Behind the Mask | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Behind the Mask

The legend of Buckethead lives on

Writing a story about Buckethead is like trying to do an expose on the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. People know Buckethead exists and that he has a real name, but he hasn't done an interview in a decade and doesn't talk to many people in general. I knew a phone or Skype interview would be out of the question, so I spent a few weeks trying to get a few emailed questions in front of him, but to no avail.

According to legend, Buckethead was born Brian Patrick Carroll on May 13, 1969, in Southern California. Even his birthdate isn't a given; this is information gleaned from music videos and interviews given in the late 1980s.

Buckethead was a shy kid who was into martial arts movies, comic books and slasher flicks. He picked up a guitar as a teenager while also studying classical and music theory, and within a few years became a guitar prodigy. Even as he became a virtuosic musician, the shyness from his childhood never left him.

After watching "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" he ran out and purchased a similar white mask. That same night he was eating a bucket of fried chicken and inspiration hit him. In a 1996 interview with Guitar Player magazine he described the experience: "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."

Since the birth of Buckethead, he has become one of—if not THE—most prolific musicians on the planet. Aside from his stint in Guns N' Roses, he has played with such diverse musicians as Iggy Pop, Bootsy Collins, Primus, Bill Laswell and Tony Williams. He's done the score for not only Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Last Action Hero," but also "Beverly Hills Ninja." If that's not enough, in 2015 he released 118 solo albums.

Buckethead's legend is that of a slasher flick villain. His website (which seems designed by a demented mad scientist) lays out his origin story as one of loneliness and horror. Raised in a chicken coop where his face was eventually pecked off by his poultry family, he was forced to wear the mask to disguise his hideous scars. With every year that he declines all interviews, the mystery of Buckethead doesn't so much deepen as solidify.

Buckethead's sound ranges from speed metal to ambient jazz back around to funky and through the gates into '80's-infused chordal hair rock. I listened to five of his albums before writing this article and, while his sound is always very distinctive, the shifting genres and gleeful exploration of sound keep each album hypnotic.

If Buckethead had responded to my email, I had some probing questions for him, such as, "What are the three best ways to use chicken wire?" and "Do you pay attention to your fingernails?" I know what it's like to be a shy kid into comics and gore, and I think we would have had a good chat. But I'm also glad he didn't respond because, even though it would have made a good story, a peek behind the mask would have only been for my benefit and not his. He is making art completely on his own terms and that, in itself, is a damn good story.


Friday, July 8, 8pm

Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend


Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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