July 29, 2006 in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Primus performed classic old material, such as To Defy the Laws of Tradition, Groundhog's Day, Jerry Was a Race Car Driver and Harold of the Rocks.
He lives in Sebastopol, CA 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, as he supported Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see Hallucino-Genetics).
Claypool is an avid fisherman 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.
Some have expressed displeasure at Primus' stylistic changes and sought to criticize Claypool for it, perhaps because of his experimentation with the jam band scene during Primus' hiatus, despite the fact that the band plays all of their old material live.
He has let the video game Guitar Hero 2 use a Primus song, "John the Fisherman".
|1988||Blind Illusion - The Sane Asylum|
|1988||Primus - Sausage (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 - The Brown Album|
|1998||Aug||Primus - Rhinoplasty|
|1999||Apr||Buckethead - Monsters and Robots (Les features on and co-wrote 6 of the 13 tracks)|
|1999||Oct||Primus - Antipop|
|2001||Jul||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: The Best of Primus|
Les Claypool on bass unless otherwise noted:
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