Beneath The Bucket, Behind The Mask: Kurt Loder Meets GN'R's Buckethead

Guitarist has chicken fetish, will speak only through his rubber hand puppet.

The Buckethead backstory begins with a kid named Brian Carroll growing up in

a Southern California suburb not far from Disneyland. He's a shy kid and

spends a lot of time in his room, which is filled with comic books, video

games, martial-arts movie memorabilia, slasher-flick stuff, all the usual

youth-culture detritus. He also spends a whole lot of time at Disneyland.

As a teenager, Brian takes up the guitar, plonking away under the sway of

such metal masters as Angus Young of AC/DC; the late Randy Rhoads, of the

Ozzy Osbourne band; and Swedish overdrive virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. Like the

latter two, Carroll incorporates a considerable amount of classical-music

consciousness into his burgeoning style. He reads a lot of music theory. He

starts getting really, really good.

Unlike his idols, however, Carroll is anything but flamboyant. Mane-tossing guitar-god moves are not something he'll ever be comfortable attempting. In fact, in an ideal world, there'd be somebody else he could one day take up onstage with him and hide behind. Some sort of alter ego.

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."

Unlike the editors of Guitar Player (for which Bucket once wrote a column

called "Psychobuddy"), you needn't be conversant with minor 9th intervals or

quadratonal arpeggios to be knocked sideways by Buckethead's

war-of-the-worlds guitar eruptions. His star-burst chord clusters and

eye-frazzling eight-finger solos aren't like much else you'll be hearing on

this planet anytime soon.

Of course there are all kinds of aspiring guitar wizards out there (although

probably none within pick-flicking distance of this guy). But what sets

Carroll decisively apart from the pack is the outré "Buckethead" persona he's

so painstakingly created. This character, with its vaguely sinister mask,

soberly upended KFC bucket, and absurdly detailed chicken fetish, is pure

American surrealism. Buckethead is a star of a strange new kind: not the

projection of a preening personality, as is usually the case, but a mirror, a

screen, a somehow lovable cipher. As a musical presence, he seems almost (one

of Carroll's favorite words) disembodied.

Although most people are probably experiencing Buckethead for the first time

in his current stint with the new Guns N' Roses, the man has been putting out

solo albums for the last 10 years. Some, like the 1999 Monsters and Robots,

are pure "post-metal psycho-shred," as one writer put it. Others, like the

just-released Electric Tears, are serenely ambient. Buckethead also records

under the name Death Cube K (an anagram); the 1994 Dreamatorium is a good

one.

In addition to this solo output, Buckethead has also recorded and performed

with a wild array of other musicians, from P-Funk all-stars Bootsy Collins

and Bernie Worrell to Iggy Pop, Primus, avant-fusion bassist Bill Laswell and

the late Miles Davis Quintet drummer Tony Williams. He's played on three

albums by "The Lord of the Rings" star Viggo Mortensen, one by the painter Julian

Schnabel, and some movie soundtracks and scores, too ("The Last Action Hero,"

"Mortal Kombat," "Beverly Hills Ninja"). He longs to do an all-Disney album.

("When You Wish Upon a Star" is one of his favorite tunes.)

We encountered Buckethead backstage at two recent Guns N' Roses shows, in

Vancouver and Seattle (see [article id="1458577"]"Fans Riot After Guns N' Roses Tour Kickoff Canceled: Kurt Loder Reports"[/article] and [article id="1458601"]"Axl Blows Out Throat, Dons Chicken Bucket For Glitchy Guns Tour Launch"[/article]). On both occasions he was standing in his dressing

room, in full Bucket regalia, wailing away, at subdued volume, on his

extra-large, custom-made Flying V guitar. (Since he stands about seven feet

tall — with bucket — he feels that regular, off-the-rack guitars look too

dinky in his hands.) His fingers, like those of such renowned forebears as

Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix, are extraordinarily long, and dizzying to

follow as they caper among the frets. (He says he has a "really huge" big

toe, too. Whatever.)

As he played, he appeared to be meditating on a large rack in front of him

filled with odd dolls and objects: Michael Myers, of course; Leatherface from

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"; a little plastic replica of Colonel Sanders, the

late KFC impresario; and a rubber chicken straight out of vaudeville.

Brian Carroll is very soft-spoken and self-effacing. He seems to be the sort

of person who's consumed by music, and one wonders, in talking to him, if

there's any musical style or school with which he doesn't have at least a

glancing acquaintance. Since the Buckethead character was famously raised by

chickens, and has made it his mission in life to alert the world to the

ongoing chicken holocaust in fast-food joints around the globe, we wondered

about the presence of the Colonel Sanders doll in his travel rack. Carroll

said, "It's like your father; maybe he beats you, but he's still your

father, and you love him, and ... it's complicated."

Unlike Carroll, Buckethead doesn't speak at all, at least not for public

consumption. When our cameras were about to start rolling, he fitted a

whole-head rubber monster mask over his right hand and said that this

improvised puppet — he calls it "Herbie" — would answer all questions. We

asked what the chicken deal was. Apparently, the evil man who owned the farm

where Buckethead was raised (with chickens, remember) came to the coop one

day and cruelly slipped some fried chicken pieces inside.

"And for the first time," Herbie says, "he realized they were cooking

chickens. And they were his family, so he tried to put them back together,

and he just kind of went nuts. And he put the bucket on his head 'cause he

thought he could help all those dead chickens come back to life. So when he

plays, it's like the sound of all those dead chickens coming through his

hands."

Okay. And this rubber chicken here?

"This is kind of sad," Herbie says. "It makes him play more pretty. When he

sees this, he thinks of lullabies and that sort of stuff. But it's not real,

and he knows it's not real."

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.

So has Axl been any help to Buckethead in scoring chicks on this tour?

There's a pause, then Herbie says, "He's scared of, uh, girls. He just gets

a weird feeling. He doesn't understand the feeling that he gets."

Some sort of chick/chicken confusion, maybe?

"That's a possibility," Herbie says. "I've never thought of that. And I'm

sure he hasn't, either."

By this point, showtime is impending. Bucket has to head for the stage. We've

pretty much covered everything, though: the chickens, the bucket ... But wait

— the mask. What about the mask?

"There is no mask," Herbie says.

—[article id="1453174"]Kurt Loder[/article]

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