Interview With Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal
Ron Thal: Warm greetings from sunny New Jersey, thank you for having me!
Ron: I finished a Las Vegas residency playing with Guns N’ Roses in June, and three days later jumped in a tour bus and started a Bumblefoot tour of North America as part of the “Guitar Gods” tour with Yngwie Malmsteen and Gary Hoey. Guns N’ Roses just released “Appetite For Democracy 3D”, the first official live concert film since 1992’s Use Your Illusion concert video. It’s a 3D concert from the 2012 Las Vegas residency. It includes the GN’R band performing one of my original songs Objectify from the Bumblefoot “Abnormal” album. From there I hopped on a plane for another wonderful visit to Dubai, collaborating with my friends from Point Of View band. We launched my line of hot sauces at the grand opening of the Classic Rock Coffee shop there. They’re the official distributor for my hot sauces in the Middle East. At the grand opening we did an acoustic concert, people would call out any song and we’d play it, was spontaneous and fun! The next night we performed at the Music Room venue in the Majestic Hotel, playing songs together from Point Of View, Bumblefoot, and some classic Guns N’ Roses songs. The next night we did guitar workshops at Classic Rock Coffee shop, playing the crazier instrumental songs to backing tracks. I love doing workshops, they’re very interactive and can go in any direction. As soon as I got home, it’s back to the studio to demo new songs for the next Bumblefoot album. I’ve been writing songs throughout the year, and recording between tours – video clip of recording ideas at the studio). Looking to get the album out before the year is up…
Ron: I heard the KISS Alive! album when I was 5 years old and immediately knew I wanted to be a musician. Very soon after I started studying music & learning guitar, put a band together, we started writing songs, making demos, playing shows, and it never stopped. I listened to a lot of classic rock, 60′s rock, punk, old-school metal, prog rock. My early guitar influences were Ace Frehley and Angus Young, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May. Hearing Eddie Van Halen for the first time changed my whole perspective about playing guitar, it was mind-opening.
Ron: ‘The Adventures of Bumblefoot’ is my first album, an instrumental guitar album originally released May 1995 on Shrapnel Records in the US, Roadrunner Records in Europe & Japan. It was pretty well received at the time, good reviews, charted on reader’s polls in magazines. The album was re-released in 2010 with bonus tracks. The CD is available at the BumbleStore. After the initial release of the album, I spent six months writing out and transcribing every detail of every bit of music I played – the TAB, notation, fingers, picking, strumming, weird noises, absolutely everything. It’s a 200-page book, also available at the BumbleStore.
I recorded everything at home, all the equipment was set up in my parent’s basement in a little area along the wall – a seat, 2 ADATs, 2 compressors and 2 FX processors in a rack with a mixing board on top, a pair of headphones, and a guitar amp with a mic in front, and a blanket over it. Five feet away was the big noisy air-conditioning unit for the house, and it was a hot Summer. So I’d start recording, the AC would kick on, and I’d have to stop and wait for it to shut off. Then I’d start up again, and go through the same thing. Once in a while I’d sneak upstairs and turn the thermostat up to 90F degrees and get a good batch of recording in, until I’d hear my mom’s voice from the floor above, “Why is it so hot in the house?”, followed soon after by “Who turned the thermostat up to 90?!?!” “….RONALD!!!” I’d stop recording, get yelled at, then I’d continue recording. (And I’d sneak upstairs and turn the thermostat back up again…) I did all the punch-ins with a footswitch while I was playing. I didn’t have any speakers, and recorded and mixed the entire record using a 10-year old pair of $20 headphones.
A few of the songs were already around. Malignant Carbuncle was recorded in Dec. ’91 as part of an instructional tape for Shrapnel Records that didn’t get released. Blue Tongue was written in 1989, I had a few demo versions of it – the version on the Adventures album was first released May ’92 on a guitar comp CD for Legato Records (the song was alternately called ‘The Shuck Duffle’). The title track ‘Bumblefoot’ was released May ’93 by the same label for another guitar comp CD.
I started writing and recording the rest in the Summer of 1994. The first song I recorded was Strawberry Footrot – I had sinusitis and laid down a track of moans of discomfort – I built the solo around it later. The original name of Strangles was Bastard Strangles. The high-pitched squeak at the end of the solo in Orf was from the side of my hand accidentally touching the high E-string while I was sliding a 9-volt battery down the neck. At the last minute, 2 songs were pulled off the CD and I quickly wrote Ick, Rinderpest, and Q Fever. I borrowed an $85 beginners’ nylon-string guitar from a music store I gave guitar lessons at to record Ick. There was a flat fret that farted out on the 4th string (9th fret) – you can hear it if you listen for it (at 0:29 seconds.) Recording was finished October ’94.
The original album had two bonus tracks, a vocal song recorded when I was 17 about the polluted fish in the surrounding waters of Staten Island NY; the other is a poem where I took the words and converted them into a music code played on the guitar instead of being spoken. The re-release includes five additional bonus tracks, songs from the SEGA “Wild Woody” video game soundtrack I had made in ’95.
Ron: It was 1989, I had sent a demo to Guitar Player magazine, for a review in their “Spotlight” column. Mike Varney, head of Shrapnel Records was the reviewer. Years later I signed a record deal with Shrapnel Records and released “The Adventures Of Bumblefoot” and “Hermit” albums.
