Guitar Player magazine first noticed Buckethead
when he was just 16. His outrageous productivity, his collaborations with
a small army of the most creative and ground breaking musicians in rock (he
has been a part of more at least seven great bands, and spent four years in
Guns N Roses), combined with his crazy backstoried character image (visit
his website, bucketheadland.com for all the details), make Buckethead one
of rock’s most remembered and regarded guitarists, with Guitar One
voting him Number 8 on their list of the "Top 10 Greatest Guitar
Shredders of All Time."
Early talent paved a fast path to success. Teenage Buckethead’s song “Brazos” placed as runner up in a 1988 Guitar Player contest. Later that year he and his parents dropped off a demo tape at the office of Editor Jas Obrecht. A friend then gave a video of Buckethead playing in his room to super prolific producer, label owner and bass player Bill Laswell.
“An astonishingly skilled guitarist and bassist,” Guitar Player wrote when naming his song “Brazos” a winner. “He demonstrates post-Paul Gilbert speed and accuracy filtered through very kinky harmonic sensiiblities. 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.” (“Brazos” was later relased on the 1991 Deli Creeps demo, Tribal Rites, and as a bonus on the Buckethead’s Secret Recipe DVD in 2006).
After hearing the demo tape they left at his office, Jas Obrecht rushed to catch up with Buckethead and his parents at the restaurant where they were having lunch. They would become longtime friends, with Buckethead moving into Obrecht’s basement in 1991, the site of the ‘Buckethead In The Basement” segment on the recently released Young Buckethead DVDs. Obrecht wrote the introduction for the video set.
In 1992, drummer Bryan “Brain” Mantia (Primus) gave Bill Laswell the video of Buckethead playing in his room., leading him to become a regular on Laswell’s label and in many of his projects, and later, to Buckethead’s membership in the avant-funk experimental super group, Praxis. Mantia has continued to work with Buckethead through all of his career, both before and since he joined Primus, as has keyboard player/producer Travis Dickerson, owner of recording studio and label, TDR Music (tdrmusic.com) which has released many of Buckethead’s albums. Dickerson is possibly best known for his work with Buckethead, who he met in San Francisco, and Viggo Mortensen, who he met through Exene Cervenka from the band X.
Praxis was Buckethead’s second band. Deli Creeps, his first, was renowned in the San Francisco Bay area. Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, and founder of Ipecac Records, once complemented them saying, “they’re so good, they make me want to puke.” Formed in the early 90s with Maximum Bob on vocals, Buckethead on guitar, Pinchface on drums and Dan Mondi on bass, the Creeps released a demo in 1991, brokeup, then reformed in 1996 when they released a second demo, broke up, then reformed again for a third time. They released their first full-length album The Dawn Of The Deli Creeps, in 2005. They album features the song “Random Killing,” which has had a number of released versions, all with different lyrics. One appears on Buckehthead’s Giant Robot album with the title “I Come In Peace.”
Praxis originally included Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins from P-Funk and Bryan “Brain” Mantia with Laswell and Buckethead. Since their successful first release, Transmutation, Praxis has included Serj Tankien of System of A Down and Les Claypool from Primus. The band was a Bill Laswell concept and has not always included Buckethead. In addition to Transmutation, he appears on 1994’s, Sacrifist, Metatron, released in 1995, Transmutation Live and Collection, both released in 1998 and Warzsawa, released in 1999.
Buckethead has been praised for his “other worldly musical stylings and sensibilities,” inspired by science fiction, horror movies, musicians and a fixation on Disneyland, and has referred to himself as a “mutant guitar virtuoso.”
“Buckethead’s musical stylings range from raw-power riffing and hyper-speed metal licks to idyllic, yet edgy, chordal passages and heart-rending melodic lines,” his faq describes his sound. “His music is very difficult to categorize because each release tends to have its own flavor and context. Heavy Metal and Funk styles figure formidably in the mix, but he’s not limited to the clichés of either genre,” calling him, “equally at home chicken picken’ country or re-creating the sound of a roller coaster with his guitar. Brutal, grinding rhythms suddenly give way to serene floating passages….”
