An Interview with
Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal
Guitarist of 'Guns ‘N’ Roses'
that took place on Thursday, June 19th 2014.
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan.
Glenn: Hello, hello, how are you doing Sir?
Ron: How are you?
Glenn: I’m good. What turned you onto guitar in the first place?
Ron: Well I was about five years old and the ‘Kiss - Alive!’ album had just been released and all the older kids in the neighbourhood got it so all our older brothers and sisters brought it home and us being the younger generations sitting around the house we would just pop on any albums we found laying around and I heard the ‘Kiss - Alive!’ Album. As soon as I heard it, it just lit this fire. I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do. I started moving quickly on it. I immediately started writing songs and recording and had a band together. By the time I was six I was out playing, we were writing, recording and doing gigs, making merch. and doing everything.
Glenn: Wow – that’s incredible!
Glenn: So who influenced you apart from Kiss? Are there any other bands that got you going on it?
Ron: Well Kiss was really the one that made me want to get out and get on stage and do all that. But I would say the one that really made me love music was The Beatles. Definitely hearing The Beatles – it was just such beautiful sounds and I think most of all it was probably George Martin and his production, his ideas – the classical instrumentation that he added that gave such depth and emotional complexity to the music. I think that is what really touched me the most. So my first two musical loves were The Beatles and Kiss.
Glenn: What were the first bands that you were a part of?
Ron: The only band I’ve ever been in other than my own band was really Guns ‘N’ Roses. From the beginning since I was six I was just doing it all myself. Always had my own band, I mean, I would play with other people once in a while. I did some really cool things. Some tours and short tours with Lita Ford and a show here and there and I played.. I did a set with Nancy Sinatra one time and she was fantastic – just the coolest woman.
But yeah, the only time I ever joined a band other than my own and didn’t devote my musical energy to what I was doing was Guns N Roses – that was the only one. Besides that I was writing albums and putting out albums and producing and putting out other peoples albums. I had my own studio and was working with a ton of bands. I was teaching Music Production at a University in New York. I was making music for TV shows and little indie movies and video games. Just doing it all. I had a very full life and I was juggling everything very well.
Then I crossed paths with Guns ‘N’ Roses. Not something I planned or expected and that was ten years ago. It’s been a very interesting ten years to say the least.
Glenn: Hahahaha – I bet. What bands did you produce?
Ron: I did a lot of just local New York bands but I also worked with a fantastic artist from France – from the North West of France called Pat O’May and we did an album together called ‘Breizh-Amerika’ and it was this great combination of almost like Gary Moore style Rock ‘N’ Roll with all the Celtic instrumentation and traditional music mixed in with it. It was a fantastic album. I recorded it out in the woods of North Western France and then we did mixing in New York and god that was about 15 years ago already.
Ron: Another great band that I worked with was called 24/7 Spyz. A New York band and just a wonderful bunch of dudes. Yes I worked with them right around the time… right before I played with Guns’. I’ve worked with a lot of different bands since then but mostly because it takes so much time and devoting yourself to producing. It’s been harder to do that with all the touring and everything. So mostly in the studio what I’ve been doing is a lot of guest solos on people’s albums and things like that and writing for some publishing companies here and there – just a song here and there once in a while.
Glenn: No doubt you’ve been asked this many times but where did the name ‘Bumblefoot’ come from?
Ron: The name ‘Bumblefoot’ – this goes back over 20 years ago. My wife, she is a Veterinarian and when she was in school studying and I was with her, one of the animal diseases was called ‘Bumblefoot’- pulsarative podo dermatitis and it was such a funny name ‘Bumblefoot’ that I wrote a song called ‘Bumblefoot’. Then when I had my first record deal, a few years later with ‘Shrapnel Records’ my idea was to call the album, ‘The Adventures Of Bumblefoot’ with a sort of cartoonish creature overhead and every song was named after a different animal disease. There was ‘Bumblefoot’, ‘Orf’, ‘Scrapie’, ‘Blue Tongue’, ‘Limberneck’, ‘Q Fever’, ‘Strawberry Footrot’, ‘Ick’ - all kinds of crazy diseases.
