by Andrea 'N' Black
I am sitting here reading you impressive bio. It is abundantly clear that music is your passion. How did music become part of your life?
It began at age 5, when the older kids in the neighborhood brought home the newly-released Kiss Alive! Album - I heard it was blown away. Before that I was hearing lots of Beatles and it gave me a love for music, but it was Kiss that inspired me to become a musician. By the time I was 6 or 7, I was writing songs, started guitar lessons, and making demos - we'd have a cassette recorder in the corner of the room and adjust levels by being closer or farther from it, and would lay the music. After, we'd play it back on a table with our faces close to it singing along, as a second cassette machine was facing us recording it all - that's how we overdubbed vocals, we just figured it all out. We'd play local shows at schools and in my back yard and basement, spending the day cutting up our own confetti in cups for the audience (neighbors) to throw at the end of the show. A few decades later, the basement is a headlining outdoor festival and the confetti shoots out of cannons.
When did you start teaching music?
I began teaching music at age 13, at that point I had been diligently studying the academics of reading and music theory for 6 years and had a good amount of knowledge to share. I gave private guitar, bass, vocal lessons and music theory instruction. By 19, I was teaching at local music stores and schools in NYC and NJ. In the next few years I worked as a transcriber for instructional video companies, taught lessons and directed student bands at a local music institute, then set up and ran the music department at a private school in NJ, included music for children, music history, music theory, gospel choir, jazz band, and instrument lessons (also set up a darkroom and taught photography and film developing.) Since 2003, I've been an adjunct Professor at SUNY Purchase, teaching music production.
Are you currently teaching music?
It's much harder to teach with all the touring in the last few years. Last year I gave some Skype lessons, which I hope to be able to do again. Between shows while touring, I had arranged a few clinics and master-classes at schools and venues. I've done international clinic tours over the past 10 years, and lots of articles and videos for websites and major guitar magazines in the US, Europe, and Japan. Been a guest instructor/performer at schools and music camps, and was once a music coach on MTV's "Made". Teaching is important to me, I think the essence of it is sharing. You make a song, you share it. I was writing songs, I started writing with other people too. I was making demos, I started producing people too. You acquire knowledge over the years from your own experiences and what others have passed on to you, and you do the same. It's being part of nature.
It is really awesome seeing musicians give back. Tell us about some of your charity work?
Musicians have an opportunity to use what they do for a greater purpose, many do this, I try to as well, when possible. Was on the Board of Directors of the MS Research Foundation, a non-profit org that raised money for Multiple Sclerosis research, for its 10 years of operation - we were all friends & family, as volunteers organizing fundraising concerts, dinner/comedy shows. Released the Bumblefoot '9.11' CD in late 2001 and donated 100% profits to the Red Cross. I continue to donate songs and performances to fundraising CDs, often donating autographed CDs, shirts, photos for charitable auctions. Performed at the Dubai Autism Centre, Navy Seals, fundraisers for juvenile diabetes, Earthquake Relief Fund, lots of local NYC gigs for prostate cancer, burn victims, Music Rising 'Icons of Music' for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Foundation Fighting Blindness, RockAsylum educating children through rock music, Oxfam's Tsunami Relief & Global Emergency Fund. Am a member of Musicians On Call, and visit patients at children's hospitals with guitar in hand. It may sound like a lot but it feels like I haven't done enough of what I could - it's easy to give. I've joined singer Tony Harnell's acoustic project Tony Harnell and the Wildflowers - we're in the process of making an acoustic album from which a portion of proceeds will go to breast cancer research, a few weeks left on the pledge campaign... (http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/tonyharnell) I'm releasing a line of hot sauces in early 2013 and one of them, 'BumbleBabe' chocolate cherry hot sauce, will also have proceeds going to fund women's health issues. Ya do what ya can...
How long have you been the guitarist for Guns N' Roses?
