Published on July 15th, 2016 | by Warren Hines0
Buckethead Maintains Signature Guitar Style and Anonymity
“We are not in the Himalayas, but you can see them from Bangladesh.”
On the Uber ride to New Daisy in downtown Memphis, I visited with the Bangladeshi driver about notable persons and geographies from his motherland. The people he described were mostly a variety of Bodhisattva’s whose names I couldn’t pronounce.
It’s a very spiritual place—high country—which made it all the more interesting that he began to solicit my work for his banner website. Risking having a wreck as we drove the long way, avoiding the interstate for the higher fare, he pulled out his phone and then asked me to Google his site—something dot something dot us dot something else… There was literally no content at all on his site, but a bunch of flashing click bait, and he got excited when the side banner showed him the cities and states of various visitors. I recalled a radio program about how Uber often times attracted entrepreneurs whose ideas just weren’t very good.
I was off on an assignment from Memphis Flyer to review a concert of one of the most talented, and perhaps strangest American guitarists. I was going to see Buckethead. When I got up to Beale Street, I noticed a long line of freaky looking folks who were waiting to get the much coveted stage-side standing spots where Buckethead gives out toys and lets you press the arcade button feature of his Buckethead Signature Les Paul. A gang of dudes had t-shirts on that said, “Welcome to Memphis—Duck…” with a large pistol in the middle of the text.
Buckethead walked out on stage in full costume with the Michael Myers mask and a white bucket on his head and shredded guitar for about an hour and a half. He played licks from classic songs like “Pure Imagination” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and” Purple Haze” by Jimmie Hendrix. As much as I enjoyed the covers, his originals, of which he has released over 260 albums, are even more sensational. He plays a wide range of styles from flamenco, metal, progressive rock, blues, bluegrass and even classical music. Quadratonal arpeggios define some of his signature sounds. He swings nun chucks in the middle of his performance, but he never talks.
When you explain Buckethead to some folks, they don’t get it. “Why wouldn’t he want to take the credit for his fame?” they wonder. He puts as much care into the performance art as he does his guitar playing. At the merch table after the show, there was nothing more than a card table with about ten of his newest hundred-something releases and an offering of one kind of t-shirt in black with Buckethead’s portrait as a white silhouette for $30. A guy from the venue was manning the booth alone, and it was obvious the guitarist wasn’t coming out to sign anything.
I think the guitarist raises an interesting point about the way we perceive celebrities in America. It isn’t enough to simply put on an Oscar-winning performance or take a Grammy for your hit record if we can’t read about how you handled your divorce in some toilet paper rag like People at the grocery store. Last week, America saw what a gorilla has to go through to become famous. We want to own a piece of real-estate on our favorite entertainers and victims of the news—have some dirt on them. Brian Carroll, the man behind the mask, has completely side-stepped the personal intrusion so commonplace to celebrity.
After the show, I hardly walked a block before Beale Street was taped up around a fresh crime scene. Someone had gone nuts and shot three people, running over a police officer who was killed as he fled the scene of the crime. I turned around, winding up at the corner behind New Daisy waiting for my Uber. A crowd of disco people filtered in through the back of the venue, and there was Buckethead’s black touring van backed up like an FBI surveillance unit. I couldn’t help but stare from the sidewalk to see if the guitarist would appear. Maybe the entire van would just vanish into an electric implosion like Doc’s car from Back to the Future. My Uber showed up, and I was gone.
My driver on the way to the venue seemed to be pushing his website, which featured none of his natural talent, onto anyone who happened to be hurtled at random into his world for a brief moment. The gunman was prepared to take a stranger’s life for unknown reasons. Buckethead has worked tirelessly to develop a signature sound that has made him wealthy and famous, yet he chooses to live in anonymity. I am always amazed at what people push as their talents and how they wish to be perceived.