Les Claypool has been one of music’s most prominent creatives since his band Primus exploded onto the rock scene in the early ’90s. Thanks to his unique approach to the bass, singing and songwriting, Primus has continued to stand out—and has inspired a whole era of bass-led rock and metal songs.

But Claypool has refused to be a one-trick pony, and has led or been a part of at least 11 different projects. Bands Sausage, Oysterhead and Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang have featured new spins on Claypool’s signature sound—and Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, which was first formed in 2000, is back with a semi-new lineup and a tour, kicking off with shows on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 16 and 17, at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.

“Frog Brigade started because Primus was on what we called a hiatus, but it basically was just a noncommittal way of saying, ‘We’re breaking up and hoping we’re going to get back together someday,’” Claypool said during a recent phone interview. “Out of fear, I loaded all my favorite musicians into an RV that I had bought, and drove up and down the coast playing songs—and no Primus songs. We decided to tackle Pink Floyd’s Animals. It just kind of became a thing, and then we made the record (Purple Onion) … and it sort of became this mythical, mystical thing.”

After 1999’s Antipop, the members of Primus were getting fed up with the music scene and called it quits. Frog Brigade was Claypool’s first foray into performing and recording without the “safety net” of Primus, and the new venture helped him understand that fans favor music over all else.

“(Frog Brigade) instilled the notion in me that I can go out and play music and not have to rely upon what was the scene at the time, which was contemporary music with people wearing red baseball caps backwards, jumping around and worrying about how they look,” he said. “It was more about your approach to your instrument, which was very refreshing.”

Claypool described this period as a “somewhat scary time.”

“When you’re in a band that’s pretty popular, and then all of a sudden, you’re not playing anymore, it can be very daunting, and an intimidating and fearful thing, especially when you have young children, and you have mortgages to pay,” Claypool said. “… To do this was a great relief for me. It was a great confidence-building thing for me, and it was just incredibly fun. Frog Brigade is very dear to me.”

When Primus was still thriving in 1996, Claypool released Highball With the Devil under the name Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel. It was basically a solo album, with everything but a handful of guitar, drum and vocal tracks performed by him. The album features songs that are bouncier and more eclectic than the heavy-hitting tracks on Primus records. The same can be said about the only studio release from the Frog Brigade, 2002’s Purple Onion.

“I always said that those (songs on Highball With The Devil) were songs I wouldn’t inflict upon the guys in Primus,” said Claypool. “(Purple Onion) was basically a continuation of that. It was me going in the studio and just kind of throwing pasta at the walls and bringing in musicians to fit various parts, as opposed to writing music with or for specific musicians. It was my self-indulgence.”

Purple Onion took Highball’s garage-band demo-tape sound and threw it through a number of effects and production techniques. It features an experimental Claypool toying with strange sounds, unique lyrics and even a new instrument called the Whamola (as memorialized on the track “Whamola.”)

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“Tom Waits had (Purple Onion) down as one of his Top 20 records, so that’s pretty amazing unto itself,” Claypool said. “All music, whether you’re a listener or a player, represents a slice of your life, and those were interesting and fun times for me. It was a lot of experimentation, and it was a great period of growth for me. I enjoyed immensely making that record, and all those records, actually, because it was Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, then it was Frog Brigade, and then it was Les Claypool, and then people called it the Fancy Band—so it’s just all basically my stuff.”

Before the return of the Frog Brigade, Claypool did a few shows with his newest project, an all-improv group dubbed Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz.

“To me, Bastard Jazz is just such a relief,” Claypool said. “We don’t rehearse; we just show up and start playing. We don’t even know what key we’re going to be in. It’s a very, very liberating thing. I very much enjoy doing that. Every now and again, you’ve got to do something like that, and I’m sure after I do it for a while, I’ll want to go do something else. Fortunately, I have a lot of tributaries I can paddle up and down. Variety is the spice of life; it keeps you waking up in the morning and keeps you going.”

Two Frog Brigade members from the early ’00s are returning for this new tour: Skerik on saxophone, and Mike Dillon on vibes, marimba and percussion. The new members include previous Claypool collaborators Sean Lennon (Claypool Lennon Delirium) and Paulo Baldi (Les Claypool’s Fancy Band), as well as Harry Waters, son of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.

Just like the original Frog Brigade tour, this new tour will feature the band performing Pink Floyd’s Animals front to back.

“I’d always said if I ever had a keyboardist, I wanted to play ‘Pigs,’ because it was one of my all-time-favorite songs,” Claypool said. “We started learning ‘Pigs,’ and I said, ‘Well, shit, maybe we should learn the whole record, and then we don’t need an opening band.’ So that’s what we did.”

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When you listen to Claypool do Animals, you can really hear how Roger Waters had an impact on Claypool’s vocal technique. It’s an important album to many, Claypool included; he said honoring the album takes “a lot of discipline.”

“If you’re going to cover it, unless you’re going to bastardize it, you’ve got to work,” he said. “(Primus) just practiced the whole Rush Farewell to Kings, and that was an insane amount of work, but we had to do it the proper way. We couldn’t just go in and Primus-tize it. There’s a certain amount of reverence that you take when you approach something like that, especially something that’s so important to so many people.”

When Frog Brigade was touring more than 20 years ago, the band pulled out some interesting covers, performing tracks from the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and the Beatles. Perhaps we will see some new covers on this current tour?

“A lot of (what we cover) is: What do we think we can pull off, or what do we stumble across that we find interesting?” he said. “There’s a certain limit to what I can sing, and singing and playing bass at the same time is often challenging depending on what the part is or what the contrast to the parts are. A lot of it is just fiddling around, and then if it sounds good, ‘Hey, let’s pursue that.’ If it doesn’t, we move on to something else.”

Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade will perform with Fishbone at 8 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, May 16 and 17, at the South Shore Room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, 15 Highway 50, in Stateline. Tickets start at $72. For tickets or more information, visit

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