Buckethead Profile by Joe Gore, from Guitar Player magazine issue December 1992.
The editors of guitar player receive some strange mail, but few items as peculiar as the unsolicited Buckethead home video that turned up last decade. A screaming hatchet wielding narrator introduced a teenage guitarist clad in a butcher's apron and a featureless white mask with an inverted KFC bucket on his head. The hatchet man explained that Buckethead, raised by chickens in a coop, was mute, his only passions practicing guitar and killing people who ate poultry.
A goofy joke might have ended there, but then the lanky guitarist began to play. It's hard to say which hit harder: his stupefying technical prowess or the bizarre originality that veered clear of all the usual shred-rock cliches. Both attributes enthralled club-goers when Buck's band, the Deli Creeps, left their Southern California pecking ground for San Francisco, developing a large following withing mere weeks.
Audiences would alternately gape and scratch their heads: One moment Buckethead would fumble around the fretboard like a feral child who had never seen a musical instrumental, then he'd peel off seemingly impossible atonal flurries like a supercomputer barfing high-speed data transmissions. Then the music would stop suddenly as Buck would drop his guitar to execute kung-fu maneuvers a la Bruce Lee or circa-82' break-dance moves.
Around that time, Buckethead began submitting his Psyhobuddy column to Guitar Player magazine. Every month he'd send a page of near gibberish written in a chicken-scratch scribble, the margins decorated with sketches of severed limbs and meat-cleavered skulls. Some readers loved the column, others were pissed off. Most were probably just confused.
Buckethead was courted by several major labels but he declined in favor of a string of militantly noncommercial experimental projects with Henry Kaiser, renegade composer John Zorn, and free-improv genius Derek Bailey. But now he's finally made his major label bow as part of Praxis, a left-field supergroup assembled by producer Bill Laswell.
Praxis teams two of the Parliament/Funkadelic kingpins who helped define funk, bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, with two young groove provocateurs, drummer Brain and Africa Baby Bam, the jungle brothers turntable magician. Buckethead's jaw-dropping guitar rampages are just the entrails on the cake. The bands Axiom/Island debut album 'Transmutation' is a violent collision of slippery P-Funk grind and aggressive industrial/hip hop futurism.
Laswell, who has recorded such revered players as Jeff Beck, Steve Vai and Sonny Sharrock, says that no one plays like Buckethead “He has a completely original voice – you hear that immediately. Everyone talks about how great he is and how fast he plays, but I'm more interested in the fact that he doesn't play cliches. His music is less about the guitar than about him. There's a character there”. Major understatement! Buckethead never plays unmasked and declines all personal interviews, though he responded to our question in his familiar scrawl.
We know that he's 22, took lessons from Paul Gilbert, and that he suffers from a bizarre Disneyland fixation. He visits the park several times every months, and Disney tunes tend to rear their happy faces in the midst of his most intense solos: witness the passing glimpse of “It's A Small World After All” during the scarifying guitar workout Praxis “After Shock (Chaos Never Died).”.
“I played that because it really is a small world, and I have big feet” he quasi-explains, “I like Disneyland, I want to be buried there- parts of me in 'It's a Small World, 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”. Dismemberment probably isn't the first topic that springs to mind for most when contemplating the Magic Kingdom, but such collisions of naivete and mayhem largely define Buckethead's music.
Buck claims that he acquired his taste for dissonance from his second pop-culture fixation, horror films: “A lot of my inspiration came from movies like 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. "I have sympathy with Leatherface because I was raised in a similar environment. They say he's a dirty killer, but they don't understand the pressures of his family life. He just doesn't know any better. I didn't either, until my friends told me. Bootsy has helped me a lot”.
Buckethead's main, uh, axe is a Steinberger GS, the model with a headstock. (“I like it because it feels more like a robotic-extension bonesaw than most other guitars”, he scribbles.) He generates his trademark semitone clisters by stacking up minor seconds using the pitch-shift functions of two multi-effecors, a Roland SE-50 and a Rocktron Intellifex, but Laswell also persuaded him to cut some Praxis tracks going straight into a Marshall, sometimes via a ProCo Rat distortion pedal.
Buckethead is slated to play on several more Laswell productions alongside jazz drum titan Tony Williams, bassist Jonas Hellborg, multimedia eccentric Ramelzee, and Gambian kora master Foday Musa Suso. Bootsy recently produced Bucketheadland, a Buckethead solo album (Listed in Japan only on John Zorns Avant label) and Buck will return the favor by appearing on Bootsy's next solo record. Also in the works is a Buckethead/ Bootsy/ Buddy Miles/ George Clinton soundtrack contribution to an upcoming remake of Tod Browning's 'Freaks'. Buckethead insists that collaborating with Bootsy is quite literally a dream come true: “It's like hanging on a meathook in a slaughterhouse, only better!”.