Ron: I was recommended by Joe Satriani, in 2004. For Chinese Democracy, I wrote my own guitar parts for the songs, I played on every song, a good amount of fretless guitar on the album. We’d spend 14 hours a day in the studio every day for weeks and I’d lay literally 100 different ideas for a song and see what worked the best, what fit best with the other melodies.
Ron: I didn’t want to re-write the songs, the parts people love about those songs, I’d respect the melodies of the song, but if there were more open areas, like the end soloing of Night Train or Paradise City, I’d do my own thing and improvise more.
Ron: Back in 2009, Lita called me, she was looking to re-assemble her band for a Summer tour in Europe and the U.S., and our schedules matched perfectly. On two days notice, me and my Bumblefoot drumme Dennis Leeflang flew down to her home and rehearsed, and hit the road. Tony Harnell has been a vocal inspiration to me since I first heard him in TNT in 1984. It’s been a pleasure knowing him and making music with him, he’s a wonderful & talented guy. Tony was doing acoustic shows around NYC in 2012 and I joined him as a guest, and we kept on going. He was working on an acoustic album and I hopped on board (itunes), together we did a great cover of Queen’s “Somebody To Love”, we also wrote the song “Burning Daylight” together and made a video. Tony’s back on the road with TNT, hopefully we’ll be able to make more music together.
Ron: It’s very inspiring and broadening, yes. I’ve experienced pop, R&B, hip-hop, funk, disco, electronic, classical, opera, blues, folk, jazz, swing, Latin, Middle-Eastern, new-age, lounge, rock, progressive, industrial, metal, and retro music going back from the ’40s. You learn so much from this, stepping into all these different shoes and understanding what makes it what it is, what makes it authentic. It’s not just the instrumentation or chord changes on the exterior, it’s a rhythmic sense and feeling within, an attitude and frame-of-mind, you have to truly open yourself up and add these new building-blocks to your foundation.
Ron: For me, making music just to entertain people isn’t enough. Music has the power to motivate people, and can be put toward a greater good, and that’s what I like to do when I can. Whether it’s donating songs and performances to fundraising CDs, donating autographed items for charities, or fundraising shows. I was on the Board Of Directors of a Multiple Sclerosis research organization for 10 years, organizing fundraising events. I’ve done fundraising shows for the Red Cross, Navy Seals, Operation Smile, men’s & women’s health issues, juvenile diabetes, burn victims, The Grammy Foundation, Rays Of Sunshine, Music Rising “Icons of Music” for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Oxfam’s Tsunami Relief & Global Emergency Fund, Earthquake Relief Fund, Humanitarian Water & Food Award, Foundation Fighting Blindness, Little Kids Rock and Rock Asylum for children’s education, Dubai Autism Centre, NGO Wildlife Trust of India, a spokesperson for Knockout For A Cause Foundation providing schools with programs against bullying, texting while driving and obesity, visiting orphanages and children’s hospitals. I also work as a Cultural Envoy working with U.S. Embassies around the world, meeting delegates, talking with students and bringing people together through music. That’s what means the most to me about being a musician.
Ron: I haven’t really gone to many other workshops, although I should, I’m sure I’d learn a lot, not just about music but about better ways to conduct a workshop. I just do my own, without a reference of how they usually are, I just go by what feels right and what people told me they liked about them. For me, I like the face-to-face connection with people, that’s what I like.
Ron: The Guns N’ Roses shows were my first visit to India. Where I live, there is a very big population from India, lots of markets and restaurants, and I was looking forward to seeing what India is like. India has a very full spectrum, it’s like you’re presented with all the colors and each individual will focus on the color that suits them, almost as if the experience reveals more about yourself than the place. I loved the food, the people, the art and history and architecture… didn’t love the traffic though, haha! I had the pleasure of returning six months later with Point Of View for 5 shows at Hard Rock Cafes and a festival in Kolkata.
Ron: I’m hoping to. Once I finish the next album I’d like to come play shows again, all around India.
Ron: Elliot Easton, from The Cars.
Ron: There’s a former studen of mine, David Abraham, he has a band called The Koniac Net, I like what they’re doing. Adil & Vasundhara is very tasteful fusion. There are so many fantastic guitarists as well, Vikramjit ‘Tuki’ Banerjee, Bruce Lee Mani, so much talent…!
Ron: Vigier Guitars is a boutique guitar company from France. We met while I was on tour there in 1997. These were the most comfortable guitars for my hands, I like how they use graphite through the neck instead of a metal truss rod, it keeps the necks perfectly straight even when the temperature and humidity change. They’ve made some very special guitars, such as the ‘Flying Foot’ guitar and the custom double-neck fretted/fretless ‘DoubleBfoot’ signature model. That guitar is my favorite, it has everything I need.
Ron: Well, I’ve given up on the photography, everything else is a big race against the clock, a lot of multi-tasking, working fast and trusting your instincts, and having to say ‘no’ to things you wish you had time for. It’s more and more choices that you wish you didn’t have to make.
Ron: Haha! At this point I think I’ll just stick with guitar…
Ron: Right now I’m turning away almost all touring plans, I must focus on finishing the new album, that’s my priority right now. Once that’s finished, I’ll hit every part of the world I can.
Ron: Thank YOU! A pleasure to chat with you! THANK YOU to everyone taking the time to read this. To my friends in India, wishing you all happiness, I hope to see you all soon, as soon as I can! (Big hug!!)