This is a treat for Korea Guitar. Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal has released 10 solo albums, the most recent being his 2015 release Little Brother Is Watching. He’s recorded and toured the world with Guns N Roses. He has his own line of guitars with Vigier Guitars, as well as his own line of hot sauces. He works endlessly with a never-ending list of charities . He’s got new music coming out with Art of Anarchy. To see just how much this guy is doing, check out the list of links at the end of this article. It’s incredibly awe-inspiring, as is his music. Do yourself a favor and listen to everything he’s done. But before you do that, here are 20 Questions with Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal…
1. a) Let’s start at the beginning. What was your first guitar?
My very first guitar was a kid-size nylon string beginner’s acoustic guitar. If I remember correctly, I scratched the name “KISS” into it, in large letters. And if I also remember correctly, I got in a bit of trouble for doing that. From the beginning I liked to modify guitars, haha…
b) How old were you when you started playing?
I heard the KISS Alive! album when I was 5 years old. As soon as I heard it I knew. Well, I knew I wanted to make music. I wanted to be a drummer, but my brother also did and he was older, so I obeyed. Gene Simmons was my favorite KISS character so I opted for bass. At age 6 my parents took me to a local music store for bass lessons, and being so young they thought I wouldn’t be able to handle a bass and told me I needed to begin on guitar first. So I did… 🙂
c) Do you remember the first song you ever learned?
I believe it was “Rock and Roll Hoochie-Koo”
2. a) Can you talk about your influences? Who really affected you as a player when you were first starting? When I began I was more into songs, and the idea of being in a band. I was into the Beatles and KISS, two bands where you know the members by their first names – John Paul George Ringo, Gene Paul Peter Ace… that’s what I wanted. So from the very beginning I started in a band with kids in the neighborhood, writing songs, making demos at home by figuring out how to multi-track using multiple cassette recorders, I was a motivated musical “McGuyver” trapped in a kid’s body, haha… but my first guitar heroes were Angus Young for his relentless energy, Ace Frehley for his singable solos, and Jimi Hendrix for the vibe..
.b) How did you escape the problem of copying the styles of your influences?
I don’t think I did escape. We’re a product of our influences mixed with our experiences, and once those ingredients are in your DNA, you can’t get them out. And you don’t want to. You get such a good feeling from how your influences share what they do, you want to share this feeling with others. And as you gather more ingredients, it starts to blend into your own flavor…
c) When did you realize you had your own style? I never really thought about it, I just felt like I had stories to tell, and told them with the only voice I had… or voices. I’ve always been a singer too, a songwriter/singer/guitarist, that really began producing at the same time, in its simplest form with song arranging, setting instrument distances from those cassette recorders for levels, harmonies in the overdubbed vocals… for me, making music is “all inclusive”, I give every part of myself that goes into delivering a song. According to the situation, I may be playing guitar and nothing more, or I may be doing everything you hear as I did with my first “The Adventures Of Bumblefoot” album (http://tinmanmerchandising.com/product_info.php?cPath=467_473&products_id=1562&tplDir=Bumblefoot) on Shrapnel/Roadrunner in 1995 – drum programming and all instruments, recording and mixing, even the album art….
3. I noticed that you did a workshop for School of Rock. My brother owns a School of Rock in Ottawa, Canada. What kind of advice would you give to the School of Rock kids who dream of being a famous musician?
Do NOT dream of being famous. Dream of making music that means something to people. Music that is artistic, honest, and is as deeply from the heart as you can go. Don’t corrupt your spirit with goals of seeking attention for yourself. It’s not about *you*, it’s about your *music*.
