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2014.06.09 - Interview with Bumblefoot in Glide Magazine

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2014.06.09 - Interview with Bumblefoot in Glide Magazine

Post by Soulmonster on Mon Jun 09, 2014 6:22 am

Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal of Guns N’ Roses (Interview)
June 9, 2014 by Leslie Michele Derrough

“What you see him do with GNR is just a fraction of his ability on the guitar,” proclaimed Terry, a fan and guitar player from Los Angeles, in Vegas for the iconic band’s second Vegas residency. “He’s a true technician.” Truer words could not have been spoken.

Growing up in New York with an early knack for music, Ron Thal, who is affectionately and more popularly known as Bumblefoot, has been reaching higher and higher plateaus with each coming year. His horizon is so broad musically now, it’s virtually impossible to stump him on playing licks by others who have come before him. When he performed a solo show at Vinyl the night before GNR show #2 a few weeks ago, he spent the first half of his set sitting in a chair with a heavy 2-necked guitar in his lap, answering questions from fans while noodling out riffs of his own and by his peers in rock & roll. He is squeezably lovable, inhumanly humble, notoriously friendly and impeccably articulate. He is a rock star without the spotlights and flashy clothes, preferring an everyday appearance, always with a smile on his face. Before the GNR shows he could be found mingling with the crowds lined up to enter the venue. This is just who the man is.

Alongside bandmate Richard Fortus, Thal has been playing a haunting guitar duet of Led Zeppelin’s bluesy “Babe, I’m Going To Leave You” during the residency that literally has sent chill bumps up the spine. He soars through the classics and whips up a gnarly version of his own “Abnormal.” He lays on the stage and holds his guitar out for fans to play and he has even been known to give a twirl on one of their stripper poles. During his solo appearance, he brought up some local musicians, including drummer Craig Nielsen (Flotsam & Jetsam), singer Frank Dimino (Angel) and guitarist Jeff Duncan (Armored Saint), and tore through foot-stomping rockers like “Mr Crowley,” “Highway Star” and “Strutter” as well as fun jacked-up versions of “Eleanor Rigby,” “I Used To Love Her” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.”

Music is always on Thal’s mind. Now with the residency ending this past Saturday night, he will be doing a Guitar Gods tour with Yngwie Malmsteen and Uli Jon Roth, and finishing up his next solo record, which he told me contained “serious fucking lyrics. It’s not all just fun stuff.” He started making music when he was about five years old and has never stopped, releasing a variety of recordings from solo EPs and albums to compilations and guest appearances. He’s gone from idolizing KISS to playing in one of the century’s biggest bands. He grew from a mischievous juvenile to a well-respected musician. A full circle some might say; but unfinished as Thal would look at it. Sitting down at Fuel Café inside the Hard Rock in Vegas beside his beautiful wife Jennifer, Thal was more than happy to talk about his getting from there to here. “If I put my foot in my mouth, I’ll just yell ‘Delete! Delete!” he says with a laugh. “You’ll find out that once I start talking, I don’t shut up (laughs). You’ll be like, ‘Alright, it’s too much!’”

Let’s start off with your childhood. What was it like growing up in your neighborhood in New York?

It was cool. In Brooklyn, growing up there, everybody was just real and straight-forward and you know what you get. Not a lot of bullshit, even at a very young age. You could be five years old and you know who your friends are and everybody is just straight up. When I moved to Staten Island, the next borough over, all the neighborhood kids there were my age, and then there was the next generation, like two or three years older. We all had older brothers and sisters so through them we would get exposed to a lot of music, what they were listening to, what their interests were. So at a very young age, like five years old, we were all listening to KISS and things like that. It was the KISS Alive album that first came out and that’s what made me, as soon as I heard it, and this was 1975 or 1976, around that time, and there was no MTV, there were no video channels, there was no internet, there was no VHS, there was nothing. All you had was Creem Magazine. So you had that and going to concerts and getting albums. And looking at this big beautiful album art and everything that comes with it and then listening to all the great live albums, that was everything. Like, if you didn’t get to go to a concert, you got to listen to a live album: Cheap Trick Live At Budokan, Frampton Comes Alive, all of that; Skynyrd.

