Thal and all guns blazing
November 14, 2013
Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, pictured here with his renowned custom-made
DoubleBfoot guitar, aspires to bring musicians and music closer
together. – RAYMOND OOI/The Star
Multi-talented Guns N’ Roses guitarist reveals an insatiable
appetite for developing and nurturing young talent.
THE adage of a man who wears many hats is certainly tailor-made for
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. A musician, music producer, songwriter,
guitar teacher, hot sauce entrepreneur and lead guitarist of Guns N’
Roses (GN’R), Bumblefoot, as he is widely known, added another
feather to his distinguished cap recently, courtesy of the “Appetite
For Durian” Malaysia tour, organized by the US Embassy from Nov 3-8.
Thal began his five-day trip in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and rounded
off the proceedings in Kuala Lumpur, conducting motivational talks
and musical outreach programs for our young music hopefuls.
Thal, slight of build and sporting a distinctive braided goatee, has
ambitions and aspirations that are imperious. Having worked with the
US Embassy on a similar platform in Albania and based on its
astounding success, he was recommended to make a difference on our
shores. “What motivates me to do this is very simple. I enjoy it and
I like to share that joy. I hope to make new friends, new
connections and enjoy new experiences,” shared the soft-spoken
44-year-old durian lover. “I love it here.” Besides thriving in our
sweltering conditions, Thal also enjoys our spicy food. “I also like
the way Malaysians treat each other,” he said.
Aspiring musicians and guitarists would have done well to take note
of his valuable advice in order to be successful in their craft. “Do
not be late. Always be on time and always be prepared. Do not show
up not knowing what you’re supposed to know. Also, be relaxed, be
calm and be comfortable and make other people feel the same way,” he
Naturally, given the band he plays in, one thing stands tall with
many Malaysian rock aficionados – Guns N’ Roses. Surprisingly, he
intimated that the band is as normal as they come. “We get together,
go out and enjoy doing things. Nothing is forced, where everybody
has to do everything. We bring our families and crew, and everyone
is welcomed. No one is made to feel unloved or anything like that –
it’s like one big traveling circus!” he revealed. “Everyone’s a
songwriter in the band. When I write songs, it might be for my own
album, or I’ll say, hey guys, I have an idea, just like that,” he
shed some light on the band’s creative process. His role onstage is
to play the crazy, technical, insane guitar parts and chip in with a
lot of backing vocals. “I also hope to bring a strong and solid
musical base, knowing that I’m very focused on the music,” he said.
As to how Guns N’ Roses will continue to craft those signature tunes
such as Sweet Child
O’ Mine, Paradise City and Estranged,
Thal’s reply was again surprising, yet refreshing. “It’s really
easy. The more you think about it, the more difficult it will get.
It’s like trying to think about breathing. It’s not going to flow if
you’re trying to control it. Just let go, let it happen. And when
you want to let it happen, all you have to do is not try!”
If he had his way, Thal’s vision for the band’s next album will be
to factor the pureness of rock ’n’ roll, where listeners can point
out what each member of the band is playing and the music will be
injected with each member’s distinctive personality. “It (the album)
would be very imperfect, very real, natural and not edited to give
it a live, raw, organic sound. I think that’s what people want from
GN’R. And when they think about GN’R, they think about rock ’n’
roll, and that’s what I like to be ... the best rock ’n’ roll band
we can be,” he enthused.
His commitment to the band apart, Thal also obtains complete
gratification and fulfillment as a solo artist. The prolific axeman
has released nine CDs and a live DVD since the early 1990s.
Reminiscing on his career, he also recalled his first gig, which was
in his basement in 1977 when he was only seven years old. Even back
then, the talented Thal was already composing his own songs.
Raised on a steady diet of classic rock, heavy metal and punk, Thal
knew he wanted to make this his vocation as early as five years old
when he first heard Kiss’ Alive!
album. “My family were very supportive and let me put on
concerts in the basement. They also let me record in my little home
studio,” he recalled fondly, listing Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix
and Ace Frehley as his six-string heroes.
Fun and laughter is always around the corner with the band as he
shared his funniest moment onstage, when frontman Axl Rose duct
taped his entire body – as he was ripping on a solo! “I was
playing,” he gestured animatedly. “And I couldn’t stop despite being
all wrapped up!” he laughed.
Thal then moved swiftly to dispel the negative perceptions that
continue to plague the band’s enigmatic leader. “Axl actually has a
great sense of humor. He tells the corniest jokes. I’ll be in the
midst of playing a solo, and he’ll crack jokes into my in-ear
monitors. Jokes aside, he makes you feel very welcomed when you’re
hanging out with him and he’s always telling stories and making
everyone feel like friends,” he shared. He also revealed that Rose
does a lot of charity work in his spare time and also throws a lot
of holiday parties for kids and invites their parents, too. “If at
all, he actually cares too much, and I think if anything, he should
care a little less,” Thal opined.
Despite having achieved so much over the course of more than two
decades, Thal still feels there’s an infinite road ahead to be
discovered. “I would still love to be writing more songs, and I
would love to create a song that has a melody where everybody wants
to sing and play on their guitar,” before adding selflessly, “And, I
think it can happen with GN’R.”
On a personal note, Thal feels that our homegrown musicians need our
full support to allow them to take their music to a global audience.
Thal is also pursuing his idea of organizing a music festival that
will combine popular artistes and aspiring musicians from around the
world. “There are a lot of phenomenal musicians everywhere in the
world, but who do not have the opportunity to branch out. I think
this (festival) is a fantastic way for these musicians to gain
attention,” he said.
Traveling the world and connecting with youth has allowed Thal to
bring musicians and music closer together. “My visit here may be the
start of bridging that gap,” he concluded.
Perhaps, that will give Malaysian fans renewed hope that maybe, just
maybe, Guns N’ Roses will blaze its way back to our shores to stage
another spectacular show, with a deserving local band in tow.
For more information on Ron Thal, visit www.bumblefoot.com.