Artist Profile: A Q&A with Guns N’ Roses’ Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal
On a recent assignment, I had the opportunity to meet Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, a guitarist, songwriter, recording artist and producer – and since 2006, lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses.
Ron is not just a prolific artist – he’s also a terrific guy, intensely committed to philanthropy and non-profits, supporting a broad range of causes including multiple sclerosis, autism, burn victims, diabetes, cancer, blindness, and victims of natural disasters such as earthquakes, drought, and hurricanes.
And when not writing/performing with GNR, Bumblefoot has a rich solo career; he collaborates with other artists; has a multitude of song-writing projects for TV, movies, video games; produces music; conducts music workshops and clinics worldwide; has done television acting; and is an entrepreneur with a line of hot sauces and guitar cases.
Check out what he had to say in our Q&A.
Interviewed by: Ilya Mirman
You have quite an eclectic body of work – are there some common threads that connect your various projects, compositions?
One common thing I see when looking at it all is a tendency to take a light-hearted look at life’s difficulties. Like pointing out a funny face in a storm cloud. I guess its my own way of taking power away from the dark side by twisting it into something that lifts the spirit. On the surface someone may see ‘funny lyrics’ but it’s often touching on deeper subjects that we all deal with in some way. Instrumentally on the guitar, I might do the same, adding moments of technique or intellectuality to a simple form. I like the contrast, but it’s really the completion, a balance of duality.
Aside from touring with GNR, what music projects do you have going on in parallel now?
I’m working on my next Bumblefoot album. It’s been long-overdue, but creativity happens when it’s meant to. That can be an easy way out, so keep in mind that sometimes you have to force yourself into the zone, and when you do this it’s also because you were meant to at that moment. I’ve always found it difficult to write while touring, I don’t get the down-time needed to re-charge the creative batteries and build momentum. On the most recent South American tour with GNR I forced myself to find a way, I’d be wandering the stairways of hotels for hours staring into space and writing words. Digging deep into yourself and allowing the needed emotional free-flow for songwriting, while being on the road where everybody wants your time and attention… the two conflict each other, volatility and patience, it was torment. But that’s where the good stuff comes from, you need to feel, and that’s not a smooth road.
I have an upcoming US solo tour in June/July. It’s part of the “Guitars Gods” tour, featuring Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Hoey, Uli Jon Roth and Bumblefoot. I’ve been touring around the rest of the world for 17 years but this will be my first full US tour. I have info on tour dates as well as special VIP meet-n-greet packages at www.bumblefoot.com
You do a lot of various workshops and clinics around the world – how did that start, and what about this is particularly rewarding for you?
It’s become my favorite kind of performing. What I like about performing is connection and interaction. There’s something a little awkward to me about the separation between the audience and stage, it sometimes feels like I’m a movie being watched, and that can lead to a disconnected robotic performance. At Bumblefoot shows I like to have people sing along, strum my guitar, I’ll come play in the audience, that’s what I like, being face-to-face and making a show together. And with workshops, it’s the most spontaneous and interactive of all performing. Audience Q&A leads the events in different directions, we all get to meet, we’re taking photos, signing merch, chatting, it’s very personal and sometimes go for over 6 hours, I have to be forced to stop, haha, prying the guitar from my hands… these events are not just for guitar players, it’s a personal performance with backing tracks, sometimes including a jam with a live band and audience members get to jam with us, sharing experiences and the things I’ve learned along the way. Teaching is the most gratifying, to inspire others, to give what you’ve received.
You’re a self-professed huge KISS fan. Can you tell us about KISS as an influence, and the all-star tribute band you helped form recently?
It all began with a KISS tribute album A World With Heroes launched by journalist Mitch Lafon, with proceeds going to a cancer hospice. I sang and played guitars on a cover of the song “Detroit Rock City”, with Rex Brown on bass and Brian Tichy on drums. Rex Brown sang and played bass on a cover of the song “Larger Than Life” with Mark Zavon on guitar and Brian Tichy on drums. After the album was released promoters began to ask, “So when are these guys gonna play live?” We started getting offers and we formed a band called “A.L.I.V.E.” where we’d play KISS songs from the albums Alive! and Alive II. We did a few shows in LA and Vegas in July 2013, just for the fun of it, as fans. I don’t know if we’ll do more shows, tricky to get all our schedules sync’d up. For me, being a KISS fan started at age 5, when I first heard the Alive! album. My first concert was KISS at Madison Square Garden NYC in 1979. They inspired me, along with many others, to do what I do. I only hope I can do the same for others.
Regarding your philanthropic endeavors: how do you decide which causes to back, and what motivates you?
Making music solely to entertain people has never been enough for me. Music can motivate people to do good things for one another, and it seems wrong to not act on this potential. I do what I can, when I can. It’s important to pick the right organizations and situations. I’ve seen too much failure in small charities where a lot of people’s time, effort and money are wasted on events that are unable to deliver proceeds where they’re intended and needed. I’m becoming more selective, I have to, the time just isn’t there and I have to make choices.
You’ve recently become a cultural envoy for the United Nations. What does that actually mean, and how did you get involved?
There’s a wonderful organization, theHDI.org with U.N. humanitarian and diplomacy programs, we work with U.S. Embassies around the world to make events that bring people together through music. I simply go, be myself and do what I do. I’ve had the pleasure of making music with fantastic local musicians playing rock, traditional cultural music, and have made good friends. I’ve been to Albania, Malaysia, Indonesia and Belarus over the past year, integrated as part of my own tours, with more plans for the near future. It’s been a blessing to have these experiences.
You have several entrepreneurial projects in the works – can you tell us about them? How did they come about, where are you seeing success? Are there things in the works?
I have a line of hot sauces with Cajohns Fiery Foods ranging from mild Bumblicious to extremely hot BumbleF**KED. I love to eat. Haha, who doesn’t? I love spicy food, often to the extreme, and when you’re passionate about something, you want to share the passion. I had lots of ideas, flavor profiles and simple recipes for hot sauces, the good folks at CaJohns turned it into reality. We have more products we’ll be rolling out. I have some unusual ideas sometimes, haha.
I also teamed up with Eastsport, makers of gear bags and backpacks, to launch a line of signature guitar cases. We started with twelve custom cases in the collection, with my personal favorite the Deluxe Electric Roller Case. I thought about all the years of lugging guitars around airport terminals, carrying gear to gigs, and anything that could have made it more practical, and put it all into a guitar case. Extra padding, deeper pockets, wheels, an attachable/detachable gear bag with dividers and cable ties, and a clear window to put your flyer in to advertise your band, gig, teaching. And now we just launched the BumbleBabe line of acoustic guitar cases . We’ll continue to expand on both lines of cases with different designs and materials.
The next goal I have is to create a worldwide music festival that will bring attention to indie artists all over the world in a unique way. There’s so much talent out there that deserves to be recognized and nurtured, I want to help make that happen.
Any television work on the horizon?
I was born with a natural cartoon voice, haha. I’ve looked into doing voice-overs and would like to pursue that. I’ve done some acting in indie films, been a guest on TV shows over the years, but mostly have provided music for TV and film. To quote one of my songs, (“Rockstar For A Day” from the “Normal” album) “I’ve got a face that’s made for radio, and a voice that’s made for I don’t know…”, haha.
For more info on Bumblefoot, check out: