“As far as my early days it was Geddy Lee and Chris Squire, those were my two guys,” says Les Claypool about his first two bass heroes.
In a career spanning the twisted rock of Primus, whose most recent album saw them tackle the soundtrack of the 1971 movie Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, to Oysterhead, The Frog Brigade and Duo de Twang, Claypool has shown an almost gleeful disregard for ideas about genre limitations and the traditional role of the bass as a supportive part of the rhythm section.
While he’s often considered one of rock’s foremost proponents of slap bass, he’s not a fan of that term, preferring thumping and plucking. “I remember the first time I witnessed somebody doing the thumping and the plucking was Louis Johnson on the old Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” he says.
“Louis Johnson was from The Brothers Johnson and his style was unbelievable. He would pop his thumb off that bass, his thumb would come a foot and a half off the bass. To this day I’ve never seen anybody thump their bass as hard as that guy. I was like, holy shit, I’ve got to learn to do that.”
‘Wait a minute, that’s pretty cool’
Asked how he compares now to the young thumper and plucker who cut Frizzle Fry and Sailing The Seas Of Cheese, Claypool replies, “I hear him but I don’t see him because the guy back then was running around on stage with his shirt off and a pair of shorts with a braided Mohawk. Now people don’t want to see this guy with his shirt off on stage.
"It’s like anything else, as you move through life there are elements of reflection where you go, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ Then time goes by and you go, ‘Wait a minute, that’s pretty cool.’ You grow to appreciate those things. I look at what I’ve done and I’m happy and proud of the progressive growth and where I am as a human being – as a father and husband and all those things. I feel like I’ve got it pretty good.”
The Primus and the Chocolate Factory is hitting Europe and the UK in June. For the full tour dates and tickets, visit primusville.com
- Tue 23rd June - London O2 Academy Brixton
- Wed 24th June - Manchester O2 Apollo
- Thur 25th June - Birmingham O2 Academy
“He was the one that when I was a fourteen-year-old fellow I thought, ‘Boy, I’d sure like to make those sounds.’ I’m still trying to do that.
"When I was a kid I didn’t have a lot of money so I joined one of those RCA Record Clubs where you got ten records for a penny and then you spend the next three years trying to pay back the albums that they send you after you don’t get back to them in time.
"One of those albums I got was All The World’s A Stage which was Rush’s first live record. I pretty much wore that thing out. Geddy was the one, he was my first big hero. The way he phrases his runs when he’s improvising, I’ll hit a run every now and then and go, yep, that’s Geddy.
"There’s one song we have in particular called Moron TV that was off the last record where the middle section is very much Rush and it’s an homage to those guys. I helped induct them into the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame. I brought my Fungi band which was cello, marimba, drums and bass, and we played Spirit Of Radio.”
“Chris Squire always had and still has the most amazing bass tone. His parts and the way he sat in the mix were always really incredible to me.
"I would assume that they let him sit that large in the mix because he’s a pretty big dude. I met him once, I would imagine he’s an intimidating force when sitting around a mixing console and he says ‘Turn up my bass.’”
“There are certain records that I’ve bought multiple times over the years because I’ve either worn them out or they got stolen or you wanted the new format, Yes’ Fragile was one of those records.
"When I grew up that was a rite of passage to be able to play Roundabout and I was never able to play it. I mean I could play it but I wasn’t playing it correctly and I still don’t know the whole thing in its entirety but that’s one my favourite riffs to go to every now and again.
"His presence, his tone is huge, his phrasing, it’s just spectacular. He is the reason why I listen to Yes. The other guys are no slouches but he is the reason I was listening.”
“His melodic approach is still unbelievable to me. How could you go through life and not be influenced by Paul McCartney?
"Obviously his song-writing and his phrasing but even the way the bass is mixed on those records, it’s really huge. It’s surprisingly big and in your face. Great tone and the phrasing. You know it’s Paul immediately because he’s able to hold down a rhythm yet there is this melodic, upper register phrasing to it all.”
“I love Venus And Mars, that’s one of my favourite records but it seems like the bass always stood out a lot more on The Beatles’ records, I don’t know why.
"Taxman is one of my favourite go-to bass lines, even that little walking line in I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends, those are spectacular lines. Paul McCartney, man.”
“Stanley Clarke was huge for me. In fact I got the chance to play with him just recently. He came and sat in with us at a show we did in Los Angeles and he just kicked the shit out of me on stage, it was unbelievable.
"Stanley proceeded to whip out these phrases that were very Stanley Clarke-ish and blew my mind. There are a lot of things that I do that are reflective of his approach to his instrument.”
“When I was a kid I was a loudmouth saying, ‘Geddy Lee is the best! There is no one better than Geddy Lee’ and this buddy of mine who actually had a large record collection said, ‘You know, I love Geddy but you need to check out some Stanley Clarke and some Larry Graham.’ I’m like, ‘Ah, what are you talking about?’
"So then I bought this record I Want To Play For You and it pretty much changed my life. That launched me into Stanley World and getting into a lot more of the fuso-jazz that was going on in the early 80s. But then I stumbled across Larry Graham and that just completely blew my mind.”
“I saw him in concert in 1981, he was supporting the Isley Brothers and to this day it’s probably the most unbelievable show I’ve ever seen. It was just spectacular. I didn’t get to play with him but I met him.
"They were doing a documentary on him a couple of years back and he did this performance in this small radio station in Berkeley, there were a handful of us standing in a room while he was playing with these young cats. I was basically a foot and a half from his hands and he just killed it. It’s good to see you don’t outgrow your heroes if they are guys like that. Nobody plays like Larry Graham.”
“I remember going to his performance and he had this song called The History Of The Bass, it was unbelievable, and he would talk about thumping and plucking. Even as a kid I always called it thumping and plucking.
"When the slap bass term came along I was like, ‘What the hell? We’re thumping and plucking, we’re not slapping.’ It makes more sense – you’re thumping with your thumb and plucking with your finger. I don’t really ever recall slapping my bass.”
“The next guy that changed the course of my musical existence on the planet was Tony Levin. For me Tony Levin is probably my favourite all around bass player. He’s so tasteful, his tone is immediately recognizable.
"He’s got quite the resumé yet he’s still able to perform on all these projects and be recognizable with his tone and his approach. When he played on some of that Pink Floyd stuff on Momentary Lapse Of Reason, there’s Tony Levin, boom, you immediately recognize it. I’ve met him a couple of times and he's just a sweetheart of a guy.”
“For me the Peter Gabriel stuff of choice has always been the early, dark creepy stuff. The Passion was a phenomenal piece of music and there’s Tony right in the middle of it adding his flavour and it’s a huge, huge signature and chunk of flavour that he adds.”
“Someone like Tony, it’s not like he’s super flashy, his playing is pretty sparse. One of my favourite bass parts of all time is the bass line in Thela Hun Ginjeet, King Crimson, it’s pretty sparse but the phrasing is spectacular.”
“He’s more of a contemporary but when Flea came along he bust open a huge window for all of us. We used to play with them in these little tiny clubs around northern California.
"I can’t remember if I saw them at Ruthie’s first or if it was at The Stone, but it was with Fishbone and here he comes, and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, he’s playing all that shit that everybody tells me not to do! He’s the guy who’s getting away with all the shit that the guitar players are always clamping down on you for.’ He was just such a door opener for all of us.”
“One of the greatest albums of the 80s is The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Sonically it is just spectacular sounding. It’s like Zeppelin or something, it’s an amazing record. With early Chili Peppers, and I’m not trying to take anything away from Frusciante or any of those guys, when Hillel was alive he was a very strong presence on the guitar. It was almost like The Who meets Hendrix, there was this force between the drums and the bass and guitar that was amazingly strong.”
“When I was nineteen-years-old I joined this band, The Tommy Crank Band - hat’s actually his real name - and it was this old R&B band where all the guys in the band were ten to fifteen years older than me.
"We’d play old rhythm and blues stuff like James Brown, Booker T and the MGs, Wilson Pickett, The Meters, all this stuff that as a kid I was familiar with peripherally but didn’t really know a lot about so it was a big education for me. And one of the drummers in the band was Dave Bartlett who was the second drummer for Tower Of Power after Dave Garibaldi left.
"He used to just pound into me, ‘Rocco would do this, Rocco would do that,’ and after a while I’m like, ‘Gah, f**k Rocco, goddamn it! I’m tired of hearing about him!’ But one of our favourite things to do back in my younger days was we’d take acid and go see Tower Of Power.
"Watching Rocco Prestia play was just spectacular and I definitely attribute a lot of my pizzicato style to him. There are many times when I flip into Rocco Mode.”
“As far as innovation and doing something new in the last twenty years, I think Mark Sandman was spectacular. We played with Morphine on the H.O.R.D.E. Fest in the late 90s and I was becoming pretty good buddies with Mark and then he passed away.
"He played a two-string bass with the two strings tuned in unison and he would play it with a slide. The band is baritone sax, that two-string bass with the slide and drums. Phenomenal. Their album Yes is probably my favourite.
"They did a lot of the music in the film Get Shorty. The name of the band is Morphine and it sounds like the music of morphine, it’s very slinky, very sultry, obviously because it’s two lower register instruments as the melody and rhythm. It’s really amazingly cool.
"Probably my favourite band in the last twenty years. It’s not like he was doing anything that was wildly technically amazing but sonically and composition-wise and the vibe of the whole thing was amazing. It’s an odd statement to make but I can never get enough Morphine.”
John Paul Jones
“How can you not be inspired by John Paul Jones? A suburban white kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, that was the soundtrack to your life, Zeppelin records.
"That The Song Remains The Same record where Bonham and John Paul Jones do that jam in the middle of Whole Lotta Love, it’s one of my favourite live pieces ever. It’s got that Rocco Prestia thing to it, the quick sixteenth notes. He was a champion.”