Q&A: Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal
The Guns N’ Roses guitarist talks about hot sauces, Dubai hard rock band Point of View, and coming up with the Pink Panther theme
If you ever want to contact Ron Thal aka Bumblefoot, guitarist of Guns N’ Roses and more recently, promoter of his own range of hot sauces, you should know that he has a lot of rules. The big scroll of 35 things you should know before emailing Bumblefoot may not be the most read thing, considering fans still mail all kinds of gifts including animal testicles to Hello Kitty manicure set. “Send me good vibes, that’s all I need. I’ve always preferred waves over particles anyway,” says Thal, ahead of his five-city India tour with Dubai hard rock band Point of View.
So you’re just free from touring with GNR and now you’re on tour with a Dubai band, who are heading to India. And they’re playing with an American guitarist. That’s as global as it gets, right?
Yes! The Internet easily connects the whole virtual world, but it’s not so easy in the physical world. There are a lot more rules and paperwork, expenses, hoping your flight isn’t canceled, and trust, once you’ve left your home. People take a piece of their own culture and behavior with them and what’s normal in one place could be seen as disrespectful somewhere else. So you learn a lot from traveling. You start to see what is common in all of us, what’s in our hearts. And of all the bands I’ve known for decades, besides being a great band, the guys in Point Of View also have the greatest hearts.
What is it about Point Of View that stood out for you?
Their work ethic and their social consciousness. I think giving support is no longer about just the music; you support the people and what they do. POV are great songwriters, they play their songs well, and they put it all towards a greater purpose, like supporting animal welfare and more. Things like this made me a fan. They’re deserving of international attention. They’ve actually inspired me to create a special kind of festival that will give attention to new bands. I want to do something that will help our future generations of music-makers. Starting with Point Of View, they’ve earned our attention and respect.
Speaking of promoting bands, are there any Indian bands that caught your attention? Anything you picked up while you were on tour last year?
I enjoyed watching and listening to Thermal And A Quarter and Goddess Gagged, who were both great openers for the Guns N’ Roses shows in India. There’s a great jazz fusion group called Adil & Vasundhara, very tasty. Ah, and a former student of mine in NY named David Abraham, he lives in Mumbai, has a band called The Koniac Net. They just did their first video, very talented guy!
You also have your own range of hot sauces that just came out on the market. What is it about rock and metal that people can associate with hot sauces?
I’ve thought a lot about that. Rock and metal musicians and fans love intensity in our music. And no food can cause you to have as intense a reaction as hot sauce can. What we love about making music, we also love to share with the other senses. Metal is the most intense music, hot sauce is the most intense food. You can find out more about it here.
Do people send you music often and ask you if you can jam with them or for opinion?
All the time. Sometimes, a few times a day. I try my best to listen to everything, but time is always the issue. Time and staying focused are the two big challenges, but I try.
I came across this long list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) about what people should mail you about. Did that list come out of any particular experience or is it just a precaution? I know you ask people not to send you gifts any more, because your house is apparently full?
It’s an odd list [laughs]. Anything that’s on the list got there because I was asked many times, all real things. Ah, gifts, yes… the best gig for a traveling musician is a simple ‘Thank you’. The big challenges on the road are finding time and finding room in your suitcase. The most appreciated things are the simple ones. You can bring the kindness someone gave you to everywhere you are, always. It’s not quite as easy to bring a giant 40-pound painting in a glass enclosure with you on small planes and through airports and hotel rooms for two months [laughs]. I value every gift I’ve ever received and have them all, but the physical world has physical limits and I’ve reached mine! Send me good vibes, that’s all I need. I’ve always preferred waves over particles anyway.
That list starts off with something about how your fingers get numb from replying to everyone’s mails/ questions/ comments, to the point that it affects your ability to play guitar. What’s the craziest requests you’ve received?
I’m making a serious effort to be more selfish [laughs]. I need to make music. And I can’t do that if I socialize on Facebook all day and night, it’s self-neglect. So I do what I can, but I need more ‘me time’ to be with my family, my aging parents need me more than ever and to sustain my health. People have asked me to raise their children if they become no longer able to. That’s a bit much.
What are the craziest gifts you’ve received?
Animal testicles. And a set of pink Hello Kitty fingernail files.
Tell me about the Pink Panther theme and your association with it. How long have you been playing it?
I started playing it in December 2009. It was one of Guns N’ Roses’ last rehearsals before hitting the road for our first tour after the release of Chinese Democracy, we all had new solo spots in the show worked out… except me. I didn’t want to take a solo. My attitude was that since people came to hear GNR songs, I’d rather give them another song than stand up there feeling like an attention-seeking buffoon, not giving people what they want. It was a bad attitude. It stemmed from insecurity.
Finally, with just a few days left before all the gear was being shipped off to Taipei, I asked the band “Has anyone done a guitar solo version of the Charlie Brown theme?” [guitarist Richard] Fortus said “Yeah, every kid in GIT has…” “OK, how about the Pink Panther?” Everyone quietly thought, got no resistance. “Cool? OK, Tommy [Stinson, bassist], play these octaves, bahmmm-bommm-bummmmm… Fortus, hit these clean chords dah-dahm-dah-daaaahm… Frank [Ferrer, drums], gimme a tssss-ta-t’-tssss-ta-t’-tssss…. Deej [guitarist DJ Ashba], come in heavy on this, DAH-DAHM-DAH-DAHM…!” And we put it together and played it every night from 2009 to 2011. At the end of 2011, we recorded it and I released it, as the final song of my song-a-month releases I did throughout 2011. Every song also offered guitar transcriptions and backing tracks, and recording stems for making your own mixes. So, in a way, I released the first new music from Guns N’ Roses [laughs]. It’s available here.
You’re going to be jamming with quite a few Indian musicians as well [Bumblefoot jams with Warren Mendonsa, Tirthankar Poddar aka 2Blue, Them Clones vocalist Surojit Dev and Bruce Lee Mani of Thermal and a Quarter, among others], on your India tour, in addition to POV. How will all of you be prepping for this jam? Have you had a chance to listen to their music?
I have not prepared at all. I have no idea what we’re going to do, and that’s fine. Let’s just be free and see what happens. With all those great players, there will be plenty of magical moments, the kind you only get when you don’t plan, don’t try to control the outcome, and just let anything happen.
Guns N’ Roses are still touring and playing on their huge back catalog of songs. Do you get to improvise on the guitar parts when you’re on stage?
Yes, there are plenty of jams in the songs and between songs, moments of musical spontaneity. But when it comes to the big hits, I don’t want to rewrite guitar parts that are important to the song. I would rather respect the songs, and the audience, and do my best to give them those melodies as they know them, with a true love of playing them.
June 11th – Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad
June 12th – Hard Rock Cafe, Bengaluru
June 13th – Hard Rock Cafe, Mumbai
June 14th – Hard Rock Cafe, New Delhi
June 15th – The Festival ft Hacride and Nothnegal at Nazrul Mancha, Kolkata
Bumblefoot plays with Point of View on their India tour starting June 11th, 2013 at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad. Entry: Rs 250 [Cover Rs 500]. Details here.