If you're a Primus fan, then the Fall of 2003 is going to be a great season for you. Not only is the band going back on tour (with all original members: Les Claypool, Larry "Ler" LaLonde, and Tim "Herb" Alexander) after a 4-year hiatus, there is also an amazing photography book coming out, documenting the band's glamorous history. Bay Area photographer, Jay Blakesberg, has been behind the camera for Primus more than anyone else. Since 1990, Jay has shot the band in their home market of San Francisco and across the country, at various stages of their career and in various incarnations of the band. From their first photo shoot together in the waters off Richmond to candid shots at Rancho Relaxo, Jay has amassed a tremendous archive of photos of Primus, Les Claypool, and all of the side projects. From this archive, he has put together a wonderful piece of art that tells the story of a man and his band.
Jay first saw Primus when they were an up-and-coming local Bay Area band. His first real encounter with them was a cover photo shoot for BAM magazine. His account of the shoot differs from Les', with one party enjoying it a lot more than the other, but the end result was the same; they had a great mutual respect for each other that led to many years of collaboration.
The timing of this book is fortuitous, in that the band is hitting the road. But in fact, the idea for the book came before Jay knew Primus was coming back. For that matter, the band had not even begun to consider a reunion. Jay was on the road promoting his book, Between the Dark and Light: The Grateful Dead Photography of Jay Blakesberg, when someone asked him what other band there was for which he had that volume of photographs. The answer was Primus and hence the project was born. Jay began by looking at 10,000 photos spanning 15 years. While the focus is Primus, there is work from the era of Sausage, Holy Mackerel, Oysterhead, Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains, and the Frog Brigade. From that ten thousand, 800 photos were chosen to make up the book. Each page contains multiple photos from a given shoot and each page is dated, with venue name, to allow the reader to keep track of where they're at in the band's history. Some shoots encompass up to six pages. The book flows very smoothly and shows how much a part of the band Jay could become while shooting them. More than other photographers, Jay was allowed access almost anywhere, and it comes out in the book through some of the more personal shots; from shoots at Les' Rancho Relaxo home to his wedding to backstage nitrous parties, Jay gets it all. There is even a shot of the first meeting of Les and Trey Anastasio of Phish, a meeting that would give birth to one of Les' grandest side projects, Oysterhead.
Les and Co. have done a lot in the years since Primus and this reunion tour brings with it a lot of excited anticipation. Since their last show, Les certainly has made his presence known in the ever-changing "jamband" scene. Through his various side projects, most notably Oysterhead and the Frog Brigade, Les has become a household name for anyone in the jam scene. This may have seemed odd to any Primus fan, since the band and their fans definitely came from a harder-edge, metal/punk place. "From the beginning, I heard Primus as a Jamband, though that term wasn't yet coined in those pre-H.O.R.D.E. days," writes Jay in his forward for the book. It's not too much of a surprise, since Primus guitarist, Larry "Ler" LaLonde was a big fan of the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia was one of his favorite guitarists, along with Frank Zappa). When confronted with this same question, Les says that, "Of all the bands we were playing with at that time, Primus was the most loose with parameters and having guests sit in. The jamband scene today is similar to the scene when Primus was coming up. At the beginning, Primus was considered, 'alternative,' but then alternative became mainstream." Likewise, although, "Primus's music has a harder edge, the fans will dig it." And like many bands in the jam scene, Primus's show will be 2 sets. "The 1st set will be completely different every night. The second set will be Sailing the Seas of Cheese in its entirety, start to finish." Moreover, Les says, "the jamband scene used to be The Grateful Dead and Phish. Now this scene is a hub where people have come together to appreciate an approach to music, rather than a style." Very well said.
Jay has been there to document it all, from festivals to an intimate gathering with Les and his family. "He's become a friend. It's a comfort thing. He's just another one of the guys. Look at the part of the book with the (aforementioned) nitrous balloons. We never would have let another photographer in there. You don't even know he's there. He is the only photographer who has been able to get me to carve time out of my insane schedule for a quick 20-minute shoot between takes in the studio. (By the way, it always takes way longer than 20 minutes.)" That's what makes Jay Blakesberg one of the premier rock photographers in the business. His work and his books are not like other photography journals; he's telling a story with his images and it comes out as art. His ability to get up close and personal with the artist, without being intrusive, very much comes out in this book. With the three forwards (by Jay, Les and Steve Stolder, editor of BAM magazine) being the only text in this book, it is all about the photos. The kind of book where you can find new things and recount old memories every time you look through it.
Naturally, once Jay heard the band was going back on tour, he insisted on doing a shoot for the book. Between the band rehearsing and cutting tracks for their forthcoming DVD/CD release, Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People, and Les rehearsing for his Frog Brigade tour, they had less than no time. But Jay insisted and it makes for a great conclusion to the book. The continuation of the story. And this time, the shoot really did take 20 minutes.
To Defy The Laws Of Tradition is a hard cover, limited edition book, signed and numbered individually by both Jay and Les. Only 2500 copies will be printed and when they're gone, they're gone, so don't wait long to pick it up. It is only available through Jay's website - www.blakesberg.com/primus - and through Les Claypool's site - www.lesclaypool.com. If you order early, you get the low #s of the series. If you order by September 30th, your book will come with an 8 x 10 photo of the band. Check out Jay's site for early ordering information.
Be sure to catch Primus on tour nationwide this October/November. See the tourdates at Primus Tour Dates. The new DVD/CD comes out October 7th and can be pre-ordered at through www.primussucks.com/animals.
Words by: Sam Elkin
Images from: To Defy The Laws Of Tradition
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