4. Where, when and why did you decide on the name Bumblefoot?
It was the early ’90s, my girlfriend was in veterinary school, and it was the name of one of the animal diseases she was studying. I wrote a song called Bumblefoot, which ended up on an instrumental guitar compilation CD called “Guitar On the Edge”. When I got my first record deal with Shrapnel, I called the album “The Adventures Of Bumblefoot” and gave the album a theme, every song named after a different animal disease, writing songs that best fit the disease names. In 1997 I started releasing my own albums under the band name “Bumblefoot” and started touring internationally. After years of fronting the band, it began to be perceived like a nickname…
5. The new album, Little Brother is Watching, is fantastic. Your Youtube channel has some great videos with you recording for the album, which are great insights into the recording process. Where did the idea for these videos come from, and can you tell us what it’s like to record an album all by yourself? Where do the ideas come from when there’s no one to bounce ideas off?
Thank you so much! 🙂 To make an album is like to be given wings, and permission to fly as high as you want. It’s like you were suffocating and are suddenly given the freshest air to breathe. I say this a lot, but I do feel that playing a song is like telling a story. We all have stories to tell. They come from living life. You must live life to the fullest, and you’ll have a lot to say with your music… I always like to keep an open door and let people be there with me, seeing the songs build from the ground up. I did this with the “Little Brother Is Watching” album, and with the “Abnormal” (2008) album. (http://bit.ly/bbfnow) Sometimes when I was producing we would keep a live-stream going so people can watch us work in real-time… we’re in this together, the music makers and the people listening. 🙂
6. You visited Korea in 2009 with Guns N Roses. Do you remember much about your time here? Were you able to get out and see Seoul?
I didn’t have a chance to see as much as I would have liked to, so I’ll need to come back…! As soon as possible 🙂 The people were wonderful, the food was wonderful, and Seoul is an impressive city. My wife got to see more of it while I stayed in bed resting aches and pains from the previous show, haha – the first show of a tour is always tough on the neck and legs! I needed to rest and make sure I had as much energy as possible for our show in Seoul…) Korea is important to my generation – my father-in-law was a medic in the war. He was so happy & emotional when we showed him pictures and showed him how wonderful it has become 🙂
7. You have a double neck with a stainless steel, fretless neck. How does this affect your sound and where did the idea come from?
The fretless is the creation of Vigier Guitars. http://www.vigierguitars.com/ I’ve been with them for 18 years, very happily 🙂 The double-neck fretted/fretless is my signature “DoubleBfoot” model, it’s quite a beast! http://vigierusa.com/index.php/2013/miscellaneous/doublebfoot/ The metal fretless neck has great sustain, much more than a wooden fretless neck.
8. When and how did that partnership with Vigier start? I met Vigier Guitars while touring France in 1997, they brought one of their guitars to a show and asked if I would try it. I was reluctant, I told them I didn’t want a guitar endorsement, I built my own guitars and was happy that way. They said “Just try it…!” I was so stubborn, haha. So I did, and I couldn’t deny, it played better than my own guitars. Better than any guitar I ever played. We talked about the possibilities. I had unique guitars like the “Swiss Cheese Guitar”, (http://www.bumblefoot.com/gear/04-swiss-cheese-guitar.php) it was a form of self-expression that I didn’t want to lose. They were ok with continuing this kind of expression, and our relationship began. Vigier made the “Flying Foot Guitar”, (http://www.bumblefoot.com/gear/08-vigier-flying-foot-guitar.php) it was amazing!! Wings that would pop out of the sides when the vibrato bar was pushed down. This was my main guitar for years… Vigier also did a limited edition of replica “Swiss Cheese Guitars”. I also played their fretted and fretless Excalibur guitars – eventually we did the signature “Bfoot” model, (http://vigierguitars.com/page/fiche_produit.php?id_prod=226) which was a customized version of their Excalibur guitars. Then the “DoubleBfoot” fretted/fretless double-neck, (http://vigierguitars.com/page/fiche_produit.php?id_prod=3698) which is my main guitar. I also play their single-cutaway G.V. guitars, (http://vigierguitars.com/page/fiche_produit.php?id_prod=2391) they have a great organic sound!
9. Can you describe the difference between playing a show for 150 thousand people and 5000? Is there a difference in preparation or is a show a show?
