Birthday Les and the Hubner Boys Jamboree

Primus were one of those bands that even in the throes of my relentless fandom in the early 90s I still wasn’t sure what it was that I loved about them. I seem to have that problem with music that comes across both funny and prodigiously. Primus did both in spades.

Les Claypool played the bass as if it was an animated object that hung around his neck. It bent and slapped like it was made of rubber and psilocybin nightmares. His voice wasn’t singing more than it was yelling stories like a carnival barker in various states of slackjaw hillbilly and grizzled longshoremen. Larry LaLonde was rumored to have been a former student of guitar wizard Joe Satriani, but I heard no evidence of that. His playing on albums like Frizzle Fry, Sailing The Seas of Cheese, Pork Soda, and Tales From The Punch Bowl sounded like chicken scratch and a pained squelch. Tim “Herb” Alexander was the only guy in the band that it was apparent he was a rock and roll guy. He played like Neal Peart and looked like a welder. He threw fills in that could’ve come off of “YYZ”, but they somehow fit perfectly with what these two strange, lanky dudes were playing.

I loved Primus into the mid-90s, as in I bought their albums up until Antipop in 1999. The only other person that loved them as much as me was my older brother. He actually got me into Primus. I remember him coming home from a weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio with a lady friend and he returned with a Sailing The Seas of Cheese t-shirt and a copy of Suck On This on CD. What were these things? Who were these guys? Why did I like this weird band so much? All three times I saw Primus live was with my brother(along with my wife, then my girlfriend.) First time was 1993 in Grand Rapids, MI at a little dumpy theater called Club Eastbrook. The Melvins opened for them and it was mind-blowing. They were touring for Pork Soda and that album played heavily into their set. Later on that year we saw them again at the World Music Amphitheater in Chicago on the Lollapalooza tour. They were great(as were Dino Jr, Fishbone, and Alice In Chains), but I found out early festivals aren’t my bag(neither is an afternoon in 90 degree heat with no SPF 30.) The last time we saw them together was 1994 in Peoria, IL at some convention center. This time they were the opening band, opening for Rush. Holy crap, that was an amazing night of music. If I’m not mistaken Primus even went into King Crimson’s “Thela Hun Ginsheet” at one point. I’d just started getting into 80s Crimson so I was pretty blown away.

I continued to dig Primus and Les and by Tales From The Punch Bowl I’d started to hear what I hadn’t been hearing before in Les and Ler’s playing: that they were fucking amazing players. Les was obvious from the start, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the guy. Ler was a little harder to crack. Once I’d gotten into Crimson I could here where LaLonde was coming from. He had a real Fripp vibe to his playing. And “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver” had some pretty killer “chickin’ pickin'” going on which showed a whole new side to the guy’s ability. But after The Brown Album and the disappointing Antipop I kind of lost track of the band. Les continued to put records out under his own name, as well as side projects like Oysterhead(with Stewart Copeland), The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel, and even played on Adrian Belew’s Side One LP, but I just didn’t really keep up. Still dug the older albums, but my brain had remolded and had been rewired to go into different musical proclivities.

Fast forward to December of 2014. My older brother stops by to wish me a happy birthday and hands me a bag. I recognize the bag, as it’s a Karma Records bag. I pull a record out of the bag and it’s Primus’ Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble. I hadn’t heard a new Primus album in close to 15 years. Turns out my brother and sister-in-law caught Primus on the Chocolate Factory tour twice that year. He knew I hadn’t heard it yet so he wanted to spread the Primus love my way. After we had a beer my big bro was on his way home and I put the record on. They were still the Primus I’d always known but there was something special about this record. This record I realized that all those years of cartoonish records, weird characters, and rubbery musical escapades were from a real honest place in Les Claypool. In an interview Claypool had said that he was in the 3rd grade when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder came out. He said he obsessed over that movie until Jaws came out a few years later. Les loved the cartoonish and absurd. He loved oddball characters and storytelling. It’s what he’d been doing since the beginning, but being able to take something that made such an impression on him when he was young and turn it into this musical piece was and is something to behold.