But yeah, KISS Alive was it. To hear that, you just feel like you’re there. And it was as exciting as being at a concert. It’s almost like today, I think, people are a little spoiled. Like we have so much that we don’t appreciate the simple things. We watch the YouTube videos and judge every little bit of it when people don’t realize that when I grew up, I couldn’t even imagine having that luxury to be able to just type in the name of anything to be able to see it. That was impossible. All we had was what little we got when we got it and we appreciated the hell out of it and it meant a lot to us. It was very valuable. So for a five year old kid for the first time hearing the KISS Alive album, it was like being at the most huge event of your life and it was so inspiring and it drove so many kids to want to pursue music and pay back that excitement that they got. And that’s what did it for me, the KISS Alive album. You would see the album art. You would see anything in a magazine. Sometimes you would see a TV commercial for their new album or a tour. It was exciting. I saw KISS on TV! (laughs)

Did you go see shows at Madison Square Garden?

Madison Square Garden was usually where it happened. My first KISS show, my parents finally let me go to a show when I was nine years old and I got to see KISS at the Garden with all the big flames shooting up and I could feel the heat from the balcony of those flames and Ace had a smoking guitar, Gene flew up to the lighting and was spitting the blood and the torch and Peter Criss’ drum riser, it was phenomenal.

And you guys have all the pyro and lasers now too. Do you ever revert back for a split to that early experience with KISS?

Oh yeah. I was thinking that everything I saw as a kid, now I’m on that stage. You have the big flames, we have the light show, we have things on the stage on risers going up and all of that. So yeah, it’s nice. There is an absolute satisfaction and gratification feeling like, ok, that mountain that I was looking at as a kid and that I eventually started to climb, I hit a point on it where I could sort of look down and say, alright, I got this far, this is great. This is like a personal milestone. This is a nice thing.

At this point in our conversation, a man and his wife stop by the table to say hello. The gentleman has his guitar with him and asks if Thal would mind signing it for him. Thal is more than happy to do so and they sit and chat about guitars for a few minutes. “You made his day,” his wife tells Thal. Following his compliments about the show, they leave and Thal picks up on something the man said.

You know, one thing I’ve noticed, and I was talking about this last night with my booking agent, is how a lot of artists that are pre-internet, like they had success before the internet, they have a very hard time adjusting to the fact that they no longer have control of what goes out into the world. The people do. So they have to go from trying to control to just changing and letting go of that and just saying, alright, now it’s time to share and just share everything. And that could be very scary because you want only your best to be out there but it’s no longer up to you.

And you love the interaction with the crowd

I do. You saw what I was doing last night. I was getting down and letting people play my guitar. That’s how a show should be. I think of everything I wish I could’ve experienced, that sort of interaction and connection. Not just watching a show from a distance but where you can really be a part of it and you get to touch and feel it and shake hands and get handed guitar picks and all that stuff. That’s the good part of it all. That to me is what really makes a show a memorable experience and special for someone. It’s not just a one-way thing. It’s not just, I’m going to do what I do, do not interfere. I’m like, “Heckle me! It’s ok, let’s go back and forth!” (laughs) I like to think of it as OUR show not MY show. You know, you can’t do anything if the audience isn’t there to see it.

Now, we were talking about your youth and both Richard Fortus and Dj Ashba have told me they were kind of mischievous in their adolescence. Were you ever mischievous as a child?

I was so bad as a kid. When I was twelve years old, I had a suitcase that I painted a V on it and I had it hidden behind the pool at my house and it was my vandalism kit (laughs). I actually had a vandalism kit.

And what was in it?

Plaster of Paris, toilet paper, buckets, mixing tools. I would take eggs and I would take a little needle and I would pop a hole in both ends of the egg and I would blow out everything from the inside and then I would tape up the bottom and then I would fill the eggs with paint so that I had paint eggs. I was such a creatively bad kid (laughs)

Jennifer: This is why bad things happen to you now

Yeah, through karma (laughs). You know, the thing about it all, I realized that there are no bad things. There’re just things that we didn’t plan and you don’t know why they happened YET. Then a year from now you realize that it was part of this like butterfly effect that made something better happen that wouldn’t have happened if all that shit didn’t happen.

When did you first start creating music? How early did you start hearing stuff in your head?

As soon as I got that inspiration at five years old from KISS. By the time I was six, I had a band with the older kids in the neighborhood. We were writing songs. I couldn’t play yet but it doesn’t matter cause from day one I realized I only have to be good enough to play your own songs. You try and get better and then your own songs get better. But when I started off, I had very limited resources. I was six years old so the first song I wrote about, or the first songs that I wrote, were all about the solar system, because as a little kid I was interested in the planets and space and stuff. So the first song I wrote was “Jupiter Is Nice” and it was an exact rip-off of the song “Fox On The Run.” Exact. Because that is what I heard on the radio. So all I had were those things that I heard. I wasn’t creating yet, I was just receiving stuff. I didn’t have enough things that I received that I had pieces to put together and start making my own things form.

