The experimental guitarist known as Buckethead is shrouded in such a self-perpetuated mystery that no publicist or record label truly knows the musician. Also known as Brian Carroll, the guitar guru even speaks about Buckethead in the third person. Bucket-head’s own website offers no more of a clue to the identity of the “masked, inverted KFC-bucket wearing ‘mutant guitar virtuoso.’” Carroll has turned his obsession with horror films, martial arts, and robots into a stage persona that gives him the freedom to play the high-speed, highly technical guitar music he loves. As the masked Buckethead, he creates an “alternative mental universe” onstage, according to Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Buckethead’s website states that he was “raised in a chicken coop by chickens,” but suburban Los Angeles, California, is closer to the truth. As a child, Carroll grew up fascinated with horror films, martial arts, classical music theory, heavy metal music, and Disneyland—which he claims to have visited over 500 times. He took karate lessons from the age of ten, and the walls of his childhood bedroom were plastered with posters of Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface. His bookshelf was loaded with books on Niccolo Paganini, Nicolas Slonimsky, Glenn Gould, and magic. He also collected robot toys. James Rotondi noted in Guitar Player that it seemed Buckethead’s visual obsessions and collecting have as much to do with his playing style as any musical influence or his study of classical theory. Buckethead picked up the guitar by the time he was 13 years old, inspired by AC/DC’s Angus Young and Black Sabbath’s Randy Rhoads. Though he liked playing sports, he was drawn to guitar “because it was something you could do all by yourself,” he told Rotondi.
Watching Buckethead play in his highly technical style at a breakneck pace “is humbling,” Rotondi wrote. “But he makes it look incredibly easy, as if technical wizardry were second nature.” It may be second nature to him, but Buckethead developed his own talent by keenly observing the intricate details of guitar masters’ playing styles and then mimicking them. He also studied a great range of highly technical classical texts, including Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, as well as country music instructional books and videos. In addition to reading, listening, and watching, Buckethead took lessons with guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert of Mr. Bigs. He honed his technique, right-hand/left-hand independence and theory, with classical guitar studies. Ultimately, Buckethead turned away from the study of guitar to his own experimentation with it. “Taking people away in their imaginations is a lot more important to Buckethead than freaking people out with the guitar…. He never thinks about scales or techniques,” he told Joe Gore in Guitar Player.
Buckethead’s sound may be just as difficult to categorize. Heavy metal and funk play heavily in Bucket-head’s work, but as his website biography states, he is as comfortable “chicken country pickin’” as he is “recreating the sound of a roller coaster with his guitar.” He claims many of his songs are conceived as soundtracks for thrill rides at his imaginary amusement park, Bucketheadland. He has cited his influences as varied—from Paul Gilbert, fusion guitarist Shawn Lane, and Swedish technical guitar whiz Yngwie Malmsteen, to Angus Young from AC/DC, 1970s funk guitarist Bootsy Collins, and Michael Jackson, an influence on Buckethead’s stage moves.
In 1989, after watching the horror film Halloween IV, the young guitarist sought out a mask like the one worn in the movie by the character Michael Myers. The local store he went to had a similar white mask, which Carroll liked just as much. Also that same evening, his father brought a bucket of fried chicken home for dinner. In a moment of inspiration, Carroll donned the mask and turned the bucket upside down on his head, looked in the mirror, and Buckethead was born. “It was just one of those things” he told Rotondi. “After that, I wanted to be that thing all the time.” The Buckethead guise seemed like a perfect fit for Carroll’s unique playing style and allowed him to play more freely. “I thought it made sense with the way I play” he continued. “I play all this weird stuff, but if I just look like me, it just isn’t going to work. But if I’m, like, this weird freak…. It opened the door to endless possibilities.”
The alter ego is a source of tremendous freedom for Carroll and another way to keep his childhood loves
Born Brian Carroll c. 1969.