“Star burst chord structures and eye-frazzling eight finger solos,” the All Music Guide described it. “Post Metal-Post Shred” and “Seriously Ambient. “one of the guitar’s most recognizable contemporary innovators, his rapid fire riffing near robotic fretwork, and idiosyncratic lead lines combining elements of Ynwie Malmsteen,?Adrian Belew, Slayer’s Kerry King and P-Funk’s Eddie Hazel and avant-improve artist John Zorn’s Scud attack sax abuse” Calling Buckethead, “one of the most bizarre and enigmatic figures in American underground and experimental music.”
Buckethead started playing when he was a teenager. He put a heavy emphasis on his study of classical music and knowledge of music theory. and has said that he developed his talent by imitating his guitar masters Paul Gilbert (his teacher), fusion guitarist Shawn Lane, Swedish Technical wiz Yngwie Malmsteen, Angus Young of AC/DC and 70s funk guitarist Bootsy Collins. He claims his stage moves came from Michael Jackson.
When learning to play, he studied a range of classical texts including Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, instructional books and videos by Steve Trovato, Ganny Galton and Albert Lee and the writing and works of Glenn Gould. He honed his technique and right-hand, left-hand independence and theory with classical guitar studies. He took lessons with guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert of Mr. Bigs. After a certain amount of instruction he decided to begin learning by experimentation.
Buckethead wrote a series of “Psychobuddy” columns for Guitar Player from 1991 to 1994. They included technical advice and lessons. Many of them are quoted in the series How To Play Guitar from GPI/Miller Freeman Publications. The November 1995 issue of Guitar Player features a ten page article written by James Rotondi contains an in-depth lesson on Buckethead’s style written by Rotondi and James Grey.
Buckethead’s work would stand easily on its own, but his masked, bucketed, backstoried character is one of the most memorable things about him as a performer. According to the fable, he was raised by chickens in a chicken coop and wears the KFC bucket on his head with the word funeral written on it to remind us all of the chicken genocide taking place in restaurants across the country every day. Bucketheadland.com tells the story this way:
“Buckethead was raised in a chicken coop by chickens. He wears a white mask to hide whatever it is he has to hide. He also wears a chicken bucket on his head, and some say “without it, he is helpless.” Not much else is known about him, though your stay in the park will help you to understand him and not be afraid of him.”
“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...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. One good way to forget the smell of burning cartilage was watching movies... Every night at dusk the boy could watch great movies like GIANT ROBOT or THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. The speakers wouldn’t reach to the coop though so he didn’t even know what the movies sounded like...So when he got to be about THIS tall Buckethead started playing his little guitar. He would sit and watch the movies and his fingers couldn’t stop moving and now all the sudden there was music. And Giant Robot would shoot rockets out of his fingers and who knows what would happen. Buckethead practiced so much he started to get real good. But the people on the farm still made fun of him and smashed his family’s eggs. One night, after he got to be this tall, somebody threw a bucket of fried chicken into the coop. Try as he might, Buckethead couldn’t put the chicken back together again. So he put the bucket on his head, picked up his guitar and ran to the cemetery. ... Well it prob’ly won’t surprise you to hear that eventually the sun came up and the rooster crowed. And some folks say Buckethead had chicken grease and barbecue sauce smeared around the mouth hole on his mask. Whatever happened that night, the bucket stayed on his head, and in the morning it was filled full of chicken bones. ...”
Buckethead told James Rotondi how he created the character after eating a bucket of fast-food chicken and buying a Michael Meyers mask. “I was eating it and I put the mask on and I put the bucket on my head. I went to the mirror and I just said, ‘Buckethead. That’s Buckethead right there.’ It was just one of those things,” he continued. “After that I wanted to be that thing all the time,” he said. “I thought it made sense with the way I play. 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.”
