Enter His World

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

There’s a rock guitarist at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz this Friday that you just have to hear.  He has been a member of Guns ‘N’ Roses, played in a band with members of Primus and has a huge list of guest recording appearances in addition to over 20 solo albums.  He can play dazzlingly fast guitar in any number of genres.  Oh, and he wears a mask and a KFC bucket on his head.

In the weird and wonderful world of rock music, Brian Carroll, aka Buckethead, is surely both one of the weirdest and the most wonderful.  Standing almost seven feet tall in his KFC bucket, and wearing a white mask like the Michael Myers character in “Halloween,” he looks like a villain from a low-budget horror flick.  Musically, he can leave any heavy metal shredder standing in the dust, then just as easily switch to jazz, blues or any of a number of ethnic styles.

Carroll grew up in Huntington Beach, CA, the son of a high school football coach.  He was a shy boy and spent a lot of time in his room reading comic books, watching martial arts and horror movies and, from age 12, playing guitar.  His early influences were rockers like Angus Young of AC/DC and Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne band).  However, the tall, gangling youngster was uncomfortable with the idea of performing in front of people, preferring the idea of developing an alter-ego.  Inspiration struck the day he watched “Halloween 4: The return of Michael Myers.”  He went out and bought a white mask as the first part of his disguise.  The next part, his trademark, came while he was eating a fast-food dinner from his local KFC. "I was eating it, and I put the mask on and then the bucket on my head,” said Carroll. “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."   From this point, Carroll developed a hugely detailed back-story for Buckethead, centered around his growing up in a chicken coop (you can read the whole thing on his web site).  His songs, lyrics and album titles often draw on B-movie imagery.  When giving interviews in character, Buckethead is mute - Carroll speaks via ventriloquism through a rubber hand-puppet monster called Herbie.  MTV has described Carroll’s Buckethead act as “pure American surrealism.”

With an act like that, it would be easy to dismiss Buckethead as merely a novelty act, but the sheer volume of Carroll’s recorded output says otherwise.   A four year stint in Guns ‘N’ Roses from 2000-2004 brought the character to a wider audience, as did his 2004 collaboration with Primus’ Les Claypool, “Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains.”  The current Buckethead and Friends tour, which spans the continental US and runs until June, promises to win him even more fans.  If you head to the Catalyst with an open mind this Friday, you might just find yourself being one of them.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, February 23, 2006

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