Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal is an accomplished solo artist and guitarist who joined Guns N' Roses in 2006, just ahead of the band's mammoth World Tour, which included a week-long UK arena stint.
Since then he's gone on to play some of the world's most illustrious venues and has recorded with the band on the legendary Chinese Democracy album, released in November 2008.
Last week Ron took time out in between tour dates to speak to DMG about the UK, his love for the Beatles, touring, and meeting Brian May.
First and foremost, how has the current Guns N' Roses touring been going? You've been on quite a road trip in the past few months!
It's been good man. Good to be out there, and doin' it better than before. We hit Asia, Canada, acoustic shows in NYC, all around South & Central America, now just getting back from Nothern Europe & Russia...good stuff! And in between I'm just bustin' ass in the studio, bangin' out guitar tracks and taking care of biz that's been on the 'To Do' list for years now. It's always a race against the clock in between legs of the tour, trying to catch up on everything and get as much done as possible before hittin' the road again. I squeeze so much in off the road, by the time I get to the first hotel room on a tour I usually sleep for a good 20 hours.
So, no longer the "new boy" – that honour falls to DJ Ashba. How has he been fitting into the group and what's it like playing alongside him?
Holy fuck, I'm not the 'NEW GUY' anymore! Yeah, it's been great touring with DJ - we've had some fun times. We had most of 2009 to coordinate our guitar parts, our gear, to get everything ready to go. Very different from my 'new guy' experience, which was to hop in at the last minute before touring with no time to work out gear, to get to know each other, to work together on anything, to learn the new songs...shit, I had to learn the Chinese Democracy songs note-for-note by listening with headphones on a laptop for a half hour at a rehearsal studio while the band waited in the next room, without ever getting a copy of the songs to really learn them. I'm happy it didn't happen like that for DJ - he was welcomed in, we had time to work together, and he was given the opportunity to rise to the occasion, and he definitely did.
Are there any pre-show rituals you have before the start of a live performance?
I like to watch the opening acts from the side of the stage, then I'll noodle around on an acoustic guitar for an hour, just walking around the venue. As it gets closer to show time I'll go onstage and do the same in the back, out of sight. At show time I'm usually up on the side of the stage by my guitars and amps, and I wait along with the audience for the show to start. Then the venue goes black, the audience cheers, my tech gives me the double-neck guitar and says 'have fun'. It's not so much a ritual, just how it usually goes. Not always like that – at Sweden Rock a few of us flew from Moscow straight to Sweden at show time right to the venue. But usually that's how it happens. I get there early, check out the venue, the other bands, have dinner, warm up the fingers, first guy on stage.
You've performed in places in South America, and notably you're touring in Belfast in Northern Ireland later this year. You also played Russia a few weeks ago. These are locations that Guns N' Roses have never played live - how do you feel when you think about that given the band's extensive touring history?
It's a cool thing to be part of the band's history in some way. With Chinese Democracy I added fretless guitar to the sound and played the band's longest show (3 hours 37 minutes in Tokyo last December). It feels more 'real' now, ya know? I don't feel like a guest in this, I feel like I'm home. Haha, it may be a wacked out fucked up dysfunctional family home for the criminally insane, but it's my home. My kinda home, haha.
At least I spare the fans most of that carnage. I treat 'em kindly, try to do nice things for 'em.
So, a new thing that seems to have begun this year, is your 'Bumblefoot's Guest' competition, which I have to say is pretty generous on your part; why did you decide to do this and do you think you will extend it when the band return to Europe later this year?
I just wanted to do something nice, something special for the fans. So many of them have done a lot for us: thoughtful gifts, artwork, traveling so far for shows, being so kind. It's inspiring to me, and I want to do things in return for them. It's not always possible, but when it is I do what I can. I need to think about what I can do for this next European leg. I did the 'Be My Guest' contest in South America, I did meet-and-greets in Europe & Russia and gave away tickets and CDs...hmmmm, what to do next...
You guys last played the UK in 2006 when you did a pretty extensive arena tour. What kind of memories do you have of that and are there any good stories?
Meeting Brian May was a real treat; he's such a nice guy. What do I remember..? Walking around the streets of Dublin outside the venue, very lively, lots of pubs, streets were filled with people. Groups would be sitting on the sidewalk all around, they'd ask me to stop and join them for a drink, everyone was very open and social. After playing Wembley in London, going to a club and playing an acoustic show, walking back to the hotel when the sun was up...lots of little memories. Things are so crazy when touring, I think my nicest memory was going back to a fan's house after a show and relaxing on the floor drinking tea. It was so nice to be normal for a change!
