Leslie Edward Claypool was born September 29, 1963, in Richmond, California, and was raised in El Sobrante, California, in a working-class family of auto mechanics. Claypool decided to become a bass player, pursuing the instrument from the age of fourteen. Claypool has cited Larry Graham, Chris Squire, Tony Levin, Roger Waters, Geddy Lee, Paul McCartney, Geezer Butler, Bootsy Collins, Stanley Clarke, John Paul Jones, and the Residents as his musical influences. Notably, Claypool has lifted much of his vocal style from the Residents. He went to school with and was a friend of guitarist Kirk Hammett, later of Metallica fame. Before forming Primus, Claypool learned various blue collar trades and worked as a carpenter.
In 1986, after the death of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, Hammett encouraged Claypool to audition for Metallica as Burton's successor. In Metallica's Behind the Music, Claypool said that he jokingly asked the others if they wanted to "jam on some Isley Brothers tunes" during the audition, a reference to his little experience in the thrash metal scene. Metallica frontman James Hetfield remarked that Claypool was not offered the job because "he was too good" and "should do his own thing". In a 2014 interview with Boing Boing, Claypool said that Hammett had given him a copy of Ride the Lightning (1984) which he enjoyed, but overall "wasn't a big metal guy"0:27 and "didn't realize how big [Metallica] were, to tell you the truth"0:45 until he arrived at the audition. In retrospect Claypool admitted "I wasn't the right guy" and characterized himself as a "weirdo" and furthermore believed that Hetfield was "being nice" in saying Claypool was too good for Metallica.
Primus began as "Primate" in the mid 1980s, with Claypool on bass, Todd Huth on guitar, and various drummers, most notably Jay Lane, though Huth and Lane left shortly thereafter to pursue other projects. Claypool replaced them with guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander.
Claypool is considered to be the leader of the band, as well as the driving force behind its blending of funk with other genres. Claypool frequently utilizes the slap-bass technique, prominent in funk music, and is the only member of Primus who comes from a funk background. Because of Claypool's strong funk influence, Primus is often described as "thrash-funk" or funk metal, though Claypool dislikes these labels, stating: "We've been lumped in with the funk metal thing just about everywhere. I guess people just have to categorize you."
From 1989 to 2000, Primus was one of the most unusual bands to gain significant mainstream airplay, headlining Lollapalooza in 1993, appearing on Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 1995, and even appearing at Woodstock '94, where they performed their Pork Soda hit "My Name Is Mud" and were consequently pelted with mud by the audience, much to the band's displeasure. In 1991, the band was featured in the movie Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, performing "Tommy the Cat" live. Claypool and Tom Waits first recorded on each other's records in 1991 and have continued to do so since. In 1997, Primus was asked to play and record the theme song for the animated television show South Park. In 1999, he allowed Activision's use of the song "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" in the popular video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Primus went on hiatus in 2000.
In mid-2003, Claypool reunited with former Primus drummer Tim Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde to record a DVD/EP called Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People. In October of the same year, the band embarked on a two-month tour in which two sets were performed per show, the second set consisting of their 1991 release Sailing the Seas of Cheese being performed in its entirety. Primus continued touring into 2004, performing their 1990 release Frizzle Fry as their second set, as documented on the DVD Hallucino-Genetics: Live 2004.
On October 17, 2006, Primus released both their first greatest hits album, They Can't All Be Zingers, and their third DVD, Blame It on the Fish, subtitled An Abstract Look at the 2003 Primus Tour De Fromage. The band toured in 2006 on their
Primus: The Beat a Dead Horse Tour 2006, and played at a small number of festivals in 2008.
In 2010, Alexander, who had left the band for the second time due to lack of interest, was replaced by Jay Lane, who had not played with the band since 1988. The band subsequently resumed touring after the free June 2010 Rehearsal was released later that year, and a studio album, Green Naugahyde, was released in 2011.
In 2013, Lane left Primus for the second time to focus on his other band RatDog, who were coming off hiatus at the time, and was replaced again by Alexander. Primus' eighth studio album, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble, a re-imagining of the soundtrack from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was released in October 2014.
In 2017, Primus released The Desaturating Seven, a bedtime story based on a group of rainbow eating goblins. They then began a tour with Mastodon through most of 2018.
In 1996, Claypool produced, engineered and released a solo album, "Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel presents" Highball with the Devil. Claypool is credited with bass, drums and vocals on several tracks as well as guitar. Also on the album are Mark "Mirv" Haggard, Adam Gates, Jay Lane, Joe Gore, Charlie Hunter and Henry Rollins. The accompanying tour included Haggard and Gates on guitars with Bryan "Brain" Mantia on drums. It was announced during the Holy Mackerel tour that Mantia had been chosen to become the next Primus drummer.
