In case you are unaware, in addition to writing articles and conducting interviews for the Alternative Nation site, I am also the author of quite a few books (maybe you heard of a few of the titles – Grunge is Dead, MTV Ruled the World, Overlooked/Underappreciated, etc.). And on September 16, 2014, my thirteenth book overall, Primus, Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight into Primus and the World of Les Claypool, was issued via Akashic Books.
As a longtime fan of Primus and Les Claypool’s many other projects, it was great to get the opportunity to interview band members past and present, as well as a variety of producers, managers, and friends (including some very well known names – Tom Waits, Tom Morello, Kirk Hammett, Geddy Lee, Stewart Copeland, Trey Anastasio, Matt Stone, etc.), and hear many stories that I have never read anywhere else before.
Interested in checking out an exclusive excerpt from the book? You’re in luck! Point your peepers below at a bit from Chapter 13 (titled “Grab Yourself a Can of Pork Soda”), which recounts Lollapalooza 1993, a tour that Primus headlined – over the likes of Alice in Chains, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Fishbone, and Dinosaur Jr., among others.
LES CLAYPOOL [Primus singer and bassist 1984–present, Sausage singer and bassist, Oysterhead singer and bassist, Frog Brigade singer and bassist, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains singer and bassist]: Perry Farrell had been talking about us on Lollapalooza since the beginning. We were on Lollapalooza III. It was almost a given that we were going to be on Lollapalooza. Don Muller was part of it, and he was our guy. We weren’t sure where we were going to be in the bill. They weren’t hammering down a headliner. Don calls me one day and says, “Hey, Alice in Chains doesn’t want to headline. What do you guys think about headlining?” And I was like, “Fuck it, we’ll do it!”
DAVID LEFKOWITZ [Former Primus manager]: The connection with Jane’s Addiction helped us and our booking agents helped us, because there were four partners in Lollapalooza—Don Muller, Mark Geiger . . . our agents, basically, Perry Farrell, and his manager Ted Gardner.
LES CLAYPOOL: To be honest with you, it was the first time people started throwing rocks at Primus. I mean, as far as press—How dare these guys. Who are these guys to headline Lollapalooza? It was really the first time we started seeing negative press. And even the festival itself started getting rocks thrown at it. It’s funny, because now as time has gone by, people talk about how that was the best one, because Tool and Rage Against the Machine were opening, and they were alternating whether they were on the first stage or the second stage. And obviously, Alice in Chains and us, Fishbone, Dinosaur Jr.—it was a pretty amazing bill. But at the time, people were like, What the hell is this? But we did it. [Laughs] And again, we’ve always been so protective—I think it all comes back from seeing friends of mine back in the day getting screwed over by people who were supposedly more knowledgeable. So we always had this attitude of, We’re young, we’re the next generation, we know what we’re doing. Maybe not necessarily consciously, but subconsciously we’re saying this and doing this.
We’re headlining Lollapalooza—what did we do when we needed a lighting guy? We hired Ler’s friend from high school, because he had gone to two hundred and some-odd Dead shows! We figured, This guy’s got to know what good lights look like. Who cares if he actually knows how to run the console. [Laughs] We shot all this footage with this insane rare and expensive camera, with an anamorphic lens, which they probably used to shoot Lawrence of Arabia with. We strapped it to the front of my boat, which mortified Mark Kohr, and zipped it through the bay. A lot of that footage we still use to this day, to project behind us. And we projected this giant . . . It wasn’t just the rear screen, it bled over to screens that covered the front speakers. Once we got it down, it looks pretty cool, but the first few shows it was a mess. It was just us, once again, trying to home-grow everything.
TIM “HERB” ALEXANDER [Primus drummer 1989–1996, 2003–2010, 2013–present]: This tour was so amazing. The lineup was awesome. Alice in Chains, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, and Fishbone, just to name a few, and we were finishing the night off headlining. But I felt Alice in Chains was the real headliner. I mean, how could we be given the title above so many great bands as the HEADLINER? Definitely felt pressured to do good every night. We made a bunch of friends on that tour, which a band usually doesn’t get to do too often, when you’re in one town and on to the next every day. It would have taken years to tour with so many great bands one at a time. So this was an amazing experience.
