The Connection Between Rush & Public Enemy: Primus (And Rock Hall)

At the show-closing jam at last month’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony, an unprecdented supergroup took the stage to perform Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” Among them Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart of Rush and Public Enemy leader Chuck D.

What do the prog-rock giants and the hip-hop legend have in common (other than membership in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame)? Well, probably not much. But, believe it or not, both bands have toured with San Francisco rockers Primus.

Primus was the opening act on the genre-crashing Anthrax/Public Enemy co-headlining tour of 1991. The following year, they played arenas opening for Rush. So Primus frontman Les Claypool is one of the only musicians to spend time on the road with both groups, and he says that both are fully deserving of the accolades that they received at the induction ceremony in Los Angeles last month.

The members of Primus have always worn their Rush influences on their sleeves; like the Canadian group, they are a power trio led by a bassist with an unusual singing voice who are influenced by hard rock and progressive music.

Claypool told, “One of my first introductions to music as a teenager was Rush records.”And it showed, particularly early on in their career. Primus’ debut EP, 1989’s Suck On This, opens with 36 seconds of the band covering Rush’s classic instrumental “YYZ” before launching into their own “John The Fisherman.”

And while it is often said that you shouldn’t meet your idols, he reports that bonding with Rush has been a great experience for him and his band. “When I was 16, if you told me I’d be friends with Geddy, Alex and Neil, I would have s*** myself right there, literally,” he said. “To work with these guys and be friends with them, and to still be friends with them after all these years, it’s a pretty spectacular thing.”

He’s also glad to see that the band’s stock seems to have risen (in terms of credibility) in the past few years, which culminated with their long-awaited Rock Hall induction. But he notes that Primus were supporters when it wasn’t so cool to love Rush.

“Back when we were playing with them, we actually got a lot of flak from press, as to why we were playing with these guys, these progressive rock dinosaurs… this was in the ‘90s,” Claypool said. “But the fans thought it was the greatest thing! It makes me chuckle now, to see these bands that have come out in support of Rush after all these years, when they were remaining very quiet in the ‘90s when we were getting chastised for supporting them (laughs).”

When told about Alex Lifeson’s show-stopping speech at the induction, he said, “Alex is an incredibly funny guy, he’s always been witty and sharp and he’s a kick in the pants to hang out with.”

As for Public Enemy, Claypool isn’t of the mind that hip-hop doesn’t belong in the Rock Hall. “They deserve as many accolades as people can throw at them,” he said. “I actually believe that they are underappreciated. They should be the U2 of hip-hop. There’s nobody like Public Enemy, there’s nobody that made those statements both socially and musically, they were unbelievable.”

He points out that they are still a force to be reckoned with, a quarter century into their career: “I just saw them a few months ago, I was completely blown away. They’re still the best.”

Regarding the “Bring The Noise” tour of 1991 with P.E., Claypool recalls, “Well, it was unbelievable. People were speculating that there were going to be riots, and there was going to be police at all the shows, and the hip-hoppers and the metalheads [would clash], and what was going to happen?”

It turned out to be a harmonious tour (not musically, of course), and one that taught Claypool a few things. “I was very inspired by their show,” he said. “They inspired a huge amount of people in that time period, not just in hip-hop, but in the rock world as well.”

Claypool and Primus reissue their 1991 album, Sailing The Seas Of Cheese, the album they were promoting when they opened for Anthrax and Public Enemy, on May 21.

Catch more from the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony when it airs Saturday May 18 at 9 p.m. on HBO, and check out more of our on-the-scene coverage of the event here.

Watch our recent Inside Out episode on 2013’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction class, below.

More from Brian Ives

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