RON ĎBUMBLEFOOTí THAL OF GUNS Ní ROSES (INTERVIEW)
ďWhat you see him do with GNR is just a fraction of his ability on
the guitar,Ē proclaimed Terry, a fan and guitar player from Los
Angeles, in Vegas for the iconic bandís second Vegas residency.
ďHeís a true technician.Ē Truer words could not have been spoken.
Growing up in New York with an early knack for music, Ron Thal, who
is affectionately and more popularly known as Bumblefoot, has been
reaching higher and higher plateaus with each coming year. His
horizon is so broad musically now, itís virtually impossible to
stump him on playing licks by others who have come before him. When
he performed a solo show at Vinyl the night before GNR show #2 a few
weeks ago, he spent the first half of his set sitting in a chair
with a heavy 2-necked guitar in his lap, answering questions from
fans while noodling out riffs of his own and by his peers in rock &
roll. He is squeezably lovable, inhumanly humble, notoriously
friendly and impeccably articulate. He is a rock star without the
spotlights and flashy clothes, preferring an everyday appearance,
always with a smile on his face. Before the GNR shows he could be
found mingling with the crowds lined up to enter the venue. This is
just who the man is.
Alongside bandmate Richard Fortus, Thal has been playing a haunting
guitar duet of Led Zeppelinís bluesy ďBabe, Iím Going To Leave YouĒ
during the residency that literally has sent chill bumps up the
spine. He soars through the classics and whips up a gnarly version
of his own ďAbnormal.Ē He lays on the stage and holds his guitar out
for fans to play and he has even been known to give a twirl on one
of their stripper poles. During his solo appearance, he brought up
some local musicians, including drummer Craig Nielsen (Flotsam &
Jetsam), singer Frank Dimino (Angel) and guitarist Jeff Duncan
(Armored Saint), and tore through foot-stomping rockers like ďMr
Crowley,Ē ďHighway StarĒ and ďStrutterĒ as well as fun jacked-up
versions of ďEleanor Rigby,Ē ďI Used To Love HerĒ and ďKnockiní On
Music is always on Thalís mind. Now with the residency ending this
past Saturday night, he will be doing a Guitar Gods tour with Yngwie
Malmsteen and Uli Jon Roth, and finishing up his next solo record,
which he told me contained ďserious fucking lyrics. Itís not all
just fun stuff.Ē He started making music when he was about five
years old and has never stopped, releasing a variety of recordings
from solo EPs and albums to compilations and guest appearances. Heís
gone from idolizing KISS to playing in one of the centuryís biggest
bands. He grew from a mischievous juvenile to a well-respected
musician. A full circle some might say; but unfinished as Thal would
look at it. Sitting down at Fuel Cafť inside the Hard Rock in Vegas
beside his beautiful wife Jennifer, Thal was more than happy to talk
about his getting from there to here. ďIf I put my foot in my mouth,
Iíll just yell ĎDelete! Delete!Ē he says with a laugh. ďYouíll find
out that once I start talking, I donít shut up (laughs). Youíll be
like, ĎAlright, itís too much!íĒ
Letís start off with your childhood. What was it like growing up in
your neighborhood in New York?
It was cool. In Brooklyn, growing up there, everybody was just real
and straight-forward and you know what you get. Not a lot of
bullshit, even at a very young age. You could be five years old and
you know who your friends are and everybody is just straight up.
When I moved to Staten Island, the next borough over, all the
neighborhood kids there were my age, and then there was the next
generation, like two or three years older. We all had older brothers
and sisters so through them we would get exposed to a lot of music,
what they were listening to, what their interests were. So at a very
young age, like five years old, we were all listening to KISS and
things like that. It was the KISS Alive album
that first came out and thatís what made me, as soon as I heard it,
and this was 1975 or 1976, around that time, and there was no MTV,
there were no video channels, there was no internet, there was no
VHS, there was nothing. All you had was CreemMagazine.
