The anonymous, mostly mute guitarist Buckethead is one of the more over-the-top, mysterious figures in rock. Sporting a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head and a white mask over his face, the artist has claimed in his rare interviews (and online biography) that he was raised in a chicken coop by . . . chickens. The birds scratched him so severely that he must forever cover his face. And the KFC bucket, you see, is a kind of homage to all the chickens fried for food, whose souls Buckethead channels whenever he picks up his axe.
So the story goes. What we actually know for certain about the guitarist is the following: Formerly known as Brian Carroll, he started out in the San Francisco metal/funk outfit the Deli Creeps, a local cult success that split up before releasing an album. Beginning with 1992's Bucketheadland, Buckethead went on to release a handful of solo efforts. The KFC man also recorded a track with Bootsy Collins, played several live gigs with Primus and toured with the prog-rock trio's bassist Les Claypool. And, of course, there was his stint as a member of the reformed (if short-lived) Guns n' Roses, beginning in 2000.
And now Buckethead returns, with Enter the Chicken, due October 25th, produced by System of a Down singer Serj Tankian. And unlike his mostly instrumental efforts, this album features guest turns from a diverse bunch, billed as "Buckethead and Friends," including Tankian, spoken-word poet Saul Williams, opera singer Ani Maldjian and Death by Stereo's Efrem Schulz.
Tankian first met the guitarist at Ozzfest in 1999, shortly before Buckethead's four-year stint with Guns n' Roses, and the two hit it off. "We ate Indian food at my coop a couple times. He has always been very fun to be around," Buckethead says, answering questions through his rubber hand-puppet Herbie. "I don't talk so good, but Herbie communicated to him a bunch of stuff." Last year, after hearing demos of Buckethead's latest work, Tankian offered to produce the album and release it through his own Serjical Strike label.
Enter the Chicken was not planned as a vocal album, but as the project evolved Tankian began recruiting artists. One of Buckethead's great thrills was the chance to work with a singer he's admired for years, the Iranian-born, Indian-raised Azam Ali of world music group Vas, who guests on the ethereal "Coma." "She has a disembodied voice I like a lot," he says. Old friend Maximum Bob, Buckethead's former Deli Creeps bandmate, also makes an appearance, on the operatic thrasher "The Hand." "He just went off stunner-style, like only he can do," Buckethead says. "He was scalding in there."
Enter the Chicken closes with an instrumental showcase for Buckethead's own virtuosity. The six-and-a-half-minute "Nottingham Lace" gallops along to some of his most melodic licks. Naturally, his inspiration comes from the barnyard: "When you let the hens have access to the garden, you can get a similar feeling," Buckethead/Herbie says, obscurely. "You just try to keep that feeling inside you. And then when it's time, you can go there, in your mind and in your heart, and just let go, not think."
A Disney Land fan -- he hopes to be buried at the theme park -- Buckethead has often created soundtracks for his own, dream amusement park, Bucketheadland (also the name of his Web site). His tour, dubbed Disney World to Disney Land, will kick off in Orlando October 21st. So how many KFC buckets does he need to take along on the road?
"There are different buckets for different needs, and it depends on the climate," he reveals. "I try to use one the whole time, and this one has lasted many years. For the tour coming up, I might have to retire it to my bucket cemetery. But it is a tough one to let go."