Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal: Bumble in the Jungle
And then there’s Chinese Democracy, which, as of this interview, Thal has still not heard in full. “I don’t want a copy,” he says, “because everything gets leaked. And when it does I don’t want to be on the list of suspects. So when it comes out, I’m gonna go down to Best Buy and get one, just like everybody else.”
As for how it is he wound up on the album, and in Guns N’ Roses in general, Thal has a more spiritual explanation. “Every musician has their own personality and their own little quirk about them,” he says. “I guess Axl was just feeling my quirk, you know?”
GUITAR WORLD Given the band’s tumultuous legacy, what were your thoughts when you were first approached to join Guns N’ Roses?
RON THAL I was actually pretty iffy on the whole thing. A big reason for that was because at the time I first started talking with the Guns organization, the whole Dimebag [murder] situation was still very fresh. And I was wondering, Will people blame me for the original band not getting back together? On top of everything else, do I have to worry about that? Also, I kind of liked where my life was at that point: I had gotten myself back on track; I was doing my solo thing, working in my own studio recording other bands, giving guitar lessons, licensing some of my music for TV, touring a little bit. I wasn’t rich and famous, but everything was on my own terms, and I dug that. My life was mine—my fuckups were mine, my successes were mine, and there’s something to be said for that. So I wasn’t sure if I wanted to drop everything I had been working toward.
GW What ultimately convinced you?
THAL Sometimes you just have to say, “What the fuck!” That’s the truth. It’s very easy to overthink yourself out of anything. You can come up with a million reasons to not do something, when the reality is that you should just shut the fuck up and do it. You make it work. It’s like, these are your balls—juggle them. Of course, my balls are pretty lopsided right now. I have this little one over here that represents me, and then there’s this big one over there that’s Guns N’ Roses, which is, like, 10 times the size of a normal ball.
GW You’ve been doing the music thing for a long time. And you’ve said that you played your first gig at the age of six.
THAL Well, that depends on what you consider to be a real gig. Is a real gig a gig you get paid for doing? Because then it may not have been six; it may have been 36! But yeah, my friends and I had a band called Viper 5, which was because there were five of us, of course. Although one of the band members, Tommy, probably wasn’t that necessary—he played the paper cups. [laughs] But we did all originals and put on shows in my basement, charging kids 25 cents admission. And we had confetti for everyone to throw for the big finale. We were very into the whole Kiss Alive! thing.
GW By the time you were in your early teens you were not only gigging in bars but also giving guitar lessons. How did you progress to such an advanced level at so young an age?
THAL I was just really, really focused. And I practiced a lot. And I was the kind of kid who was into things like music theory. I found it to be really fascinating. I was interested in the math behind it all. It was like food for the brain; it wasn’t just mindless stuff to me. But I needed to keep my brain occupied—otherwise I would do very bad things. And I did. I would vandalize the neighborhood in the most creative ways you could imagine.
GW Such as?
THAL Umm….making paint eggs, for example. I would buy a dozen eggs, pop little holes in the tops and bottoms of each one with a pin, and blow out all the insides. I’d cover the holes on the bottom with glue and, using a little eyedropper or something, fill the eggs with paint and seal them back up. Then I’d go out and throw ’em—at people, houses, cars…anything that would break the shells. I think that was a sign that I needed to find a more positive outlet for my creativity.
GW You sound like you were a bit of an odd kid.
THAL Wasn’t every musician? I think anyone who gets into any kind of artistic crap usually feels like they’re not quite level with society in some way. That’s the edge that pushes this stuff out.
GW One of your biggest guitar influences growing up was Eddie Van Halen. Is it true that you learned to play “Eruption” backward?
THAL I had to—it was a challenge. And yeah, this was the early Eighties, and there was nobody like Eddie. Before that I was into Kiss, AC/DC, the Beatles. But the first time I heard Van Halen, it was like nothing else. I had “Eruption” on cassette, so I popped out the reels, flipped them over and popped them back in. I literally wanted to be able to play the song forward and backward. And at 12 years old, I could do it.
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