So you had that and going to concerts and getting albums. And
looking at this big beautiful album art and everything that comes
with it and then listening to all the great live albums, that was
everything. Like, if you didnít get to go to a concert, you got to
listen to a live album: Cheap Trick Live
At Budokan, Frampton
Comes Alive, all of that; Skynyrd.
But yeah, KISS Alive was
it. To hear that, you just feel like youíre there. And it was as
exciting as being at a concert. Itís almost like today, I think,
people are a little spoiled. Like we have so much that we donít
appreciate the simple things. We watch the YouTube videos and judge
every little bit of it when people donít realize that when I grew
up, I couldnít even imagine having that luxury to be able to just
type in the name of anything to be able to see it. That was
impossible. All we had was what little we got when we got it and we
appreciated the hell out of it and it meant a lot to us. It was very
valuable. So for a five year old kid for the first time hearing the
KISS Alive album,
it was like being at the most huge event of your life and it was so
inspiring and it drove so many kids to want to pursue music and pay
back that excitement that they got. And thatís what did it for me,
the KISS Alive album.
You would see the album art. You would see anything in a magazine.
Sometimes you would see a TV commercial for their new album or a
tour. It was exciting. I saw KISS on TV! (laughs)
Did you go see shows at Madison Square Garden?
Madison Square Garden was usually where it happened. My first KISS
show, my parents finally let me go to a show when I was nine years
old and I got to see KISS at the Garden with all the big flames
shooting up and I could feel the heat from the balcony of those
flames and Ace had a smoking guitar, Gene flew up to the lighting
and was spitting the blood and the torch and Peter Crissí drum
riser, it was phenomenal.
And you guys have all the pyro and lasers now too. Do you ever
revert back for a split to that early experience with KISS?
Oh yeah. I was thinking that everything I saw as a kid, now Iím on
that stage. You have the big flames, we have the light show, we have
things on the stage on risers going up and all of that. So yeah,
itís nice. There is an absolute satisfaction and gratification
feeling like, ok, that mountain that I was looking at as a kid and
that I eventually started to climb, I hit a point on it where I
could sort of look down and say, alright, I got this far, this is
great. This is like a personal milestone. This is a nice thing.
At this point in our conversation, a man and his wife stop by the
table to say hello. The gentleman has his guitar with him and asks
if Thal would mind signing it for him. Thal is more than happy to do
so and they sit and chat about guitars for a few minutes. ďYou made
his day,Ē his wife tells Thal. Following his compliments about the
show, they leave and Thal picks up on something the man said.
You know, one thing Iíve noticed, and I was talking about this last
night with my booking agent, is how a lot of artists that are
pre-internet, like they had success before the internet, they have a
very hard time adjusting to the fact that they no longer have
control of what goes out into the world. The people do. So they have
to go from trying to control to just changing and letting go of that
and just saying, alright, now itís time to share and just share
everything. And that could be very scary because you want only your
best to be out there but itís no longer up to you.
And you love the interaction with the crowd
I do. You saw what I was doing last night. I was getting down and
letting people play my guitar. Thatís how a show should be. I think
of everything I wish I couldíve experienced, that sort of
interaction and connection. Not just watching a show from a distance
but where you can really be a part of it and you get to touch and
feel it and shake hands and get handed guitar picks and all that
stuff. Thatís the good part of it all. That to me is what really
makes a show a memorable experience and special for someone. Itís
not just a one-way thing. Itís not just, Iím going to do what I do,
do not interfere. Iím like, ďHeckle me! Itís ok, letís go back and
forth!Ē (laughs) I like to think of it as OUR show not MY show. You
know, you canít do anything if the audience isnít there to see it.
Now, we were talking about your youth and both Richard Fortus and Dj
Ashba have told me they were kind of mischievous in their
adolescence. Were you ever mischievous as a child?
I was so bad as a kid. When I was twelve years old, I had a suitcase
that I painted a V on it and I had it hidden behind the pool at my
house and it was my vandalism kit (laughs). I actually had a
And what was in it?
Plaster of Paris, toilet paper, buckets, mixing tools. I would take
eggs and I would take a little needle and I would pop a hole in both
ends of the egg and I would blow out everything from the inside and
then I would tape up the bottom and then I would fill the eggs with
paint so that I had paint eggs. I was such a creatively bad kid
Jennifer: This is why bad things happen to you now
Yeah, through karma (laughs). You know, the thing about it all, I
realized that there are no bad things. Thereíre just things that we
didnít plan and you donít know why they happened YET. Then a year
from now you realize that it was part of this like butterfly effect
that made something better happen that wouldnít have happened if all
that shit didnít happen.
When did you first start creating music? How early did you start
hearing stuff in your head?
As soon as I got that inspiration at five years old from KISS. By
the time I was six, I had a band with the older kids in the
neighborhood. We were writing songs. I couldnít play yet but it
doesnít matter cause from day one I realized I only have to be good
enough to play your own songs. You try and get better and then your
own songs get better. But when I started off, I had very limited
resources. I was six years old so the first song I wrote about, or
the first songs that I wrote, were all about the solar system,
because as a little kid I was interested in the planets and space
and stuff. So the first song I wrote was ďJupiter Is NiceĒ and it
was an exact rip-off of the song ďFox On The Run.Ē Exact. Because
that is what I heard on the radio. So all I had were those things
that I heard. I wasnít creating yet, I was just receiving stuff. I
didnít have enough things that I received that I had pieces to put
together and start making my own things form.
So when did that happen?
I was six years old and I figured out how to make multi-track
recordings on my own just using different cassette recorders. I
would have in the corner of the room, me and the other guitar
player, we had little nylon string guitars, we would play like a
foot away from the recorder. My brother had this little Bugs Bunny
drum set he got at Sears and he would be like ten feet away at the
end of the room. Thatís how we got our levels, by distance. If it
needed to be louder, he would move the drum set a little closer. And
weíd record the music. Then we would play the music back facing
another tape recorder that was recording and we would sing along to
the music and thatís how we overdubbed vocals. Then this one would
have the complete music playing back and us singing to it and that
was our demo. Thatís how we did it.
When did you start writing about serious things like emotions?
That comes with age, I guess. By the time I was seven or eight, I
started singing about love songs and trippy dreams. So I was getting
deeper, you know. I went from like ďI Want To Hold Your HandĒ to
more ďMagical Mystery Tour.Ē
Were you imitating more or taking that song and making it your own?
They were influences. It wasnít direct rip-offs completely. In the
beginning it was but eventually the more music I heard and, I guess,
analyzed, took in, swished around, it started becoming more actual
creation than imitation. Still, at the age of eight years old, the
songs still sounded a lot like KISS meets Led Zeppelin and things
like that but in the most basic form a kid would write. Some of the
stuff was actually pretty catchy. I might have written better songs
at eight than I did at thirty-eight. Pretty scary (laughs)
When did you start performing?
I started performing immediately, doing basement concerts where weíd
spend all day after school. We charged people .25 a ticket (laughs).
We were resourceful little kids. And we would cut up pieces of paper
and create confetti in cups and this way at the end of the show,
they could all throw confetti in the air. Itís so funny cause I look
at the Guns N Roses show and now we have confetti canons but thirty
years before it was no different. It was just that we had little
hand cut cups of confetti that we made for the audience. Itís just
So you were thinking of the whole show and not just simply singing a
Yes. We made our own merch. I would hand draw all the merch and
everything and make little comic books that were hand written.
What was it like in the early band days when you were a teenager?
I was thirteen years old when I started playing bars. I had a
puberty mustache so everyone thought I was eighteen. And by that
point, everything was very progressive. It sounded like a mixture of
Loudness meets Iron Maiden meets Manowar meets Yes meets Rush. It
was interesting stuff. I was playing with a lot of the older teenage
kids, so yeah, it was pretty scary. I had no stage fright until one
day I was ten years old and I was on stage, fifth grade playing in
front of the school, and suddenly it hit me: What the hell am I
doing?! I guess it was just part of growing up, that self-awareness
began, and that lasted until my early twenties, I would say, until
eventually you become more self-assured and not so self-absorbed.
And you realize that people donít define you.
What was the hardest lesson, or the biggest lesson, you learned on
your own when you got out into the world being a professional
The toughest lesson? I could write a book on the toughest lessons
(laughs). But the toughest lesson I learned, I think, was that you
canít depend on people. You can NOT depend on people. Youíre on a
journey and you see how limitless it is and youíve taken it as far
as you could go and along the way, every time you reach a certain
milestone, right before you reach it, somebody decides, ďI donít
want to take the next bit of the trip.Ē And you donít know that
until youíre at the point where you need them the most. Youíre
getting into the studio to record your first album and suddenly the
person is like, ďThe dream is getting too real for me, Iím out.Ē Or
youíre about to do your first big show or youíre about to do your
first big tour, whatever it is, and the people that are on your team
suddenly realize that this is as far as they want to take it and
youíre screwed. Cause they donít tell you that beforehand. Maybe
they donít even know it beforehand, until they get there and they
realize that this is just not what they want to do.
How did you handle it?
I always was self-reliant and would sort of take everything, take
the ball and run. So I would be doing everything and this was my
life, my entire life. It was the reason I existed. It was the reason
I woke up in the morning and I would fall asleep still working on
whatever I was doing. And I would be sharing that with this team of
people that I thought was there with me, even though I was pretty
much doing everything. They would just show up and play and leave,
go back to their day jobs, where this was my day job.
How do you stay positive in a business that has just as many
When Iím doing my own thing, Iím very happy and gratified and I get
to have all the things I need to make it worth doing. Like when I do
my own things, it has the interaction. I donít want to just be this
movie screen that people are watching, you know, back and forth. I
want to feel like Iím there too along with them. And also when I do
my own tours, I like to do things. I do the fundraising things, I do
charity things, because making music just to entertain people is not
enough. Not anymore. Most of the shows that Iíve done on my own have
been fundraising shows and charity shows. Otherwise, why do it?
Whatís the point? To just go out and play? Nah. I could stay home
and work on something in the studio or do something else. I donít
need to go out and do that unless it serves a greater purpose. Then
itís like, ok, now it makes sense, letís do it.
Money is hard to make on your own in the music business nowadays.
It can be but you have to be diverse and thatís the other thing that
Iíve learned from all of those lessons where other people dropped
off, that I needed them and Iíve had to do their job suddenly. Iíve
had to learn how to make websites on two daysí notice. I have
learned how to engineer. Iíve had to learn how to do mastering. I
have had to learn how to be my own publicist, my own manager, my own
producer, my own booking agent. Iíve had to do everything out of
necessity and itís only made me better. Itís only made me smarter
and stronger and more able and self-reliant. Now, if someone screws
up, ok, I can take it from here on. Iím not lost. I can get the job
done. Half the time I can get the job done better and that happens
What was it like the first time you went into a real studio to
You know, the only other band Iíve played with besides my own, as
far as really joining a band, and not just a quick little thing, is
Guns. Iíve done a few little things here and there but mostly Iíve
always had my own studio. Because everything I did, from like age
six, it all expanded and moved forward. I was writing songs for my
band and we had the two cassettes and eventually we got a mixing
board too so we could get a few things recorded at once. Then
eventually instead of recording onto those cassettes, we got a
reel-to-reel. Then eventually you had the computer stuff and then
the rooms got better. Started making walls and separate rooms for
everything. And now, for the last ten years, I have a second house
that I donít even live at. I just record there. Thatís the place
where all this can go and live there that I produce. And even the
producing happened where I was recording and then my friendís band
was like, ďHey, can you record us?Ē Yeah, and then they started
asking advice and then the next thing you know Iím also laying a
guest track and the next thing you know Iím doing more of that for
other bands and everything just builds up and everything youíve done
for yourself, as you do it for others it expands your whole world.
