John The Fisherman

Album: Frizzle Fry (1990)


  • This song is about a fisherman who always wanted to fish and later dies while returning his catch to his small community where he is very popular. Les Claypool of Primus, who is a fisherman himself, made up the character but drew influence from a real event.

    "I was watching the news and they had talked about, 'There's this fishing boat that's gone down outside the Golden Gate Bridge," Claypool said in the book Primus, Over the Electric Grapevine. "I believe it was a salmon boat. Apparently, it had gotten struck by a cargo ship. They played the audio of this guy calling the coast guard, and it was unbelievably haunting to hear this guy going, 'There's a ship coming through the fog! It's going to hit us! It's going to hit us!' And then that's all you hear.

    I remember hearing him say, 'Oh my god, we're going down,' or something to that effect. And that was it - that was all you heard. It just gave me chills. So I thought, What would be the story of this guy? So I built this whole story of John The Fisherman, and the notion that they get struck - I don't know if it actually says it in the song, but, "Oh my god, we're going down." It's taken from the account of this fishing vessel getting struck by a ship and it going down. And they never found anybody."
  • The real boating accident that inspired this song was a collision on May 26, 1986 between a 62,000-ton tanker called the Golden Gate and a 60-ton fishing trawler called the Jack Jr. All three crew members of the Jack Jr. were killed; the Golden Gate just kept going, with crew member later claiming they didn't know they hit the boat. A convoluted Coast Guard investigation ensued, with the Golden Gate captain indicted for criminal negligence.
  • The music video was directed by Mark Kohr, who also did Green Day's "Basket Case" and No Doubt's "Just A Girl." It shows the band playing on a fishing boat, with some animation and puppets mixed in. Kirk Hammett from Metallica, a good friend of Les Claypool, is one of the guys on the boat.
  • This first appeared on the 1989 live album Suck On This, which the group released on Les Claypool's Prawn Song label. In 1990, after they signed with the quasi-independent label Caroline Records, a studio version of "John The Fisherman" was issued as Primus' first single and included on their album Frizzle Fry. Primus quickly found an audience for their bass-heavy blend of outlandish prog punk; their next two albums, Sailing the Seas of Cheese and Pork Soda, each sold over a million copies in America.
  • All of the guitar melodies were created by Todd Huth, the original guitarist of Primus. Huth, who left the band in 1989 before Frizzle Fry was released, is credited as a writer on the song along with Claypool and drummer Tim Alexander.
  • This was featured in the video game Guitar Hero II. It also shows up in the 2007 South Park episode "Guitar Queer-o." Primus did the theme song for the show.
  • The video was uploaded to YouTube by a personal account in 2005, just months after it launched and before Google bought the service. Remarkably, it's still there, making it one of the most venerable music videos still posted.

Comments: 10

  • Miles from West Linn, OrFirst song in a rhythm game that was not a cover! Congrats, Primus!:D
  • Cody from St Joe, Moi think im going to have to disagree with you too rick. i think les actually stated this was about a fisherman and alot of primus' songs are very gritty. just listen to the guitar in this and the bass in my name is mud
  • Zach from Green Bay, Wihas an awesome guitar beat
  • Rick from Buffalo, NyI disagree with Alex of Colebrook, mainly because Primus doesn't seem exactly like the "gritty" type of band. But it's a song, meant to be interpreted by the reader. Unless the writer says otherwise, I stay with my previous assumption, even if it makes me look (falsely) like a zealous Christian.
  • Alex from Colebrook, CtLet's make sure to recognize that Rick from Buffalo is only stating his very incorrect opinion and doesn't seem to understand the real meaning of this song.

    Anyway, Fishermen are (more specifically were) a bunch of tough mofos and this song really captures that gritty, honorable danger.
  • Rick from Buffalo, NyThe song is religious. His name is John, the name of the man who baptized Jesus. The fact that he wants to be a fisherman is a connection to the fact that Jesus's disciples were fisherman that became "fishers of men". the song is about a boy who wants to be a priest, not somethng that's mainstream in this world
  • Reuben from Amsterdam, NetherlandsFunny, how Primus likes to play songs about guys and their trades, like 'Jerry was a race car driver', or 'Sergeant Baker'. I love them!
  • Sara from San Diego, Cathis is on guitar hero II and its wicked fun i have conquered that game
  • Matt from Cherry Hill, Njthis is a great song. I will tell you the guitar in this song is incredibly fun to play, and is downright catchy.... I AM JOHN THE FISHERMAN!!!
  • Cam from Cambridge, CanadaThis song is on guitr hero 2 for ps2.
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