Unknown Guitar Hero: BUCKETHEAD

A bit of a cheat in this installment of Unknown Guitar Hero; since his stint in Guns n’ Roses, Buckethead might not be the most unknown guitarist in the world-- but you’re likely not aware of his 28 (and counting) solo albums; his collaborations with actor, Viggo Mortensen, or his work with the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.  So, let’s take a look at the guitar player under the bucket…err, head.


First of all you gotta understand Buckethead grew up real lonely on that farm. He figured no one understood him. The only thing they understood about him was how to treat him bad. To this very day, believe it or not, Buckethead does not like to be shocked with a cattle prod.

“It wasn't all bad, though, on the farm. As soon as he moved into the chicken coop he started to make new friends. The chickens took real good care of him, and they liked him so much they scratched his face off. Now he could wear a mask every day, just like Halloween! He was the luckiest boy he knew. He didn't know many other boys though, except those kids who lit him on fire that time.”
- from The Buckethead Story, as narrated by Ronald L Witherspoon, Buckethead historian.

Ok, so that book doesn’t exist, but it does go to show how crafted the Buckethead persona is. The man under the James T. Kirk mask (a nod to his love of Michael Myers and the Halloween films) was born Brian Carroll in 1969 and spent his early years living in a southern California suburb, not far from Disneyland. By all accounts, Brian grew up as a pretty normal, but shy, suburban kid. Comic books, video games, Bruce Lee posters, and horror movies were all part of his pop-culture diet. Oh, and Disneyland. He spent a lot of time at Disneyland.

Brian began playing guitar at the age of 12, but didn’t get serious about the instrument until the following summer when he moved to Claremont, California and began taking lessons from area musicians, famously including Paul Gilbert.

In 1988, Brian entered a Guitar Player Magazine contest with his home recording of a song called “Brazos.” The song took the runner’s up position:

An astonishingly skilled guitarist and bassist, he demonstrates post-Paul Gilbert speed and accuracy filtered through very kinky harmonic sensibilities. His psychotronic, demonic edge is very, very far removed from the clichés of classical metal and rock. A real talent to watch, also known as "Buckethead."


Jordan, Buckethead's ode to NBA legend, Michael Jordan.

Given Brian’s shy nature (by most accounts he’s soft-spoken and self-effacing in person) the flamboyant nature of lead guitarists of the era didn’t appeal to him. Some reports also hint at a crippling case of stage fright-- all of which led to the “bat flies through Bruce Wayne’s window” moment—The birth of Buckethead.

As reported by Kurt Loder in a 2002 interview:

Nobody much liked the 1988 fright flick "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers." After 10 years, this slasher franchise was pretty much played out. (Even though it's still with us today!) But Brian Carroll was inspired by the film. He went right out after seeing it and bought a Michael Myers-like white mask. Then, that night, as he was eating from a bucketful of take-out fried chicken, another inspiration struck. He described it in a 1996 interview with Guitar Player magazine: "I was eating it, and I put the mask on and then the bucket on my head. I went to the mirror. I just said, 'Buckethead. That's Buckethead right there.' It was just one of those things. After that, I wanted to be that thing all the time."

Buckethead covers the Nightmare before Xmas and Halloween themes-

In the early 90s, Buckethead persona in full swing, Brian moved to San Francisco with his band, The Deli Creeps and quickly established himself as monster player on the scene with the release of his first solo album, Bucketheadland.
Produced and recorded by former P-Funk bassist, Boosty Collins, Bucketheadland is a loose concept album that depicts a sonic tour through a fictional amusement park- obviously a nod to Brian’s Disneyland inspired youth.

The whole Buckethead-thing: a nearly seven foot tall dude with a KFC bucket on his head while wearing a white mask, playing shred and taking the occasional break-dancing nun chuck solo (yes, you read that right,) would likely be nothing more than a stage gimmick in a lesser player— But Brian’s chops, originality and total disregard for musical genres, from bitch hog country fried pickin’, to deep psychedelic funk, to ambient acoustic—culminate into something that even the most snobbish of shreadheads recognize.  

Buckethead demonstrates Impossible Guitar for a lesson. Brave is the soul who attempts any of these licks.

The Michael Myers mask was used by John Carpenter in Halloween to portray an utter sense of emotionlessness. Similarly, Buckethead must rely solely on his music to convey any personality (he does not speak in concert—and actually, rarely in interviews either) often quoting musical themes such as The Willy Wonka theme or Star Wars in the middle of a song or solo.
When once asked about the mask, Brian responded: “…I’m always smiling under it.” 

For Mom, from the album Colma, which was recorded as Brian's mother recovered from Colon cancer- A mellower side of Buckethead, he says of the album: "I wanted to make a record she would like."

Through the 90s, Buckethead continued to release solo albums, including a few under the moniker “Death Cube K” (an amalgam of Buckethead) due to legal complications with his label, Sony Music. Interestingly, Death Cube K was “borrowed” by noted Sci-Fi writer, William Gibson for his 1996 novel, Idoru.
Throughout this period, Buckethead also recorded and toured with Bill Laswell’s experimental supergroup, Praxis— working with musicians such as Serj Tankain, Les Claypool, and Iggy Pop.

During the mid-90s, Buckethead began to peek into mainstream, contributing to film soundtracks such as Beverly Hills Ninja and Mortal Kombat. There were also a number of high profile auditions, such as the slot left by John Frusciante with the Red Hot Chili Peppers- An audition he took, reportedly, without ever hearing a Chili Peppers song.

The 90s closed with another Buckethead solo album, “Monsters and Robots,” which featured Les Claypool from Primus. Buckethead toured with Primus, whom at that point featured Buckethead’s ex-Praxis bandmate, Bryan “Brain” Mantia on drums.

"The Ballad of Buckethead" from Monsters and Robots- Video directed by Dave McKean, yes THAT Dave McKean.

2000 began with the surprising news that Buckethead has joined Guns and Roses, confounding and exciting his fans. From Kurt Loder’s profile piece:

When Brian Carroll first got a call from Axl Rose inviting him to join Guns N' Roses, he was nonplussed at first. He knew the band, of course, but it wasn't really ... his kind of thing, right?

Axl persevered, though. At Christmas he invited Brian over to his house. It hadn't been a happy Buckethead holiday up to that point: he'd really, really been hoping that someone would give him a certain hard-to-find Leatherface doll he'd been coveting as a gift, but no one had. Then he arrived at Axl's place, and Axl had that very doll — and he gave it to him. Brian took this as a sign ("He must understand me somehow"), and he joined the band.

Buckethead’s Guns and Roses contract signing took place at Disneyland.

You really can’t accuse Buckethead of selling out, after all, his entire career could be perceived as a hyper-surreal performance piece. A piece which now has a chapter entitled: “Buckethead infiltrates the mainstream via the world’s biggest rock band.”
I gotta admit, there is something extremely gratifying about watching 1.3 million Guns and Roses fans staring on in confusion as the dude in the center of the arena does a freakin’ nunchuck solo.

Throughout the Bataan death march known as the recording of Chinese Democracy, Buckethead continued to produce, releasing solo albums, collaborating on a series of albums with actor Viggo Mortensen:

Forming a new supergroup jamband with Les Claypool called Colonel Claypool’s Buckethead of Bernie Brains (featuring ex-P-Funk keyboardist, Bernie Worrell and Bryan Mantia,)

and recording for both the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers soundtrack, and John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars soundtrack—likely, a very inspiring moment for the man who wears a Michael Myers mask.

To say the least, he remained a busy guy. From a fan perspective, it’s hard to keep up with Buckethead’s output. He records…a lot.

In 2004, Buckethead either quit, or was canned from Guns n’ Roses, depending on who you ask.
From Axl Rose’s press release:

During his tenure with the band, Buckethead has been inconsistent and erratic in both his behavior and his commitment, despite being under contract, creating uncertainty and confusion and making it virtually impossible to move forward with recording, rehearsals, and live plans with confidence. His transient lifestyle has made it near impossible for even his closest friends to have nearly any form of communications with him whatsoever.

In the final November 2008 release of Chinese Democracy, Buckethead can be heard on all but two songs.

After departing GnR, another high profile opportunity came his way, this time as the guitar player in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. Says Ozzy:

"I tried out that Buckethead guy. I met with him and asked him to work with me, but only if he got rid of the fucking bucket. So I came back a bit later, and he's wearing this green fucking Martian's-hat thing! I said, 'Look, just be yourself.' He told me his name was Brian, so I said that's what I'd call him. He says, 'No one calls me Brian except my mother.' So I said, 'Pretend I'm your mum then!' I haven't even got out of the room and I'm already playing fucking mind games with the guy. What happens if one day he's gone and there's a note saying, 'I've been beamed up'? Don't get me wrong, he's a great player. He plays like a motherfucker."

What could have been: Buckethead covers Crazy Train

Buckethead continues to record both solo albums and group collaborations. Later this year a new project called The Z-Class, featuring Bootsy Collins is due. Also, a followup to “Enter the Chicken,” with Serj Tankian is due.

He also recently released a song called “The Homing Beacon” as a tribute to Michael Jackson, recorded after hearing news of his passing.

One solo album still remains just out of touch for Buckethead--  For the last thirteen years he has been working on what has been described as his most precious personal project, refusing to release it until “it’s ready.” The title…
Buckethead plays Disney.

…of course.


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