December 02, 2012

Strumming ‘Bumblefoot’

A self-confessed loner, this Guns ’N’ Roses guitarist talks to Bangalore Mirror about his music, band, and a wee bit about his life

At the age of five he read encyclopaedias for fun. At 10, he read 3,000 pages of world history and wrote a 300-page summary. He was saddened when his family moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island; he felt like an outsider for the next 20 years. That’s where he learnt to enjoy his own company.

The neighbourhood kids were older to him and they listened to Rolling Stones and Ramones. He did too. Then he heard KISS Alive! Bang!... he wanted to be a musician too... a drummer, but his older brother was a pro at it. So, Ron Jay Blumenthal chose the guitar.

Years later, he came to be known as Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, lead guitarist of the legendary band Guns ’N’ Roses (GNR). He was recommended by guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani when GNR guitarist Buckethead left the band.

Ron adopted the moniker Bumblefoot, which is the name of bacterial infection, when he was helping his wife research the disease for her veterinary exams. Well, genius musicians are a strange lot!

Ahead of the GNR debut concert in India, Ron Bumblefoot, opens up to Bangalore Mirror in an exclusive e-mail interview.

Early years
“It was the Summer of 2004, we (the band) started making plans (for the tour) but we didn't get together until the spring of 2006; weeks before the first tour. I learned the Chinese democracy songs by listening to the demos at the rehearsal room, with headphones, pen and paper. We then toured Europe for three months followed by the tour of North America. Then I began laying tracks for the album.

“While I was strumming for GNR, I also had my own Bumblefoot band and released albums, toured, wrote music for TV, films, videogames and I was also teaching music at a college in New York; conducted guitar workshops internationally, wrote articles for magazines...yeah, those days, I was very busy.

“ The first few years was a difficult juggling act; trying to keep doing everything I did, plus touring the world with GNR. Everyone's lives are filled with juggling and choices. We just have to have faith and do our best.”

GNR: Then and now
“I agree, GNR isn't the same anymore. We're 25 years into this band's life. GNR is a book with lots of chapters, characters and changes. There's no other story like it. If somebody doesn't want to read the whole book, it's ok, it's their choice, but they'd be missing out on the whole story. Either way, the story is alive, and many people are enjoying it all over the world, and I'm grateful for the experiences I've had with those people. We're not enemies of the past, we embrace it and fans of the past don't have to be enemies of the present; they don't have to choose, both co-exist and both can be enjoyed.”

Life ain’t a bed of roses
“I do what I can while on the road -studio work, mixing and editing music on my laptop. Keeping up with the internet is a huge challenge especially when we are on tour. You get off a plane and switch on your phone and there are hundreds of emails, tweets, Facebook messages, texts and missed calls. I get to the hotel and have my Blackberry in one hand, iPhone in the other and laptop in front of me, trying to coordinate life through whatever will get me the best connection. When I get home the first two days is all about going through stacks of mail, packing boxes of CDs to go to distributors, lots of trips to the post office... I do some solo shows when I can, mostly fundraising shows in NYC.

“Currently, I'm working on an acoustic album with Tony Harnell, he's doing a fan-funding campaign instead of dealing with record labels. It's always a different batch of music and people I'm making it with...everything always takes its own course. I've learned to work quickly and trust my instincts, and value any time I have.”

The gig in India
“We usually play three hours, sometimes more. We do all the big hits, all the fun songs, old songs, new songs, solos where each member has a chance to express themselves, lots of pyro, video, light show. In Vegas we had dancers and aerialists and a piano that would rise up and fly out over the audience, fun stuff. It’s (the India show) a big show, I hope everyone enjoys it.

On Indian music
“I'm familiar with Indian music, from traditional tabla to modern bollywood music...I've heard lots of Indian music. I first heard it as a child; the British 60s/70s rock was influenced by Indian music. But I'm not an expert, there's always more to discover, and I hope to learn more during our visit.”

Catch Guns ’N’ Roses Live at Bharatiya City on December7

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