Thursday, December 31, 2009

BEST OF THE 00's: LES CLAYPOOL


Lots of underground artists become part of a "scene" and end up getting signed to major labels. Often, they express surprise that the mainstream would be interested in them, and declare that they'd be doing the exact same thing that they're doing even if they didn't have major label support.

Most of the time, this is bullshit.

But it really was surprising when Primus were signed to the newly-revamped "alternative rock" friendly Interscope Records in the '90s. (The label started as the home of Marky Mark and Gerardo, before recasting itself as the home of Primus, Helmet, Nine Inch Nails, Rocket From The Crypt, The Reverend Horton Heat and other awesome bands).

By the end of the '90s, it appeared that Primus ran their course (for the time being), and the days that Les Claypool's really out-there music could get major label support were also over. In 2000, Primus went on indefinite hiatus (not before recording a cool cover of Black Sabbath's "N.I.B." feautring Ozzy Osbourne). And Les formed a new band, The Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, with former Primus and Sausage members, guitarist Todd Huth and drummer Jay Lane, along with a keyboard player named Jeff Chimenti, sax player Skerik and a guitarist called Eenor. It was a great band, and they didn't do Primus stuff, instead playing songs from the Sausage album and Les' '90s solo album, Highball With The Devil, as well as covers. Lots of covers. Live Frogs Set 1 included King Crimson's "Thela Hun Gingeet" and Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." Set 2 covered Floyd's Animals from start to finish.

After that, Les formed a "supergroup," with Trey Anastasio of Phish and Stewart Copeland of The Police. Oysterhead released one of my favorite albums of 2001, The Grand Pecking Order. I saw their tour, which was amazing, and I had the absolute privilege of interviewing the three of them together for VH1. After the tour, that was kind of it, although they did reunite for Bonnaroo a few years ago.

In 2002, Les released a proper solo album, Purple Onion, one of my favorites of that year.  Lyrically and musically, just a great album. The following year Primus reunited for some epic shows and a great EP, Animals Should Not Act Like People. And in 2004, Les had a new band, Col. Claypool's Bucket Of Bernie Brains, featuring former Primus drummer Brain (then in Guns N Roses), friend-of-Primus Buckethead (also in Guns N Roses at that time) and P-Funk keyboard god Bernie Worrell (Brain, Bucket and Bernie played together in another band called Praxis). I didn't like it as much as Oysterhead, but their album The Great Eyeball In The Sky was really cool.

In 2005, Les played mentor to sitar virtuoso/singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Gaby La La, producing her album, playing bass and percussion on it and going on tour as her bass player. He signed her to his label Prawn Song. Her debut, Be Careful What You Wish For isn't for everybody, but I really like it. Gaby later joined Les' Fancy Band as his sitar player.

I admit, I don't like some of Les' stuff from the second half of the decade as much, but man, the dude is amibitious. Other than music, he's produced a mockumentary film (Electric Apricot), written a novel (South Of The Pumphouse) and started his own line of wine Claypool Cellars Purple Pachyderm. I'm hoping for a Primus tour again. Or an Oysterhead tour. Or a C2B3 tour. Or the original Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. But really, I'm excited to see what he'll do next.

2 comments:

Liam said...

I really enjoyed that blog. You did well to outline Claypool's, scattered but brilliant, career.

Minority said...

thanks for reading and for posting Liam! As you can tell, I'm a huge fan of Les', and even when I don't love something that he does, I respect that he is "going for it" 100%. I barely touched on his '90s career, which was Primus' peak, and also saw two other cool projects, Sausage (a reunion of the original Primus) and Les Claypool & The Holy Mackerel.