So everything that I was doing as a little six year old, trying to
make it to KISS level, turned me into a recording engineer and
producer, a guest guitarist, vocalist, a co-writer for different
things which led to writing stuff like jingles and things like that
and writing stuff for TV shows. Every single thing broadened into
everything else. I went from giving lessons in my basement to
teaching at my friendís music store that he opened to running the
music department at a local private school to becoming an adjunct
professor at SUNY Purchase College. So every single thing, you move
forward. Even with the studio stuff, as far as going into different
studios, itís just my own studio that got better and then every once
in a while I go into a different studio. But that was a natural
progression where it wasnít this weird thing, like, ďOh my God, Iím
in a million dollar studio!Ē Itís just another studio, like my own,
where I go in and do my thing.
How do you take you as the musician out of the picture and produce
That is tricky because you have to sort of be on both sides of the
glass at once. You have to be able to put on your producer hat and
say, ďOk, hereís what you need to do and this is the kind of feeling
you need and this is the emotion that you are going for, that you
want people to get from it.Ē And then you take off that hat and put
on the performer hat and say, ďOk, here I go. Boom!Ē And you do it.
That felt good so you listen back and put on the other hat and say,
ďYou still got one better. It seemed like it didnít have the
breathiness, it didnít sound intimate enough, like you were really
speaking. It sounds like youíre just dialing it and reading it. Take
it again.Ē Take off that hat, put other hat back on. Do it again.
Itís that kind of thing. So all this hat switching, and it happens
in an instant, youíve done so much of both that you know how to do
that. You learn how to separate yourself from what youíre doing and
then flick the switch and completely open yourself up and let your
emotions pour out and then flip the switch again and then listen
back as a listener; just separate yourself as if none of that
happened and youíre getting it for the first time.
And you canít have ego about it either
No, you cannot be arrogant about it. You have to be able to say,
ďThat sucked. One more time.Ē And you do that. I think anyone who
doesnít do that is not going to get very far because you have to be
very honest with yourself. You have to be able to admit to yourself
that youíre not perfect, that everything you do is NOT gold, and
that you only want to give people your best. Youíve got to decide
cause youíre going to have a lot of songs where youíre going to say,
ďThat song shouldnít be heard. Itís not good enough. I donít want to
give it to people. I only want them to hear the things that I think
are only worthy of their ears.Ē So yeah, not everything you do is so
wonderful that you have to give it to the world. Just try and give
them your best.
Tell us how you create music
For the last twenty years, most of my songwriting really happens in
my head. I donít have a guitar with me. I donít have anything with
me. Iím just thinking it and feeling it and I hear it all in my
head. Even down to arrangements Ė cellos are going to come and go
(starts humming) and the drums are going to go boom-boom-boom and I
hear it all in my head. Then once I have it all set up in my head
and arranged, then I take the guitar and I start playing it and
seeing how it sounds outside of my head. Sort of loop it back around
and say, alright, is this going to work? Can I really make it work?
Itís working in theory but will it work in reality? Most of the time
it does. Youíre hearing it, itís just a question of, like anything
else, you have an idea and once you have the vocabulary you know how
to say the words to somebody so that they know exactly what you
mean. Itís the same kind of thing because it is a language. You are
giving people a message, itís just that the message is not lingual;
itís lingual but itís everything. Even speaking it is a type of
music because the tone that you have, the expression, you could say
the same thing ten different ways and have ten different meanings to
the person. So it is a lot of that and thatís almost the producing
part. Making sure you say it the right way so that youíre portraying
the message you want people to really see what you want them to see,
feel what you feel, hear what you hear, and you want to have that
connection. You want them to be inside you.
Is it easy to name your songs?
Sometimes, but it depends, cause everything happens in a different
order. It might start off with a drumbeat. It might start off with a
guitar riff. It might start off with just a feeling. It might start
off with a word. There are so many things that lead to a finished
song. Itís like you have all these different things that make a song
and any of them can happen first that start the race toward
solidifying that ball of things of gas. So the name happens as the
lyrics happen and the lyrics might happen to describe the music or
make the music to fit the lyrics. They usually donít happen at the
exact same time. You have to find the one that will match the other.
