Back in April, 2016 we published an article titled “Buckethead’s Artistic Madness,” detailing Brian Patrick Carroll’s prolific career as guitar wizard Buckethead—and by prolific, we mean it. Over the course of the guitarist’s 20-plus-year solo career, he has released more than 260 studio albums. This number doesn’t even include the countless side-projects and supergroups to which Buckethead has contributed. You may ask, “Where do I even begin?” This would certainly be a daunting task when approaching any artist with multiple decades under his or her belt, let alone an artist with a discography as long as Buckethead’s. Fear not, however, this list was written to help you get started.
"November Rain" (live version)
Though he started his individual career in the early ‘90s, Buckethead got his first taste of real mainstream notoriety with his stint in Guns N' Roses as Robin Finck's replacement in 2000. Buckethead's solo on "November Rain" will make you feel like you’re hearing the Use Your Illusion song for the first time again. It's technically masterful in the way Buckethead borrows from and then embellishes on Slash’s original 1991 version. The solo moves from the plaintive and soaring original into Buckethead’s frantic, rapid-fire picking. It’s an awe-inducing complement to Axl Rose's soul-searching piano.
"Jordan" from Guitar Hero II
Buckethead’s solo breakout came with the single “Jordan” on Guitar Hero II, a popular video game where players use instrument-shaped peripherals with buttons and play along to a variety of songs. Widely considered one of the most difficult songs of the whole rhythm game series, "Jordan" is an angular exercise in guitar virtuosity. This song has a punctuated groove, interrupted by some breakneck soloing. It also features Buckethead's trademark "killswitch" effect (a red button modification on his guitar in place of the "treble/rhythm" toggle switches). The killswitch allows him to rhythmically "kill" the sustain and create a delayed, wah-pedal-like effect by tapping on the fret board and the killswitch button at the same time.
Giant Robot (full-length album)
Not to be confused with Buckethead’s side project of the same name, Giant Robot the album is possibly the perfect full-length introduction to Buckethead as a solo artist even though it is his second album. Giant Robot continues the sonic rollercoaster ride established in his full-length debut, Bucketheadland, spanning a range of tempos, tones, and genres such as funk, rock, metal, and even carnival music. Some might point to Bucketheadland as the starting point, but Giant Robot is a leaner and meaner entry, containing 19 tracks compared to Bucketheadland’s 33 tracks.
The album not only showcases Buckethead's fretboard gymnastics with songs like "Binge and Grab (Instrumental)," but also brings his weirder sensibilities to the forefront, enlisting Bill Moseley (Chop Top of Texas Chainsaw Massacre II infamy) and Iggy Pop for several spoken interludes.
This live video of “Soothsayer” is the first option that comes up for Buckethead on YouTube with more than two million views—and for good reason. The nine-minute-plus song starts with a simple three-chord riff (with variations and inversions) and backing instruments, but gradually shifts into a clinic on guitar soloing, as Buckethead goes on mind-bending run after run. It's astounding how easy he makes it all look. This particular video contains live backing musicians and theatrical dancers, but in the years since its filming Buckethead has moved to canned back-up instrumentals, an interesting choice considering his penchant for collaboration.
Enter the Chicken
One thing you'll find about Buckethead as you enter his discography is he is all about collaborations. Whether it's with supergroups such as Praxis, Giant Robot, and Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains, or utilizing a rotating set of collaborators on solo efforts, Buckethead always seems to surround himself with likeminded artists. Enter the Chicken showcases this tendency in spades, featuring Serj Tankian of System of a Down, poet Saul Williams, and Death by Stereo's Efrem Schulz amongst others. "We Are One" is pure insanity with Serj Tankian’s manic vocals pogoing along with Buckethead’s metallic riffs. "Botnus" is filled with massive powerchords and has an intensity on par with the heaviest of Death by Stereo records. "Coma" is ethereal with twinkling guitars and haunting vocals from Azam Ali. Each song has a unique and distinct register all the while sounding as parts to a whole thanks to excellent production continuity and Serj Tankian’s lingering presence throughout.
Monsters and Robots
Speaking of collaborations—what Bootsy Collins is to funk, Buckethead is to rock, so it's a good thing these beautiful weirdos conspired and made several records together. While Bootsy only lent vocals to this particular album, his influence is felt thanks to another bass wunderkind (and frequent Buckethead collaborator) Les Claypool. Just know heading into this release to expect a funky time. The groove just rides through this beast, making for perhaps the most danceable of Buckethead's albums. Besides repeat collaborations, you'll notice that Buckethead also favors repeating themes such as b-movie monsters and robots (hence the name of the album).
Miskatonic Scale is Buckethead at his shreddingest. It might not be as heavy as The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, but it's about as metal as it gets. The titles of the songs spell out "MISKATON," a word that has its roots in Lovecraftian lore. The guitar acrobatics here ascend in a dizzying fashion, providing the listener with the sense of climbing a never-ending spire. It's often a disorienting experience, bringing to mind the paranoia and madness of in HP Lovecraft tales.
Showing off the tender side of Buckethead, Colma is Buckethead’s tribute to his mother while she underwent treatment for colon cancer. The songs here are soft(er) and contemplative, making for a rather relaxing record (in contrast to other Buckethead albums). Gone are the razor-edged, distorted riffs, and in their place are chimey, reverb- and delay-laden clean tones. It can be a somber affair, but still retains the danceable groove that permeates much of Buckethead's early work. “Big Sur Moon” is a favorite track with its stuttering, futuristic arpeggios that bring to mind current trends in synth-driven electronic music. Rumor has it Sir Paul McCartney is a big fan of Colma.