Buckethead: not your average guitarist

By Chris Fretwell
May 27, 2004

If Buckethead the guitarist is trying to create music for the masses, he failed. If Buckethead is trying to appeal to a certain genre, he failed. If he tried to create music for mainstream listeners, he failed.

If Buckethead tried to be weird and unusual, he succeeded. If he tried to create music that is wholly, refreshingly different, talented, fun and entertaining, he succeeded.

I can't compare him to a particular band, but I can say that his creativity and unusualness are unsurpassed. Saying he is a great guitar player means nothing because excellent guitar players are a dime a dozen. But his approach to using sound effects – or more to the point, his lack of using sound effects and distortion – gives his songs a taste to savor rather than a taste that is washed-out and saturated like so many bands do today in an attempt to appeal to the masses.

I have to mention his recent hiring as the lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, which says a lot for him as a guitar player. G N’ R is not the hugely popular band it once was, but Axl Rose still had his pick out of hundreds of guitar players. I think he choose wisely.

Buckethead is a fictional character created by a person, Buckethead the guitarist, who grew up reading and watching pulp fiction. These influences make for a clever and entertaining storyline that slowly unfolds on his first release, “Giant Robot,” which is best for a listener’s first taste of Buckethead. The album is mostly instrumental rock, but with added weird and sometimes whacked-out voice overdubs that I think are hilarious. This is the first of Buckethead’s solo releases. “Giant Robot” is mostly rock oriented but also has two funk jams, two thrash jams and fun, weird remakes such as "Pure Imagination" from the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and an eerie stringed orchestra composition that’s surprisingly cool. Buckethead (the guitarist) lets it all spill out on this 19-track release with standouts such as “Buckethead’s Chamber of Horrors,” which features an ingenious dynamic composition of rip-shredding guitar and stringed orchestration: an impossible feat for most guitarists, but Buckethead pulls it off with flying colors. Another one would be “I Come in Peace” with its humorous vocal overdubs that tell a story as the tune unfolds. I can sum up the vibe of this release with the word fun.

He followed “Giant Robot” up with “Bucketheadland” and “Bucketheadland 2,” which retain a similar vibe but feature more voice overdubs, which take away from the shredding that is Buckethead 's trademark. But they certainly pull their own weight. If you like “Giant Robot,” you won't go wrong with these shredderific releases.

I also must mention his instrumental album “Colma,” which is moody and emotional, and quite tasty and ingenious, with electric-acoustic all the way through. It’s a bold step into a different direction. Buckethead's “Electric Tears” compliments “Colma” well because of its similar vibe and great compositions with additional bluesy influences. You won't hear anything else like the two; they are clearly an experimental voyage into sound textures.

If you’re not into moody and emotional, I recommend you try his “Monsters and Robots” album, which is industrial/techno-sounding and features Buckethead's trademark guitar playing and overdubs. Noteworthy is the use of guitar effects more than usual for the techno vibe.

Buckethead's guitar playing shines brightest when he's playing metal/rock. His work doesn't stop with his solo releases. He lends his guitar expertise to bands Praxis, Death Cube K and Lord of Harvest.

Praxis' “Transmutation” album is solid and consistent and isn't primarily guitar-driven; rather, it features an experimental, sometimes psychedelic mix of guitar and organ. A standout track is "Interworld and the New Innocence," which is just Buckethead on guitar – the only solo track. Buckethead once again shines brightly on this moody ear-candy instrumental. Noteworthy are his ingenious use of effects and string manipulation to create what sounds like squawking seagulls for a delicate and tasty mix. Praxis's “Warszawa” album is mostly Buckethead's guitar and DJ Dominant. My personal favorites are “Cold Rolled” and “Rivet.” Praxis's "Sacrifist" album is heavy bass-funk-oriented and doesn't personally appeal to me. Praxis’ music is mostly experimental instrumentals, and I don't get as much out of them as I do Buckethead's solo releases.

The mention of Death Cube K is just as much a warning as anything. You can't mix drugs and alcohol with Death Cube K. This material is quite eerie and can cause emotional trauma. Well, maybe I'm being a little dramatic, but I think I'm accurate. It's amusing in small doses, but I can't sit and listen to an entire release; nonetheless, the band further proves Buckethead is a top-notch guitar player. The band Lord of Harvest is another funky achievement by Buckhethead and is good enough to mention, but not necessarily worth your money.

Buckethead's musical diversity is a gem in a pile of coal; the gem has its imperfections, but its worth far exceeds the pile of coal. Funk isn't in my favor, so try Praxis's releases regardless. Buckethead’s other solo releases are “Bermuda Triangle” and “Funnel Weaver,” which are both worth checking out.

“Bermuda Triangle” is once again a consistent pleaser. Progressive hip-hop drum beats work well with Buckethead’s guitar. The guitar work is well-rounded, spanning soft and intricate to all-out crunchy shredding .As always, no lyrical vocals. One of my favorites is the intro, which is the telling of a Bermuda Triangle story more than it is actual music. The intro plays off Buckethead's trademark voice overdubs and is an example of what makes all his releases unique. I can't discuss “Bermuda” without mentioning the heavy song “Mausoleum Door,” which appeals to my metal needs.

All of Buckethead’s solo releases are worth a listen. Start with the wonderfully bizarre “Giant Robot” and go from there.

For people who don't listen to or appreciate instrumental bands and guitar players such as Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Buckethead’s material may not be to your liking because of its lack of typical vocals. But I find Buckethead's guitar playing, use of voice overdubs and overall style a refreshing change from the mass cliché.

Related link: Buckethead's official site

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