Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Sound Familiar?

“John the Fisherman,” “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver”

Who Are They?

Musical connoisseurs of cheese, pudding, and pork. (Mmm. Steamy.)

If that made no sense to you, you are obviously not a Primus fan. And you also need some schoolin’.

Primus (or Primate, as they were known back in 1984) was a little project started by bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Todd Huth, and a drum machine. Citing artistic differences, the drum machine split and was replaced by Vince “Perm” Parker, and later Tim “Curveball” Wright. After about 187593432 other drummers joined and left the band within a span of about two years, Tim “Herb” Alexander got comfortable behind the kit. Then Todd left and Larry “Ler” LaLonde stepped in to complete what most fans claim to be the ideal Primus lineup.

Claypool and company’s first album was actually a live recording from two Berkeley concerts called Suck On This, released in 1989. Their first studio album was 1990’s Frizzle Fry. It may have been the super rad vibes coming from Frizzle Fry, or the fact that they were touring with the one and only Jane’s Addiction, that got Interscope Records mighty interested in Primus. Whatever the reason, the boys signed to the big bad major label and released 1991’s follow-up Sailing the Seas of Cheese. (And yes, every Primus album has a completely ridiculous name.)

Seas of Cheese singles “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” and “Tommy the Cat” got Primus noticed pretty quickly. They toured with the likes of Rush, U2, Anthrax, and Public Enemy, and even made a cameo in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Whoa, dude! Excellent!

Pork Soda, released in 1993, didn’t fare as well. Perhaps the always delightful themes of murder, suicide, and alienation rubbed audiences the wrong way, or they were just scared away by the video for “Mr. Krinkle.” (Watch it. The pig getup will haunt your dreams).

Regardless of the minimal success of Pork Soda, Primus ended up headlining 1993’s Lollapalooza tour and also made an appearance at Woodstock ’94 (or Mudstock, as many have lovingly dubbed it). They were pelted with mud during their set (who wasn’t?), and Les made the infamous comment (as you can hear in the video), “You know, when you throw things up onstage, it’s a sign of small and insignificant genitalia.” Truer words were never spoken.

But Primus’ bizarre talent wasn’t professionally recognized until 1995’s Tales from the Punchbowl. The album’s first single, “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” earned the band a Grammy nod for Best Hard Rock Performance (they lost to Pearl Jam), and became their most successful single to date. (And the video is probably one of the best music videos of the ‘90s. Check it out below.)

As with most bands, Claypool and company didn’t take well to their newfound fame, and since “Wynona” was being played to death, Les disowned it. If you happen to see Primus on their new tour, don’t expect to hear the tune.

Tim Alexander left the band in 1996, probably due to playing “Wynona” about a million times. He was replaced by Bryan “Brain” Mantia, and just in time. Two nobodies named Trey Parker and Matt Stone approached Les and the gang to compose a theme song for this little cartoon called South Park. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

After 1997’s The Brown Album and 1999’s Antipop (which was littered with guest musicians like James Hetfield and Tom Morello), Primus went on an indefinite hiatus in 2001.

Where Are They Now?

Back together (with another yet another new drummer!) and still cranking out songs about the strangest things (this time salmon and squirrels).

During the hiatus, Les got into the jam band scene with projects Oysterhead and Colonel Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. (The latter is probably the single greatest band name in the history of music.)

Tim released two albums with the band Laundry, and also performed with Blue Man Group and A Perfect Circle. Bryan and Larry joined forces to produce two experimental records and tried unsuccessfully to open a recording studio.

Primus reunited with Tim in 2003 to record a 5-track EP, which was released alongside the epic music video collection/live DVD Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People. The boys commenced the “reunion” tour, playfully dubbed the Tour de Fromage, to back the DVD package. They took another break, then toured again in 2006.

Tim became disenchanted with Primus yet again and was replaced with current drummer Jay Lane. Primus announced a new tour in 2010 (which I attended!), but there was still no news of new material surfacing any time soon.

Then, by some great miracle, a new album was announced to be in the works in March 2010. On September 12, 2011, Green Naugahyde was born.

But Why Primus?

That new album I just mentioned? It’s their first new album in 12 years. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s kind of a big deal. Also, it’s super fantastic. Read my review (in which I fangirl over Les Claypool’s superb bass skills).

What Does Sam Think?

PRIMUS SUCKS. In other words, they’re radtastic. Saying “Primus sucks” is kind of a pet term fans use when proclaiming their love for them. But if you say it in a friendly conversation with Les Claypool, he will punch you in the face. Why? Because like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” he is sick to death of hearing it.

But I digress. Primus is a great band simply because there are no other bands like them. If you heard them on the radio, there would be no doubt in your mind that it was Primus.

But because they’re on their own plane of existence, they tend to alienate some audiences (probably intentionally). You either like Primus, or you don’t. Simple as that. I think the “weird-out” factor is the idea of a band based around a bass player, rather than a vocalist or guitarist. It’s pretty obvious that Les is the mastermind behind Primus (but Larry and just about every drummer are just as talented). Upon first listen, the bass smacks you in the face. That’s just how the band works. And Les Claypool plays a mean bass (he was denied a position in Metallica because he was just too good, or so the legend goes).

If I had to describe the band’s sound, I’d probably go with “thrash funk pig rock.” Yeah, that sounds about right. It’s dirty, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Still confused? Don’t sweat it. Listening is the best alternative to my inane ramblings. Take in a few songs, or an entire album (Tales from the Punchbowl is my personal favorite). You’ll either be pleasantly surprised, or completely disgusted. Or perhaps a nice mixture of both.

--Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

1 comment:

  1. been searching for a VCR I used to own by Primus, it has some clips of live stuff, the band on a boat and other backstage stuff plus clips for jerry was a race car driver, tommy the cat and john the fisherman. I am having all the problems in the world trying to locate it or even trying to find the name - I'm pissed off it got stolen along with my very large CD and vinyl collection in 2002. Can anyone help me with this what the name of the video is and where can I get another copy?