Bumblefoot - Not Just A Sickness
By: Alon Miasnikov
Interview With: Ron Thal (Guitar), Bumblefoot
He may be playing with Guns N' Roses these days, but
Ron Thal remains Bumblefoot, a creative and inventive
guitarist that has been releasing challenging solo albums for
quite some time. I was quite content to talk
to him exclusively about his own music.
the situation with your solo stuff now?
well, the fifth Bumblefoot album "Normal" was recently
released, we did a European tour in October/November of 2005,
made a video for one of the songs, got some radio airplay,
some TV shows played the songs as background music - always
funny when that happens, ya don't expect it, suddenly ya hear
it and I'm saying "What the...?" as if I'm hearing things...
Are you still doing supporting gigs for
Yes, a gig here and there in NYC, maybe
we'll plan some more light touring. Usually when an album is
finished, I just want to start on the next one...
Some info about the album, why "Normal"?
Normal brings you into the world of an insane
musician who takes medication and experiences what it's like
to be 'normal' for the first time - but the medicine silences
his ability to make music. Eventually he must choose which
life he wants. The songs on Normal follow his journey, leaving
you to ponder, "What's 'normal,' anyway?"
an autobiographical album?
Yes, for the most part.
Some of the silly songs that break up the story a bit aren't
completely autobiographical, but the overall concept is.
The first time I heard your material was when I
run into a copy of "Hermit" some six or seven years back, and
was blown away by it, what can you tell me about that
"Hermit" was released in 1997, it was the
second album released under the artist name "Ron Thal" - it's
out-of-print along with the first album in 1995, "The
Adventures Of Bumblefoot." So there are seven albums released,
the first two are "Ron Thal" albums and near impossible to
find, the other five are
In what ways was it different than your debut
album? What were you doing as a musician prior to that?
I had a band and got signed to a small indie label
that released the two out-of-print albums. The band sounded
like the stuff you hear on the "Hands" CD (debut Bumblefoot
album released 1998). We were gigging in and around NYC, I was
teaching music, playing in cover bands with friends and doing
some photography on the side.
So I signed the deal,
part of the deal was the label wanted an all-instrumental
guitar album from me - that was the first album,
"Adventures..." I guess that's the main difference - the first
"Adventures..." album was all instrumental, the second
"Hermit" album was more of what I do, singin' and
band-oriented stuff. Never wanted to be a guitar hero, just
wanted to make songs and be in a band.
would you say were the main influences on you as a growing
Definitely Jimi Hendrix and Eddie
Van Halen. There were plenty of others, from Charlie Christian
(old bluesy jazz) to Andre Segovia (classical) to Alan
Holdsworth (fusion) to Yngwie Malmsteen (neo-classical) but
the ones that had the most impact were definitely Eddie and
When did the Bumblefoot name come up, and
why did you choose to use it?
In the early 90s, my
girlfriend was in veterinary school and I was helping her
study - one of the animal diseases was named Bumblefoot. One
of the treatments was to rub hemorrhoid cream on a bird's
foot. It was all so bizarre that I wrote a song about some
kinda fucked-up superhero named Bumblefoot. I used the idea
for the artwork on that instrumental CD, then named my band
Bumblefoot, eventually it became my nickname. It fit the band,
kinda quirky experimental sometimes-Zappa-ish Mr.-Bungle-ish
Is there a difference between the
album released under your real name and under the name
Yes - you can find Bumblefoot CDs
anywhere on the internet. You can't find Ron Thal CDs - I
don't own the rights to the albums, the label won't re-release
them, your only choices are to buy them for $100 on eBay when
someone sells one, or "illegally" download them. Although it
doesn't seem very illegal to download an album, if the record
label makes it impossible for people to buy.
How did your connection with Freak Kitchen
I met guitarist Mattias Eklundh met
years ago, don't even remember how or who introduced us, but
we hit it off as friends quickly. I invited him to play on one
of my songs, he did the same, we'd do shows together on tour,
I'd torture young guitarists in the Swedish woods with him as
a guest teacher at his Freak Guitar Camp - Mattias is a
wonderful guy, one of the best people out there. The whole
band is. Mattias and I have been talking about doing a
"Freak-Foot" album together for years, but never can find the
time to pull it together. Ah, some day...
did you end up using a fretless guitar?
Guitars has been making one for 20 years, but very few people
had embraced it. From the first time I heard it I thought it
was the coolest thing and started using it. Been playing
Vigier guitars since '97, got a fretless in '99 - gets such a
unique sound, real fun to play.
I read that you
had a signature guitar put out for you by Vigier guitars, can
you describe the model and what makes it unique?
Yes, Vigier just put it out in January 2006. Nothing
crazy, not a flying foot or a chunk of cheese - a 'Normal'
guitar, customized with the pickups and wiring I use (split
coil and out-of-phase settings,) non-floating vibrato (stays
in tune when you break a string,) and a hole to stick your
thimble when you're not using it :P
Yeah, about the
thimble (metal cap used in sewing that you put over your
fingertip so you don't get jabbed with the needle...), I keep
it on the little finger of my picking hand and tap with it -
after the neck ends and the string keeps going, I use it to
get the higher notes.
How did you get involved
with such different (and main-stream) projects as playing in a
Jessica Simpson track?
Usually stuff like that is
through a friend of a friend looking for a guitarist - I had a
friend of a friend that was making a club re-mix of her song
"Irresistible" and I laid down a bunch of guitar tracks and
helped mix it. Did a few things like that... did it for a
Turkish composer that was doing music for CNN-Turkey, for a
few club/dance re-mixes of pop songs... man, I just like
playing guitar, gimme some music to play to and I'm there.
On what label are your albums released? It's
impossible getting them here in Israel...
release them myself on the internet, but not in stores.
They're at my site, Cdbaby , Amazon, iTunes - you can get them
anywhere in the world , as long as ya can get on the
Why did you decide naming your 2002
album "9/11" and how did the idea for donating the profits
from that album come up?
The album was
half-instrumental and was gonna be called "Guitars Suck," but
as I was finishing it up, the terrorist attacks in the US
happened, and I felt I needed to do something helpful with the
album, so I donated all the proceeds to the Red Cross. I
changed the name so people would easily identify it
How, and why, did you get
involved with the MS Research Foundation?
friend, Ralph Rosa, was diagnosed with the disease in 1997 -
he started a non-profit organization with the help of family
and friends and we work together to organize benefit shows to
raise money for medical research.
A friend of
mine claims you're actually Jewish, and have actually visited
Israel, if that's not complete bullshit, can you give more
Yes, I am, but I've never visited Israel
- not yet. I hope to in the near future...
do you take the time answering every E-mail that you get?
If someone cares enough to send me a message, the
least I can do is let 'em know I got it and appreciate what
they have to say. People's thoughtfulness and kindness means a
lot, it's what makes it all worth doing, knowing you're making
people happy. It's not always easy to respond - sometimes
there isn't enough time, and I get bad hand pain from typing
that makes it hard to play guitar, but I try my best to at
least send a small message letting them know I care.
What is the next step in regards to your solo
Time to write more music. Got some
song ideas brewing in the back of my head - gotta bring them
to the front and do another album. Who knows, maybe Mattias
and I will finally get our Freak-Foot album started...