The next year for my birthday my big brother stopped by and handed me yet another Karma Records bag. Inside was Les Claypool’s solo album Of Whales and Woe. This one’s a real treat. Some seriously funky stuff going on within this 2006 LP. Probably the most straightforward grooves Claypool has put to tape. If it hadn’t been for my big brother re-opening my eyes to the wonder that is Primus I’d have never known.

More than Primus, all this is about brotherly love. Even given the fact that my brother and I are well into middle age and we live less than a block away from each other but rarely get together, we still go out of our way to dazzle each other on our birthdays. There were a couple Primus years, then in 2016 he gifted me Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe. Zappa was always a very interesting character, but not one I’d delved into(his autobiography, however, is pure gold.) Since my  big bro gave me that record I’ve been delving pretty deep into Zappa. Hot Rats, Over-Nite Sensation, Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar, and Joe’s Garage are just a few I’ve dug into.

For my part, I make sure I get my brother a book of some interest every time his birthday rolls around. From biographies of Monty Python members to Henry Rollins poetry collections to Keith Richards and Bruce Campbell autobiographies, I’m always looking for something I know he doesn’t have and hopefully doesn’t even know they exist. A couple years ago there was a Frank Zappa doc I found that he dug. This year, I returned the Primus favor by grabbing him their newest, The Desaturating Seven as well as their 2011 comeback album Green Naugahyde on CD as my older sibling hasn’t fallen prey to vinyl like me. He was thrilled.

You know, I started writing this well  before my birthday. Probably sometime before Thanksgiving. I wanted this to be a Primus piece, but I couldn’t seem to finish it. Something just felt off. Turns out, it was because it wasn’t meant to be a piece for Primus, but how Primus fit into the relationship I have with my older brother. Liking Primus doesn’t quite go deep enough. It’s about sharing a love for something with someone else you love. In this case, it’s my brother and I digging Primus together for the last 27 years. I don’t see him all that often, but when I do I cherish the ample laughs we have together. I’m sure we’ll share plenty of laughs in May as we’re heading down to Indianapolis together to see Dweezil Zappa at the Vogue Theater. It’s his “Choice Cuts” tour where he’s playing specific pieces from his dad’s discography. My brother and sister-in-law saw him up in Michigan last year and said it was an amazing show. Well I couldn’t pass up a chance to see Dweezil with my brother. I can’t wait.

Maybe we’ll listen to some Primus on the way down.


Metallica were the gateway band for me. My older brother and his bad influence ways pushed Master of Puppets on me like some greasy punk passing me my first joint in the middle school basketball courts. We drove on US 33 on our way to the mall one hot summer afternoon and he pushed a cassette into the tape deck of his 1977 Cutlass Supreme. What hit my ears was an onslaught of power chords, double kick bass drum, and a howling James Hetfield singing “Master! Master! Where’s the dreams that I’ve been after/Master! Master! You promised only lies!” It was one of those eureka moments for my 13-year old self which led to a leap into the world of thrash/speed metal. For my birthday that year I was given a Ride The Lightning songbook, which helped me learn “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Trapped Under Ice”, and “Fade To Black”.

My brother bought me that book, natch.

From that point on I was a Metalli-nerd(it was a small group of just me, the neighbor kid that wasn’t allowed to listen to Metallica for Tipper Gore reasons, and my dog Klaus.) …And Justice For All was in my possession the day it came out in August of 1988. I was 14-years old and heading into my freshman year of high school. I was awkward and stocky with a weak mullet and wore too many button up striped shirts that were purchased at JC Penney. But I could half ass play “Eruption” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” and in my head I thought it was gonna be my year. Turned out it was just another “meh” school year, with the exception of seeing Child’s Play on my 15th birthday with two pals, snagging a pretty cool Megadeth t-shirt at some point, and my uncle gifting me a 70s DOD flanger pedal. Oh, and Metallica premiered their first video ever with “One”. Stayed at a friend’s house on a Saturday night so I could see the premiere on Headbanger’s Ball since my parent’s didn’t want to pay for cable.

I stuck with Metallica clear through high school. Metallica was the soundtrack to my senior year, along with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger. I gotta say, though, after “The Black Album” I felt the guys got a little too complacent. Load, a song on the MI:2 soundtrack, Bob Segar covers, and short, gelled hair styles? “Metal up your ass” turned into something far less violent or deviant. Soccer moms were singing along to “Enter Sandman” and “Fuel”. I’m not dissing this San Bernadino Godfathers of speed metal for making bank, but by the mid to late 90s Metallica were dabbling in arty rock and southern rock and I just couldn’t board that train with ’em. In 2003, when everyone turned against Metallica for St. Anger I sort of dug that record. Where most folks seemed to think it was middle-aged men trying to fit in with the kids they influenced I saw it as a band attempting to have fun being a band again. Taking risks(that snare sound, anyone?) and getting out of their comfort zone. I felt that, but the doc Some Kind Of Monster confirmed it to me. Whiny rock stars? Nah, they’re just human like you and me. Foibles and all, man.

So where am I going with all of this? Well I started going back to the old albums and I’d realized that I never really got into Kill Em All. I knew most of the songs, but never really dug into that record. I sort of bypassed that initial debut and went right for Master of Puppets. Last year Metallica started re-releasing their albums in remastered form, done from the original master tapes. The first two releases were Kill Em All and Ride The Lightning. Of course I bought them.

They sound amazing, but the big surprise was how much I love Kill Em All. For some reason I always just figured it was more of a hard rock album. It never came across as speed metal to me. Well I hadn’t hit the right songs. “Motorbreath”, “Phantom Lord”, and “Metal Militia” are as thrash and speed as they come. “Hit The Lights”, “Whiplash”, and “Seek and Destroy” are classic metal tunes. “The Four Horsemen” has a breakdown in it that sounds like Peace Sells-era Megadeth, like something off “Wake Up Dead”(I’m wondering if Mustaine was still in the band when that one was written.) “Jump In The Fire” is catchy as hell, but sounds nothing like Nilsson. There’s even a pretty killer instrumental highlighting the late great Cliff Burton’s bass playing called “Anesthesia(Pulling Teeth)”. This record actually seems like the perfect place for Metallica to being their trek into “Metaldom”.

What this album really sounds like is four barely drinking age California buds getting buzzed in the garage and making their own brand of NWOBHM tuneage. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Venom, Diamond Head, and Black Sabbath all play a part in molding the sound of Metallica, and Kill Em All is their first foray into the world that made them what they are today. I now realize Kill Em All is one of the most important metal records of the 80s. Ride The Lightning was when the speed came into prominence for the band, but Kill Em All was their street record. This was the ball bat and bike chains record. Street level tunes, man. There would be no Master or Justice without Kill Em All.

My son now requests “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Not because he heard me spinning it, but because of its use in an excellent indie horror movie we watched called The Devil’s Candy.  But now that I mentioned that “The Four Horsemen” was used in X-Men: Apocalypse, he’s now asking to hear Kill Em All.

I guess I’ve become the bad influence now. My older brother would be proud.





Random Thoughts Part III

spiderman helicopterThere’s one Christmas that sticks out from my childhood more than any. It was the Christmas I received the Spiderman Rescue Helicopter. This thing was massive. You know those Barbie Corvettes they used to sell to little girls that grew up to be big girls with huge expectations? Well, this helicopter was that big. Big enough for a Barbie doll-sized Spiderman to fit in. Walking out Christmas morning and finding that beautiful piece of Chinese-molded toy was a 7 year old kids dream come true. This thing was pimped out, too. Blades that moved with a button, a rescue raft that lowered on a string…you know, to save Mary Jane when that damn Corvette broke down over a stream, or on the Brooklyn Bridge. Plus, there was enough room in the cockpit for Spidey and a guest. Maybe Flash Thompson, or Firestar if Parker was feeling cheeky.

It was a glorious toy that I played with for nearly a week before the skids on my Spidey Helicopter broke. Then that damn rescue raft…the stupid string kept getting tangled. How can Spidey save the hot chick in the Corvette, or those kids that wandered too far out into the ocean when the damn string keeps getting tangled?? Stupid Chinese toy. And then Kevin Tennant THROWS Spiderman to me when I’m at the top of curly slide while he’s at the bottom during f*****g recess! What the f**k, dude?!?! You know I can’t catch s**t! I bring f*****g toys to school, not f*****g catchers mits!! Of course I miss the g*****n toy and Spidey falls to the ground, his plastic leg snapping. F**K!! Go to hell, Tennant!


I was so obsessed with music as a kid that I would literally starve myself at school by not spending my lunch money so I could go buy cassettes at Butterfly Records, the only local music store when I was growing up. I remember I’d hoard all my lunch money during the week so by the end of the week I’d have enough for a trip to see the stoners that ran Butterfly.

These guys were the quintessential record store owners, at least one of them anyways. He always seemed as if he just woke up from a nap, or a coma. Long-ish hair and round, John Lennon-esque glasses -“Steve” we’ll call him- played bass in a local cover band(of course he did.) The other guy that ran Butterfly, we’ll call him “Jay”, was the older of the two and possibly the more businessman-like. He took care of the audio/visual and electronics side of the store. They sold TVs, stereos, and laser disc players. Butterfly Records also sold musical instruments(my brother bought an old Jazzmaster rip-off Framus for way too much from them.) I imagine roach clips were part of their inventory as well, though I never saw them.

Anyways, “Steve” was always recommending new stuff to me. I was raised to never take candy from a stranger, and that seeped into my record buying as I never took record buying advice either. Now I don’t follow that rule for every record store owner, not by a long shot. I’ve gotten some great recommendations over the years. Blister’s Calliope Death Music and Modern Modern’s Zealot Angles were great recommendations by Sig at Naughty Vinyl in Evansville, IN. And of course if it wasn’t for that kid with the lazy eye at Pubic Access Records in Jericho, New York I would never have pulled the trigger on that box set of 78s simply titled Presidential Gas: 100 Years of Presidential Farts. So there are some record store owners that have totally come through for me. But this “Steve” fellow, you couldn’t trust his taste. I can remember very vividly the night my brother had come home from town after just been at Butterfly Records(probably buying a roach clip.) He was in his room with this kind of crappy music playing on his stereo. “What is this?” I asked. “Oh, it’s a band Steve told me I should check out” my older brother replied. “Who are they?” I inquired, trying to refrain from laughing. “They’re called Autograph. They’ve got this song called “Turn Up The Radio” that’s pretty cool”, replied my brother in the same tone of voice one would try to make a s**t sandwich sound appetizing. “Huh” was all I said and walked away. You see, even at 10 years old I knew that was a horrible, horrible purchase. I’m sure “Steve” was probably high or tripping and saw my brother as an easy mark. Unfortunately, he was. That wasn’t the first time my dear, sweet older brother had gotten the business end of a lousy recommendation at Butterfly. There was that Grim Reaper cassette. Hell, even my parents were laughing in the front seat of the car on a family trip while we listened to that. My brother and I always brought a plethora of music to listen to on road trips, so my parents were aware of what we were listening to(my dad still has my cassette copy of Suicidal Tendencies Feel Like Shit Deja Vu/Controlled By Hatred.) Grim Reaper was a generic version of death metal, with a singer that sounded like a Muppet. It was hard not to keep a straight face listening to that.

As I was saying, I always knew what I wanted when I went into Butterfly Records. Whether it was the new Dokken, Megadeth, Anthrax, or Suicidal Tendencies; then later Joe Satriani, Stu Hamm, Rush, Fates Warning, Queensryche, and Faith No More. I didn’t need to be told I should buy this new Trixter album, or Firehouse. I knew those bands were bogus. I wasn’t starving myself for a s**t sandwich, “Steve”.


There was that one time I was run over by a riding lawn mower. Wait, I should rephrase that…there was that time I ran MYSELF over with a riding lawn mower.