Friday, July 1, 2011

The Tao of Buckethead

"There are lots of different ways to get from the bottom to the top. It's kinda like digging a hole."

I've always said that I am interested in artists who are hard to categorize. It has seemed to me that if an artist is too easily pigeonholed, or too easily described, then they are frequently less original. This formula, I'm sure, has exceptions - but not that many. Some of you may know that about 1 inch below art in my own heart is music, and just like in painting - I'm always looking for musical artists who are very original and very hard to define. One of the foremost is the virtuoso guitarist Buckethead.

I saw a live Buckethead performance at the Rialto theatre in Tucson, just over a week ago. I found that when you mention to friends that you went to see a musician called "Buckethead" they immediately look at you like you are crazy! Yes, Buckethead has become world famous for wearing a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head - and a white mask that would make Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees feel very simpatico. There is humor in the character of Buckethead, and that's not to be missed. It's a temptation of the absurd, no doubt about it. But before you get a chance to laugh too much or write this guy off as a gimmick - listen to him play. He is truly stunning. One of the greatest guitarists I've ever seen. After hearing his show, I told friends "His mellow stuff is more mellow and more beautiful than anything you'll ever hear. His fast stuff is so fast it's hard to believe than a human can play like that, and do so with such accuracy and power. His funky / weird stuff can be a cacophony of the strangest sounds you've ever heard coming from a guitar."

A little research into the international man of mystery they call Buckethead will reveal that his name is Brian Carroll and that one of his mentors is the incredibly talented guitarist Paul Gilbert, of Racer-X, Mr Big fame. Though there is much left to the mysterious when you attempt to learn about Buckethead. He is perhaps one of the only performing artists today who has a personal mythology. Grew up in a chicken coop. Chickens scratched his face off, etc etc. He almost never speaks. When he does, he speaks thru a severed head mask he uses like a puppet head. Yes - it's all a bit out there. Maybe that's where creative artistry has gone these days - however, again, before you get too stuck on the trappings of Buckethead - listen to his playing. Then, the temptation to laughter goes away immediately, and you realize that this man is a deadly serious, talented musical artist.

While listening to Buckethead play in Tucson, I had the thought "there is another lesson of creativity; ie, you have to be THAT good to stand out from the rest." But it's not enough for me to keep repeating how good this guy plays - log on to youtube and check out some of the posted videos. There is even a guitar lesson with him talking, and demonstrating guitar moves that most players can only dream about.

It shouldn't be missed also that Buckethead played lead guitar for Guns and Roses for 4 years, and played on a number of songs on GNR's Chinese Democracy CD. Wikipedia has the count that he has released 32 studio CDs.

Perhaps the key to Buckethead is that you can't really figure him out. But he never ceases to be a curiosity for us all. We can also conclude that if he weren't such an amazing guitarist, the Bucket and mask would be the subject of ridicule, and I think it would be easier for people to dismiss him. However his guitar blistering abilities will continue to force people to think twice before they ascribe some kind of circus-freak sideshow disdain to him. You can't do that with this guy - because talent may come in unusual packages, like a chicken bucket and mask - but that talent deserves respect just the same.