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Why Buckethead's Better Off Solo than in Guns 'N' Roses

Virtuoso Brian Carroll, better known as Buckethead, is an unheralded musical genius. Sure, it's weird that he performs with a bucket on his head and a white costume mask as he assumes the role of a character who survived a "chicken holocaust," but anyone who's listened to his solo works can't argue that the man isn't gifted.

For example, his song "Jordan" contains some of the most infectiously fuzzy guitar riffs, so distorted they almost sound synthesized. His tune "Frozen Brains Tell No Tales" includes an eerie, sci-fi sounding keyboard hook and some bizarre narration about removing the listener's head for a trip (which will be returned to their bodies afterwards). These are examples of the kind of intense, layered soundscapes Buckethead creates -- whatever you expect, it's not what you get. He takes every note and seems to turn it on its head, creating complex compositions in the vein of Frank Zappa, but with an orchestrated, multi-instrumentalist approach more reminiscent of classical composers.

Of course, not many people are familiar with Buckethead's solo works. He's known more for being a former member of Guns 'N' Roses. That's unfortunate, because, unlike Guns 'N' Roses, Buckethead continues to actively record and tour. (He'll be making a stop at The Nile Theater in Mesa on Friday, June 17.)

In one of the most classic cases of "the pot calling the kettle black," Guns 'N' Roses released this statement after Buckethead's departure from the band in 2004: 

"During his tenure with the band, Buckethead has been inconsistent and erratic in both his behavior and his commitment, despite being under contract, creating uncertainty and confusion and making it virtually impossible to move forward with recording, rehearsals, and live plans with confidence. His transient lifestyle has made it near impossible for even his closest friends to have nearly any form of communications with him whatsoever."

That description seems more fitting for Axl Rose, but whatever. A megaband can really only have one megastar, and Rose insists on being that sole star. He surrounded himself with capable players after the collapse of the original G 'N' R, but none of the band members were as talented as Buckethead -- not even Rose.

If Buckethead had stayed in Guns 'N' Roses and ignored his solo projects, the past seven years would have been very different for him. For starters, he would've been sitting on his bum for more than four years while the release of G 'N' R's Chinese Democracy was continually delayed. Rose kept himself busy suing people (including Geffen Records and former G 'N' R manager Irving Azoff), but when the album was finally released in November, 2008, it became the worst-selling Guns 'N' Roses album ever (note: it still went platinum).

And even if Buckethead had held out and went on tour with G 'N' R, Rose's behavior at shows wouldn't have bolstered the band's kinship. The band was almost an hour late to the stage at the 2010 Reading Festival, 30 minutes late to the Leeds Festival, and 90 minutes late to a show in Dublin on September 1, 2010 (the same show where Rose walked off stage after the fourth song because the crowd was throwing bottles).

By contrast, since 2004, Buckethead has released 19 albums (no joke), got propositioned by Ozzy Osbourne to play guitar in his band (which didn't work out because Buckethead wouldn't remove his costume), campaigned with Bootsy Collins for Rock the Vote, got a deal for a Buckethead signature Les Paul guitar from Gibson, and toured consistently.

So even though Buckethead has never had an album even close to the commercial success of say, Guns 'N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction, at least fans can go see him play live without fear that he's going to be 90 minutes late and then walk off stage in a diva huff after a handful of songs.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea