Guns N’ Roses
guitarist wows Sabah fans
Review of Nov 4, 2013 concert ~
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
RON “Bumblefoot” Thal – a name
synonymous with the legendary American rock band Guns N’ Roses and has over 20
years of experience in the music industry – is clearly a maestro and superstar.
You may assume that a lead guitarist like him would demand to sit on a nice,
comfy sofa and be treated like an international superstar.
But you may be surprised to discover that the 44-year old musician is the
complete opposite of that. Judging a book by its cover will usually lead you
into an illusion – a distorted view of the person involved.
You get the real deal when you peel each layer and get to know a person’s inner
One way of doing that, and certainly a common approach, is by sitting down and
actually having a one-on-one conversation with the person.
Ron saw me sitting on a dusty staircase at JKKN Sabah Complex (Sabah National
Department for Culture and Arts) in Kota Kinabalu, and to my great surprise, sat
down with me for an exclusive interview recently.
As he was taking his seat opposite from me ahead of his Nov 4 concert, my first
impression of him was how nice and humble he was. Sabahan guitarist Roger Wang
commended Ron on his humility:
“He doesn’t give you the impression that he is better than you. Here you are
with a star, and he doesn’t make you feel like he is a star.”
That is exactly how I felt when I met Ron. He is one of those people who you
can click with almost immediately after meeting. With his amiable and down to
earth character, I thought he would absolutely woo the entire crowd that night.
That’s exactly what happened. In fact, the concert exceeded my expectation. Over
500 people showed up at Ron’s concert. The response was overwhelming as the
auditorium was filled with excited fans who sang along with him and laughed at
his jokes – he also invited them to join him on stage.
The crowd roared with applause and called for an encore for more songs to be
performed which signified the audience’s intense admiration and appreciation of
him. Ron also collaborated with local musicians in performing famous Sabahan
songs like ‘Sayang Kinabalu’ and ‘Tanak Kampung’ where he joined them on stage
while sitting in a meditative position.
After the concert, the fans lined up to meet him for a photograph and autograph
session which lasted until after midnight.
Among the songs he performed were Guns N’ Roses classics like ‘Sweet Child O’
Mine’, ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ and ‘November Rain’.
“People here make me feel very welcomed. I really feel very at home here,”
This bodes well with the State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk
Masidi Manjun’s statements citing that the best Malaysians live in Sabah.
Not only are they hospitable, they do not see people in terms of race or
religion. Sabahans can live side by side with people of various races and
beliefs without problems, points Masidi time and time again. Masidi often
highlights that the natural beauty of Sabah and the popular tourist spots can be
found in one form or another in other states within Malaysia or other countries
in the world, but nothing can compare to the warmth of the people.
This, too, was echoed by Ron who said he loved every moment spent in KK due to
the warmth of the people.
“This is my first time in Sabah and I’m having such wonderful time here. I wish
I could stay longer,” he said.
Ron, whose real name is Ronald Jay Blumenthal, enjoyed teasing his taste buds
with local spicy food. “The spicier the better,” he said.
When asked about how he made it to the top and what advice would he give to
budding local musicians, he said the most important thing is to make the best
music or art piece that you can.
“That should be your main goal. Period. Forget about being famous.” In a world
flooded with people racing towards success, Ron highlighted that this was not
the way he approached life. “Don’t try to make it or get somewhere.” Despite the
common goal of most people in the industry who aim for success, the “Bumblefoot”
way was surprisingly more laid back and honest.
“Remain true to yourselves. Do not have a goal to be successful. Just make the
best art that you can make. Make the best music you can. Enjoy what you’re
doing,” he said. Doing what you enjoy and putting effort to it will catapult you
to greatness, he emphasized.
Honesty and integrity should also be accompanied with one’s work, said Ron.
“When you perform music with conviction and believe in what you are doing,
people will notice and make their own decisions.”
Another advice from him was to stop chasing trends. “Just be who you are and do
what you do. Trends happen because a bunch of people decided that they like
something, but you shouldn’t chase that.
“At some point, what you do will probably become a trend, but that shouldn’t
matter because that shouldn’t be your goal,” he said.
“Of course you want to please people with your music and share your music with
people, but your goal shouldn’t be to please people like that… at least, not in
that way.” If you do, then you’ll be doing it for the wrong reasons. You have to
express yourself artistically, added Ron.
Certain people will be drawn to your music, but you won’t know how many of them
will be drawn to it and you shouldn’t be concerned about how many followers or
fans you can accumulate.
He said this in response to whether Guns N’ Roses or he himself would agree to
adapt to the current music trend in the US which is mostly Electronic Dance
Music (EDM), pop and elements of Irish Folk Rock.
Instead of adapting to such trends, the band prefers to stay original. “We have
our own identity. We won’t follow or chase trends,” he said.
“Think of it like having a seafood restaurant. Not everyone likes seafood, but
that shouldn’t stop you from having your own seafood restaurant because you know
it would appeal to certain people who are into seafood. Not everyone’s going to
like it and that shouldn’t be a problem.”
The list of food on the menu also won’t necessarily catch the attention of every
customer who walks in, but that’s okay. The same goes for music. It’s not for
the whole world. You just have to put yourself out there.
You just have to put your music out there. It will appeal to certain people, but
you don’t know who those people are. Just make peace with that and everything
will fall into place. When asked about the perception of Americans towards
Malaysians, he said he was unaware of their perceptions.
“I don’t know how other people view Malaysians. I can’t speak for all Americans
because I don’t know what their experiences are in Malaysia.
With Malaysians. I can only speak for myself,” he said. “For me, I think
Malaysians are wonderful.” Despite the differences, we all share a common ground
as human beings. Having the same concerns, breathing the same air, and his
answer was simple:
“I’ve been to so many places all over the world and for me, people are just
As for the strict laws, he said that the law is the law and every country has
their own laws. “Either it’s going to work for you or not. That’s life. Rules
are rules. We just have to respect them.
“As an artiste, I understand that if I sing about certain things, talk about
certain things, not everyone is going to agree with me. If a country is governed
by religious laws and they don’t agree with what I’m saying, then I must accept
While on his “Appetite for Durian Tour” in Malaysia, Ron also visited
orphanages, libraries and schools.
In KK, he visited the Sabah Blind Society and conducted a workshop at Sabah
Institute of Arts which enabled him to reach out to Sabahan students and budding
musicians who were fortunate to learn from him first hand. The response from
Sabahans was overwhelming as they fully embraced the opportunity to learn from
an internationally-acclaimed star.
Jack Rison L, 20, who came all the way from Ranau, said that it was a 10 out
of 10 star performance.
In fact, he admitted that it was the most amazing performance he had ever seen
in his entire life. “I learned a lot from Ron,” said an excited Jack.
“He is far better than any musician I have ever met. I love the fact that he
could control the crowd and apart from performing Guns N’ Roses songs, he made
the effort to perform local songs.” This was echoed by Raimon Sukudat, 28, who
is Ron’s local co-guitarist.
On top of that, he advised youths to grab a chance when it comes their way. “All
this time I only had the opportunity to watch Ron perform on YouTube.
“To perform alongside with this famous star is mindblowing and absolutely a
dream come true.”
Also interviewed was Eastern College’s music student, Jerome Jonathan Liman from
Keningau who admired the famous rock star’s humble approach and ability to
adapt. “It was amazing how he could adapt to the local songs and interacted with
us. Basically, the free concert and workshop is a two thumbs up. ”
Meanwhile, Arend C. Zwartjes, Cultural Officer from the US Embassy in KL who was
accompanying Ron said that there’s this stereotype about American musicians –
they are wild and are often associated with promiscuity and drugs.
“But, the truth is, they are very creative people and are often very
hardworking.” Ron’s visit to the State was organized by SPArKS (Society of
Performing Arts Kota Kinabalu) and the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
“We’ve brought in musicians, artistes and writers to help explain American
culture to Malaysians,” added Arend. “In fact, we’ve been doing it for years.
This time, it is a little bit different because we were contacted by the Humpty
Dumpty Institute (HDI), an NGO from the US.
“They mentioned about how fantastic Ron was during a US Embassy tour in Albania.
So, that was one of the reasons why we chose him.”
Arend said that KK was selected apart from KL because they wanted Ron to go
outside of KL.
“People in KL are already exposed to American culture, but people outside of KL
are not. We want to continue showcasing American culture and innovation to
Arend said the US Embassy will continue to work with SPArKS in the future and
praised them for their cooperation and level of expertise in providing what is
needed for international musicians in Kota Kinabalu.
~ Rini Zahlifah Ismail