music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Primus

June 23, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski



When your most hardcore fans are the ones screaming that you suck, you know you’re not dealing with a typical band. Of course when it comes to Primus, nothing is typical. From their beginnings as one of the true “alternative” hard rock bands to their more recent acceptance in the jam band scene, Primus has been nothing but different. They’ve defied labels, genres, and “the laws of tradition,” and somehow have come out in one piece.

The foundation of the band is obviously Les Claypool. As the bassist, primary songwriter, vocalist, and only member that has been with the band for their entire run, many people would say that Claypool is Primus. He’s without a doubt one of the most talented bassists ever. He slaps, strums, and taps his bass in a combination that’s unheard of in rock and roll. While he’d never be considered a great singer, his weird vocals are a great accent to his very weird bass playing. Claypool has proven throughout his career that he’s able to play in a variety of styles and with a variety of members, but in Primus Claypool always seems to do his best work and to be most comfortable.

It obviously would take some solid musicians to be able to support Claypool on stage, and Primus has always had that. Guitarist Larry LaLonde started out as a thrash metal guitarist, but after working with Claypool in another band became a permanent part of Primus. He’s been able to add depth and substance to Primus’s music, even though he’s not playing the lead like most guitarists do. The band hasn’t had the same stability with drummers, going through three drummers since the release of their first album, as well as four others when they were just getting started. Tim Alexander spent the most time with the band, playing drums on several albums and touring with them during the height of their popularity. He left the band in 1995 and was replaced by Brian “Brain” Mantia, who Claypool knew from working with him in the 80’s. After the Primus hiatus, Alexander came back to the band in 2003, but as the band wanted to start doing more it was clear that Alexander wasn’t interested in Primus beyond the occasional tour. Claypool and LaLonde then brought back Jay Lane, who was drumming for the Grateful Dead offshoot Furthur at the time, and who was a member of Primus in the late 80’s, bringing the band almost full circle.

The band got their start in the mid 80’s, while Claypool was experimenting with a variety of musical styles and trying to see what stuck. They developed a unique fusion of metal, funk, and alternative rock that drew comparisons to other band at the time but was also extremely unique. They recorded a live album that they released independently before putting together their first full-length studio effort. Frizzle Fry was released in 1990 and was an unexpected success for the band, with “John the Fisherman” getting limited radio play and the band getting the opportunity to tour with Jane’s Addiction. The band’s talent garnered the attention of seasoned musicians and their true alternative style fit well into the new musical landscape of the 90’s, and Primus was able to ride that wave to early success.

The band quickly released their follow up album, 1991’s Sailing the Seas of Cheese. The album was released on Interscope, giving the band the backing of a major label. This allowed the band to tour the country with artists as diverse as U2, Rush, Public Enemy, and Anthrax. Since the band didn’t fit into any particular genre, they were able to garner the attention of music fans across the board. They also had a part in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and were featured on MTV’s Beavis and Butthead. The singles were strong enough that the band was able to tour the country as a headliner as well, and it went Gold in 1993.

The band kept up their pace of studio releases with 1993’s Pork Soda. The album debuted at #7 and also went Gold, anchored by the success of the single “My Name Is Mud.” The band headlined 1993’s Lollapalooza Festival, which at this time was a vibrant all-day touring festival featuring the best in the alternative music scene. Success for the band also meant that they kept a blistering schedule of recording and touring, spending nearly 4 years straight either on the road or in the studio. The band was able to take a short break in 1994, giving Claypool the opportunity to pursue some other musical projects, and they reformed for 1995’s Tales From The Punchbowl.

Tales From The Punchbowl was one of Primus’s most progressive albums, and it included their biggest hit single to date. “Wynonna’s Big Brown Beaver.” They were able to get more MTV play for the video and tour the country again as headliners. Unfortunately, Alexander wanted to go in a different direction from the band, and he left Primus after the tour. The band tapped Bryan Mantia to fill the drum duties for the band. Mantia brought an impressive resume to the table, which included time playing with Bootsy Collins and Buckethead.