So when did that happen?

I was six years old and I figured out how to make multi-track recordings on my own just using different cassette recorders. I would have in the corner of the room, me and the other guitar player, we had little nylon string guitars, we would play like a foot away from the recorder. My brother had this little Bugs Bunny drum set he got at Sears and he would be like ten feet away at the end of the room. That’s how we got our levels, by distance. If it needed to be louder, he would move the drum set a little closer. And we’d record the music. Then we would play the music back facing another tape recorder that was recording and we would sing along to the music and that’s how we overdubbed vocals. Then this one would have the complete music playing back and us singing to it and that was our demo. That’s how we did it.

When did you start writing about serious things like emotions?

That comes with age, I guess. By the time I was seven or eight, I started singing about love songs and trippy dreams. So I was getting deeper, you know. I went from like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to more “Magical Mystery Tour.”

Were you imitating more or taking that song and making it your own?

They were influences. It wasn’t direct rip-offs completely. In the beginning it was but eventually the more music I heard and, I guess, analyzed, took in, swished around, it started becoming more actual creation than imitation. Still, at the age of eight years old, the songs still sounded a lot like KISS meets Led Zeppelin and things like that but in the most basic form a kid would write. Some of the stuff was actually pretty catchy. I might have written better songs at eight than I did at thirty-eight. Pretty scary (laughs)

When did you start performing?

I started performing immediately, doing basement concerts where we’d spend all day after school. We charged people .25 a ticket (laughs). We were resourceful little kids. And we would cut up pieces of paper and create confetti in cups and this way at the end of the show, they could all throw confetti in the air. It’s so funny cause I look at the Guns N Roses show and now we have confetti canons but thirty years before it was no different. It was just that we had little hand cut cups of confetti that we made for the audience. It’s just so ironic.

So you were thinking of the whole show and not just simply singing a song.

Yes. We made our own merch. I would hand draw all the merch and everything and make little comic books that were hand written.

What was it like in the early band days when you were a teenager?

I was thirteen years old when I started playing bars. I had a puberty mustache so everyone thought I was eighteen. And by that point, everything was very progressive. It sounded like a mixture of Loudness meets Iron Maiden meets Manowar meets Yes meets Rush. It was interesting stuff. I was playing with a lot of the older teenage kids, so yeah, it was pretty scary. I had no stage fright until one day I was ten years old and I was on stage, fifth grade playing in front of the school, and suddenly it hit me: What the hell am I doing?! I guess it was just part of growing up, that self-awareness began, and that lasted until my early twenties, I would say, until eventually you become more self-assured and not so self-absorbed. And you realize that people don’t define you.

What was the hardest lesson, or the biggest lesson, you learned on your own when you got out into the world being a professional musician?

The toughest lesson? I could write a book on the toughest lessons (laughs). But the toughest lesson I learned, I think, was that you can’t depend on people. You can NOT depend on people. You’re on a journey and you see how limitless it is and you’ve taken it as far as you could go and along the way, every time you reach a certain milestone, right before you reach it, somebody decides, “I don’t want to take the next bit of the trip.” And you don’t know that until you’re at the point where you need them the most. You’re getting into the studio to record your first album and suddenly the person is like, “The dream is getting too real for me, I’m out.” Or you’re about to do your first big show or you’re about to do your first big tour, whatever it is, and the people that are on your team suddenly realize that this is as far as they want to take it and you’re screwed. Cause they don’t tell you that beforehand. Maybe they don’t even know it beforehand, until they get there and they realize that this is just not what they want to do.

How did you handle it?

I always was self-reliant and would sort of take everything, take the ball and run. So I would be doing everything and this was my life, my entire life. It was the reason I existed. It was the reason I woke up in the morning and I would fall asleep still working on whatever I was doing. And I would be sharing that with this team of people that I thought was there with me, even though I was pretty much doing everything. They would just show up and play and leave, go back to their day jobs, where this was my day job.

How do you stay positive in a business that has just as many negatives?

