The enigma known as Buckethead has confused many a person. Even as an avid fan-boy, I can honestly say that I understand why people are so off-put by him. It's a freakishly tall man with long curly hair wearing an upturned KFC bucket on his head and a Michael Myers-esque mask. While he is known as a very talented multi-instrumentalist he's just as prone to manic, high energy solos as he is to breaking out his nunchuks and robot dancing. A lot of people just know him as the ex-guitarist for the 'new' ...read more
The enigma known as Buckethead has confused many a person. Even as an avid fan-boy, I can honestly say that I understand why people are so off-put by him. It's a freakishly tall man with long curly hair wearing an upturned KFC bucket on his head and a Michael Myers-esque mask. While he is known as a very talented multi-instrumentalist he's just as prone to manic, high energy solos as he is to breaking out his nunchuks and robot dancing. A lot of people just know him as the ex-guitarist for the 'new' Guns n Roses. If one looks deeper, however, they'll find that Buckethead's not just incredibly technically talented but he's also one of the most creative, versatile, and quirky musicians out there today. I beseech all of you to keep an open mind. If you've heard one of his albums and have been turned off by it, keep reading and give an album that sounds more your style a chance. If you only know him from Guns 'n' Roses, keep reading and step into his world. If you've only vaguely heard of him, keep reading as you might find something that you love. Plus you can act pretentious when people have never heard of him! High-fives all around.
Not much is known about the boy who would grow up to don the white mask and chicken bucket. We know that he was born Brian Carroll in Southern California, close to Disneyland. At an early age, he developed a penchant for horror movies, martial arts, and comic books. This minute detail is nonetheless important as these become some of his biggest inspirations. During his teenage years, Brian began teaching himself the guitar. He set out to learn everything he could about the instrument, not only technique, but how to express himself through it; How to make it sing. Some of his idols at this time were Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen. Like his heroes, Brian begins to incorporate many elements of classical music. Eventually, he moved onto jazzier players as well. The late, great Shawn Lane was a spiritual mentor to Brian and heavily influenced him.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers came out in 1988. It was not well received by critics nor by fans of the genre. It did, however, affect one person. This was when Brian Carroll became Buckethead. Up until then, he was an amazing guitarist, no doubt, but that was his whole personality. This made him unique. He picked up a mask at a local Halloween store and took it home. Later that night, eating from a bucket of fried chicken, another inspiration struck him. He overturned the bucket and put it atop his head. He had been changed and so had his musical output. He has mastered many difficult guitar techniques that he puts to use whenever he feels they'll fit. His chicken-picks, 8-finger taps, and can switch confidently from crushing chords to lightning fast sweeping runs.
The following sections will be about Buckethead's career. I, however, am only one man and considering the amount of side projects and guest appearances, some may be forgotten or simply omitted.
Solo Career Buckethead's first solo album, Bucketheadland was released in 1992 on John Zorn's Avant imprint. It's an odd concept for an album, an amusement park that's based around Buckethead's twisted mind. Even in this album Bucketheadmixes dirty funk, shred, and obscure horror movie references. Though it's a rough album, a tough listen really, it perked peoples' ears up and he had many early fans, some of whom would show up on his sophomore effort, Giant Robot.
Giant Robot is in the same vein as his debut but much stronger. Bolstered not only by the guest appearances of Iggy Pop and odd skits but by Buckethead's insane playing. In just two years, he had matured into a great songwriter and comes even further into his own sounds. Highlights of thi s album include the borderline funk of 'Aquabot,' the intense 'Binge and Grab (Instrumental Version),' and the beautiful 'I Love My Parents.' The album is very diverse and is not only a showcase for his guitar but for his great ear for hooks and melody.
1996's Day Of The Robot benefited greatly from Bill Laswell's production. Laswell, a staple in the New York City underground music scene, transformed the album into Buckethead's most consistent at that point. DJ Ninji supplies endlessly interesting beats. Buckethead's growing songwriting means that the highlight of the album isn't the lightning-fast breaks but the songs as a whole.
Colma and Monsters and Robots came out in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Colma showed his tender side. All acoustic, Buckethead shows his typical prowess and dexterity in a different setting. 'Machete' is pure, unadulterated acoustic energy. The latter album still stands with Buckethead's best. It's like an amalgamation of all of the albums leading up to it in that it incorporates all of the good elements. Les Claypool guests on 'The Ballad of Buckethead' and Brain drums throughout the album, the beginning of a bond that still remains today. The closer, 'Nun Chuka Kata,' remains as one of his finest moments.
A string of solid, if not revolutionary, albums followed. Of them, 2002's Electric Tears is the only one that is worth getting if you're not a die-hard Buckethead fan. It features 'Sketches of Spain (For Miles).' He reworks Rodrigo's 'Concierto de Aranjuez,' most famously performed by Miles Davis on his Sketches of Spain. Delicately finger-picked, 'Sketches' showed flashed of Buckethead's versatility to come.
In 2004, Buckethead released his most well-rounded, well-written, and conventional album to date. Population Override is one of the most perfect instrumental albums I've ever heard. His guitar playing is never over the top here, it's tasteful and soulful. It has a very bluesy feel and his tone isn't the acidic, barbed-wire tone of Bucketheadland or Monsters and Robots. It's smooth and has many textures and layers. I can't praise this album enough. If you were to get only one Buckethead album, this would be it.
Not content to stay idle for long, Buckethead has released 5 new solo albums since Population Override. Cuckoo Clocks of Hell is Buckethead in speed-metal mode once again. This is his heaviest album, though not his most creative or sonically interesting. Still some great stuff on it. Enter The Chicken was released late last year and is Buckethead's attempt at a morecommercial sound. Produced by Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Buckethead's guitar serves more as a vehicle for his song writing skills and support for the multiple guest vocal spots. Tankian himself appears as does rap-poet Saul Williams, and Death By Stereo vocalist Efrem Shulz. Kaleidoscalp, Inbred Mountain, and The Elephant Man's Alarm Clock are all only available for sale on his tour.
One cannot comprehend everything Buckethead offers from merely his solo career and these next sections are my attempts to sum up his various other projects.
Praxis Praxis is a super-group compiled Bill Laswell. In 1992, their debut, Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) came out. The line-up for the album is a stunner. With Buckethead on guitar, Bootsy Collins on bass, Brain on drums, Bernie Worrell of Funkadelic and Parliament fame on keys, and Afrika Babybam from the Jungle Brothers on the turntables, this album couldn't possibly fail. And it does not disappoint in the least. A mix of electronica, thrash-metal, and funk, the album is a highlight of Buckethead's career. There's no shortage of anything on it. Metatron came next with only the core band of Buckethead, Brain, and Laswell. Not as strong as the debut but an excellent showcase for Buckethead's ability. Following this, they released Sacrifist featuring guest vocals by the Boredoms' Yamatsuka Eye. Sacrifist is heavier than its predecessors. It's pure sonic assault and is a very solid release. By Warszawa the band was merely a shell of what it used to be but were still pushing boundaries. Recorded live, Warszawa is more hip-hop oriented. Still only the core three members, the group is fleshed out by three DJs who add their own twists to the sound.
Deli Creeps Buckethead's first group was the Deli Creeps. Based out of San Francisco, the band gained early supporters, among them was Mike Patton. I'm going to be honest and say that I have never heard this band. It's extremely hard to find material by them. The band is comprised of Buckethead, Pinchface on drums, and Maximum Bob on vocals.
Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains This super-group was born at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. Les Claypool, one of the most creative bassists in years, brought them together for an unscripted jam. Buckethead, Les Claypool, Bernie Worrell, and Brain all have an equal part in this band, making it my favorite Claypool side-project. They released their first album, The Big Eyeball in the Sky in 2004. It's a very good album. All of the members absolutely shine in it. The solo on the opening track, 'Buckethead,' gives me shivers every time I listen to it.
Death Cube K Death Cube K, other than being an anagram for Buckethead, is his attempt at ambience. Supported by Bill Laswell, they released 3 albums, all of which are solid ambience. Though not ambience isn't my thing, I can respect their intentions.
Cornbugs Buckethead's group with Pinchface on drums again and actor Bill Mosely (Choptop from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Otis in House of 1000Corpses and The Devil's Rejects). Horror-rock with the two musicians setting the eerie backdrop for Mosely's odd spoken-word pieces. Weird stuff.
Moonraker As Mike Patton had been a long-time admirer of Buckethead and both have a penchant for being completely off the wall, it was only a matter of time before they collaborated. With no officially released material, one would have to search bootleg sites for this. They performed one show at California's The Knitting Factory. Patton makes weird noises with his voicelike only he can while Buckethead plays his ass off. I wish they would release an album together.
Zillatron Once again working with a long-time collaborator, Buckethead plays guitar for Bootsy Collins' group Zillatron on their Lord Of The Harvest album. With Bootsy's driving bass lines and Buckethead playing funkier than he ever has before, the albumis a complete success. It's clear that the two have a great chemistry together.
Pieces- Avant-Garde project with Brain of Primu.
Jazz For the sake of your attention-spans (too little, too late I know) I'm compressing three of his side-projects into this final section. Arcana's Arc Of The Testimony is one of the last recordings of the amazing jazz drummer Tony Williams. It is atestament to Buckethead's skill that he was invited along forthe ride. He plays on three tracks on the album and absolutely rips it up. Like his idol Shawn Lane, he melds metal tones and playing and jazz sensibilities and feel.
Mike Shrieve, the original drummer for Santana (he was also the youngest musician to perform at the original Woodstock),decided to go in a different direction than his former group. He went into jazz-fusion. He began collaborating with notorious 'punk-jazz' bass virtuoso Jonas Hellborg in the 90's. In1995 they brought Buckethead along to play on the album Octave of the Holy Innocents. With only his acoustic guitar, Buckethead floats away from shredding solos and instead melds with his two companions to create an excellent ambient jazz album. Those looking for outright guitar insanity will be disappointed but those willing to open their minds to a slightly more sophisticated Buckethead will be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.
Lastly, Thanatopsis is a bit rockier than the two bands I just mentioned but still retains the jazz feel. With Travis Dickersonon synthesizers, Buckethead explores all sorts of auditory possibilities. It's moody, it's unpredictable, and it's all around good stuff. « hide