Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal has discussed how he was sent death threats after he fluffed the guitar solo to Welcome to the Jungle at a Guns N’ Roses show in 2011.
The guitarist, who played with the band from 2006 to 2014, was recently interviewed by radio show Rockin’ Metal Revival and was asked to select the most Spinal Tap moment from a career that has taken in stints with everyone from GNR, to Asia, Lita Ford and supergroup Sons of Apollo.
We all make mistakes, of course, and it’s usually best not to dwell too long on them, but Thal’s selection is a doozy – taking place at Guns N’ Roses rain-lashed 2011 Rock in Rio performance.
“Pyro was misfiring… it was just crazy. And I remember trying to play on the fretless guitar, and my fingers were so pruned up… it was like trying to play on a wet balloon.”
However, it wasn’t the rain alone that caused the issues – rather an ill-advised attempt to rescue the situation with a bit of cosplay. As such, Thal says the problems really started, after he spotted a fan wearing a stormtrooper helmet in the front row…
“I put it on my head, and as soon as it touched my cheeks, it's like it fused to it,” says Thal.
“I remember just saying, 'Oh shit' and, as soon as I said the 'S' curse, everything just fogged up! Now it's, like, ‘Alright, I have this helmet that is gonna take a little bit of effort to remove... And I can't see anything.’”
The timing couldn’t have been worse, coming as all eyes were on the band for their second track in the set Welcome to the Jungle – and shortly about to turn to him for the lead crescendo.
“The iconic solo that I had to play was about to come up and it's like, 'Oh god. This is not gonna work out well,'” remembers Thal.
“I managed to get the helmet up at least like over my eyes and keep it there. And then I think I nodded, like, 'Ah, good.' And it flopped right back down!
“It got to one point, like halfway through the solo, where I just had to stop playing and pull this helmet back so I could see what I was doing.”
While the guitarist notes it only lasted a few seconds, he says it did not go unnoticed by those in attendance – indeed, the footage remains on YouTube.
“The next day I got hundreds – hundreds – of furious emails from Brazilians, saying how I destroyed their life and death threats and all this stuff,” says Thal.
“And to this day, 12 years later, every once in a while someone will send me an email with a screenshot of me wearing that helmet, saying, 'Hahaha!'"
We can imagine getting stuck in a stormtrooper helmet mid-solo in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands might stay with you.
So, while death threats are no joke, you’ve got to give credit to Thal and his good humor in the face of such a backlash. It’ll certainly give us perspective the next time we break a string onstage…
On the subject of top real-life ’Tap moments, this story of how Black Sabbath covered Smoke on the Water – and unwittingly inspired Spinal Tap's Stonehenge is essential reading.