Primus recorded two albums with Mantia on drums. The Brown Album was released in 1997, and was meant to be an album that made a statement. Unfortunately the band had significantly less commercial success with this release than with their previous efforts. Despite some favorite songs for hardcore fans, the album didn’t catch on with the more casual fans. The band responded with 1999’s Antipop an ambitious album that featured a variety of collaborations and guest producers. Tom Morello, Tom Waits, James Hetfield, Fred Durst, and Matt Stone all had a hand in the album. The result was a relatively inaccessible album that didn’t strike much of a chord with Primus fans while again failing to gain a mainstream following.

The lack of inspiration on Antipop took its toll on the band. Les Claypool had been experimenting with solo projects, but he had always been of the mindset that he would continue with Primus “until it was not fun anymore.” By the end of the 90’s that time had come. The band went on an indefinite hiatus, with no plans to record or tour and each member exploring other projects. Alexander had already been involved in another band since leaving Primus, and LaLonde and Mantia teamed up for a side project. Claypool went in a variety of directions, starting the band Oysterhead with Trey Anastasio and Stewart Copeland, as well as the Frog Brigade. Both of these projects allowed Claypool to gain a strong foothold in the jam band scene, a fan base that Primus had not gone after as a band. This would be a major benefit for the band when they returned.

Primus came back together in 2003 with Alexander back on drums. They released an EP and went out on a tour. The tour was a major success, and the band capitalized on some of their newer fans by playing two-set shows, including a set that featured the band playing the entire Sailing the Seas of Cheese album. They did the same thing in 2004 with the Frizzle Fry album. They played Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Rothbury, Outside Lands, and a variety of other festivals that were more aimed at the jam band crowd.

The band hit a roadblock as far as recording, however. At first the reunion of Primus was more nostalgic, but as the tours continued Claypool and LaLonde were interested in returning to the studio and getting back into Primus 100%. Alexander simply wasn’t interested in Primus as anything more than an occasional touring entity. In 2010 the band announced that Alexander was being replaced by Jay Lane, who was drumming with Furthur at the time but had worked with Primus for a short time in the 80’s. The revamped band toured before heading into the studio to record Green Naugahyde After a 12 year absence, the album was released in September of 2011. With Lane back on drums, the band was able to bring back a sound very reminiscent of their early days. The album was generally well received by fans of all stripes. In 2013, Lane left the band again to return to RatDog, and Tim Alexander re-joined the band full time. In 2014 the band recorded a re-imagining of the soundtrack to “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” and followed that up with a full themed tour.

After wrapping up their Wonka tour the band continued to stay on the road on a regular basis. They announced a new album in the summer of 2017, another concept album called The Desaturating Seven based on an Italian children’s book. For the tour the band would play the album in its entirety as well another set of music. They have also spent time recently touring with bands on the heavier end of the spectrum, including Clutch and Mastodon. The band recently announced that after the conclusion of their 2018 tour they would be going on a break.

Primus has been an incredibly influential band. They were at the forefront of the “nu metal” genre, and many bands from the 90’s borrowed heavily from Primus’s sound. Their influence can also be felt in the more modern indie and alternative rock scenes, as they’ve encouraged bands to push the envelope musically beyond traditional genres. They’ve also had the opportunity to pay respect to their own influences, touring with bands such as Rush and recording covers from favorites like The Police. After nearly 30 years, it’s pretty amazing that Primus continues to be a powerful musical force, and with their recent success it’s unlikely that will change anytime soon.



Widespread Panic announce Panic en la Playa Ocho
Widespread Panic announced their 8th Panic en la Playa event. They will be returning to Riviera Maya, Mexico on January 25-29. Panic will play all four nights, and there will be an all-star late night show two nights featuring Eric Krasno, the Neville Brothers, George Porter Jr., and others.

Hangtown Music Festival announced
Railroad Earth will once again host the Hangtown Music Festival in California. The event will run from October 25-28 in Placerville, CA. The event will feature 3 nights of Railroad Earth as well as The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Trampled by Turtles, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe performing Eat a Bunch of Peaches, Billy Strings, The Infamous Stringdusters, and many other great acts.

Ween announce dates
Ween announced a short run of dates that they’re dubbing the “Florida Georgia Line” tour. The band will play a pair of dates in each state for this short October run.

October 13 – The Fillmore – Miami, FL
October 14 – St. Augustine Amphitheater – St. Augustine, FL
October 19 + 20 – The Tabernacle – Atlanta, GA

The Revivalists add dates
The Revivalists added another short run to their tour, this one in September and October. The band will have a handful of Midwest dates on this run.

September 27 Louisville, KY—Iroquois Park Amphitheater
September 28 Indianapolis, IN—MacAllister Amphitheater at Garfield Park
September 29 Kansas City, MO—KC Live!
October 2 Pittsburgh, PA—Stage AE
October 3 Columbus, OH—Express Live!
October 5 Black Mountain, NC


Electric Forest Weekend 1
June 21-24
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Chromeo, Xavier Rudd, Andy Frasco & The UN, Aqueous, Big Something, Corey Henry & The Funk Apostles, Everyone Orchestra, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Manic Focus, Shook Twins, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe, Turkuaz

Road Jam
June 22-23
Two Roads Brewing Company
Stratford, CT
Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Motet, TAUK

Electric Forest Weekend 2
June 28-July 1
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Chromeo, Xavier Rudd, Aqueous, Big Something, Corey Henry & The Funk Apostles, Everyone Orchestra, Fruition, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Manic Focus, Shook Twins, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe, Turkuaz

High Sierra
July 5-8
Quincy, CA
String Cheese Incident, Sturgill Simpson, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, Turkuaz, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle, Fruition, Spafford

Camp Bisco
July 12-14
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
The Disco Biscuits, Bassnectar, Excision, Bonobo, The Floozies, Lettuce, TAUK, Lotus, Papadosio

The Ride Festival
July 14-15
Telluride, CO
The String Cheese Incident, Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Big Something

Peach Festival
July 19-22
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Gov’t Mule, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Dicky Betts, moe., Twiddle, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Blackberry Smoke, Turkuaz, Leftover Salmon, The Main Squeeze,

Northwest String Summit
July 19-22
Horning’s Hideout
North Plains, OR
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller Williams, Fruition, Mandolin Orange, Steep Canyon Rangers

July 25-29
Floyd, VA
Foster the People, The Infamous Stringdusters, Hiss Golden Messenger

Element Music Festival
July 26-29
Snug Lake Ampitheatre
British Columbia
Lotus, Spafford, Particle

Werk Out Festival
August 2-4
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
The Werks, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Lettuce, Papadosio, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle, Turkuz

Summer Meltdown Festival
August 2-5
Darrington, WA
Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, Greensky Bluegrass, Lettuce, Beats Antique, Papadosio, Twiddle, Pimps of Joytime

August 17-19
Wellston, VA
Dawes, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Larry Keel, Steppin’ In It, Jon Stickney Trio, The Crane Wives

August 23-26
Arrington, VA
Dead & Company, Widespread Panic, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Sheryl Crow, Lettuce, George Clinton & P-Funk, Blues Traveler, Matisyahu, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Waterloo Festival
September 7-9
Carson Creek Ranch
Austin, TX
The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Otiel & Friends, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Motet, Boombox, TAUK, Marco Benevento

FreshGrass Festival
September 14-16
North Adams, MA
Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, Indigo Girls, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Steep Canyon Rangers

The Festy Experience
October 5-7
Arrington, VA
Greensky Bluegrass, Gillian Welch, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush Band, Della Mae, Fruition, Carbon Leaf, Bonnie Paine

Hillberry Music Festival
October 11-14
Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, Sam Bush, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Split Lip Rayfield

Suwannee Hulaween
October 25-28
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Jamiroquai, Odesza, The Revivalists, STS9, Lettuce, Trampled by Turtles, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, Turkuaz, The Wood Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Hangtown Music Festival
October 25-28
Placerville, CA
Railroad Earth (3 Nights), The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Trampled By Turtles, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe presents Eat a Bunch of Peaches, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Pimps of Joytime

Strings & Sol
December 7-11
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon

December 12-16
Puerto Morelos, MX
The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Ghost Light

Winter Wondergrass Vermont
December 14-16
Stratton, VT

Tropical Throe.down
January 10-14
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
moe., The New Mastersounds, Big Something

Jam in the Sand
January 15-19
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, The Wailers, Green Leaf Rustlers

International Incident
January 25-28
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams

Panic en la Playa Ocho
January 25-29
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 22-24
Steamboat Springs, CO

Winter Wondergrass California
March 29-31
Squaw Valley, CA


Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!