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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Les Claypool
He's Been Framed: Les Claypool of Primus and Holy Mackerel highballs with the devil on new album.

Photo by Jay Blakesburg

Smokin' Grooves:
Fishing for compliments with Les Claypool

LES CLAYPOOL may be the most self-deprecating individual around since Rodney Dangerfield. One thing the Primus bassist and current ringleader of the Holy Mackerel will take credit for, however, is his smoked salmon. "I make an amazing smoked salmon," says Claypool, calling from the Marin County recording studio Rancho Relaxo. "I've yet to eat a smoked salmon as good as this. I got the recipe from a friend and sort of embellished it. It's not that soggy lox crap. Nice firm, dry texture, but not jerky. I have friends that freak out when they put it in their mouths. I even have a vacuum sealer."

Claypool smokes at bass guitar, too, though he won't admit his talent. Interscope had to push him to release a CD of friendly jam sessions collected under the guise of the Holy Mackerel and released as Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel Presents Highball With the Devil. The songs on Highball are lucid R&B­inflected jams with friends--among them M.I.R.V., Charlie Hunter, Jay Lane and Henry Rollins--made over the past six years. Claypool would have pals over and capture the spontaneous noise on tapes, which he gave away to friends over the years until he decided to go public.

"These are tunes I would never inflict on the guys in Primus," admits Claypool. "It was never intended to be a solo record, but afterward, I thought I may as well put my name to them." I ask if he's amassed a vault of these tapes, like the Artist Who Used to Have a Name. "I have a shelf of tapes," he says. "But it's not like Prince. If I get hit by a truck, they'll say, 'No wonder he didn't release any of this shit.' "

Claypool says that he's "always been a groove-oriented player. It's stuff that doesn't come out in Primus. Tim [ex-Primus drummer Tim 'Herb' Alexander] never played that kind of music. The new drummer of Primus, Brain, used to play with Bootsy Collins and the Limbomaniacs and is way more into it." As for the split with Alexander, Claypool compared it to a marriage that was slowly dissolving. "We're still on good terms. I think we all wanted to go in different directions. He was heading more into a progressive path. It's something we tried to resolve. It was bringing down the band to the point where I wasn't interested in doing it anymore. When we approached Tim about leaving, he seemed relieved. I think it was something he was contemplating."

Primus will return to the studio in December. The annual New Year's Eve Freak Out show is on hold while the band scurries for a venue. The Coliseum's being renovated, a rave is set for the Henry J. Kaiser in Oakland, the Cow Palace bites and the San Jose Arena is reserved by one of his high school chums, Kirk Hammet (you read it here first). Meanwhile, Holy Mackerel will perform Thursday (Oct. 10) at the Edge in Palo Alto. The show will benefit the Wheeled Mobility Center, a local charity that holds workshops throughout the world where people with disabilities can manufacture their own wheelchairs. Claypool won't confirm if a smoked-salmon booth would be up and running at the show. "It'd be too much like Paul Newman," he cracks.

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From the October 10-16, 1996 issue of Metro

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