Les Claypool says, “The Frog Brigade was a beautiful channel into this very interesting universe that I had always straddled,” as he gets ready to reassemble one of his most cherished solo projects for the first time since the Summer of Green tour over two decades ago. It has always been crucial to me in terms of just changing and signifying a new phase in my life, beyond just my job.
Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade was founded by the singer-bassist in 2000 for a single performance at California’s Mountain Aire Festival. After playing as Oysterhead with Trey Anastasio of Phish and Stewart Copeland of The Police as part of a New Orleans SuperJam, Claypool had only begun to get invitations to a variety of jam-related events. Aside from being at a creative crossroads, Claypool was also alienated from his closest musical partner, guitarist Larry LaLonde, and Primus, his long-running alt-funk band.
Until Primus reformed in 2003 and released a pair of “Live Frogs” CDs along with the critically acclaimed studio album Purple Onion, The Frog Brigade continued to serve as his major musical outlet. After founding, the group quickly established itself as a presence on the festival circuit, jamming with Bob Weir at Gathering of the Vibes, and playing the first Bonnaroo in 2002. Another well-liked segment of the performance was their meticulous replication of Pink Floyd’s hallucinogenic masterwork Animals, which was also made available on Live Frogs 2.
With his improvisationally oriented combination revisiting Animals and a career-spanning mix of covers and originals, Claypool will embark on a tour this spring, over two decades after his last full Frog Brigade engagement and almost twenty years after he last used the moniker in any form. Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads and Adrian Belew of King Crimson, who was also a touring member of the Heads, will perform the opening set on a few dates of their Remain In Light tour, while other dates will have support from Fishbone, Neal Francis, Budos Band, W.I.T.C.H., and Moon Duo.
While the early 2000s saw some changes in the Frog Brigade lineup—including the addition of two important collaborators with whom Weir worked at the time, guitarist Sean Lennon and drummer Paulo Baldi—mainstays like saxophonist Skerik and percussionist Mike Dillon will be mixed in with members of his current Delirium band, guitarist Sean Lennon, and drummer Paulo Baldi. Harry Waters, who has worked with Dean Ween and Ozric Tentacles, will play the keys.
There are several popsicle sticks on the table, as Claypool observes, “to create some stuff with.”
Start by talking about the forthcoming run. You haven’t travelled with the Frog Brigade in a while, and when they first started out, the band went through a few different lineups. Who else will be performing this year, and what motivated you to bring this initiative back?
Well, a lot of folks have been asking when we’re going to do the Animals thing again because they missed it the first time around. It just felt like a decent time to do it while we’re between Primus and Delirium projects.
This time, I’ve gathered a rather sizable crew, and we’re going to rock this thing into the ground. The characters from the Frog Brigade and Fancy Band are all mixed together, and Sean Lennon is playing guitar. So we have Skerik and Mike Dillon, two mainstays in my universe, along with Paulo Baldi on drums, a former Cake member and current Delirium collaborator. Due to the bustling nature of the world of the Walking Dead, neither Jay Lane nor Jeff Chimenti could be reached. The fact that I have Harry Waters on the keys makes me happy. In Europe, he has been performing The Wall.
then he’ll return to play Animals with us. He has his jazz project and formerly performed with the Dean Ween Group. He’s also a terrific guy. I’m stoked—we’ve spoken about playing together over the years and have never actually done it until now.
Over the past few years, you and Sean have collaborated extensively and even recorded some Pink Floyd covers with Delerium. How has his collaboration on Animals gone thus far?
Sean Lennon’s character, Shiner, doesn’t really consider himself to be a talented guitarist. “Dude, you have no clue,” I say. I’m the one that always prods him since the man can really play. He would be ideal for this, I simply thought when we were out here working on some things. He seized the opportunity with both hands and was eager to get started. I assumed that the Animals-related material would be intimidating for him, but he said, “I got that—your it’s stuff that I’m scared about.” I was giggling about it since, despite not being a guitar player, I played a lot of the guitar parts on my recordings. He seems enthused about the situation despite my strange noises.
Returning to the genesis of the Frog Brigade, your first endeavor following Oysterhead when Primus was on sabbatical, When you originally started getting the original band together, what were you searching for?
We got into it by accident at first. After I performed the Oysterhead thing, I suddenly started receiving calls from the jam world asking me to put something together for this festival or that festival. This is basically how the Frog Brigade came about. We were invited to put something together for the Mountain Aire Festival [in 2000] by my dear friend Michael Bailey, who bookings The Fillmore. Tim Alexander, one of my favorite drummers in the whole world, Jack Irons, and Mirv [Marc Haggard], one of my favorite guitarists in the entire world, were brought together because I wanted to make something with two drummers. Alexander had recently parted ways with Primus and would reunite with the group in 2003; Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers had both worked with Irons.] “You know, you’re going to have to find someone from the jam world—this is coming out a little heavy,” my manager said after that. So we invited Skerik inside.
We had two drummers, so I was going to name it the Thunder Brigade, but then it occurred to us that we might not want to call it that because I was the Primus guy just entering the jam scene. Calaveras County hosts the Mountain Aire Festival, which we started referring to as the Frog Brigade because of the county’s well-known leaping frog, according to Mark Twain. As it developed, it eventually changed its name to Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.
Since Primus had recently split up, the band essentially began as my therapy band. We called it a break, but at the time, myself and Larry LaLonde, one of my closest friends in the world, weren’t speaking, so I announced that I was getting a band together and going on tour. I purchased this tiny Airstream, crammed these men inside, and started touring the coast performing pubs. Skerik, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane, [original Primus guitarist] Todd Huth from Sausage, and finally Eenor, who I discovered on Craigslist, made up the first Frog Brigade. Just an awesome time.
Your broadcast included a significant portion of the Animals cover by the Frog Brigade, which you also made available in 2001 as part of the “Live Frogs” series. Why specifically did you choose to perform that LP?
We needed music since playing any Primus songs was the one thing I really did not want to do. Since “Pigs” is one of my all-time favorite Pink Floyd songs, I’ve always wanted to play it. If I ever have a keyboard player in my band, I want to play “Pigs.” As a result, we added “Pigs” to our repertory. Then we suggested that we study the entire record. We can play two sets that way. We can play some of my solo material, a couple songs like “Thela Hun Ginjeet” by [King Crimson], and then the full of Animals, We just began doing it at these clubs around the coast, and it took off. As a result, we decided to capture a few gigs, which we then released. One of them even received a Jammy.
It was a completely new world to me. My eyes were opened to the entire globe by participating in the Oysterhead project, which was very great for me. The jam thing was very easy for me since Primus was also this eclectic thing and we had a tendency to open up, but I was like, “Holy sh*t, these people are going to hear musicians take it to the edge rather than seeing somebody who’s got their baseball cap on sideways.” It was music-focused rather than image-focused. It was shocking to me that these people would watch us perform as if we were jamming in a garage. It completely altered my perspective and inspired me to pick up my instrument once more, which was amazing for me.
Primus was one of the bands that I can still clearly recall Buzz from the Melvins saying to me, “You keep switching it up at these gigs with all this stuff,” to which I responded, “We like to keep it interesting.”
When you finally recorded Purple Onion in 2002 with Warren Haynes and members of Fishbone, you also presented some of the cornerstones of your solo repertoire by bringing Frog Brigade into the recording studio. Could you briefly discuss the writing process for that album?
Well, I made the Holy Mackerel album Highball with the Devil in 1996. I’ve always maintained that those are the songs I wouldn’t subject the members of Primus to because I knew playing them wouldn’t excite them. Some of them were composed on the guitar, while others were on the drums. I could go in there and act like a crazy scientist again with Frog Brigade because I was free to do that. The recording of the Purple Onion album was a remarkable event, and Eenor, Mike Dillon, and Skerik were present for a large portion of it. It’s incredible that Tom Waits included it in his list of the 20 greatest albums ever. I still find it hard to believe I just said that.
Midway through recording Purple Onion, I acquired an old vintage API console, which I still use today. It was a terrific moment for experimenting and inventiveness. At the time, a lot of spaghetti was being thrown at the walls, and it was a terrific moment for me to grow. With the Animals set in particular, I really increased my level of confidence and my vocal prowess. I never really thought of myself as a vocalist; I always thought of myself as the band’s storyteller, but I really had to sing parts of this music and practice singing. That brought about the Delirium universe, which also increased my trust in that area of my musicality.
You last performed as the Frog Brigade on tour some years ago. Was there a particular time when you thought the band moved on to a new endeavor?
Some of it wasn’t really my decision. When we announced a tour, the fans began referring to [my future solo project] as the Fancy Band due to something I put online. For me, the Frog Brigade represented a certain phase of my career, followed by a time when the band’s guitar player was no longer me. Since the Frog Brigade included a lot of guitar and piano, we stopped using the term when we added my cello, Mike Dillon’s melodic sensibility, and other elements. It gradually diminished until it was simply Zappa and no longer Mothers of Invention.
As you noted, Frog Brigade frequently incorporated live renditions of King Crimson and The Rolling Stones. What will the set lists for your forthcoming shows look like?
There is a sizable collection of original and covers in that catalog, so there will undoubtedly be items throughout my whole career. The primary aspect of the Frog Brigade will be playing Animals, so it won’t simply be the Frog Brigade period. This time, though, we’re doing it with only one guitar, five marimbas, and saxophones, so it will undoubtedly be a fresh interpretation—a different interpretation with Sean included. There might be a song by Delirium. On the table, there are several popsicle sticks that may be used to construct various items.