After that album came out and when I was done with the record deal, I started my band back up and the band was called ‘Bumblefoot’. The name really fit well because the music was very sort of Frank Zappa’ish. It was very quirky – sort of Faith No More, System Of A Down, Primus - so it was a good fitting name and after a good 15 years or more, now I guess it’s been 17 years of putting out music under the band name ‘Bumblefoot’. I think people just view it as my nickname. So I just went with it so I just always have that name in there with me – just Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal.
Ron: So that’s where it came from. A disease to a song to an album to a band to a nickname.
Glenn: What let you to being in G ‘N’ R and what were your thoughts when you first joined the band as well?
Ron: Oh it was ten years ago. They had a long period of silence. They weren’t doing any gigs or releasing music so I really didn’t know what they were doing. At the time I didn’t know how busy they were or weren’t or at what level they were gonna bring things to. So they asked me. It was actually Joe Satriani that sent me an e-mail. He recommended me for the gig and they reached out and I spoke to Management and the Producer of ’Chinese Democracy’ and band member, Chris Pitman and had nice conversations and I said, “Yeah this could work”, and we started talking and making plans.
About two months of just on and off chat and about a year and a half later was when they had a tour ready to go and were ready to start doing something. He reached back in touch and we met up in New York and jammed a couple of times and hit the road. That was it. It was very casual the actual doing it. We played three songs out New York City, next night did another three songs and the next night another three. We did that seven times and then hit the road.
Glenn: Wow! Cool!
Ron: It was very organic.
Glenn: You just vibed on it all and thought, “Yeah – let’s do it"?
Ron: Yeah. I was just open-minded about it. I didn’t over-think it or have any judgements without having the experience and it was just, ‘Let’s do this and see how it goes’.
Glenn: Nice. And obviously it’s gone well because you are still there.
Ron: Ten years later. Yep. Go figure.
Glenn: What would you say the highlights have been so far in Guns ‘N’ Roses and why?
Ron: I would say one of the highlights was playing Madison Square Garden in New York City because that’s where I saw my first Kiss concert in 1979 and it’s just a goal for every New Yorker to play Madison Square Garden. So doing that felt like I hit a real milestone.
Another one was we played in 2012. We did an acoustic show, actually two acoustic shows in a row – one each night for Neil Young’s ‘Bridge School Benefit’ – it’s a benefit to help children. That to me was one of the most important things Guns ‘n’ Roses did because it wasn’t about just entertaining the crowd which is, you know, a valuable thing and you know, people’s happiness is very important. But to put that towards something that really benefits people and could make peoples lives better to help children.
To me, that was the most important thing that Guns ‘N’ Roses did while I was with them. But yet, I guess you could say putting out ‘Chinese Democracy’ also and now the new live DVD or live Blue-Ray that’s coming out. So there’s been some releases at least – that’s good.
Glenn: That’s something.
Ron: But to me the most valuable, truly valuable thing was doing the benefit show – doing the Bridge School Benefit.
Glenn: Awesome. I remember it getting big when The Who did it as well. I have show from when those guys did it which is pretty awesome.
Ron: Yeah it’s amazing.
Glenn: Yeah. What solo work are you most please with and why that stands out to you?
Ron: Usually it’s the most recent stuff and I would say that the last albums that I did, the album, ‘Normal’ which came out in 2005 which just had a lot of good songs and that was just a good balance of song-writing and it wasn’t just about guitar playing. It wasn’t a guitar virtuoso kind of album or anything it was what I wanted it to be. It was an album of music of songs and I was just doing what I do in those songs – singing and playing and just doing it the way I do it but it was more about the songs which is how it should always be and ‘Abnormal’, also the same thing just a little more intensity.
The ‘Barefoot Acoustic’ album – I’d never done an acoustic album before even though most of the time I’d be playing - I would be sitting on my couch with an acoustic but I never actually did acoustic releases really. Doing that and being able to do a lot more vocally because there’s just more room to be dynamic when you sing with so much space and just simplicity of one or two acoustic guitars. So I really enjoyed that from a vocal stand-point and the guitar stand-point as well just overall. So I would say those last three that I did were definitely my favourites. I feel like I’ve grown to a place that I like where it went. Oh yeah.
Glenn: I guess you’ve progressed bit by bit and been more comfortable on trying different styles.
Ron: You know when you just start to really find who you are and you stop trying and you’re just being – you’re being who you are.
Glenn: Yeah. Nice. So how would you personally describe the style of Bumblefoot as a Guitarist?
Ron: Ah, I don’t know. I think everybody hears what they wanna hear and sees what they wanna see when they look or listen.. but how do I see myself? That’s a tough one because I just live with myself every moment, you know? I see myself when I’m in the bathroom. I see myself when I’m waking up in the morning. I just see every bit of me and not just the musical part so it’s hard to say, ‘How do I describe the musical part?’, I just say it’s just the musical me.
Glenn: Yeah. (We laugh).
Ron: I sing lyrically and the things I talk about are things that I have experienced in life and the spin that I put on situations I think is pretty honest for my personality. I tend to take some very dark, personal subject matter and make light of it and I almost make light of adversity a lot of times and I think that’s kind of my attitude in a lot of ways. But the actual sound of it, who knows? It’s hard rock because that is what I was raised on and that is what I grew up on, it’s in my blood and you can’t take that out. So I grew up on Classic Rock, Punk and Metal and wacky guitar playing and I think you can hear all that in the music.
Ron: So I guess a lot of people say it sounds.. some of the newer stuff sounded a bit like… they describe it as Queen meets Sex Pistols with crazy guitar playing over it.
Glenn: Yeah, I know when I saw you at the Whisky, it’s like, wow – this guy, he’s like on the edge. It’s like zany, quirky, in your face impresario, virtuoso… your style – you just can’t categorise it. You can’t pigeon-hole it because you’ve got so much going on and that’s just one song you know?
Ron: (Laughs). Yeah. People have said that my personality can be a bit complex. I don’t know if that’s a compliment but I’ve been told that and I guess that comes out in the music as well.
Glenn: What do you remember about that Whisky show that you did when you were supporting Uli Jon Roth?
Ron: Oh yeah, that was a nice one. That was right around the big NAMM Convention every year, the big music convention in LA and I try to go to it every year and I usually don’t do any concerts during it although in the recent years I’ve started doing more. It was good. I know it was special for my drummer Dennis. He had never played the Whisky before and that was on his list of places he really wanted to play in his life because it’s the Whisky and the way it’s almost like the CBGB’s of New York. It’s the place that all the bands went though - all the big bands – so it was cool.
I’ve done a lot of playing with Uli in the past. We spent a good week in a van together just talking about metaphysical things and how it applies to music for hours and doing shows. That was a real nice experience. It was my favourite time with Uli doing that. Just last Summer in Italy for a week in a van. But it was nice. It was nice to get out and just play my music. Play my own music. It’s something that I should have been doing all this time and should have nurtured more and shouldn’t have let it fall to the side as much as I did and that was my mistake. I shouldn’t have done that. But it’s just hard to find the time for everything.
Glenn: But there’s only 24 hours in the day isn’t there and you have to sleep as well.
Ron: Yeah, yeah I had to pretty much give up sleeping a couple of years ago.
Glenn: Class! Yeah. When you play with Guns ‘N’ Roses what would you say your favourite songs are and favourite parts of the show?
Ron: I like when we do the song ‘Shackler’s Revenge’ off the ‘Chinese Democracy’ album. I feel it’s very self-indulgent. I did a lot in that song. I feel like I play a big role in that song as far as the guitar-work, singing backing vocals – doing both at the same. Doing these crazy two-handed tapping riffs while singing on top of it and I feel like I get to show a bit more of what I do and it keeps me busy. It makes my brain happy. So yeah. It’s a bit self indulgent. I like it for self indulgent reasons. I mean I like the song. It’s a high energy song and I like it when we do high energy songs. But definitely the self indulgent part where I get to do a lot.