When I’m doing my own thing, I’m very happy and gratified and I get to have all the things I need to make it worth doing. Like when I do my own things, it has the interaction. I don’t want to just be this movie screen that people are watching, you know, back and forth. I want to feel like I’m there too along with them. And also when I do my own tours, I like to do things. I do the fundraising things, I do charity things, because making music just to entertain people is not enough. Not anymore. Most of the shows that I’ve done on my own have been fundraising shows and charity shows. Otherwise, why do it? What’s the point? To just go out and play? Nah. I could stay home and work on something in the studio or do something else. I don’t need to go out and do that unless it serves a greater purpose. Then it’s like, ok, now it makes sense, let’s do it.

Money is hard to make on your own in the music business nowadays.

It can be but you have to be diverse and that’s the other thing that I’ve learned from all of those lessons where other people dropped off, that I needed them and I’ve had to do their job suddenly. I’ve had to learn how to make websites on two days’ notice. I have learned how to engineer. I’ve had to learn how to do mastering. I have had to learn how to be my own publicist, my own manager, my own producer, my own booking agent. I’ve had to do everything out of necessity and it’s only made me better. It’s only made me smarter and stronger and more able and self-reliant. Now, if someone screws up, ok, I can take it from here on. I’m not lost. I can get the job done. Half the time I can get the job done better and that happens too.

What was it like the first time you went into a real studio to record?

You know, the only other band I’ve played with besides my own, as far as really joining a band, and not just a quick little thing, is Guns. I’ve done a few little things here and there but mostly I’ve always had my own studio. Because everything I did, from like age six, it all expanded and moved forward. I was writing songs for my band and we had the two cassettes and eventually we got a mixing board too so we could get a few things recorded at once. Then eventually instead of recording onto those cassettes, we got a reel-to-reel. Then eventually you had the computer stuff and then the rooms got better. Started making walls and separate rooms for everything. And now, for the last ten years, I have a second house that I don’t even live at. I just record there. That’s the place where all this can go and live there that I produce. And even the producing happened where I was recording and then my friend’s band was like, “Hey, can you record us?” Yeah, and then they started asking advice and then the next thing you know I’m also laying a guest track and the next thing you know I’m doing more of that for other bands and everything just builds up and everything you’ve done for yourself, as you do it for others it expands your whole world.

So everything that I was doing as a little six year old, trying to make it to KISS level, turned me into a recording engineer and producer, a guest guitarist, vocalist, a co-writer for different things which led to writing stuff like jingles and things like that and writing stuff for TV shows. Every single thing broadened into everything else. I went from giving lessons in my basement to teaching at my friend’s music store that he opened to running the music department at a local private school to becoming an adjunct professor at SUNY Purchase College. So every single thing, you move forward. Even with the studio stuff, as far as going into different studios, it’s just my own studio that got better and then every once in a while I go into a different studio. But that was a natural progression where it wasn’t this weird thing, like, “Oh my God, I’m in a million dollar studio!” It’s just another studio, like my own, where I go in and do my thing.

Guns N' Roses

How do you take you as the musician out of the picture and produce yourself?

That is tricky because you have to sort of be on both sides of the glass at once. You have to be able to put on your producer hat and say, “Ok, here’s what you need to do and this is the kind of feeling you need and this is the emotion that you are going for, that you want people to get from it.” And then you take off that hat and put on the performer hat and say, “Ok, here I go. Boom!” And you do it. That felt good so you listen back and put on the other hat and say, “You still got one better. It seemed like it didn’t have the breathiness, it didn’t sound intimate enough, like you were really speaking. It sounds like you’re just dialing it and reading it. Take it again.” Take off that hat, put other hat back on. Do it again. It’s that kind of thing. So all this hat switching, and it happens in an instant, you’ve done so much of both that you know how to do that. You learn how to separate yourself from what you’re doing and then flick the switch and completely open yourself up and let your emotions pour out and then flip the switch again and then listen back as a listener; just separate yourself as if none of that happened and you’re getting it for the first time.

And you can’t have ego about it either

No, you cannot be arrogant about it. You have to be able to say, “That sucked. One more time.” And you do that. I think anyone who doesn’t do that is not going to get very far because you have to be very honest with yourself. You have to be able to admit to yourself that you’re not perfect, that everything you do is NOT gold, and that you only want to give people your best. You’ve got to decide cause you’re going to have a lot of songs where you’re going to say, “That song shouldn’t be heard. It’s not good enough. I don’t want to give it to people. I only want them to hear the things that I think are only worthy of their ears.” So yeah, not everything you do is so wonderful that you have to give it to the world. Just try and give them your best.

