Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal relives his first meeting with the boss and tells of fun and games with GN’R
Reported by Eric
‘Bumblefoot’ Thal will never forget the first night he met Axl Rose
|Original interview (March 7, 2011)
Can you tell us about the first time you met Axl? What was that like? Were you nervous before hand because of a perception you maybe had from press stories etc about him?
Nooo, not nervous, had no perceptions other than our own dealings through management two years prior. I don't buy into rumors and hearsay, I meet people, have my own experience with them and go with my gut. We were jamming in NYC to some of the newer songs, it was totally normal, we ate some food, made some music, it was good vibes. I hadn't eaten red meat in a few years and his friends brought in a big tray of hamburgers, I figured it would be a memorable way to break that streak, and had one of the burgers. Lemme tell ya, after so long without it, that was the absolute best fucking thing I ever tasted. So that's my memory about it – jamming in New York and eating my first real burger in a long time. Good stuff...
You have told some fun stories about Axl trying to put you off in your ear piece joking about your foot shaped guitar. What did he say and does he joke around much? Have you ever made each other laugh so hard you fucked up a chord or two or had to keep soloing to give him time to stop laughing and get back out on stage?
There's been a few times laughing on stage, he tripped me up a few times, haha! I've yet to get him to laugh through a line, that's tough, he's a pro – and I'm just not that funny. Haha... but I don't like talking about other people, it cheapens the personal moments ya have with them. I've had a shitload of fun times hangin' with everyone in the band and the crew and the families and the fans, and the good times are all that matter.
Are there any funny stories from the road in the past year with the band you can share with us?
There were these contests I'd come up with for different legs of the tour, one of them in Australia, haha, these people were great... you had to either sing a song off Chinese Democracy last-word-first to first-word-last, or hop in a circle on one foot with a big pot of soup over your head – so many great videos submitted, would watch them with the band, some really impressive stuff, and really funny entertaining videos as well! The guy who won, haha, he was great! Singing this “Happy-Two-Year-Anniversary-Chinese-Democracy” song while spilling a huge bowl of chunky beefy soup over his head and ruining a nice suit, cars honking at him... he got tickets to the Sydney show, and I brought him and the runner-ups backstage to hang with us for a few of the shows, it was a real good time, they were a great bunch!
You have been in GNR now for five-years but what has been the highlight for you of the journey so far and why?
Today is exactly one year ago that we played our first show of the South American tour, in Brazil. During the show, the audience unraveled a giant flag over their heads, had to be covering over a hundred people – never saw anything like that... playing, then seeing this giant colorful banner roll open across the crowd in front of us, I stopped playing, pointed to it and said “Do you fucking see that?” or something like to Axl – it was really heart-warming, it made the show feel more like we were all celebrating something together. One of the best feelings I ever had during a show.
I spoke to Ricky Warwick when he joined Thin Lizzy recently and he revealed there was a moment on stage when he turned to see the band logo and got the shivers as the realisation he was in such an iconic band sunk in. Did you have a similar moment? Was there a moment when it really struck you that you were in Guns N’ Roses? When was that and what was that like?
Nah, everyone's people, flesh and blood, we're people doing what we love together, whether it's making music or listening to music. It's just my own philosophy about life - you're people first, and that's where your value is. I look at people and see who they are. If anything, when I look across the stage, I might feel more like a player on a sports team, where we're all working for the *song* - that's about as far as my brain goes with it.
How has your life changed since joining the band? GNR have a lot of obsessive fans.
It's just tougher to find time to get everything done, but I think life gets that way anyway – life gets more complicated with time, more things you're involved in.
Do you think touring is more important than ever for bands with CD sales declining across the world?
The album used to be the nucleus, now the parts have shifted – the music is still important but the personal connection is more central. CD sales have declined due to technology mostly, there's more convenient ways to get your music and faster bandwidth is allowing for better quality. Although nothing beats having something real in your hands, something with printed art, something that opens, something like Led Zep III with the spinning wheel, Sticky Fingers with the zipper, Magical Mystery Tour with the booklet. Now those things come separate from the music, as merch, for those who want them. We have more options today, that's why CD sales have declined.
What’s the answer to declining album sales?
Make better albums. Or stop making
albums. Maybe just release songs while touring - release a new song before each
leg of a tour and play it during that leg, and every leg will be fresh, with a
constant simmer of new music. Just thinking out loud... Some day I'll be off the
stage, bones too brittle and hair too white – at that point I'll do my best to
help other bands do their thing, and put creative juices towards finding the
best ways to get their music to their fans – give the people what they want.
Do you think we are heading for a day when bands won’t make physical CDs anymore and it will all just be online MP3s?
Bands already have lots of choices – we've already got vinyl, CDs, DVDs, audio files, video files, streaming – and listeners have more choices – physical embodiment of the music, downloaded files of music and art and video, streaming services. My prediction for what's next? Independent music-in-the-cloud services, where fans can subscribe and get all your music, art, and whatever else, anywhere, any time, without having to download and own a file. Unless you want to own a file. Or a CD. Options.
Do you think the balance of power is shifting from record labels and back to the artists again?
It already happened. I've been preaching that gospel since the 90s – labels can't survive without bands, but bands can survive without labels, so why would you want to sell your soul to the entity that needs you more than you need it? Especially now - anyone can have worldwide distro, you can do it all as simple as with a Cdbaby.com account and a Facebook page. The internet has leveled the playing field, we've all been given the same size gun. The only that separates us now is how well you shoot.