One thing I know a lot of Guns N' Roses fans will be wanting me to thank you for is your sort of re-introduction of 'Don't Cry' back into the staple set list. It's gone from just your guitar solo to Axl and the rest of the band now occasionally singing on it. Was that always the intention or did Axl just surprise you one night?
Yeah, I'd do it as my guitar solo at shows and have the audience sing along. One night in Tokyo Axl said he wanted to sing it with me...cool. So we did; it was real nice. Now every once in a while we'll bust it out. Now I've been playing the Pink Panther theme as my solo and sneak a piece of Estranged in there, too.
Of course, as we mentioned you recently played South America, and part of that tour helped you promote the re-release of some of your solo material on a Brazilian label, helping fans there get a hold of it more easily. Can you tell us about that?
There's a site in Brazil called 'Mercado Livre' and I opened a web store on the site to make it easier for them to get my albums. We're starting with the Normal and Abnormal albums, and if it goes well we'll start adding more albums and merch.
All CDs, merch, and autographed items are available to anyone anywhere in the world, where $5 from every autographed item goes to Multiple Sclerosis research. Also in the UK, my CDs are available at stores through Plastic Head Distro. Now Brazilians can get some of my albums.
You have another re-release coming out, your debut album, with a 200 page transcription booklet attached. What's this all about?
Yes, my first album, The Adventures of Bumblefoot, is being re-released by Shrapnel Records. It's an instrumental album, originally released in 1995. We re-packaged it, added some bonus tracks from a videogame soundtrack I had made also in '95, and will have it available at my webstore in August. We'll be selling signed copies and donating $5 from each album sold to M.S. research. Along with the CD, we'll also have a transcription book that I wrote myself. Six months of writing out and typesetting 200 pages of the exact music notation, tab, fingers, picking - everything for every track in every song. This album was the turning point for me, when everything became legit. The album was on Roadrunner Records in Europe and Japan, and it was well received at the time; it had good press from magazines and readers' polls. Happy to have it all available now to a whole new generation of guitarists.
One of your songs, 'Guitars Suck', recently debuted in the Rock Band network. What other songs of yours could you see fitting into this world?
Yes, the song 'Guitars Suck' is in play-testing right now and should be available soon! After that I want to start putting more songs from the Normal and Abnormal CDs into Rock Band. People have asked me if I could do the songs 'Real', 'Turn Around', 'Normal', 'Abnormal', 'Guitars Still Suck'. I will get as many in there as my game-authoring guy can handle.
Are Manowar still "the greatest fucking band in the world"?
Haha, that band will always have a special place in my heart. I'm an old-school metalhead. But I think the Beatles might still be my all-time fave. In Russia I was playing Beatles songs for someone that had never heard them before. I put on 'Strawberry Fields' and was pointing out how the impending anticipation would build in each verse, the deepening layers, the backward sounds and studio tricks never heard before at the time it came out, the whole mystique with hints of Paul McCartney's death in the album art and songs...it was pretty fascinating. I'm still blown away by their songs, the production and experimentation, so much music and personality, so much growth in such a short time.
Last year you released your first all acoustic CD. Tell us a little about that and where the inspiration came from.
Abnormal was released in July 2008 and I knew Chinese Democracy was on the way. As it was getting closer I wanted to get some more music out before getting busy with GNR. I had never put out any kind of collection of acoustic songs, even though most of the time I'm playing acoustic off stage. So I started taking songs from my previous albums and making acoustic versions of them, coming up with different ways to make the heavy instrumentation and parts work for acoustic guitars.
It was the easiest time I ever had making an album, came together very easily and naturally. And so much more room to sing dynamically. I asked the members of my forum what songs they'd want to hear acoustic versions of, and then I recorded the most popular choice and made it the first song on the album. I released the album in December 2008, right before heading out to LA and getting back to work with GNR the following month.
Anything you'd like to say to all the Guns N' Roses fans in the UK at the moment?
I'm looking forward to seeing you all! Four years went by real fast...gonna be great to come back and do it again with yas – thanks for always being there, we'll see you soon!!
Guns N' Roses are performing at the Leeds/Reading Festival, Belfast's Odyssey Arena on 31st August and Dublin's O2 Arena on 1st September.