Tell us how you create music

For the last twenty years, most of my songwriting really happens in my head. I don’t have a guitar with me. I don’t have anything with me. I’m just thinking it and feeling it and I hear it all in my head. Even down to arrangements – cellos are going to come and go (starts humming) and the drums are going to go boom-boom-boom and I hear it all in my head. Then once I have it all set up in my head and arranged, then I take the guitar and I start playing it and seeing how it sounds outside of my head. Sort of loop it back around and say, alright, is this going to work? Can I really make it work? It’s working in theory but will it work in reality? Most of the time it does. You’re hearing it, it’s just a question of, like anything else, you have an idea and once you have the vocabulary you know how to say the words to somebody so that they know exactly what you mean. It’s the same kind of thing because it is a language. You are giving people a message, it’s just that the message is not lingual; it’s lingual but it’s everything. Even speaking it is a type of music because the tone that you have, the expression, you could say the same thing ten different ways and have ten different meanings to the person. So it is a lot of that and that’s almost the producing part. Making sure you say it the right way so that you’re portraying the message you want people to really see what you want them to see, feel what you feel, hear what you hear, and you want to have that connection. You want them to be inside you.

Is it easy to name your songs?

Sometimes, but it depends, cause everything happens in a different order. It might start off with a drumbeat. It might start off with a guitar riff. It might start off with just a feeling. It might start off with a word. There are so many things that lead to a finished song. It’s like you have all these different things that make a song and any of them can happen first that start the race toward solidifying that ball of things of gas. So the name happens as the lyrics happen and the lyrics might happen to describe the music or make the music to fit the lyrics. They usually don’t happen at the exact same time. You have to find the one that will match the other. And that can be tricky. Most of the time I’ve written music before the lyrics and that’s tough. Finding the right lyrics, it’s often held back a song. Some songs have taken eight years to write because I could not find the right lyrics and she’s seen me wake up in the middle of the night, 4:00 am, and I yell out, “E Flat! That’s what it should be hitting on the bottom.” And then I go back to bed. I do, I write songs in my sleep. It reaches that point where you are living it literally twenty-four hours a day. That even though you’re sleeping, while that brain is at rest, that little piece of it that is not resting is still writing songs and working on stuff and trying to figure out, “What was that next line supposed to be of that song that I just couldn’t think of?” And then you wake up in the morning and go, that was it. But yeah, you start writing songs in your sleep.

bumblefoot 2008 (2)

You seem to be such a positive, happy person but yet some of your lyrics are really painful to listen to. Do they all come from real life?

Oh yeah. It is the full spectrum of everything that you can feel but it’s just what you want to dump on others and how you want to do it. I’m not going to sit here and wear you down with all my personal shit that makes me miserable, that makes me want to jump out a fucking window. She gets to hear all that (laughs) But yeah, the songs will touch on everything and I find that a lot of times, maybe it’s my own therapy and also therapy for others, where I will take these legitimately real difficult situations of life and find a way to just make it more light-hearted and scoff at adversity, I guess. I think it’s just who I am, the sarcasm, I guess. Have you ever made like a stupid joke at a funeral where it sort of lightens the load and everyone laughs, you know what I mean. It’s almost like that sort of mentality. It’s therapy.

But you don’t have to share it with the world

But I want to. I want to share all of me. So I will share the stupid, fun stuff and the more serious stuff too. You know, the next album that I am writing right now has serious fucking lyrics. It’s not all just fun stuff.

So when will we get to hear it?

I wish right now. I have the drum tracks done to seven songs. I have to finish writing the rest. I just have to lay the tracks to them. Those songs are done and ready for my tracks. It’s just I’m here right now so I need to get back to my studio (laughs).

But you’re only here for another week

On June 8th I fly home but then I start another tour on June 12th and I’m gone until the end of July doing a solo tour with Yngwie Malmsteen, Uli Jon Roth and Gary Hoey. It’s called Guitar Gods and we’re going all across the US starting in the northeast, going up to the northwest, going down to the southwest and working our way back up. So yeah, it’s going to be interesting.

What was your first guitar?

Let’s see, the first one was just a little kid-size nylon string practice guitar. But my first electric guitar was a copy of a Sunburst Les Paul, which is just the coolest rock guitar you can have. It cost my parents $85 dollars and that was in 1978. It was from a company called Pace. I don’t know any guitar company called Pace that makes Les Paul rip-offs. I don’t know where they found this thing but that’s my first guitar. It was cool.