Getting to hear Layne Staley every night wasn’t so bad, either. He was definitely one of a kind. I run into Jerry Cantrell every now and then—at, of all places, bowling alleys. Yes, I like to bowl and I’m pretty good. I have my own bag and ball and shoes. But that’s nothing compared to how cool Jerry is when he reaches into the bag and reveals a see-through bowling ball with a skull inside it. WTF! Wicked. I’ve run into him a few times and we even connected once and bowled together. I kicked his ass.
One of the big regrets was when we were in Seattle, Les and Ler said they were going to go hang out at the studio while they were tracking their album with the dog on the cover [1995’s Alice in Chains]. I wasn’t feeling well that night and was tired, and didn’t really think that it was that important. Wow, what a dumbshit move that was. That album grew on me so much. I don’t think people really understand the complexity of that record. The melodies are incredible and the layers of harmony that Layne and Jerry did were like no others. I get chills listening to that record. Although I couldn’t stand the sound of the drums. It sounded like they weren’t mixed or any care was spent on the drum sound—and Sean [Kinney] is a great drummer. Maybe it’s like that to really make everyone else shine even more. Which is what being a drummer is all about.
LES CLAYPOOL: We didn’t know much about Alice in Chains prior to that. They were this kind of “rock band” to us—kind of like, Eh,whatever. But they became really good friends. I don’t talk to Jerry very much, but when I do, it’s always great to see him. I was really bummed when Layne passed [in 2002]—not that I knew him super well, but the times that I did hang out with him, I thought he was a very interesting cat. I know a lot of people like this—they just can’t be social unless they’ve got some sort of chemical crutch. And he was one of those guys. And it took him down.
For the final show, everybody was “gagging,” which you always do. There’s always some sort of shenanigans for the last show. So I said, “Rent me a chicken suit—I’m going out there for ‘Rooster’.” So I put on this chicken suit, and here I come—“Here comes the rooster”—and I come flying out onstage. They were kind of ready for some shenanigans, so they start hurling eggs at me! And I can’t see shit—if you watch the footage, I can’t see shit through the damn chicken mask. I’m out there dancing around, and I can’t dodge these eggs. That was cool and all funny, but the best part about it is I come off stage, and I’m heading back to the dressing room, and Timothy Leary had been out on the tour a little bit. He was a big Primus fan. So I’m walking along, and there’s Timothy Leary walking with these girls. And, forgetting I’m dressed like a chicken, I’m like, “TIMOTHY LEARY! WHAT’S GOING ON, MAN?!” And he just looked like he was scared to death. Like some demon from his past had come back at him or something.
TIM “HERB” ALEXANDER: We also became friends with Tool. Maynard [James Keenan] and I kind of clicked somehow. I think it’s because we are into UFOs and virgin sacrifices. I clearly remember him walking toward our bus to come say hi, and I was thinking, Who the hell is this? He had a Mohawk, sunglasses, and army fatigues on. Remember Taxi Driver? Well, needless to say, I thought he had a screw loose to choose that look to model himself after. Oh great, some loony wants to come and raid our refrigerator or shit in our toilet. I didn’t know much about him at the time.
Tool was playing on a side stage and they got moved up to the big leagues—or the main stage—where the superstars like Primus played. He turned out to be crazy but I still got along with him, and we ended up working together over time. One of the earlier projects was A Perfect Circle. Maynard had called me and said they wanted me to come and work on this music Billy [Howerdel] had been working on. Billy sent up a CD for me to listen to and it was really cool, and had a lot of songs in 3/4, which is one of my favorite time signatures. I went to LA and there I first met Paz Lenchantin, who became a good friend—that I worked with later in our careers. We jammed the ideas Billy had and Maynard would mumble melody ideas as we played the tunes. We even did a two-week West Coast tour, and Maynard was still mumbling melody ideas on some of the songs instead of lyrics. He is very brave. It’s not what you say but how you say it. I think so. More recently I’ve been a part of Puscifer, which is one of his many jobs or businesses. He is the great multitasker.
LES CLAYPOOL: Tool and Rage Against the Machine were just coming up, so they were like the junior guys of the tour. But I do remember hanging out with Maynard. He was inviting me to come out to his house to see his turkeys—he had a bunch of turkeys at his house for some reason. I was like, Who the hell is this guy? He was always working out backstage. He’s kind of a little guy with bad posture, and he’s back there pumping iron all day long. I was like, This is kind of weird. But they were all great guys.