Created Buckethead persona, 1989; introduced Bucket-head with the Deli Creeps, early 1990s; recorded Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) with Praxis, 1992; recorded solo debut, Bucketheadland, produced by Bootsy Collins, 1992; released Dreamatorium as Death Cube K. and Sacrifist with Praxis, 1994; released Metatron with Praxis, 1995; released Day of the Robot, 1996; released Disembodied as Death Cube K, and Plays Disney, 1997; released Colma, 1998; released Monsters & Robots, 1999; played on Guns n’ Roses reunion tour, 2000; released Somewhere Over the Slaughterhouse, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Stray Records, 4430 Telegraph Ave., PMB 72, Oakland CA 94609. Website —Buckethead Official Website: http://www.bucketheadland.com.
alive in his music. “I can work anything into that character and make it totally work: all the things I love in my life, like Disney, Giant Robot, Texas Chainsaw,” he told Rotondi. “Even though I’m wearing a mask and have a character, it’s more real, more about what I’m really like, because I’m too shy to let a lot of things out. Every reason I became Buckethead and am Buckethead has to do with the way I live. It’s not because I thought it’d be successful. I never use anything that isn’t part of what I really loved as a child or love right now.”
It was with the band the Deli Creeps that Carroll introduced Buckethead. It was his first band to gain notoriety in the San Francisco Bay Area. The group disbanded soon after forming, though the members re-formed briefly in 1996. Buckethead made his major label debut in 1992 as a member of the band Praxis. After getting a copy of one of Buckethead’s homemade videos, legendary Parliament/Funkadelic (P-funk) guitarist Bootsy Collins, with fellow P-Funk member Bernie Worrell on keyboards, became part of the first Praxis ensemble. The group debuted in 1992 with the Bill Laswell-produced release, Transmutation. Praxis would release five more albums, including Sacrifist in 1994, Metatron in 1995, and three live and collection albums. Collins became a frequent collaborator and produced Buckethead’s first solo album, Bucketheadland.
In 1994 Buckethead released Dreamatorium under the moniker Death Cube K. which is an anagram for Buckethead, with Bill Laswell. “The album was a dark, quasi-ambient duet with Laswell that highlighted his cinematic flair, clean-toned melancholy and improvisa-tional sensitivity,” Rotondi wrote. Buckethead told Gore that the album was full of “weird ambient stuff, real stark and scary.” For the guitarist, the improvisational freedom he has while recording is the result of lots of practice. He likened it to shooting so many baskets in basketball practice that at game time, the player has the control to shoot without much thought.
In addition to his solo work, Buckethead’s involvement with countless projects and other musicians has been another form of study for him. He has recorded with Giant Robot, Cobra Strike, Arcana, and El Stew, and formed his own group, GR2. In 2000, he played guitar on the Guns n’ Roses reunion tour. Just a few of his guest appearances include 1993’s Octave of the Holy with jazz bassist Jonas Hellborg and drummer Michael Shrieve, Henry Kaiser’s Hope You Like Our New Direction, Anton Fier’s Dreamspeed, Bootsy Collins’ Zillatron, Will Ackerman’s The Opening of Doors, Derek Bailey and John Zorn’s Company 91, the Axiom Funkcronomicon collection, and Jon Hassell’s Dressing for Pleasure. He has also contributed to various movie soundtracks and scores, including The Last Action Hero, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, Beverly Hills Ninja, and both Mortal Kombat films.
Bucketheadland, Avant, 1992.
Giant Robot, Sony Japan, 1994.
Day of the Robot, Subharmonic, 1996.
Plays Disney, Avant, 1997.
Colma, CyberOctave, 1998.
Monsters & Robots, EMI, 1999.
Somewhere Over the Slaughterhouse, Stray, 2001.
As Death Cube K
Dreamatorium, Strata, 1994.
Disembodied, Ion, 1997.
Tunnel, TDRSmusic, 1999.
As Giant Robot
Giant Robot, NTT Records, 1996.
Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis), Axiom, 1992.
Sacrifist, Subharmonic, 1994.
Metatron, Subharmonic, 1995.
Transmutation Live, Douglas, 1998.
Collection, Douglas, 1998.
Warszawa, InnerRhythmic, 1999.
Guitar Player, June 1994, p. 45; November 1996, p. 92.
Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2000, p. F-5.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997, p. 52.
Washington Post, November 12, 1999, p. N07.
“Buckethead,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 31, 2001).
Buckethead Official Website, http://www.bucketheadland.com (May 31, 2001).