In April 2000, Claypool collaborated with Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Stewart Copeland (of the Police) to form a supergroup called Oysterhead. Claypool and Anastasio had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate. Each had a mutual interest in playing with Copeland who had been a rock idol of their teen years. Plus, Claypool and Copeland already had an established friendship. Oysterhead were originally intended as a one time performance during Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Though timid of the band's sudden and surprising popularity they eventually decided to record and tour. They released one studio album, The Grand Pecking Order, and toured before disbanding in 2001. They re-united in 2006, at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
The Frog Brigade
In May 2000 Claypool formed Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, an experimental rock group. Claypool was asked to put together a band for the Mountain Aire Festival in Angels Camp, California. The band "of the most incredible guys (he) could possibly find" debuted that Memorial Day weekend and played a number of other festivals including moe.down. Originally he was going to call the band "Les Claypool's Thunder Brigade". Claypool states:
I originally was going to do the two drummer thing with Herb and Jack Irons, so I was gonna call it the Les Claypool Thunder Brigade. Michael Bailey from Bill Graham Presents said to me that it may sound a bit too heavy for the Mountain Aire crowd and to perhaps try something a little different that had to do with the event itself. Since it was home of the Calaveras County Frog Jump... hence the Frog Brigade and then it evolved into Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.
The Primus hiatus allowed him to return to his musical roots, playing songs by bands such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and the Beatles. Claypool has called the Frog Brigade his "mid-life crisis band". From a set of October shows recorded at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, Claypool released two Frog Brigade live albums, one being a cover of Pink Floyd's Animals. The line-up included Todd Huth,
Eenor, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane, Skerik and Claypool.
The Frog Brigade is also noted for Claypool's being accepted into the jam band scene. Live Frogs Set 1 won "Best Live Album" at the second annual Jammys. Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti are both members of Bob Weir's band Ratdog. Claypool performed with the Rat Brigade when opening for Ratdog once in 2000 and again in 2007. The Rat Brigade includes Claypool, drummer Lane and keyboardist Chimenti, with guest appearances by saxophonist Kenny Brooks and Bob Weir.
Claypool also guested on the Ratdog sets in 2000, 2006 and 2009.
In 2002 Claypool released a studio album of the Frog Brigade, Purple Onion. Musicians on multiple tracks for Purple Onion include Warren Haynes (Gov't mule)
Eenor, Mike Dillon, Skerik, Jay Lane, Ben Barnes and
Sam Bass (Dillon and Skerik were both from Critters Buggin while Barnes and Sam Bass were from Deadweight). This album includes "Whamola" which later appeared as a remix for the theme of South Park Season 10.
Also in 2002 Claypool collaborated with guitarist Buckethead, Parliament-Funkadelic/Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and former Primus drummer Bryan Mantia under the name Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains (stylized "C2B3," which is to be pronounced as "C Squared, B Cubed"). Their concerts pushed the improvisational envelope by preparing no material and not rehearsing beforehand. At one of their shows they prepared sandwiches onstage for the audience to eat.
C2B3 re-united in 2004 to record tour of the US on September 24, 2004. Aux TV was dismissive of Claypool's effort, but when the tour landed back in Northern California where Claypool lives, the local press gave a very positive review.
The album features only one guest, the childlike multi-instrumentalist Gabby La La (noted as Gabby Lang on Les Claypool's Frog Brigade's Purple Onion) on vocals and sitar. She also opened on every show (sometimes to scathingly negative reviews) during the 2004 tour as a solo act with sometimes members of C2B3. Claypool also produced and performed on Gabby La La's first album, Be Careful What You Wish For.... Gabby La La is the first artist Les has signed to his label since Charlie Hunter in 1993. He has performed select shows with her (including the 2005 Bonnaroo Music Festival) and added her to his then new touring band, Les Claypool & His Fancy Band. The 2005 Fancy Band line-up also included Skerik, Dillon and Lane.
At the end of 2005, Claypool released 5 Gallons of Diesel, a video retrospective of all of his work away from Primus.
Claypool's first attempt at a feature-length film, Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo, was shown on various film festivals in the late spring of 2006. The movie is a spoof of the jam band scene centered on the fake band, Electric Apricot, in the mockumentary tradition of This Is Spinal Tap. The group performed low-key shows in the California area (most recently High Sierra Music Festival) for the filming of the movie. The members of the band are characterized as Steve Hampton "Aiwass" Trouzdale (Adam Gates) on bass and vocals, Steve "Gordo" Gordon (Brian Kehoe) on guitar and vocals, Herschal Tambor Brillstien (Jonathan Korty) on keyboards and vocals, and of course Lapland "Lapdog" Miclovik (Les Claypool) on drums and vocals. The film debuted on March 15. During a question and answer session at the Tiburon Film Festival where the film debuted Claypool said that the yet unreleased DVD would have an accompanying soundtrack CD. The film has won other awards as well including Best Feature (audience choice) at the Malibu Film Festival. Claypool also said that the band would possibly perform a few select shows, but a tour is unlikely as Adam Gates has a job at Pixar which makes touring difficult. Other cameos in the film include Arj Barker, Dian Bachar, Seth Green, Warren Haynes, Mike Gordon, Matt Stone, Sam Maccarone and Bob Weir.