I don’t prepare any differently, all these things about a show are exterior. If you close your eyes, there could be a million people in front of you, or one. You could be in an open festival, or your room. You’re doing the same thing, and you always give full spirit. The good thing about smaller shows is you can be more personal with the audience, more face-to-face, more interactive – that’s what I like. 🙂
10. With Guns N Roses, you play some pretty iconic guitar parts that were recorded by a pretty iconic guitarist. In a live setting, do you play his parts the way he played them or do you just wing it? How does the audience react if it’s changed?
No matter what, you will always sound like you, no matter who wrote the song or melodies. You want to show respect to the audience and play the melodies they love, that they want to hear – nobody wants you to rewrite their favorite songs. But when there’s a more improvised part of a song, I’d do my own thing a bit more. But the priority is the audience’s happiness, play what makes them happy, what they want. 🙂
11. How important is image in Rock and Roll? When you were young, which bands or guitarists had an image that made you say, that’s what I want to do?
We must be honest, we are visual creatures. Beauty, body language, putting care into one’s appearance, keeping a healthy body, these things matter. It’s not shallow, it’s facing reality. As much as I was drawn to a visual persona, like Debbie Harry in Blondie, Queen, KISS, Ramones, David Bowie, these things were never a priority for my own appearance, and that was a mistake. I wasn’t putting in the *full effort* to be my best – it’s not just about music, it’s about your physical, mental and spiritual health – these things matter. It took me time to accept this. And the truth is, people like when you have passion and energy running through your entire body, not just your fingers. There’s nothing wrong with this, it actually makes sense – if you’re not being completely free with your energy, the audience can feel you holding something back. Don’t deny this to your audience. Give them *everything*, they deserve it. 🙂
12. You’re playing some solo shows in The Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. How are the crowds in Asia? Is there a difference in preparation when the majority of the audience doesn’t speak English?
We all speak ‘music’ 🙂 One language, one bond, wherever you are in the world 🙂 Crowds in Asia are very passionate, yes! And very talented! I’m amazed at the fantastic musicians and singers Ive seen, just in a local bar… love it!
13. In your opinion, what are the three most important things every guitar player should learn?
1 – Lay behind the beat, and let the drummer lead! The drummer is your boss! He sets the rhythm, you *follow*. Never jump in front.
2 – music is not made by your hands – it leaves your body through your hands. Your hands are not the source of the music. Practice strengthening *the source* – your mind and heart and spirit.
3 – get comfortable singing. Guitar is your first voice, let singing be a second voice for you. It will make you better at writing songs, or just music – you may start making more singable guitar melodies when you’re thinking as a singer also. And it’s a good skill to have for your band, adding harmonies or a second lead vocal.
14. You write/record your own solo music, play with GnR, have a new album coming out in June with you new project Art of Anarchy, you have your own line of hot sauces and you are involved with several charities around the world. Geez, dude, don’t you ever take a break? Where does the inspiration for all these different projects come from and can you tell us a bit about some of the charities you are working with and/or your hot sauces?
Haha, no I never stop! I’m also doing Rock N’ Roll Fantasy Camps, workshop tours, guest solos on albums, and am also playing in & producing a rap metal group featuring DMC (from Run DMC) and Generation Kill (featuring members from Exodus, Pro-Pain…) (http://itunes.apple.com/album/lot-lizard-feat.-bumblefoot/id976176756) I’m doing music for film & TV and starting to do acting in horror movies… (https://instagram.com/p/1HZubSkX5T/) and I feel like I’ve just begun! 🙂 One of the recent charities is Jesters Care For Kids, in Thailand. (http://www.care4kids.info/) I headlined Pattaya Bike Week in February, entirely for charity, and in total $163,000 USD was raised to help children with their needs – food, clothes, education, medical support… (http://t.co/lpk5PjEpbn) there’s also 7C’s organization in Witney UK, providing creative environments for young people. (http://www.7csfoundation.com/) This is what matters most of all, this is why I go out and play shows. 🙂 The hot sauce… yes!! I love spicy food, the hotter the better. And just like music, I enjoyed the rush from it sooo much that I wanted to share this as well… it’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, and the Cajohns Fiery Food company let me into their kitchens with my flavor ideas and we finalized them – three of the six sauces even won First Place awards at the major food festival ZestFest in Dallas Texas…! There’s Bumblicious, with cherry bourbon and chiptle, and the hottest of them all, BumbleF**KED! With ginger and tropical fruit, ginseng and caffeine like an energy shot, and 6-million scovilles of pain, haha, the sauce lives up to its name 🙂 (http://tinmanmerchandising.com/index.php?cPath=467_493&sort=3a&gridlist=grid&tplDir=Bumblefoot)
15. Your new album focuses on the power and use of technology. How does technology, in particular social media, help musicians these days? How can it hurt them? What do you think about using sites like Twitter and Facebook?