What happened to it?

As I got older, I started getting into modifying guitars and building my own guitars and making my own designs and making really strange guitars. So that thing went through a lot of changes. In fact, you can see pictures of it if you go on my website, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] and that is the one covered with pictures of penguins. That was my first guitar. Just go to Gear and then the first one says “Pensive Expenguin.” Now that one, it went from there to my mom had this like fake rabbit fur coat. I think it was rabbit. I don’t know what it was, and I cut it up and covered my guitar with it. So I had a fur guitar.

What did your mom do?

I don’t think she was happy with that (laughs). It went from there and I took the neck, pulled the frets off it and I covered it with coins, you know, pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and shaved the sides and sunk the whole thing in this epoxy stuff concoction that I made to form like a solid material. So now the neck instead of being a normal fretboard, it was just a roll of $4.63 of coins (laughs). I cut the body in half in this weird shape and then took the bridge where you connect the strings to, put on this angle sticking out of this edge and then took the body, it was red, and then I eventually found all these pictures of penguins, penguins feeding each other and just running around, and covered the body in this clear lacquer. I used to make some really weird guitars and I think more people knew my guitars than me. Like, “Oh, you’re the guy with the swiss cheese guitar!” Like I had one guitar that I chiseled to like swiss cheese. I would make some very strange guitars. But that was part of my artistic thing, you know. It’s part of making art. I like making art. I used to do a lot of painting.

We know the story that Joe Satriani hooked you up to being in Guns but how did you hook up with Satriani?

Well, as time is going on, by this time it was the early nineties, and I was actually having like real commercial releases with my music coming out on a lot of comp CDs or things like that. By the early to mid-nineties, I had a record deal on Shrapnel Records so at that point I was putting out my Ron Thal albums. I did two albums on there and then I started my own label in the late-nineties just to put out my own music. So it’s 2004 and we crossed paths and I ended up jamming with him at one of his shows and we’d talk every once in a while. Then he sent me an email saying, “Hey, I’m just letting you know that they were looking for someone and I recommended you and if someone reaches out …” and a few hours later Chris Pitman wrote me this funny email and we spoke for about two months, back and forth, with management, with Caram Costanzo, the producer. Then there was a lull for about a year and a half and then they had a tour coming up and they said, “Hey, you still want to do this?” And we met up in New York and we jammed for a couple of nights and hit the road.

Was it easy to learn their catalog?

A lot of the older stuff I already knew. I mean, everybody knows everything off of Appetite and all the hits off the Illusions and everything. So it was no problem. Like, “Hey, you want to come down and jam these songs?” “Yeah, I know them.” “Want to do another three tomorrow night?” “Sure, which ones?”

When did you feel comfortable putting your own little spin on them?

It was tricky to find a balance because I didn’t want to re-write the songs, especially if it was like a melody that everybody knows . It was like if you were re-writing a song, you could change that. When do I do my own thing and when do I stay true to the original? I think I’ve found a decent balance now. Like I know when to play the melodies that everyone knows and if there’s a passage of just, you know, riffing out, then I just do it my own way and do my own thing.

Is it easy to synchronize with two other guitar players?

In the very beginning when Dj first joined the band, we all would just sit in a room for hours in just three chairs facing each other with our guitars figuring out what each one of us should do so that we don’t step on each other. Keep it organized and coordinated so that it’s not just a mess onstage. In the studio you can tweak it and make this one a little louder and this one a little lower but when you’re playing live and everything is echoing and stuff, a little goes a long way. So you have to be very careful and not fill it up too much because it’s just going to become inaudible.

How were the fans at first?

Skeptical. They didn’t know who I was and for a fan that this is a band that they loved for fifteen/twenty years, whatever it was at that point, suddenly mom brings home a new baby and it’s like, “Who the hell is this? I didn’t say I could have a new brother. Get out of here kid. I don’t want you here. I didn’t choose you.” So it took a long time.

bumblefoot guitar gods 2014 tourBut now they love you

Not everybody but that’s normal. There’s going to be people that no matter what they just will refuse to accept anyone other than whichever member they feel the most personal connection with. And that’s fine. That’s ok. I get it and I don’t take personal offense unless they’re personally offensive. And even then I just say, well, it has nothing to do with me. And that’s because what they all did together was so magical. Think of it like Seinfeld. Each guy could have their own show but it’s not going to be the same as what they had together. It’s like Elaine had New Christine and now she’s got, what’s that new one? The Veep. It’s great, funny show. But that’s the thing, it was the magic in what they had together; undeniable, perfect chemistry. It was John-Paul-George-Ringo level. It was Peter-Ace-Gene-Paul level. It was that level and nothing could ever replace that. And they feel like it’s been replaced with something that just doesn’t have the same that they had with them. So it’s frustrating and they resent it and they’re missing it. The food doesn’t taste as good. But at the same time there might be people out there that might look at what we do and say, “To me, this is the one I love” and they won’t accept any other if something changes with that. So it’s all up to the individuals.

The thing is that classic line-up made such a profound impact musically and they were such strong personalities that each one was their own person yet they fit together, they belonged. You could say this guy was a little more punky, this guy is a little more bluesy, this guy was a little more rock, this one was a little more this, and each one added something that completed what they did so well and gave it so much more depth and spirit that it’s damn near untouchable. So now, if someone is frustrated that the new version of Seinfeld doesn’t have Costanza and Elaine and Kramer, I understand. It’s ok.

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

Ooh, who did I meet? I didn’t meet a lot of rock stars till I got older and that’s cause I ended up playing with them, which was pretty damn cool. I never tried to get backstage. I never got a guy’s autograph or a picture. I met Buddy Rich when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I got to meet him at the Bottom Line in New York City. He was nice. He was cool. I mean, from what I remember. He put on a good show. I hung out a few times with Les Paul’s son. I had a lot of great jams with John Sykes. I have real nice memories of going to Cheesecake Factory with him and jamming at his house, jamming at rehearsals. John 5 is a supercool guy.

Jennifer: You know who was nice? Sammy Hagar

Sammy Hagar, yeah

Jennifer: He didn’t have an attitude at all

Yeah, he was real nice. Peter Criss. One of the coolest was probably Nancy Sinatra. We played together and you could see how it runs in the family. She’s got a swagger to her and she was just real cool. This was about ten years ago in New York at a fundraiser.

What was your most nerve-wracking experience on stage?

Oh I’ve had a few of those. I could tell you lots of stories about those (laughs). I remember being in France about to go on stage for a headlining show out there maybe a dozen years ago and as I’m walking up the stairs with my guitar in my hand to go play and do the show, I had the head of the record label screaming at me how he wants to take all my publishing cause he’s not making enough money and all this stuff. It was like, “Can’t we talk about this AFTER the show?” As I’m walking up, he’s like yelling at me about all this stuff. It’s like, “Thanks, Dude.” That kind of stuff you just have to block it out of your mind.

One very difficult show was I played Philadelphia in 2012 with Guns and I was on this nerve-blocker for my spine. I had been in a car accident and the medicine only worked for a month and I had a one month’s supply. Actually, I got a little extra but pretty much the medicine will ONLY work in your body a month and then after that it will stop working. We had a three week tour, or four weeks, whatever it was, and then on four days’ notice, they didn’t tell us, they booked another three weeks of shows and I needed to take treatments, I needed to get things done, I needed to take care of my health, and they just ignored that and booked these shows. The first show after that one month was up, I took the pills and they didn’t work and I could barely walk and I had to try and do a three hour show where even if you had just touched the top of my head, it was like someone taking a giant knife and just shoving it in your neck and twisting it. And I had to play a show like that and I could barely move. I had to sit down for a couple of songs and I remember just walking like I was petrified. I could barely bend my knees and my spine, I just couldn’t move. There was just so much pain. I had to do a show like that and many shows after that.

What still excites you about playing music?

Everything. I’m still like a little kid with it. There’re a lot of things that get in the way now. There’re a lot of distractions and it’s much more complicated and it’s not as simple as cutting up the cups of confetti in my basement anymore. There are a lot more parameters and moving parts to the machine but I’ve realized over the years that as long as you stay focused on the initial thing that you like about playing, all the other stuff doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t affect anything. You always have that and nothing can take that away. And everything else is just around it.

So what happens after the Guitar Gods tour? Are you going to get back in your studio?

Yep, I got to finish up this next album. I actually just ordered something from [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] Got myself a little rig that I can take on the tour bus with me so this way I can try and get some recording done while I’m on the road. I don’t know if I will but I’ll try. I can at least try to get in some tracking, something done. It’s all good.
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