Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (Guns N' Roses): "You're watching the band write music"
What's new in the Bumblefoot world? Any new music of yours on the horizon?
Greetings! Keeping busy, lots going on...! Doing acoustic shows with singer Tony Harnell ( www.facebook.com/TonyHarnellFans ) and am part of his latest CD release “Tony Harnell & the Wildflowers, ft. Bumblefoot”. A portion of proceeds from the CD will go to Metavivor breast cancer research, www.metavivor.org. I'll also be giving a week of guitar workshops August 10 - 17 on the island of Corfu in northern Greece, at Corfu Rock School ( www.corfurockschool.com ), that's gonna be a great time...! Been writing music for some indie horror movies, enjoying that a lot - the next one will be a movie called “Gravedigger”, I'll be writing the entire film score. Early this year I released a line of hot sauces, ( http://bit.ly/bumblefkd ) it's something I've been looking to do for years, was finally able to make it happen! So I've been going to a lot of food festivals all year, doing 'eat-n-greets', been having a great time with that! One of my hot sauces, “BumbleBabe” chocolate cherry hot sauce, will also have proceeds going to fund women's health organizations.
With the never-ending crazy schedule, it's difficult to build the momentum to make a full album happen. That's why I started doing the singles in 2011, it was the best way to keep a steady flow of music released. And there were so many more options I was able to make available, which I really enjoyed - each song has backing tracks and transcriptions for guitarists, and individual instrument 'stems' for making remixes. It was a great way to release music... www.bumblefoot.com/store.php
Your music is a mixture of metal, punk and a lot of experimenting with sounds, rhythms and techniques. What inspired you to be so experimental?
I've always enjoyed contrast, diversity, taking unexpected turns & venturing without a map to see what you find. There's fun & thrill in playing 'mad scientist' and seeing what happens when you mix things that you wouldn't normally blend. I used to do it a lot more in my music than I do now. I never planned it, I'd just follow what I was feeling & the music would happen. I had so many experiences through the years collaborating in pop, R&B, hip-hop, funk, disco, electronic, classical, opera, blues, folk, rockabilly, jazz, swing, Latin, Middle-Eastern, new-age, lounge, progressive, industrial, grunge, '40s - '80s retro... mix all those influences with rock/metal roots and some unusual things can happen.
Ahh, #BumbleMovieNight, yes! I love horror movies, I think horror and sci-fi movies have the most memorable music themes. Classics like “The Exorcist”, “Halloween”... “Scanners” ('81), always liked that one. There's “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” ('71), the great grunge on “Singles” ('92), and of course the Beatles' “Yellow Submarine” ('68).
You've jammed with some pretty amazing guitar players (in GN'R and out if GN'R). Have you ever considered working a song or even an album with, say, Guthrie Govan or one of your fellow axemen from GN'R? Like for example, Eric Clapton and BB King did. You know what I mean?
I'd love to...! Guthrie and I have tossed ideas back n' forth for years (we've been friends since we were teenagers in the late '80s) , I've played on his recordings, we've jammed a good amount of times, we played shows together over the years... it's just that everyone's schedules are so erratic it's hard to nail down a time to make it a priority and do it. Me, Frank [Ferrer - drums] and Chris [Pitman - keys] from GNR have an electronic band together called Blowout NYC, we may write some music together. My GNR bandmates did play on my recorded version of The Pink Panther Theme ( www.bumblefoot.com/pinkpanther.htm )
People love the jams in GN'R gigs, like the sweet little jam you do with Richard before Madagascar. You guys have a great chemistry while jamming. Were those jams created while you guys were chilling on tour or impromptu on-stage stugg? Whatever's the case, the result is awesome!
Those jams were all created spontaneously while on stage. No planning, someone will say “Bumble, go out there & do something” and I grab a guitar and start doing something that would make a nice intro to the next song. After a few times, something will stick and other guys start joining in. Over time it develops an arrangement and we improvise to it... watching those jams, you're actually watching the band write music – that's how it happens, only instead of us jamming in a studio, it's with all of you.
Lately, whenever you had time, you spent it producing young artist's albums like that Mexican rocking lady Poc ( http://itunes.apple.com/album/rise-above/id529724762 ). Is producing something that relaxes you when you're not playing?
Producing was always my favorite part of being a musician. When it's right, you're bringing the best out of people, you're all riding this huge creative wave, capturing great moments, you're surpassing expectations and making something you're proud of and believe in, something that will make a difference in the artist's life. When I'd teach at SUNY Purchase College, that's what I'd work on with students, music production.
You haven't let the fame make you all "Oh, look at me mortals, I'm a rockstar!". You know, it's hard to achieve such a thing when you're playing in front of thousands of people every single night. You had an accident in which you were hurt badly, but you just pushed through it. How do you do it? What keeps you so down to Earth?
It's simple. I make music because I like... music. Don't complicate it, don't corrupt it, don't forget why you chose this path. When the path is difficult, you're simply being tested, to keep you aware of your direction so you can navigate through it all.
Who's your greatest guitar playing hero? I know you are a hero of many guitarists out there. And it ain't no secret you added some revolutionary techniques like thimble picking. Where did that came from?
Thank you! Eddie Van Halen was the guitarist that inspired me the most. Hearing him for the first time made me realize how innovative a guitarist can be. It opened up my imagination. The thimble technique happened when I was looking for ways to get more notes out of the strings, beyond the fretboard. On the guitar you're pressing the string against a metal fret on the neck and that gives you a good solid note, but there are still notes after the fretboard ends, and I wanted an efficient way to get to those notes. After different attempts, I came up with wearing a thimble, a metal cap on the tip of my finger on my picking hand that I'd press down against the string to make a note... there's a video demonstration on YouTube at http://youtu.be/AAnG7WD5sBk
You're also on the Board of Directors of the MS Research Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) org that raises money for Multiple Sclerosis research. That's very noble, can you tell us something more about the Foundation?
MS Research Foundation has just closed its doors unfortunately, after 10 years of operation. It was run by my good friend Ralph Rosa, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1997. He started the foundation, and his friends & family all volunteered, organizing fundraising concerts, dinner/comedy shows. But now the disease has taken such a tremendous toll on his body, he simply couldn't continue. I'll continue to do what I can to give my support to the cause, will be at the Race To Erase MS gala ( http://erasems.org/2013-gala/ ) in May. We all can do something that helps others - even if it's just giving a kind word, that bit of happiness you give can make a world of difference.
Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal
Photos by Nemanja Dordevic