And that can be tricky. Most of the time Iíve written music before
the lyrics and thatís tough. Finding the right lyrics, itís often
held back a song. Some songs have taken eight years to write because
I could not find the right lyrics and sheís seen me wake up in the
middle of the night, 4:00 am, and I yell out, ďE Flat! Thatís what
it should be hitting on the bottom.Ē And then I go back to bed. I
do, I write songs in my sleep. It reaches that point where you are
living it literally twenty-four hours a day. That even though youíre
sleeping, while that brain is at rest, that little piece of it that
is not resting is still writing songs and working on stuff and
trying to figure out, ďWhat was that next line supposed to be of
that song that I just couldnít think of?Ē And then you wake up in
the morning and go, that was it. But yeah, you start writing songs
in your sleep.
You seem to be such a positive, happy person but yet some of your
lyrics are really painful to listen to. Do they all come from real
Oh yeah. It is the full spectrum of everything that you can feel but
itís just what you want to dump on others and how you want to do it.
Iím not going to sit here and wear you down with all my personal
shit that makes me miserable, that makes me want to jump out a
fucking window. She gets to hear all that (laughs) But yeah, the
songs will touch on everything and I find that a lot of times, maybe
itís my own therapy and also therapy for others, where I will take
these legitimately real difficult situations of life and find a way
to just make it more light-hearted and scoff at adversity, I guess.
I think itís just who I am, the sarcasm, I guess. Have you ever made
like a stupid joke at a funeral where it sort of lightens the load
and everyone laughs, you know what I mean. Itís almost like that
sort of mentality. Itís therapy.
But you donít have to share it with the world
But I want to. I want to share all of me. So I will share the
stupid, fun stuff and the more serious stuff too. You know, the next
album that I am writing right now has serious fucking lyrics. Itís
not all just fun stuff.
So when will we get to hear it?
I wish right now. I have the drum tracks done to seven songs. I have
to finish writing the rest. I just have to lay the tracks to them.
Those songs are done and ready for my tracks. Itís just Iím here
right now so I need to get back to my studio (laughs).
But youíre only here for another week
On June 8th I
fly home but then I start another tour on June 12th and
Iím gone until the end of July doing a solo tour with Yngwie
Malmsteen, Uli Jon Roth and Gary Hoey. Itís called Guitar Gods and
weíre going all across the US starting in the northeast, going up to
the northwest, going down to the southwest and working our way back
up. So yeah, itís going to be interesting.
What was your first guitar?
Letís see, the first one was just a little kid-size nylon string
practice guitar. But my first electric guitar was a copy of a
Sunburst Les Paul, which is just the coolest rock guitar you can
have. It cost my parents $85 dollars and that was in 1978. It was
from a company called Pace. I donít know any guitar company called
Pace that makes Les Paul rip-offs. I donít know where they found
this thing but thatís my first guitar. It was cool.
What happened to it?
As I got older, I started getting into modifying guitars and
building my own guitars and making my own designs and making really
strange guitars. So that thing went through a lot of changes. In
fact, you can see pictures of it if you go on my website, www.bumblefoot.com and
that is the one covered with pictures of penguins. That was my first
guitar. Just go to Gear and then the first one says ďPensive
Expenguin.Ē Now that one, it went from there to my mom had this like
fake rabbit fur coat. I think it was rabbit. I donít know what it
was, and I cut it up and covered my guitar with it. So I had a fur
What did your mom do?
I donít think she was happy with that (laughs). It went from there
and I took the neck, pulled the frets off it and I covered it with
coins, you know, pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and shaved the
sides and sunk the whole thing in this epoxy stuff concoction that I
made to form like a solid material. So now the neck instead of being
a normal fretboard, it was just a roll of $4.63 of coins (laughs). I
cut the body in half in this weird shape and then took the bridge
where you connect the strings to, put on this angle sticking out of
this edge and then took the body, it was red, and then I eventually
found all these pictures of penguins, penguins feeding each other
and just running around, and covered the body in this clear lacquer.
I used to make some really weird guitars and I think more people
knew my guitars than me. Like, ďOh, youíre the guy with the swiss
cheese guitar!Ē Like I had one guitar that I chiseled to like swiss
cheese. I would make some very strange guitars. But that was part of
my artistic thing, you know. Itís part of making art. I like making
art. I used to do a lot of painting.
We know the story that Joe Satriani hooked you up to being in Guns
but how did you hook up with Satriani?
Well, as time is going on, by this time it was the early nineties,
and I was actually having like real commercial releases with my
music coming out on a lot of comp CDs or things like that. By the
early to mid-nineties, I had a record deal on Shrapnel Records so at
that point I was putting out my Ron Thal albums. I did two albums on
there and then I started my own label in the late-nineties just to
put out my own music. So itís 2004 and we crossed paths and I ended
up jamming with him at one of his shows and weíd talk every once in
a while. Then he sent me an email saying, ďHey, Iím just letting you
know that they were looking for someone and I recommended you and if
someone reaches out ÖĒ and a few hours later Chris Pitman wrote me
this funny email and we spoke for about two months, back and forth,
with management, with Caram Costanzo, the producer. Then there was a
lull for about a year and a half and then they had a tour coming up
and they said, ďHey, you still want to do this?Ē And we met up in
New York and we jammed for a couple of nights and hit the road.
Was it easy to learn their catalog?
A lot of the older stuff I already knew. I mean, everybody knows
everything off of Appetite and
all the hits off the Illusions
and everything. So it was no problem. Like, ďHey, you want to come
down and jam these songs?Ē ďYeah, I know them.Ē ďWant to do another
three tomorrow night?Ē ďSure, which ones?Ē
When did you feel comfortable putting your own little spin on them?
It was tricky to find a balance because I didnít want to re-write
the songs, especially if it was like a melody that everybody
knows . It was like if you were re-writing a song, you could
change that. When do I do my own thing and when do I stay true to
the original? I think Iíve found a decent balance now. Like I know
when to play the melodies that everyone knows and if thereís a
passage of just, you know, riffing out, then I just do it my own way
and do my own thing.
Is it easy to synchronize with two other guitar players?
In the very beginning when Dj first joined the band, we all would
just sit in a room for hours in just three chairs facing each other
with our guitars figuring out what each one of us should do so that
we donít step on each other. Keep it organized and coordinated so
that itís not just a mess onstage. In the studio you can tweak it
and make this one a little louder and this one a little lower but
when youíre playing live and everything is echoing and stuff, a
little goes a long way. So you have to be very careful and not fill
it up too much because itís just going to become inaudible.
How were the fans at first?
Skeptical. They didnít know who I was and for a fan that this is a
band that they loved for fifteen/twenty years, whatever it was at
that point, suddenly mom brings home a new baby and itís like, ďWho
the hell is this? I didnít say I could have a new brother. Get out
of here kid. I donít want you here. I didnít choose you.Ē So it took
a long time.
But now they love you
Not everybody but thatís normal. Thereís going to be people that no
matter what they just will refuse to accept anyone other than
whichever member they feel the most personal connection with. And
thatís fine. Thatís ok. I get it and I donít take personal offense
unless theyíre personally offensive. And even then I just say, well,
it has nothing to do with me. And thatís because what they all did
together was so magical. Think of it like Seinfeld.
Each guy could have their own show but itís not going to be the same
as what they had together. Itís like Elaine had New
Christine and now
sheís got, whatís that new one? The
Veep. Itís great, funny show. But thatís the thing, it was the
magic in what they had together; undeniable, perfect chemistry. It
was John-Paul-George-Ringo level. It was Peter-Ace-Gene-Paul level.