Also you know, being in Guns ‘N’ Roses when you’re playing music that other people wrote and recorded, it’s nice to be able to do something of your own that a part that you wrote and recorded. At some point you need to have that in order to feel like this is yours.
Glenn: That makes a lot of sense. What’s Axl like to work with and hang out with? You hear all these things about him and you just never know. What’s he like to be around? Is he a cool guy?
Ron: Yes he’s a lot of fun – telling jokes, telling stories, he likes to see people having a good time – ah yeah. You know, people see the stage persona and people want to be entertained by their entertainers so people will definitely expand on situations and invent situations and try and create a legacy that’s more entertaining. So they’ll take the stand-out moments of someone getting angry or whatever happens and they’ll try to make it as if that’s what defines who that person is. But it’s really not the case.
You take anybody and they’re gonna get p*ss*d off at some point during the day. The only difference is, you know, when you have a lot of eyes on you, those moments when you get p*ss*d off, everyone’s like “Yeah, this is entertainment” and they just love it and they feast on it and they wanna see it happen again and they start to really want you to be that in the forefront and they start thinking of you as if that’s who you are in the forefront and I see it happen to a lot of people.
Ron: It’s like the 1% of your day where you’re something more than calm in any direction is what people are gonna jump all over and say, “That’s who he is”. Then someone that never hung out with him will say, “So what’s he like? Is he like that? That 1%?” and I’ll say, “Oh that’s just a normal 1% of a person.”
Ron: The other 99% is a caring dude that just has the same things that.. you know, that the heart and spirit wants like everybody else.
Glenn: Yeah. He’s a person. He’s a human being like we all are. We all have our bad moments, good moments, things wind us up and we just get on with things. It’s just that so many more people see things and then it gets blown out of proportion at times because of the status he’s at.
Ron: Oh sure yeah.
Glenn: It gets a bit crazy and it’s like, “Hang on a minute, you know, you’ve pushed this too far (the media)” – it makes sense. Yeah.. I was looking at your website in the last day or two and I saw your options for Bumblefoot and there was the one about $8000 and we’ll come and play at your house and that.
Ron: Ahhh - Yes the Kickstarter campaign.
Ron: So we’re on this tour right now, I’m doing this solo tour called ‘Guitar Gods’. It was created by Yngwie Malmsteen and his Wife, April and they picked me and they asked me and my band and Gary Hoey and his band to be part of this and we’re on tour right now. I am actually talking right now from my bunk in the tour bus.
Ron: As we roll towards Chicago, Illinois. Well one of the situations that happens is without getting into too much detail and boring people with that, the original plans for this tour did not happen for reasons I won’t get into but we want to make sure that we can afford to be here. So Gary had the idea. He had done a Kickstarter campaign for one of his albums and a lot of people gave support and it worked out well and it was a good back and forth with fans so he suggested we do it for this. So I don’t wanna say no. Gary’s my friend and I support him.
So I was, “Alright, let’s do it”. So we spent a good hour on the phone just talking about ideas. He had a lot of ideas. Like, “Oh we could get music, we could do this”, and me just being the psycho that I am, I just started coming up with all these crazy things, alright for $5000 I will wear the same pair of underwear for the entire tour. He’s like, “Yeah but how would you prove that?” and I was like, “Well take a picture of the underwear, me wearing it every day and we’ll write that persons name on the waistband then we’ll send them the underwear at the end of the tour”. You know, I’m like, “I really don’t think anybody’s gonna do that but if someone did, you know I’m up for a little jackass type situation and I’ll do it and I’ll absolutely wear the same pair of underwear for thirty days and send it to the people.” Just weird stuff just to confuse people.
