“You never see yourself any differently; even though other people may see you as a rock star, you still see yourself as a musician sharing what you do with whoever wants to listen,” says Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal modestly. The Gun ‘N’ Roses guitarist was in India recently to play a collaborative gig with the blues band, Blackstratblues, called Gearhouse Sessions, at the opening of Classic Rock Coffee Co, Pune’s newest live music venue. The experience was “fantastic, of course. I had the pleasure of playing with Warren (Mendonsa; Blackstratblues) in 2013… it's always a good time making music with him, as well as the band and extraordinary vocalists ShazneenArethna, and Siddharth Basrur who I shared the stage with when Goddess Gagged and GNR played together in India in 2012," he adds.
Bumblefoot jamming with Blackstratblues guitarist Warren Mendonsa
Fans of the 45-year-old guitarist would know that music happened at a very early age to him. He was only six when he formed a small band with his friends and they would record songs on a cassette. By the age of 13, he was playing covers at local clubs. So he’s led a rock star life for pretty much all his life. I ask him if there were any rumours that marked his eventful teenage. “I remember when I was 16 years old, kids in high school started a rumour that I did lots of cocaine and would sleep with my guitar. Not true. Well, only half of that may have been true,” he admits.
Bumblefoot plays a customised fretted/fretless double neck guitar
A mind-blowingly prolific guitarist, Bumblefoot had released over a dozen solo albums before he joined Guns ‘N’ Roses in 2006, filling in for lead guitarist Buckethead who left the band in 2004. And despite touring heavily with the cult band, he continues to juggle multiple projects. You only have to check his social media activity to get a sense of it. Masterclasses, benefit concerts and packed tours, he’s doing it all with swag. How challenging is it? “(It’s) a battle against time, but I chose this… a dozen years ago I was doing Bumblefoot albums and tours, producing a dozen bands, was a professor at a college in NY teaching music production, writing music for TV shows and video games and indie films, laying lots of guest solos, doing guitar workshops, guest performances with other artists… a few years later I had to tour more and cut back on teaching and producing, last year I've re-configured to allow for more workshops and producing and charity efforts.”
His latest solo album, Little Brother Is Watching, released in February
Last month, he played a charity gig in Phillipines supporting a clean-up drive in the Pandacan river area. More recently, he was seen at a pet adoption centre in New Jersey as part of an initiative for the TV show Pets Get Rocked. Now he’s also looking to do his bit for India. “I’m planning on getting involved with Round Table India, an organisation that's built over 1000 schools in India,” informs Bumblefoot. This was his third visit to India in two years. The last time he came, he bought a saree for his wife. This time, he plans to take back only memories. “I just visited Aga Khan Palace and the Pataleshwar temple in Pune, carved out of rock. The time spent there is the best souvenir I'll be taking with me,” he says.
With beards being in vogue today more than ever before, I give in to the temptation and ask him how he manages to keep his famous facial hair in great form. Some tips for wannabes, maybe? “I started growing mine five years ago, back when they were offensive, haha. All you need is a strong chin and lots of testosterone, haha.” Clearly, Bumblefoot won’t let us in on the secret to his style. Never mind. What about showmanship? Does he practise that too? “Did I practice jumping around in front of a mirror alone in my bedroom with metal albums cranked up? Probably at some point in my life, yeah, haha. It's like dancing, modeling or competitive bodybuilder posing - you'll want to make sure you have correct form in whatever you're doing, so that you're correctly expressing what you're trying to.”
In between all the music work he surrounds himself with, Bumblefoot has also managed to develop natural, gluten-free hot sauces, which he sells online. “I'm hoping to expand the line of hot sauces,” he says, even as he looks forward to his cameo in an upcoming horror film that he’s also scored for. “I get killed in the movie!” he informs. Umm wasn’t that a secret?
Bumblefoot's unique range of sauces are available online
Photo source: www.bumblefoot.com
In other news, his tenth solo album, titled Little Brother Is Watching, released in February this year and there are many other recordings lined up in the coming months, from a “rap/metal collaboration with rapper Darryl 'DMC' McDaniels” to a “supergroup album” called Art Of Anarchy. Plus tons of touring, of course. Is a GNR tour of India on the cards as well? “Ahhh, I don't know anyone else's plans... but I'll be returning whenever I can – I'm addicted to the paneertikka! And the beautiful smiles.”
Cover image courtesy: Metalbase India