If a musician is judged by the company he keeps, Les Claypool is one of rock music’s great talents and most desirable bandmates. When not performing with Primus, the band that brought his eccentric sense of humor and unmistakable style of bass paying to mainstream audiences, Claypool has collaborated with Stewart Copeland of the Police, Trey Anastasio of Phish, Sean Lennon, Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic and former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Buckethead, among many others.
“That’s been the greatest thing about my career and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Claypool tells Billboard‘s Behind the Setlist podcast. “That’s what I feel like looks best on my resume. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve got to meet and befriend and often work with many of my heroes. You know, I’m in a band with Stewart Copeland, for chrissakes. And he’s one of my best friends now. I mean, that’s mind-boggling!”
Claypool has also befriended — and performed with — one of his biggest musical influences, Rush bass player Geddy Lee. Last year, Claypool shared the stage with Lee and Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson at the South Park 25th Anniversary Show at Red Rocks Amphitheater. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are friends, too — that’s Primus’s South Park theme song you hear at the beginning of every episode. Claypool acted as leader of the house band during the concert and surprised Stone by bringing out Rush’s two remaining members to perform. “Matt had no idea of playing [Rush’s] ‘Closer to the Heart’ in front of 10,000 people or whatever the hell it was. That’s an amazing thing.”
Another of Claypool’s projects outside of Primus is Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, an all-star group featuring keyboardist Worrell, Buckethead and drummer Bryan Mantia (Primus, Praxis, Guns N’ Roses). When asked what qualities makes him such an in-demand collaborator, Claypool responds with his trademark sense of humor. “It’s obviously my sex appeal and my incredible wit,” he says. “That’s really what it boils down to.”
Currently, Claypool is on tour with Lennon in the revival of Colonel Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, a group founded in 2000 that released one studio album, 2002’s Purple Onion, and until this year hadn’t toured since 2003. Lennon has also collaborated with Claypool in the Claypool Lennon Delirium, a hybrid of prog and psychedelic rock that released albums in 2016 and 2019.
Colonel Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade ends its run of dates on July 15 in Phoenix and resumes touring on Oct. 11 in Oakland, CA, through Oct. 31 in Nashville, TN.
Listen to Behind the Setlist’s entire interview with Les Claypool at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeart, Amazon Music or Audible.