Like send me a picture of your mother or your pet and I will tape it to my thigh and keep that picture on my leg. I’ll tape it to my leg and play a whole show with that picture on my leg. We had things where, you know, just we’ll send a private message or we’ll write a little song for you or we’ll do a lot more serious stuff. I mean, I’m not gonna be disrespectful and treat it like a whole joke. It’s just that this is the way I am – I’m a wise ass and I come up with things like this.
But we’ll do things like guest solos on people’s albums. You can win a guitar. Oh and people can come play with us on stage as well – be at Guitar God for a day. But one of the things that we also thought of was we would come to someone’s house and give them a private concert in their house. Invite all your friends and we’ll cook you dinner and everything and we’ll just give you the whole good time.
Glenn: Cool. Have you had many people get in touch with you about this stuff yet?
Ron: Oh I think right now is that (we are) over $11,000. So there are people that are into this and giving it support and we’ve been fulfilling a lot of the.. I guess you call them incentives or the donations. Some people want dedications to songs. So I’ll be playing one of my songs and just stop right in the middle and just say, you know, “Just wanna wish Ron Shapiro a very happy Fathers Day and this song is for you”. Then just keep playing the song and things like that.
I like doing things where the audience or the fans… people are part of the show and they’re connected to it and it’s not just me performing for you – we’re all doing it together. I like having the audience sing along in different parts of the song and I’ll show ‘em what to sing before the song starts – doing things like that. I like everybody to be doing this together. I want the audience to feel like they aren’t just watching the show but they’re part of the show and to me, that’s what makes it fun. Hopefully for them and definitely for me.
Glenn: Awesome. Do you have a favourite guitar that you like to play or do you use the similar guitar that you play on stage like the one I saw you at the Whisky with?
Ron: Definitely the double-neck I have fromVigier Guitars. I’ve been with them for about 17 years and they make all my crazy custom guitars. We have a signature series guitar and we made this double-neck signature guitar that has the threaded neck on the bottom and the fretless neck on top and the pick-up configuration that I use. That is my favourite guitar – that one. The gold threaded, fretless double-neck.
Glenn: Nice. That’s cool.
Ron: That’s the one I use for my whole show.
Glenn: Yeah. What were your thoughts when you found out you were gonna be playing with Yngwie and have you met and/or done any shows with him previously?
Ron: This was my first time hanging out with Yngwie and playing together, jamming together and being on the same stage – what a nice guy. My god. He is there with his Son, Antonio and his Wife and I got to meet everyone in his band and his crew. Everybody is just wonderful – hitting it off really well. Having a lot of good times and my god can he play! Amazing! Phenomenal!
We’ve been doing a little jamming together at the end of his show and yeah. He’s somene that… the first time I heard him with Ron Keel and the band Steeler and then in Alcatraz and then ‘Rising Force’ and ‘Marching Out’ and everything. Definitely an inspiration – absolutely. So it’s an honour to be doing this with him and I’m honoured that he chose me – that he wanted me to be part of this.
Glenn: Yeah definitely. I can’t fault him really. Are there particular shows that you are looking forward to or certain cities that you are looking forward to playing in most and why those cities?
Ron: Ahh. You know, I look forward to every show – every single one. There’s always good people that you see and each time you just wanna do better than the last time. So they say, “What is your best show?”, “The next one”. The next one will be my best and then the one after that hopefully.
Glenn: Yeah. That’s cool. Well you start a new ‘Bumblefoot’ album – tell us about that?
Ron: Ahh yeah, it’s been a long time – it’s been too long. So finally I had a bunch of songs that were coming together and there’s never enough time to make an album. There’s always a million things - a million distractions. It’s so hard to build up the momentum but I just had to force it. I just had to make it happen. When Guns was on tour in South America in March/April I just started forcing myself to write songs. Something I never really did before. I would always wait for it to happen on its own but this time I just pushed. It was brutal. It was painful. It was mentally painful – it was killing me.