It was that level and nothing could ever replace that. And they feel
like itís been replaced with something that just doesnít have the
same that they had with them. So itís frustrating and they resent it
and theyíre missing it. The food doesnít taste as good. But at the
same time there might be people out there that might look at what we
do and say, ďTo me, this is the one I loveĒ and they wonít accept
any other if something changes with that. So itís all up to the
The thing is that classic line-up made such a profound impact
musically and they were such strong personalities that each one was
their own person yet they fit together, they belonged. You could say
this guy was a little more punky, this guy is a little more bluesy,
this guy was a little more rock, this one was a little more this,
and each one added something that completed what they did so well
and gave it so much more depth and spirit that itís damn near
untouchable. So now, if someone is frustrated that the new version
of Seinfeld doesnít
have Costanza and Elaine and Kramer, I understand. Itís ok.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
Ooh, who did I meet? I didnít meet a lot of rock stars till I got
older and thatís cause I ended up playing with them, which was
pretty damn cool. I never tried to get backstage. I never got a
guyís autograph or a picture. I met Buddy Rich when I was about
twelve or thirteen years old. I got to meet him at the Bottom Line
in New York City. He was nice. He was cool. I mean, from what I
remember. He put on a good show. I hung out a few times with Les
Paulís son. I had a lot of great jams with John Sykes. I have real
nice memories of going to Cheesecake Factory with him and jamming at
his house, jamming at rehearsals. John 5 is a supercool guy.
Jennifer: You know who was nice? Sammy Hagar
Sammy Hagar, yeah
Jennifer: He didnít have an attitude at all
Yeah, he was real nice. Peter Criss. One of the coolest was probably
Nancy Sinatra. We played together and you could see how it runs in
the family. Sheís got a swagger to her and she was just real cool.
This was about ten years ago in New York at a fundraiser.
What was your most nerve-wracking experience on stage?
Oh Iíve had a few of those. I could tell you lots of stories about
those (laughs). I remember being in France about to go on stage for
a headlining show out there maybe a dozen years ago and as Iím
walking up the stairs with my guitar in my hand to go play and do
the show, I had the head of the record label screaming at me how he
wants to take all my publishing cause heís not making enough money
and all this stuff. It was like, ďCanít we talk about this AFTER the
show?Ē As Iím walking up, heís like yelling at me about all
this stuff. Itís like, ďThanks, Dude.Ē That kind of stuff you just
have to block it out of your mind.
One very difficult show was I played Philadelphia in 2012 with Guns
and I was on this nerve-blocker for my spine. I had been in a car
accident and the medicine only worked for a month and I had a one
monthís supply. Actually, I got a little extra but pretty much the
medicine will ONLY work in your body a month and then after that it
will stop working. We had a three week tour, or four weeks, whatever
it was, and then on four daysí notice, they didnít tell us, they
booked another three weeks of shows and I needed to take treatments,
I needed to get things done, I needed to take care of my health, and
they just ignored that and booked these shows. The first show after
that one month was up, I took the pills and they didnít work and I
could barely walk and I had to try and do a three hour show where
even if you had just touched the top of my head, it was like someone
taking a giant knife and just shoving it in your neck and twisting
it. And I had to play a show like that and I could barely move. I
had to sit down for a couple of songs and I remember just walking
like I was petrified. I could barely bend my knees and my spine, I
just couldnít move. There was just so much pain. I had to do a show
like that and many shows after that.
What still excites you about playing music?
Everything. Iím still like a little kid with it. Thereíre a lot of
things that get in the way now. Thereíre a lot of distractions and
itís much more complicated and itís not as simple as cutting up the
cups of confetti in my basement anymore. There are a lot more
parameters and moving parts to the machine but Iíve realized over
the years that as long as you stay focused on the initial thing that
you like about playing, all the other stuff doesnít change anything.
It doesnít affect anything. You always have that and nothing can
take that away. And everything else is just around it.
So what happens after the Guitar Gods tour? Are you going to get
back in your studio?
Yep, I got to finish up this next album. I actually just ordered
something from www.sweetwater.com. Got
myself a little rig that I can take on the tour bus with me so this
way I can try and get some recording done while Iím on the road. I
donít know if I will but Iíll try. I can at least try to get in some
tracking, something done. Itís all good.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough