UPDATED: April 10th, 2011
hate writing these fucking things. It's like staring into a mirror
with a magnifying glass and analyzing the upside-down distorted reflection.
Everything comes out stiff, factual and boring 'cause I feel stupid presenting
myself, like it aint my place. I hate being a salesman, and that's
how I feel when I write my life story. Nobody's more valuable than
anybody else, and everybody's got some different skill - my thing was
guitar. So what. I always played guitar because it was my
medication. It gave me peace, sanity, stability, focus, distraction,
ventilation, a purpose, goals, identity, and a way to communicate 'cause
I was too shy to speak. But that doesn't define me, and I'll never
feel like it's a big enough reason to write some written dedication to
myself. I just always loved music, like everyone else, and guitar
was my instrument.
Born in Brooklyn, 1969, missed the moonwalk by two months. Oh well. I was this odd little brainiac kid, who could spell when I was 2 before I could speak. I had this board and magnetic letters I'd move around to spell things. For every birthday my parents would ask what I wanted, I'd answer "More letters." I remember being 5 and sitting in the yard reading encyclopedias on a sunny day when I should have been out playing football with the neighbors. Didn't need other people, was happy just challenging my brain with info and art, it was like a drug. I memorized all the Presidents of the US and facts about them, and would be able to draw caricatures of their faces. Knew every State in order that they joined the country, and their capitals. Could draw a map of the world freehand. When I was 10 I read 3000 pages of world history and wrote a 300-page summary. All that and I couldn't get laid, go figure.
It was 1975 and my family just moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island. I immediately had this feeling like I didn't belong there and and I was pretty depressed. You'd be surprised how intuitive a 5-year-old can be. I had REAL friends in BK - we had history. Here, I was an outsider, I sensed people analyzing me, and I felt like I was under that same fucking magnifying glass. For the 20 years I lived there, I never fit in, and didn't care to. But ya do your time like a man. So I did. The neighborhood kids I'd hang with all had older bruthas and sistas, and I got to listen to their music - Beatles, Yes, Stones, Ramones, but it was hearing the KISS Alive! album that turned a light on in my oversized bulbous child-head. I knew I was meant to do what they were doing - make music and dress funny. I wanted to be a drummer. But so did my brother and he was older and could do a faster drum-roll on his knees than I could on mine, so he won. I went to the nearest music store and enrolled in bass lessons. They knew my hands were too small, and that there were no "kid-size basses" like there were guitars, so they told me that 'the law says ya gotta start on guitar and play for 2 years before you can play bass.' It was a crushing blow, but I was willing to endure this if it was the only option. So I spent my childhood years studying history, art, science and music, while all the other kids with crusty dried chocolate on their faces called me a hermit. Fuck 'em.
Yeah, so I did my time as a guitarist, and had a band with my brother on drums and neighbor on guitar/vocals. We wrote our own shit, did cover songs (Stones, Floyd, Zep, Ramones, Sex Pistols, and other 60's/70's stuff) and played schools, parties, and outdoor concerts. We'd record by positioning ourselves at different distances from a boombox at the other end of the room and record the music, then overdub vocals by playing it back and singing along while a second boombox recorded it. I got a taste of band bizz, writing a lot and making demos, making homemade band comic books as merch and tourbooks for our shows, etc... This went on till 1982 and we all started doin' our own things. The whole time, I never stopped taking lessons. At this point, I was 12 and had my rhythm and jazz theory down. All was fine. Content. Then a kid asked me if I liked Van Halen. Who? To me it was all about Angus, Ace and Jimi. He played me the intro to "Mean Streets" off VH's "Fair Warning" album - it fucked my shit up. All this time playing guitar I had no idea just how creative you can get with it. Everything changed. Started getting into soloing and fancy shit after that. Made a point of learning Eruption note-for-note by ear, then opened up the cassette of it and flipped the tape reels, and learned it backwards. Started building my own guitars, taking apart old one's, re-wiring them, cutting the bodies, and re-painting them. I was also doing alot of art - canvas paintings, sculptures, and painting album covers on the backs of dungaree jackets for $20 a pop. That's how I saved up to buy this beautiful black strat-style Ibanez Roadstar I wanted - with a vibrato bar! I was psyched! It was beautiful! The first thing I did when I got it home was chip off the paint, drill it full of holes, and paint it yellow. That was my main guitar for the next 13 years.
Ok, so I'm 13 now and I start teaching kids guitar.
Have a new band, and we start playing bars. Writing and recording
originals, covering Maiden, Ozzy and Rush, this goes on for years. I get
an 8-track reel-to-reel and start making a home studio and recording bands.
15 - I'm in High School now, and it sucks. Everyone's divided into cliques, and I choose to be part of none of 'em. Teachers take one look at my long hair and decide I'm an idiot. I'd get high grades and they'd accuse me of cheating. The only redeeming quality was guitar class, but even there people treated me funny because I had 8 years of playing and gigging experience and they were first starting out. So half the people acted like I should be worshipped, and the other half like I should be killed for my sins. Both extremes sucked - I just wanted to be unnoticed and unbothered by people, as I was on the verge of murdering a good amount of them. People made up weird rumors that I was a coke-head and would sleep with my guitar. Dicks. Having a psychotic suicidal girlfriend that shaved her head didn't help either. So when I turned 16, I quit school and stayed home where I wouldn't be a danger to anyone.
Shrinks didn't help. They tried to medicate me - I threw the shit out. I cured myself by doing the opposite of what I was telling myself to do. If I didn't want to talk, I'd call a friend. If I didn't want to go out, I'd hit the mall. It slowly worked me out of dangerous mental hole. I went and got my GED. Surprisingly I never smoked or sniffed or swallowed or injected anything my whole life - maybe it was because I didn't trust anyone and needed to stay clear-headed to keep my defenses solid, maybe it was that I thought the mind is everything and you need to take care of it, maybe it was because I always felt stoned and tweaked and elevated and dropped and high and low all the time already, maybe it's because I knew I was a timebomb and didn't wanna set it off - maybe all of the above. I drank a little when I was 16, and found it to be an emotional crutch, it would ease the anxiety - but I didn't want to be dependent on anything external for that, needed to handle it from within. Plus I was taking care of a girl who's leg was ripped into pieces and held together with some bionic gadget, ending her career in dance - car accident with some kid showing off how hard he can fold a car around a telephone pole. Given the choice between drinking OR driving, wasn't gonna do both, I wanted to drive - had a '77 Camaro, then got a '76 Monte Carlo - the thing was like a fuckin' boat, got about 10 feet per gallon.
In '89 I started writing some instrumental guitar music. I put together a demo, and sent it off to the guitar magazines for review. Soon after, Mike Varney (CEO Shrapnel Records) called me and put me in his Spotlight column, where he reviewed unknown's in Guitar Player magazine. We stayed in touch, and two years later, I had my first published work on Shrapnel Records' compilation CD "Ominous Guitarists From the Unknown" - did a guitar version of Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu piano piece. This led to work as a transcriber for Inside Edge instructional videos and Shrapnel University instructional tapes (never released), and more instrumental releases on Legato Records' "Guitar On the Edge" compilation CDs, volumes 2, 3 and 4.
So I'm doing gigs with my original band, got some side bands goin' doing cover shit, recording people in the home studio, and teaching out of music stores, then at the Sam Ash Music Institute in Edison NJ (the building is now a McDonald's), and at 24 became a school teacher (ironic for a High School dropout, eh?) I figured I'd be responsible and have a "real" job to "fall back on", get that "job security and stability", all that stuff parents tell ya while you're trying to "make it" in music that just makes ya work that much harder to prove them wrong. But I wanted to do it, I enjoyed teaching. I set up a darkroom and taught the kids B&W photography, and set up a music program for the school - jazz band, choir, music education, all that. After a few months, the school broke contract and cut our health benefits and salaries. I tasted reality: there's no such thing as "job security and stability." I retired early and went back to being my own boss, made a new demo, and 6 months later had a contract with Shrapnel Records. Released "The Adventures Of Bumblefoot" instrumental guitar CD in May 95, did the soundtrack for the SEGA CD-ROM game "Wild Woody" shortly after, and released the "Hermit" CD in January '97. I had a 32-track ADAT studio in Brooklyn and was starting to do a lot of producing, so I started my own music production company Hermit, Inc. in late '97 and terminated the Shrapnel contract.
I was always a singing guitarist, but the instrumental guitar stuff labeled me as a shredding solo instrumentalist. I felt like GILLIGAN. The actor Bob Denver from Gilligan's Island - no matter what he does, everyone will always look at him and say GILLIGAN! That's what the "Adventures" CD did for me. Gilligan. I've always been a team player into bands, and that's what I always did long before any instrumental stuff. So the first thing I did on Hermit, Inc. was get a band back together, starting with just me and my brother on drums, and release the "Hands" CD in April '98. Got the whole band together, did some radio interviews and gigs, the highlight being a big festival in Nice, France. In early '99 the drummer quit weeks before headlining a festival in Europe, and it led to starting from scratch. Kept on writing and producing meanwhile. Started work on the next CD, "Uncool". Kept hoping for a band that would have a long life together but never could find people that would dedicate as much as was necessary. Everyone had a cut-off point where the dream became too real and they didn't want to progress any further - and ya never knew where that cut-off point was until you reached it and really needed them to stick to their obligations. One would quit before an album release, another before a tour, never with any warning... they'd go back to life-as-usual and I'd be fucked out of everything I literally lived for, and start from scratch auditioning, rehearsing, pulling teeth to do photo shoots so I can arrange new press and promo, pulling teeth to get people to play on their own record, mediating all their petty disputes, learning every new skill for designing album art and making websites because no one else would, and making money however I can to fund CD manufacturing and marketing (and supplying their clothes and equipment), while only taking a quarter of the minimal money back because I always believed in splitting band-related income equally even though nobody shared in the expenses, even though my day-job was to make a living for everyone in the band, even though they had their own day-jobs and did little more than show up to some rehearsals... you get the idea.
In September 2000 I licensed an early version of the Uncool CD to a label in France, and toured there in March and April 2001. Patrice Vigier (CEO Vigier Guitars) had a lot to do with the success I had in France and I'll always be grateful to him. And Julien Hugonnard (founder of "The Adventures Of Ron Thal" newsletter.) They've always been there.
In the Summer of 2001, I started concentrating on the next CD - more like the old stuff, more instrumental songs, was gonna call the album "Guitars Suck." After the terrorist shit went down on September 11th '01, I decided to make it a nonprofit CD and donate all of the money to disaster relief. Released it in November 2001 and called it "9.11" to easily identify it as the fundraising CD. After releasing 9.11, I stopped having my own band - couldn't keep putting my fate in other people's hands that didn't care. That's about the time that "Bumblefoot" went from my bandname to becoming my nickname. Did some local fundraising shows jamming with friends and released the final version of "Uncool" through my own company in February 2002. Started donating proceeds from the 9.11 CD to the Red Cross.
Just to back up a little, there was a student of mine that I taught at that music-institute-turned-McDonald's back in the early 90's, named Ralph Rosa. We stayed friends, played together, he moved to Puerto Rico and played in a cool up-'n-coming band. Just as things were getting good, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He moved back to NJ, and decided to do something positive. He started M.S.R.F., the "Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation", a non-profit org that puts together fundraising events, where all the profit goes directly to the researchers working on a cure. I'm on the Board Of Directors and help any way I can. We had the first Multiple Sclerosis fundraising dinner/comedy show with MSRF in May 2002, donated $10,000 to research. Been doing annual shows ever since. Ralph's the best friend anyone could ever have, always was.
Toured Europe in late 2002, with musicians from bands in the countries I was touring - members of prog-metal band Sun Caged in The Netherlands, members of instrumental rock band Plug-In in France... These weren't sterile hired musicians, they were real band folks... and for the first time in my life I knew what it was like to work with musicians that understood. Before this, there were always people that would come to rehearsal after their day-jobs and treat the band with a level of disrespect they'd never attempt elsewhere, inevitably killing the band. Music was my life, and I was finally working with people that were the same way. The chemistry was great and the band had its own sound like we played together all our lives. And no surprise, everyone got along. And real friendships grew. Dennis Leeflang, the drummer from Sun Caged, moved to NYC soon after the tour and we continued working together. Touring was always tough. Conditions weren't the greatest. Sharing hotel rooms sometimes with no heat or hot water, no sleep because we can't afford days off and have a 10-hour drive to the next show, one person sneezes in the van and everyone ends up passing the flu back-and-forth - screaming on stage every night in smokey clubs, I'd get it the worst. And after a month, ya come home with $300. Ya do what ya gotta do, and you forget everything as soon as you hit the stage. I've had stupid label assholes arguing with me about wanting to take ownership of my copyrights as I'm walking onto the stage to play, I've had stupid tour-company assholes laughing at how sick we were or how hungry and refusing to stop for food. But you forget it all when you hit the stage. The audiences were great, we'd play for an hour-and-a-half, hang out with everyone for 2 hours, load our shit into the van, take turns sleeping on piles of equipment and do it again the next night.
In 2002 I started licensing songs to TV shows, along with the bands I was producin', also started working as a songwriter/producer for Carlin Publishing and different artists. Got my own studio for the first time in Sept. 2002 - an old house that I've since been gutting and renovating - love doing that stuff. Building a house is the greatest feeling. It's good having my own studio - needed it. Too much music to make. That's what I do, and no matter how tough things are I don't quit.
April 2003, took all unfinished songs that weren't officially released and put out the "Forgotten Anthology" CD. Meanwhile, had a manager that for the past year screwed up everything he touched and got me to the point where I was gonna sell guitars and get a paper-route to pay my bills. After years of getting dicked around by half-assed bandmembers, labels, managers, tour companies, being betrayed by the people closest to you in it all, I was feeling pretty battered, beaten, and Bumblefucked. Was really considering packing it in - life, that is. Went on meds. First two days, my spit felt like sandpaper. Then they kicked in - I couldn't think a bad thought if I tried. No more cravings to eat human flesh in large crowds or hang myself with a guitar cable or swerve into every telephone pole I drove past. Started writing my next album, called "Normal" - first line, "I just got a new medication..." Then *click*, it was like someone hit the pause button in my head. I knew what it was. The meds - they block *everything*. I couldn't write music anymore, at least not my own. Was still able to collaborate with other artists and wrote other stuff while producing people, could still play, did a bunch of benefit shows, kept teaching guitar and bass and vocals and recording, started teaching music production at SUNY Purchase College, did some clinics, one which we put on DVD "Live At the RMA" - just couldn't write my own stuff. I never felt better, I finally knew what it felt like to be "normal". It was good. But good isn't enough. I stayed on for a year-and-a-half, and decided I'd rather give up internal peace to make music again. Went off the meds, with the experience of being normal that I can draw from whenever needed. I couldn't tell that the meds were leaving my system, but knew they were - people started saying, "What's wrong?" for no reason - my face was slowly changing. I was becoming me again, whatever that means. In July 2004, Joe Satriani invited me to jam at a nearby arena the following month - was a personal highlight, he's such a cool guy. :) Then got a call from some band about maybe playing guitar with them - will get back into that. Played in Moscow, got myself a furry hat. Started writing the rest of the Normal album, started laying tracks Jan '05, still writing, finished recording in June, mixing and mastering was obsessive torture, manufactured by Oct 2005. By that point I was working 140 hours a week in the studio on 11 albums, for 2 years straight doing 40-hour days, and teaching and playing in a cover band. And one day I went to get off the couch and it felt like there was a finger in my chest pressing against my heart. Tried to get up again and the finger pressed harder. I also looked down and suddenly noticed I looked like Fat Bastard - that sure kinda crept up. Bumblefat. Reached over to the phone, called 4 bands I was about to record and canceled, quit the cover band, stopped teaching the private lessons, and started hittin' the treadmill the next day. Dropped over 80 pounds since. I realized something - negativity and stress will shorten your life, make ya fat, make ya not wanna live... since then, anyone that tries to cripple me with that shit is poison to me and I cut 'em out of my life - need to, it's survival.
In mid '05, I put out Normal. Toured Europe Oct/Nov 05, another tour with the worst fucking bird flu I ever experienced that we just kept passing to each other. 6 out of 7 of us got it, doctors and medicine couldn't fight it, one crew member had to leave, had to cancel a show for the first time in my life, in London, which fucking sucked ass-balls. We stayed sick for a month home after the tour, it was that bad, it was fearing-death kinda stuff. Came home with $700. I don't know, maybe I shouldn't be touring...? Six months later, I'm touring the world with Guns N' Roses, throughout '06-'07. The first concert I saw was Kiss at Madison Square Garden in '79. I can still remember the feeling of the heat on my face from the flames shooting up on the sides of the stage. A life-long goal was to play there, with the lights, the flames, the bombs, the volume. In November '06, we played there - with the lights, the flames, the bombs, the volume. Been a great fucking time. Laid tracks for the "Chinese Democracy" CD in NYC and LA, between legs of the tour.
Started writing songs for the next Bumblefoot album "Abnormal" in October 2007, started laying drum tracks with Dennis in November, tracked up until April 2008. During that time, I recorded artists for FuseTV's "Talking Metal on Fuse". Recorded people jamming, mixed/mastered it - did a little performing on it too. Had the pleasure of working with Zakk Wylde, Exodus, The Spyderz, members of Overkill, Dream Theater, Anthrax, Twisted Sister, Iced Earth, In This Moment, God Forbid and Warrior Soul. Ran a contest to find opera singers to do backing vocals on Abnormal, mixed it in April/May, put together a nice high-end analog mastering studio and mastered the album the end of May, finished the art, got it off to manufacturing early June. The Abnormal CD was released on the web July 1st, 2008. In the Fall I signed retail distro deals for the entire Bumblefoot catalog in North America and Europe, did a bunch of radio appearances. When not doing all that, I try to make good use of my time and put it towards fundraising events and positive things. Organized some fundraising stuff - a concert for diabetes research and a children's hospital, an event for athlete's health issues, and donating proceeds of my album sales to the MS Research Foundation. Did the theme song for VH1's "That Metal Show" and the music for the NY Islanders hockey team 2008/2009 season. I hit the studio again in September and started working on an acoustic EP, taking songs from my last few albums and making new stripped-down versions. Recorded 4 songs, then had the fans pick the final 5th song for me to record. While doing all that, GNR was getting ready to release Chinese Democracy - had a song in the "Rock Band 2" videogame, another in the movie "Body Of Lies", title track hit the radio in October - album came out on November 23rd. Booked myself a 1-week promo tour in Paris, London and Berlin in mid-December, meet-n-greets and interviews. Released my acoustic album "Barefoot" on December 23rd.
Spent the first half of 2009 in LA, rehearsing with GNR, nailing down the 'Chi Dem' songs and updating my gear for upcoming touring. Took a break over the Summer and toured the US & Europe playing guitar with Lita Ford. Back to LA in the Fall for more rehearsing and hit the road with GNR from December '09 to December '10 touring Asia, Canada, South/Central America, Europe, Russia, Australia, and finishing in Abu Dhabi. Had a great time on the road, giving spontaneous acoustic concerts and meet-n-greets for fans waiting outside the hotels, visiting music schools and jamming with students, organizing contests for fans to win tickets, backstage passes, albums... will never forget the people I've met and the great times.
After being gone for most of those two years, I really had the itch to get back in the studio and be creative. I missed everything I was doing before GNR - teaching, producing, recording. Starting January '11 I began to release a song a month, covers and originals, each song coming with all sorts of extras - instrumental mixes, lead guitar transcriptions and backing tracks, multi-track stems to make your own mix. It was a different way to release songs, not just putting an MP3 out there. I started teaching again, giving Skype lessons to students from all over the word, from advanced players to people picking up the guitar for the first time. Nice to have a chance to spread my wings a bit and get back to everything else I do.
Ya learn a lot along the way. Loyalty's so fucking important. If you fill your life with decent people, you'll grow together and lift each other to the next level. But don't just give it blindly. Honor it - save it for the people who deserve it. Only time will tell who those people really are.
APR 10th, 2011
Ron Thal (aka "Bumblefoot")
Been a member of Guns N' Roses, touring since May 2006. Sold-out shows around the world, headlining festivals with crowds of 150,000. Recording with them since Oct '06, we released the "Chinese Democracy" album November 2008.
I've worked as a songwriter for other artists, for TV jingles, theme songs and background music. I've also written for classical instruments and orchestras. I've been hired by bands/labels for the past 20 years as a producer. This has included writing, arranging and performing, usually engineering. As a songwriter and producer, I have experience in pop, R&B, hip-hop, funk, disco, electronic, classical, opera, blues, folk, jazz, swing, Latin, Middle-Eastern, new-age, lounge, rock, progressive, industrial, metal, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's retro. Last cool things I did were 24-7 Spyz "Face The Day" CD, Return To Earth's "Automata" & "Captains Of Industry" CDs (ft. Chris Pennie - drummer of Coheed, formerly Dillinger Escape Plan), and a rock re-mix of rapper Hurricane's "Abaybay".
I've been hired by Carlin Publishing to write songs for their music
library, and I've acted as my own publisher pushing songs from my albums,
and writing music specifically as theme songs and background music. I wrote
the theme song to the SpikeTV show "MXC", the theme to VH1's "That Metal
Show", the music for the NY Islanders hockey team 2008/2009 season, I've
done all the music for a SEGA video game, did a jingle for the Oxygen
Network, and in the past year my music has been internationally on
Smallville, WWE Raw, Red Bull's Air Race TV series, and on MTV/VH1's Hogan
Knows Best, Real World, Pimp My Ride, Next, My Super Sweet 16, Osbournes, Made, Date My Mom, Road Rules,
Extreme Elimination, You've Got A Friend, Clone High, Sausage Factory, Power
Girls, and plenty more.