I would be just walking around the hallways and the stairways of the hotels with a phone just typing in lyrics and humming to myself in my own world and people would be like, “Ron, Ron can you sign this?”, “ Hang on,wait, wait, wait, I’m trying to come up with this lyric here” and I would be like a zombie just zoned out just writing things. Just very edgy and very tense because I’m just trying to get all these ideas and just get the creativity flowing – but it worked.
When I finished that tour we jumped into the studio, we laid seven drum tracks and after I forced myself to write the rest of the album while I am on this tour and when I finish this we’ll finish recording the rest of the tracks and I wanna get this album out as soon as possible and then find the best ways to share it with the world and get out and start playing everywhere I can.
It’s coming out well. It’s very melodic. It’s again some other kind of growth spurt. It’s very melodic. I feel like I am writing very singable guitar lines that the guitar melody is gonna really stick. They are gonna stick with people or I hope they do. I mean, that’s the goal, is to try and write the guitar line that really affects people and I feel affected by them. I love the melodies that are coming out and I just hope other people do too.
Glenn: Awesome and you’ve just finished the Las Vegas Residency with Guns N Roses (May 21 to June 7). How was that?
Ron: That is always fun. You can’t have a bad time in Vegas. The residency was wonderful. It’s great to be playing in the same place on the same stage where you could really build the show and start adding songs and get comfortable and grow. We did that. We started doing songs that we hadn’t played. We started doing the song ‘Yesterdays’ that Axl hasn’t done in 21 years. We started bringing back some ‘Chinese Democracy’ songs that we weren’t playing like ‘There Was A Time’ and ‘Prostitute’. So I think a lot of fans were happy with that and tt was just good vibes. We were just all having a lot of fun.
Glenn: I don’t know if you are allowed to talk about it but do you know if there’s going to be a new Guns ‘N’ Roses album coming in the pipeline?
Ron: I don’t know. I mean, I know Axl just did an interview where he talked about a lot of the ‘Chinese Democracy’ era music that he wants to release so I’m hoping he does that, you know the fans want it.
Glenn: We do.
Ron: They definitely do and I hope that all that comes out. I’d love to see him release everything from that whole time period – just a big box of music. Put it out. I would love to see that with interviews and documentary footage and everything. Just to take that whole chapter of the bands history and share it with the fans. I don’t know what the plans are. But that’s me personally, that’s what I would love to see happen.
Glenn: Awesome. What would you say you are most proud of so far and why?
Ron: Ahh, honestly? This may sound kind of weird but you know, when the years of Guns N Roses were very difficult years that I’ve had these last years. Between health issues and just having so many people pulling you in different directions and also just the way everyone changes around you. You’re the same person but everyone looks at you like you’re a different creature. People you knew, people you don’t know and everyone judges you very harshly and has strong opinions. I shouldn’t say everybody but a lot of people.
It seems like everything you do, people find fault with and people just wanna believe the worst about you and they wanna change you into someone worse than you are. I think what I’m most proud of is that I kept a level head in that I just didn’t let anybody else define who I am and I decide who I am and how I wanna be and how I wanna react and I’m responsible for my mistakes and I learn from them and I try to be a better person as time goes on and just that I didn’t let any of this make me a worse person. That I didn’t let it turn me into somebody that I don’t want to be.
Glenn: Finally, what would you like to say to the fans who are gonna be reading this interview?
Ron: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to check this out and I hope I see you all. I hope once the new Bumblefoot album is done that we get to see each other face-to-face and I get to share all this music with you face-to-face and live and I look forward to the future together.
Glenn: That’s a great answer. Cool. I’ve enjoyed this. Thank you for the Interview while you are chilling out on the tour bus en route to Chicago.
Ron: Thank you so much. My pleasure.
Glenn: Thanks again and I really appreciate it. You take care and I’ll speak to you soon Sir.
Ron: Alright thank you so much for your time and have a wonderful night.
Glenn: You too. Thanks Ron. See you later.
Ron: Thank You.
Glenn: Thanks Man. Bye.
Thanks Again for a Great Interview!