“I can work anything into that character and make it toally work,” he explained. “All the things I love in my life like Disney, Giant Robot, Texas Chainsaw. Even though I’m wearing a mask and I have a character, it’s more real, more about what I 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 I’d be successful. I never use anything that isn’t part of what I really loved as a child or love right now.”
“Death Cube K” is an anagram Buckethead created to circumvent legal complications with Sony records to date he has used it to release Drematorium in 1994 and Disembodied, in 1997, and 1999’s Tunnel 2007’s Monolith and a 2007 400-album limited release. Bucketheadland.com claims “many believe that Death Cube K is a separate entity that looks like a photographic negative version of Buckethead with ‘a black chrome mask, like Darth Vader.’ This apparition haunts Buckethead and appears in his nightmares.” Science Fiction writer William Gibson borrowed the name as the name of a bar in his 1996 novel Idoru. Oblivious to Buckethead, Gibson got the Death Cube K tracks from Bill Laswell, who regularly sent him recordings by artists he worked with as a producer and on his label. “When I saw it, I thought, ‘ a Franz Kafka theme bar in Tokyo,” he said.
Buckethead has said that his favorite album project was one he started in 1997, Buckethead Plays Disney. The album has never been released. His web page states, “This highly anticipated album, once listed in an Avant Catalogue, has yet to be completed. It is Buckethead’s most precious personal project. So he won’t record or release it until he knows it is ready.“
Buckethead, who grew up close to the Los Angeles theme park, has said that he has visited Disneyland more than 500 times. “I like Disneyland,” he has said. ‘ I want to be buried there… parts of me in It’s A Small World, The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, plus parts in Tokyo Disneyland, Euro Disneyland and Florida Disney World, There are enough bones to go around.”
Buckethead has said that his dream is to complete his own theme park, Bucketheadland, “Where all your dreams and nightmares can come true.” This theme runs through many of his recordings and was first introduced to the public through his “Psychobuddy” columns in 1991. According to his FAQ, “compositionally speaking, many of his tunes are initially conceived to be soundtracks for rides at his imaginary themepark, Bucketheadland.” Bucketheadland.com explains, “Buckethead has long been fascinated with Disneyland, where he hopes to be buried some day (preferably after death). No one really knows why or how he started his own parkm,” it explains. “Buckethead runs most of the park himself, assuming different personalities as different faces are projected onto his mask. Sometimes he hides in the graves or behind walls and watches. If you sneak in before the park opens in the morning you might see him walking around playing his guitar which is designed to activate amplifiers hidden in the walls, the ground and on top of buildings wherever he walks.”
Buckethead has been part of at least seven good bands and projects including, in addition to the Deli Creeps and Praxis, Col. Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains with Les Claypool, Bernie Worrell and Brain Mantia; Zillatron with Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and Bill Laswell; Giant Robot with Brain and Pete Scaturro; Giant Robot 2, with Pinchface, Louie on Bass, Brain and T-Disc (now Phonosycographdisk) on turntables; the Cornbugs, a fun project with actor Bill Mosley, and El Stew. He was also a member of Guns and Roses for four years.
He has performed on over 50 albums and made guest appearances on 44 different albums by other artists. In addition to the groups listed above, he has performed with Mike Patton, Viggo Mortensen, John Zorn, Michael Kamen, Henry Kaiser, James Hell berg, Michael Shrieve, MCM and the Monster, Tony Williams (w/ Arcana), Primus, Painkillers, Company Week ’91, Anton Fier, Julian Skratch, Invisibl Pkl, Karmen. George Clinton, Ben Wa, Mike Kenelly, Iggy Pop, Banyan, Phonopsychograph Disk, DJ Qbert, William Ackerman, Jon Harrell and Bluescreen.
