Sunday Old School: Primus
It is often said that the most original bands don't make it in the mainsteam. Many of metal and punk's most influential bands such as Venom, Bathory and Bad Brains have found commercial success a lot harder to come by than those whom they inspired such as Metallica or Amon Amarth, though matter how much these groups cite and praise them in the press. There is of course, exceptions to every rule and one band who were able to garner plenty of commercial success with a sound practically all of their own, was California's own, Primus.
Primus began life as Primate in 1984, formed by bass player Les Claypool and guitarist Todd Huth, who utilised a drum machine at first as they found drummers hard to come by until Claypool's friend Vince Parker returned from the army and filled in the position. With a full lineup of musicians, the band recorded their first demo, which was financed by Claypool selling his car, around the same time that they decided to change their name to the more familiar Primus, after another group called The Primates threatened legal action. This was also to be their only recording with Parker, whose departure began a revolving door of drummers, with Tim "Curveball" Wright taking over the position in 1986 for two years, before they recruited Freaky Executives drummer Jay Lane.
With Lane in tow, the group recorded a second demo, "Sausage" in 1988, which fared well in the local music scene where they had made a strong name for themselves, to the point where they were selling out venues. Despite the local success, the trio shrunk to one after Lane returned to the Freaky Executives and Huth left to spend more time with his family after his partner became pregnant. Claypool then spent some time with Blind Illusion, who he had played with before and performed on their debut album, "The Sane Asylum."
It was during his second stint with Blind Illusion that he performed with former Possessed guitarist Larry LeLonde, whom he convinced to reform Primus with him, in a three piece lineup that was rounded up by the addition of drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander. After only two months together, the group released their first album, "Suck On This" in 1989, which was comprised of live recordings and funded via a loan from Claypool's father and initially released through their own Prawn Song Records label. It became an underground success and was re-released the next year through Caroline Records, through which Primus released their first studio album, "Frizzle Fry" the same year. It contained two of their most beloved songs, "John the Fisherman" and "Too Many Puppies," which both produced music videos, the former of which featured a cameo from Claypool's schoolmate and Metallica guitarist, Kirk Hammett.
The underground success of "Frizzle Fry," which included a tour with Jane's Addiction, attracted the attention of major label Interscope Records, who signed Primus to the company in 1990. Their first album for the label, "Sailing the Seas of Cheese" was released in May the next year and was a commercial success, reaching number 116 on the Billboard album charts, spawning two more popular music videos for the singles, "Tommy the Cat" (the titular character of which being voiced by Tom Waits) and "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" and leading them to tour with a variety of big names from Rush to U2 and joining Anthrax and Public Enemy on their "Bring the Noise" tour, as well as appearing in the successful comedy movie, "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey."
They followed this with an EP of covers entitled, "Miscellaneous Debris," which included a popular cover of the Swindon band XTC's song, "Making Plans For Nigel," before Primus released their third studio album, "Pork Soda" in 1993. It was noticeably darker than their previous work but even more successful, breaking into the top ten and peaking at number 7 on the Billboard charts, aided by more popular singles such as, "My Name Is Mud" and "DMV." The resultant success led them to headline the Lollapalooza tour in a year which also included such bands as Alice In Chains, Tool and Rage Against The Machine and appear at Woodstock '94.
During some downtime, the 1988 Primus lineup of Claypool, Todd Huth and Jay Lane got back together and recorded the album, "Riddles Are Abound Tonight" under the moniker, Sausage, before the current incarnation of Primus returned to the studio and recorded their fourth album, "Tales From the Punchbowl." It was another top ten hit in the United States and featured arguably their biggest single, "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver," which was nominated for a Grammy and they performed on the David Letterman Show dressed as penguins.
Following the release of "Tales From the Punchbowl," Les Claypool recorded and released his first solo album, "Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel Presents Highball with the Devil," which boasted a guest spot from Henry Rollins and included Bryan "Brain" Mantia as part of the touring lineup for the record, shortly before he became a full time member of Primus, replacing Tim Alexander. One of their first activities with their new drummer was recording the theme song to the hugely successful TV show, "South Park," which they would later be referenced in a number of times and appear as themselves in the episode, "Chef Aid," in which Claypool credited the character, Chef with inspiring them to keep going, "... no matter how much we sucked."
Primus then released their first album with Mantia, "Brown Album" in 1997, which received a mixed reception from fans and critics but nevertheless sold well and produced another popular single, "Shake Hands With Beef." They followed this with a second EP, "Rhinoplasty" in 1998, which included a re-recording of "Too Many Puppies," live versions of "Tommy the Cat" and "Bob's Party Time Lounge" and covers of songs by Metallica, XTC and Stanley Clarke, with a home video release, "Videoplasty" being released a little while later.
Primus then released their sixth album, "Antipop," which contained a number of guests including Metallica frontman James Hetfield, ex Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin and production from South Park co-creator Matt Stone and Limp Bizkit leader, Fred Durst, though once again, the album was met with a mixed response and following appearances on the Ozzfest and Family Values tours, the band decided to go on hiatus.
The hiatus lasted for three years, during which time Claypool auditioned to be the new bassist in Metallica, a position he had tried out for previously after they lost Cliff Burton in the eighties and but was rejected for back then for "being too good." Eventually, Primus returned in 2003, this time with Tim Alexander back behind the drum kit and released a DVD, "Hallucino-Genetics: Live 2004," as well as returning to the Lollapalooza festival and appearing at Vegoose. They then celebrated their legacy in 2006 with the greatest hits compilation, "They Can't All Be Zingers" and another DVD, "Blame It On The Fish," which included a mockumentary about the band in the year 2065.
While fans were overjoyed to have Primus back on stage, many were still clamouring for new material, which wouldn't surface until September 2011, by which time Alexander had left again and Jay Lane had returned. The album in question, "Green Naugahyde" received the best reviews since "Tales From the Punchbowl" and spawned three music videos, including one for "Lee Van Cleef," the song which gave the record its title. It was to be their only full length album to feature Lane on drums however, as he departed in 2013 and Primus welcomed back Tim Alexander. Their next recording was the highly unexpected re-imagining of the soundtrack to the 1971 movie, "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Fatory," entitled, "Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble." Since then, Primus has continued to grace stages across the globe in their own unique way, with a string of festivals appearances scheduled to take place this year and, with any luck, new material coming in the near future.
Primus - "John the Fisherman"
Primus - "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver"
Primus - "My Name Is Mud"
Primus - "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver"
Primus - "Shake Hands With Beef"
Primus - "Lacquer Head"
Primus - "Lee Van Cleef"
Primus - "Candyman"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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