The piece Animals is not very long. Therefore, it only makes up half of a 90-minute set. Primus just performed Rush’s Farewell to Kings front to back, which is amusing. How are we going to pull this off? was my initial thought. We jam on bits and parts of it, and the idea was amazing. I suddenly have to remember where to leap up here and perform the double neck, in addition to singing this nonsense and playing these piano sections. However, Merv simply glared at me and said, “There’s only 37 minutes of content.” I said, “Your correct!” Due to how much fun it is to play yet how difficult it is to master, it was like sprinting.
Back then, every one of those songs was played to the nth degree by those guys, who can fucking play. That was tough crap.
That’s fascinating. Even if you are playing these vintage LPs, your entire set will not be as long as that.
In the past, Rush released an album per year that had seven or eight tracks. The wonderful thing about records was that. CDs started to mess things up; all of a sudden, people were releasing albums with 20 songs that either shouldn’t have had 20 songs on them or should have been released over the course of a few years.
I really enjoy that, which is why we created Conspiranoid, a three-song Primus release. People don’t want to hear ten new songs when they see Primus; they just want to hear a few new ones. They want to hear the old material, with perhaps a few fresh additions. But when you do that, the other 17 new songs become forgotten and start to fade away. We chose to have a brief release in order to truly highlight the new songs without detracting from the older ones. In the past, when we’re talking about the actual old days, there were just singles.
It will be enjoyable, but we must first determine what in the world will transpire when all is said and done. I’ve known Mike, Skerik, and Shiner for a very long time, as well as for a considerable amount of time. I am thrilled to have Harry in the mix even if he is kind of the new guy. There are plenty of workers to keep things moving if the shackles begin to fall off the tracks.
Check out Claypool’s Summer of Green Tour 2023 below.
Stateline, Nevada, Wednesday, May 17 – TBA venue
Friday, May 19th – Blue Note Summer Sessions @ TBA venue in Napa, California
Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, Saturday, May 20th, Santa Cruz, California
Sunday, May 21st – Observatory North in San Diego, California
Tuesday, May 23, Salt Lake City, Utah; venue to be determined
Denver, Colorado on May 24th at Mission Ballroom
Grinders KC, Kansas City, Missouri, on May 26.
Chillicothe, Illinois, on May 27: Summer Camp Music Festival
Iroquois Amphitheater in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 28th
Town Ballroom, Tuesday, May 30th, Buffalo, New York
KEMBA Live! will be held in Columbus, Ohio, on May 31.
Detroit, Michigan’s Royal Oak Music Theatre, on June 2nd
Mountain Music Festival on Saturday, June 3rd in Oak Hill, West Virginia
Fourth of June, TBA, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Brown’s Island on Tuesday, June 6th, in Richmond, Virginia
Wednesday, June 7 – Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, North Carolina
9th of June – Asheville, North Carolina “Rabbit Rabbit”
The Eastern on Saturday, June 10th in Atlanta, Georgia
Sunday, June 11 – Township Auditorium in Columbia, South Carolina
Dallas, Texas – Music Hall at Fair Park – Tuesday, June 13
The Moody Amphitheater in Austin, Texas, on June 14th *
White Oak Music Hall Lawn, Houston, Texas, on June 16th *
Mardi Gras World is in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Saturday, June 17th.
Saenger Theatre in Mobile, Alabama, on Monday, June 19th
Tuesday, June 20th – Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tampa, Florida *
The Lyric, Baltimore, Maryland, on June 22.
Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, New York, on June 23rd
Westbury, New York – NYCB Theatre [In The Round] – Saturday, June 24
The Pines Theater in Northampton, Massachusetts, on June 26th
Wednesday, June 28 – State Theatre #, Portland, Maine
Boston, Massachusetts – MGM Music Hall at Fenway # – Thursday, June 29
Peach Music Festival on July 1st in Scranton, Pennsylvania
Chicago, Illinois – Salt Shed [Indoor] # – Sunday, July 2
Monday, July 3rd, Palace Theatre #, St. Paul, Minnesota
Bonner, Montana’s Kettlehouse Amphitheater, Friday, July 7
Marymoor Park Live + in Redmond, Washington, on Saturday, July 8th.
Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon, on July 9th +
Tuesday, July 11th – Hard Rock Live + in Wheatland, California
San Luis Obispo, California – Thursday, July 13 – Madonna Inn +
The Wiltern in Los Angeles, California, on July 14th.
Van Buren + Saturday, July 15th, Phoenix, Arizona
* Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew Continue to Be Visible