Of Whales and Woe and the Fancy Band
On May 30, 2006, Claypool released a solo album, Of Whales and Woe, with guest appearances by Skerik, Mike Dillon and Gabby La La. This album includes the song "Robot Chicken", which is the theme song of the popular Adult Swim show of the same name. His son Cage and his daughter Lena even make a special appearance on the song "Back Off Turkey". The release was followed by a tour of the U.S. with the following lineup:
- Les Claypool – bass, vocals
- Skerik – sax
- Mike Dillon – vibraphone, percussion
- Gabby La La – sitar, theremin
- Paulo Baldi – drums
This lineup is called Les Claypool's Fancy Band and did national tours in both 2006 and 2007. A live DVD, Fancy, recorded from the 2006 tour was released in 2007. The audio track includes a mix of both soundboard and taper recordings. A song from the album, "One Better", was used in National Lampoon's TV: The Movie in a fight scene between Preston Lacy and Lee Majors.
South of the Pumphouse
Claypool's first book, South of the Pumphouse, was released on July 1, 2006, by Akashic Books. Copies of the book were sold during Claypool's 2006 tour of U.S.A. following the release of Of Whales and Woe. The book is a dark, clever tale of brothers, murder, drugs, and fishing, and it has been likened to the work of 
Besides touring in the Summer of 2007 nationally with the Fancy Band, Claypool performed that October with a version of the band, dubbed the Fancy Trio. The trio consisted of Les, Skerik on saxophone, and Mike Dillon on drums, vibraphone and percussion. They played at The Echo Project, an inaugural ecologically minded 3-day festival in Fairburn, Georgia on the Boukeart family farm. The set was similar to that of the Fancy Band's tours, culling from Les' solo and Frog Brigade albums, as well containing a cover of "One Step Beyond" by Madness and teases of other songs, including several Primus tunes, throughout their improvisational jams.
For many years Claypool has done a New Year's Eve show at The Fillmore in San Francisco. More recently the New Year's Eve show has been an Annual New Year's Eve Hatter's Ball featuring a hat contest. December 31, 2007, was the 3rd such annual event.
In 2008 a United States tour spanned from February 29 to April 5. It kicked off at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina and ended at The Warfield in San Francisco. The 2008 tour was a quartet featuring Claypool, Dillon, Skerik and Baldi.
During the year Claypool also performed several shows with Primus at festivals across America and Canada.
Pig Hunt is a film directed by James Isaac released in 2008. Claypool contributes previously unreleased material and plays the role of "The Preacher".
Les composed several songs for the Wii game Mushroom Men, released in December 2008.
On December 31, 2008, Les rang in the New Year with his annual New Year's Eve show. It was at the San Francisco Opera House with Zappa Plays Zappa sharing the bill and playing first.
Les was also a judge for the 7th annual Independent Music Awards. His contributions helped assist upcoming independent artists' careers.
Les' second solo album, Of Fungi and Foe, was released on March 17, 2009. The album consists of expanded material of the music from the Mushroom Men game, as well as the Pig Hunt motion picture, and features a guest appearance by Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz.
In 2009, Les toured with Matisyahu, performing as a 'double-feature' set, as well as appearing together on stage.
In March 2010 Les went to tour in Europe with English trio HOT HEAD SHOW for the first time in his solo career and played a few concerts in Italy, the United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland and Germany.
On March 28, 2010, Les performed a rendition of Rush's "The Spirit of Radio" for their induction into the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
From May 2010 to July 2013, Claypool toured extensively with Primus, alongside Larry LaLonde, and the return of former Primus drummer, Jay Lane. On September 6, 2012, a new side project was revealed as an acoustic band called Duo de Twang. Featuring Les Claypool and originally Marc Haggard. After two shows, Haggard was replaced with Bryan Kehoe. Both guitarists play together in the associated band M.I.R.V.
On September 25, 2013, it was announced Jay Lane had left Primus to rejoin the Bob Weir group, RatDog. His replacement was declared to be Tim Alexander. Claypool and Dean Ween are currently working together for a reality TV show called Musishermen, and Duo de Twang is preparing for the release of their debut album, Four Foot Shack.
On February 4, 2014, Duo de Twang released their debut album and began touring in late February. In the last part of the 2014 Spring Tour, Primus's drummer, Tim Alexander, had a small heart attack which rendered him unable to play. Luckily instead of canceling the September shows, they were able to use their close friend Danny Carey for the late shows.
On January 19, 2016, it was announced that the Claypool Lennon Delirium, a collaboration between Claypool and Sean Lennon, would debut at Bonnaroo 2016. Claypool has spoken fondly of the collaboration, stating, "Sean is a musical mutant after my own heart. He definitely reflects his genetics – not just the sensibilities of his dad, but also the abstract perspective and unique approach of his mother. It makes for a glorious freak stew."
On March 21, 2016, it was announced that the duo would release their debut album, entitled Monolith of Phobos, on June 3, 2016.
On May 31, 2016, he was featured on the Death Grips song "More Than The Fairy".
Claypool was a special guest star in a Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode with the most number of celebrities on Cartoon Network in 1996.