Legendary Masked Rockers
It’s not the mask that makes the man … or the band. But that being said, sometimes the mask does make the man and band. Over the years, the true identity of any given rock star is a thing just out of reach. But sometimes they’re hiding behind a mask of intrigue, glamour … or maybe just plastic and eyeliner. However you slice it, costumes and dressing up have always been a part of the game. The masking can be found in everything from heavy metal to garage rock to the avant-garde. These are among the most legendary of them.
The Phantom Surfers
The Phantom Surfers specialized in fairly authentic surf-n-roll. Taking cues from legends like the Pyramids, the Bel-Airs and Dick Dale, the Surfers, along with other like-minded combos, rode a new wave of interest in all things surf during the ’90s. Hip enough for the hipsters, yet authentic enough for the old hot-rod gangs, they issued several singles and albums, and can still be found doing their thing to this day.
Most musicians cannot lay claim to a resume like Brian Patrick Carroll’s. From mingling with the artistically inclined (Bill Laswell, Les Claypol) to the funky side of things (Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell) to somehow ending up in Guns N’ Roses, Buckethead’s guitar playing has always made people take notice. Even without the bucket sitting on top of his head, he would have made a name for himself. But what’s wrong with a little showbiz thrown into the mix? Never one to sit still too long, Buckethead has kept a very active musical schedule over the years, and his stature keeps growing … with or without that bucket.
What can you say about King Diamond? The former Mercyful Fate frontman has always held a special place among metal fans. His otherworldly shriek delivers chills and the occasional headache. No matter what he’s crooning about, King D is a striking figure with his mic stand made of bones and his Gene Simmons-gone-haywire makeup.
The rockabilly wail of Jerry Lott, a.k.a. the Phantom, would have been lost forever were it not for the dynamic duo of the Cramps’ Poison Ivy and Lux Interior, who recorded a version of the classic Phantom tune ‘Love Me’ back in 1981. While the Cramps version stays faithful to, and in some cases improves on, the original, you can’t beat the real thing. Oozing with primal insanity, 1958 style, and set amid reverb-washed backdrop, the Phantom pleads his case. Unhinged rockabilly at its finest.
Ghost BC are not subtle. At least not when it comes to stage presentation and costumes. For starters, their singer looks like the evil spawn of King Diamond. But even though he appears all demonic singing about Satan and stuff, musically there’s a lot going on here. Melodies are often front and center, and they’re sung, not grunted or growled in gravel-voice horror. They’ve even covered songs by everyone from Roky Erickson to Abba.
GWAR began as an over-the-top joke band of sorts until eventually there was gold in their satire. And even if some of the band’s fans may be oblivious to GWAR’s tongue-in-cheek style, their over-the-top stage shows are like three-ring extravaganzas, no matter how you take them. Crazy costumes, masks and headgear combine with all sorts of gushing substances for one of the least subtle stage shows of all time.
Lo-fi, low-rent and lowbrow pretty much define the Mummies. Then again, so do exciting, raunchy and fun. Taking the garage-rock aesthetics to new lows, the Mummies rolled into the scene dressed like vintage movie monsters. But their three-chord mayhem provides one hell of a party soundtrack.
The Dwarves / HeWhoCannontBeNamed
The Dwarves began life as a slightly chaotic, Cramps-influenced garage-rock band form Chicago called Suburban Nightmare. After changing their name, and releasing the classic ‘Horror Stories’ album in 1986, everything changed. Gone were the creepy psychedelic overtones, replaced by deranged, speed-freak hardcore punk. Their story is filled with various tales of nudity, fireworks, vandalism, arrests and even a death hoax. Often playing in a diaper and mask, guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed would brutally attack his instrument and sometimes members of the audience.
You probably know all about Kiss: formed in the ’70s, they all wear makeup. They play loud bubblegum heavy metal. Stage antics include spitting blood, breathing fire, shooting off fireworks and other fairground-inspired activities. They sold a lot of records, and even more dolls, radios, comic books, board games and T-shirts. The eventually took off their makeup off, which proved to be a good move commercially, even though some fans have never recovered from seeing their heroes unmasked. They’re part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction class of 2014.
More than any other act on this list, or anywhere for that matter, the Residents remain the most mysterious band on the the planet. The Residents set sail on a musical adventure in 1970 that nobody else has topped. Their early records reflect their time, but they’re also way ahead of their time. Their music plays out like a David Lynch movie, all creepy, weird and mysterious. Their famous eyeball heads are still one of the most iconic band images of all time. Even though rumors have circulated for years as to their true identities — including Les Claypool and the Beatles — who they really are remains an eternal mystery.