We started making plans in the Summer of 2004, and it became official in early 2006. We jammed 7 times and hit the road. I learned the Chinese Democracy songs by listening to the demos at the rehearsal room one time with a pair of headphones, a pen & paper, a half-hour. That first show was weird, I had that piece of paper sitting on top of the 'side fills' (big PA speakers on the sides of the stage aimed at us) with little reminders of how the songs went - 'Hey Bulldog' for the song Riad... they were so worried about demos getting leaked at the time and wouldn't give me a copy of the demos, so all I had was that half-hour listen and those notes to go by. We toured Europe for 3 months, then North America, and I started writing and recording parts for Chinese Democracy between touring.
What other bands have you played in?
I had my own band(s) steadily since the 'cups of confetti' days, my first real releases of music were in the early '90s, on guitar-oriented comp CDs. I was signed to Shrapnel Records in the mid- '90s (Roadrunner in Europe/Japan) and released albums as Ron Thal. Since the late '90s I've had my own label/production company releasing music as Bumblefoot, and am still going. In 2011 I released a digital single-a-month for 9 months, each with alternate mixes, guitar transcriptions, and recording stems ( info at www.bumblefoot.com/discography.php) While releasing those singles I produced Mexican female rock artist Poc (http://itunes.apple.com/album/rise-above/id529724762), NYC rocker Alexa Vetere (http://itunes.apple.com/album/breathe-again/id514980356), and laid guitars and final mixing/mastering for rapper Scarface 'Work Ethic' album (http://itunes.apple.com/album/work-ethic/id550506340) before hitting the road again in September. I'll co-write and play with artists I produce, lots of guest jamming with bands... I toured with Lita Ford, have also shared the stage with Nancy Sinatra, Cyndi Lauper, jazz composer Allen Toussaint, Turkish composer Fahir Atakoglu, Joe Satriani, Blue Oyster Cult, Badfinger's Joey Molland, Duff's Loaded, Fozzy w/ Chris Jericho, a whole lot of interesting people. Right now the bulk of it is Guns, Bumblefoot, and Tony Harnell ( video from live performance in Las Vegas last month... http://youtu.be/BP_nvW7YpP0)
Being a guitarist for Guns N' Roses, Solo Artist, Producer, Teacher and Song Writer. How do you balance your music with other obligations - mate, children, job?
It's not easy. It takes serious juggling skills and a willingness to live on the edge of the implosion point. The thing is, your life is yours – you make the rules, you choose your compromises and sacrifices, and evaluate and adjust as needed. You can't be rigid, you have to be a very flexible structure. Make it work. Married for 16 years, going on 23 years together, and it's better now than it's ever been. We adjusted our lives so that we can see the world together, and make it good for *us*. When I'm not touring, that's when I teach, record, put time into everything else.
What are your goals for 2013?
For the start of the year, the goals are to release the Bumblefoot hot sauces, go to the NAMM music convention in Anaheim, CA (www.namm.org) and to finish and release the Tony Harnell acoustic album. After that, the year will build itself.
What advice would you give to newbie in the music scene?
1 - be on time. By 'on time', I mean be early. Make sure you're there for when you need to be – wait in your car, *communicate*, let them know 10 minutes early that you'll be there in 5 minutes, and walk in 5 minutes later. 2 – be prepared. By 'prepared', I mean overly-prepared. Know more than you need to. If you're gonna lay guitar parts, know the drum grooves and where all the accents and up-beats and fills and breaks are, know the bass lines... when the bassist doesn't show and they freak out and you say 'I know the bass part, I can lay it down', you'll be the MVP. 3 – be cool. And by that I mean, be a calm, relaxed, easy-going, soothing presence in the room. When everyone is contagiously breaking into panic and stress-mode, you'll be their voice of reason without even trying. Players can be replaced – people are chosen by who others want to spend their time with.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you. Is there any last words you would like to share with the Ryze-Up Nation?
Thank you to all the readers for checking this out, and to you for the thoughtful questions. Happy Holidays, see you all in 2013!!
~ Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal