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Les Claypool says performing Rush masterpiece A Farewell To Kings in its entirety was like climbing Everest

Primus and Rush
(Image credit: Rick Kern/Getty Images; Fin Costello/Redferns)

Primus frontman and bassist Les Claypool has likened performing Rush’s A Farewell To Kings in its entirety to climbing Mount Everest. Primus embark on their latest A Tribute To Kings tour in April, playing a set of original material before covering the 1977 prog masterpiece from nose to tail. 

Having toured it 2021, tracks such as Xanadu and the epic Cygnus X-1 are now in the Primus wheelhouse. But even for a band weaned on the Rush, boasting the combined talents of Claypool’s hyper-animated bass guitar, Larry ‘Ler’ LaLonde on guitar and Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander on drums, getting a set of Rush classics together was a challenge beyond anything they had done before. 

Speaking on The Eddie Trunk Podcast (opens in new tab), Claypool says it was like deciding to climb Everest. 

“It was just a big undertaking,” he said. “It was like saying, ‘Hey, let’s climb Everest. We’ve climbed Gleason, we’ve climbed a a couple of hills around Concord, so let’s try Everest. What the hell! And it was a lot of work. We have never rehearsed as much in our lives as Primus than when we did A Farewell To Kings.”

The connection between Rush and Primus goes way back to 1991, when Primus opened for the Canadian prog titans on their Roll The Bones Tour, an experience that Claypool describes as surreal, effectively transforming the “superheroes” of his childhood into close friends. For Primus, a band of myriad influences, the Rush canon was always a shared inspiration.

When Geddy came to my house to interview my for that book, I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do the interview but the deal is you have to show me the proper way to play YYZ'

“Ler had this metal background but one of the things we could connect with was he was a Zappa head and a Gerry Garcia head, and Herb was into all this world music, and it was obvious with the size of his drum kit that he must have listened to some Neil Peart,” says Claypool. “I had this eclectic funk background, so, we could connect on Rush. We just started playing Rush riffs. Nothing in its entirety because I don’t think I ever knew any Rush songs in their entirety until this thing.”

The admiration between the two bands is mutual. Geddy Lee interviewed Claypool for his Big Beautiful Book Of Bass, an interview request accepted on the condition that Lee – one half of MusicRadar’s greatest rhythm section of all time – gave Claypool a bass lesson.

“When he came to my house to interview my for that book, I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do the interview but the deal is you have to show me the proper way to play YYZ’, and he did,” says Claypool. “And I had been playing it wrong all these years. You’d sit with Geddy, and just the way he phrases things, the way he fingers things… It’s like, ‘Oh my God! It’s Geddy Lee.’ Nobody does it like that. 

“Like, I was playing the right notes but I was playing them totally different from how he does it, and that’s what makes him Geddy Lee. It’s like what makes Hendrix sound like Hendrix; it’s how he approaches the instrument, not necessarily the buttons he pushes and the things he stomps on.”

Asked if Primus would consider doing a similar tribute with Hemispheres, Claypool demurred. It was something the band had always joked about but there were good reasons not to; not least of which would be what to do with the second half of Cygnus without playing the first. 

Also, they didn't want to give anyone the impression they were becoming a Rush cover band. However, Claypool did admit that, if pushed, Hemispheres was his favourite from the Rush catalogue. 

Play like Rush

“I am not big on favourites but it’s Hemispheres,” he said. “Because like most music, for everybody, it represents a time in your life. It was the soundtrack to my 14-year-old life.

“I had been playing bass for two months when I saw the Hemispheres shows, and I bought scalped tickets, drank three warm Löwenbräus in the parking lot, and I was 14, and it was he greatest night of my life at that point. It was amazing to stand there in front of the stage and see Geddy’s bass as they were setting up all their equipment, and just drooling over it. Because that is what I wanted more than anything, a Rickenbacker.”

You can listen to the whole conversation – which also features an interview with Corey Taylor of Slipknot – at The Eddie Trunk Podcast (opens in new tab). Primus’ A Tribute To Kings Tour 2022 kicks off on 15 April, at The Criterion, Oklahoma City, with Battles in support. See Primus (opens in new tab) for more details. Full dates below.

(Image credit: Primus)

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.