Iggy Pop and Bill Mosely appeared on Buckethead’s second studio album, also named Giant Robot, after the Japanese series “Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.” His best selling album to date is his 1999 collaboration with Les Claypool, Monsters and Robots. Buckethead’s appearances during the Primus set at Ozzfest ’99 gained brought him a city of new fans.
Buckethead was a part of the second coming of Guns N Roses from 2000 to 2004, but the band only toured for two of these years, during 2001 and 2002. After Buckethead left, GNR issued the following statement “During his tenure with the band, Buckethead has been inconsistent and erratic in both his behavior and commitment, despite being under contract, creating uncertaintly and confusion and making it virtually impossible for even his closest friends to have nearly any form of communication with him whatsoever.” Tough talk from the people that brought you Axl Rose. The most interesting thing about Buckethead’s part in Guns N Roses is that he never mentions it in any of his promotional materials, statements or anywhere on his website.
Buckethead has produced an unbelievable volume of work since he won the Guitar Player contest in 1988, releasing 38 solo albums and performing on 50 more. He has also written and performed music for major motion pictures including Saw II, Ghosts of Mars, Beverly Hills Ninja, Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Last Action Hero and The soundtrack for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, The Movie. He has also sampled an incredible number of movies and games. Samples from movies include Voyage into Space (AKA Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Enter the Dragon, A Clockwork Orange, Tetsuo the Iron Man, Blue Velvet, Naked Lunch, The Hills Have Eyes, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Mad Max... He has also used various talking books and video games.
He released 28 albums in 2007 alone. In February that year, TDR music (tdrmusic.com) began shipping In Seach Of Time, a 13-CD, nine hour set of original music said to be handcrafted, numbered and monogrammed by Buckethead. In May, he released Acoustic Shards, a collection of acoustic improvisations recorded in 1991 on the Avabella label. Bucketheadland Blueprints, released that August, reissues a demo with alternating covers, one hand drawn by Buckethead, one a standard CD Cover. Also in August, Buckethead released a five CD Box Set, Monolith, with each CD containing one unbroken, 45-minute set, and 400 limited-edition, hand-numbered albums as Death Cube K. In October, he released two more new albums, Decoding The Tomb of Bansheebot, and Cyborg Stunts. Cyborg Stunts was originally released as a CD-R, a standard CD was printed in mid-December. That same month, he released Chicken Noodles II, with Travis Dickerson, a sequel to their original Chicken Noodles album. In 2007, he also released another album with Praxis, Tennessee 2004, an album with Shin Terai called Light Years and an album with Bryan ‘Brain” Mantia, Kevin’s Noodle House.
Buckethead also released five paintings in 2007 through tdrmusic.com, limited to 100 reproductions each.
This year has been a prolific one for Buckethead as well. Living On Another Frequency, the first album by the new group Science Faxion was originally to be released on 10/27/08, but has been delayed until March 2009.
April this year also saw the rerelease of the 2005 album by Buckethead and Friends, Enter The Chicken on Serj Tankian’s Serjical Strike label. The album features Tankian, Maximum Bob, Death by Stereo’s Efram Shulz, Bad Acid Trip and other guests. Tankian has stated that his label will release a new Buckethead album, but no date has yet been given.
Buckethead will also collaborate on a new Freekbase album, Junkyard Waltz, to be released 10/289/08.
On September 17, Travis Dickerson announced the upcoming release of three cds, Buckethead Albino Slug, a Buckethead solo album, an album from Frankenstein Brothers, the duo of Buckethead and That 1 Guy, Bolt On Neck, both to initially be tour only CDs that will later be released online, and a third album, The Dragons Of Eden, a collaboration between Buckethead, Travis Dickerson and Bryan “Brain” Mantia.
Buckethead’s influences are perfectly reflected in the list of covers he performs including “Theme From Giant Robot,” “Theme from Godzilla,” a variety of Disney Themes including “A Pirates Life For Me,” “It’s A Small World,” “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka, “Michael Myers Theme” from Halloween, the theme from Star Wars and even ‘Close To You” by The Carpenters.