Communication is everything. It’s how we create awareness, how we interact, share information, share music, develop personal connections, it’s our life-line to each other. It’s something musicians only dreamed about, not very long ago. I’m grateful to see a time where anyone can make music and share music, with the entire world. 🙂 Of course we’re all still human, so we’re going to abuse this gift, haha. But ultimately, it’s a blessing.
Oooooh, tough one! Guitars Still Suck, Turn Around, Abnormal, Objectify, Dash, Little Brother Is Watching… I don’t know if I can answer this…! I’d be curious to hear other people’s opinions on this……. (What do you think, folks? What is the definitive Bumblefoot song and why? Leave a message on Bumblefoot’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/bumblefoot?fref=ts) on the link to this article or on Korea Guitar’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/koreaguitar1)
17. What are your views on the state of Rock and roll…or just music in general? Is rock dead, or is it about to make a big comeback?
Rock is *far* from dead… go to any festival and you’ll see dozens of rock bands and 100,000 people. Go to any music school and you’ll see an 8-year-old tearing up their instrument. Rock is not dead. The economy changed, that’s all. The infrastructure of the music business is less stable, labels can’t afford to invest the way they did 40 years ago – but we’re also less dependent on that infrastructure. I think it’s more about mutation than extinction.
18. How would you like to be remembered as a guitarist, and a person?
The same as everyone else would want, I think… I’d hope to have earned people’s respect, I hope things I did helped others, but mostly I hope my songs outlive me, and people will remember them after I’m gone.
19. I’m always looking for new guitarists and music to listen to. Have you heard any new guitarists who left an impression on you?
Check out the band “Thank You Scientist”. My favorite new band. Guitarist Tom Monda is an incredible player and orchestrator…! (https://thankyouscientist.bandcamp.com/track/make-like-a-tree-get-out)
20. People tend to think of celebrities as almost super human. How is Ron different from Bumblefoot? And if you were super human, what power would you like to have?
If I could have a super power, it would be to generate clones – one to be in the studio, one to be on tour, one making new flavors of hot sauce, one sitting on the couch watching old Twilight Zone episodes (that one would be me…) My *real-life* super-human power is the ability to consume massive quantities of food, haha… I’ve been doing what I do my whole life, so all of it is very ‘normal’ to me, I think Ron and Bumblefoot are the same – aaaah, that’s why I eat so much! One plate for Ron, one plate for Bumble, haha…
New Bumblefoot album “Little Brother Is Watching” now on iTunes
Bumblefoot headlines Pattaya Bike Week festival in Thailand for children’s charity, raises $163,000
Bumblefoot on BBC
Bumblefoot on playing and giving
Bumblefoot dazzles all ages at free SXSW show
Bumblefoot visits orphanage in Jakarta
DMC (Run DMC), Generation Kill, Bumblefoot release rap metal collaboration
“Art Of Anarchy” supergroup to release album ft. Scott Weiland, Bumblefoot, John Moyer
Bumblefoot: Behind the Scenes ~ That Metal Show (VH1Classic)
Watch ‘Making Of’ Bumblefoot “Little Brother Is Watching” album on YouTube
Try JamPlay for FREE – complements of Bumblefoot
Bumblefoot Guitar Cases
Bumblefoot Hot Sauces
BBF Merch store