TIM “HERB” ALEXANDER: We were already good friends with Fishbone, and touring with them again was great. When we first started out we would do shows with them, and they were the best live band I think I have ever seen. That was also the first time I met Billy Howerdel. He was their guitar tech. He was a hard worker and Fishbone worked him hard. He was so clean and organized. I just couldn’t understand how you can do that when instruments are flying across the stage, and Norwood has taken off his clothes and who knows what else. They were all just awesome. Once, Fish, the drummer, wasn’t able to make a show on Lollapalooza, and a bunch of us drummers filled in and played different songs. I think that goes to show just how influential they were to all of us on that tour.Overall, it was an amazing tour and I’m glad and proud I was a part of it.
LES CLAYPOOL: Lollapalooza was amazing. We built some great friendships on that tour. It’s always great to be with the Fishbone guys. But the Fishbone guys were going through a bunch of crazy shit at the time, because that was when Norwood was dealing with that Kendall kidnapping bullshit. It was a little crazy. But Lollapalooza was incredibly fun.
ANGELO MOORE [Fishbone singer and saxophonist]: That was like the brightest moment, when we were playing with Primus at Lollapalooza. I remember being on Lollapalooza with them and being on that stage, and playing “Here They Come” [a.k.a. “Here Come the Bastards”]. I remember the Seas of Cheese, the sun, the air, the energy of the people at Lollapalooza. I remember soloing on my soprano saxophone, and Les playing his bass and lifting his leg up and down, like he was doing some hambone-type shit. We jammed a lot from what I remember. From my perspective, we had a lot of the same flavor and energy when it came to music.
NORWOOD FISHER [Fishbone bassist]: That was a gnarly lovefest. [Laughs] We were all in the mutual admiration club, watching each other every night. It was a lot of fun and I looked forward to every day doing that tour. Going to different people’s dressing rooms, and drinking with them, hanging on buses. We knew the guys in Alice in Chains, but our history with Primus, they were real friends.
ANGELO MOORE: Nothing really reckless—Les Claypool is a pretty laid-back guy. I can’t remember any stories of haphazardness or destruction with Les.
LES CLAYPOOL: I remember Angelo telling me a story about some girl he slept with pissing into a pickle jar.
LARRY LaLONDE [Primus guitarist 1989–present]: It was just a crazy atmosphere—Lollapalooza was kind of a new thing then. Just hanging out backstage, setting up amps, and jamming. It was really like a traveling circus.
LES CLAYPOOL: And we actually got to the point where Tom Morello would come out and sit in with us once in a while—I think on “Tweekers”—and do a little solo.
TOM MORELLO [Rage Against the Machine guitarist, Audioslave guitarist, producer of the Primus songs “Electric Uncle Sam,” “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool,” and “Power Mad”]: On Lollapalooza ’93, we played first and they played last. Often, we were driving to the next city when Primus came on. But that was the Lollapalooza that I think the tour sold out before the bill was announced. There was a new sheriff in town—it was this kind of music, and Primus was headlining. So it was very meaningful that a band that had come from Frizzle Fry was now playing to 20,000 to 40,000 people a night in the headlining slot. It was clear that the times had changed for the better.
As far as on that tour, I jammed with them once or twice. And I remember being very nervous for that, because we were an opening band in clubs at that time, and playing at one thirty in the afternoon, in front of six hundred people eating hot dogs. I forget where we played, but I remember doing some solo—I don’t know that it was my shining moment, but I remember being flattered to be asked, and enjoying doing it.
I don’t know that we hung out that much. I remember talking with Ler. Tim was always nice and clearly a musician’s musician. Ler was always great . . . we did not “bro down” too much on that tour, but he and I have become very good friends. He’s got a lot of metal bones in his body too—we can both discuss with reverence and laugh ironically . . . We actually went to Kiss and Mötley Crüe together the other day! He’s got a good, ironic sense of humor about the music that we love. And Les is a great guy. We didn’t really bond too much on that tour, but we became friends afterward.
To order either the hardcover or Kindle version of Primus, Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight into Primus and the World of Les Claypool, click your clicker here.
Photo by Jay Blakesburg.