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Guns, jam and caffeine with Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal
Adam Zacharias (email@example.com) / 3 August 2014
Virtuoso U.S. guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, best-known as a member of the current Guns N’ Roses line-up, met City Times following an epic coffee shop set in Dubai
Every music lover knows the stereotype of the spoilt rock star who, after decades of excess and adulation, cuts a jaded and petulant figure.
Guns N’ Roses guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal has no such airs and graces, as witnessed from his visit to the Classic Rock Coffee Co. store in Dubai Healthcare City on Thursday night.
The New Yorker stopped by the café’s grand opening with wife Jennifer to meet fans and put on a show with local rock act Point of View.
This performance on a small and barely elevated stage – a far, far cry from the international stadium concerts of Guns N’ Roses – could have been a simple formality for the 44-year-old on a whistlestop visit to the venue.
However, Thal proceeded to jam like a giddy teenager for more than two and a half hours with his three fellow musicians – ripping through any song audience members could care to name.
“I have no idea what we’re gonna do on this stage,” he declared at the start of the night to the 80-plus people gathered in the café, conceding that he had forgotten to bring a plectrum and adding, “it works out best that way. We’ll make it up as we go along.”
Opening with the Guns N’ Roses track Used to Love Her from 1988’s G N’ R Lies, Thal blitzed through acoustic renditions of hits from an array of artists including Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Iron Maiden and a 12-song Beatles medley interspersed with his current band’s tracks like Sweet Child O’ Mine, Don’t Cry and Yesterdays.
As the crowd applauded each track, Thal would be anxiously waiting to start up another with a mantra of “What’s next?”
After donating assorted Guns memorabilia to the store, the musician whipped out his double-neck guitar (with a regular bottom neck and a fretless top neck) for a virtuoso display of his talents – including tapping lead lines in unison with either hand and a solo-heavy 20-minute shuffle.
After finally coming offstage close to midnight, having been told that the police might shut him down (which prompted a few requisite covers by The Police), Thal was mobbed by fans and patiently met anyone and everyone, signing autographs, shaking hands and posing for selfies galore.
And, when the mob had finally dispersed, the guitarist sat down with City Times (while apologising profusely for the delay...).
Best ‘Foot Forward...
After witnessing the scrum of attention that Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal’s presence generated in the Classic Rock Coffee Co. café, we wonder: was he prepped for such occurrences prior to joining a world-famous act like Guns N’ Roses?
“I didn’t know what to expect,” answers the unflinchingly polite guitarist. “Honestly, I had no idea what life was going to be like or how people would react.
Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal onstage with Guns N’ Roses earlier this year
“You’re the same, but the people around you change. They look at you differently; suddenly people think that you’re going to start using drugs and abusing your loved ones and just become the stereotype.
“The only thing that changes about you is choosing how to react.”
Prior to joining the band in 2006, which came about when frontman Axl Rose was alerted to his talents by fellow six-string maestro Joe Satriani, Thal was a respected solo performer.
He released a series of solo albums beginning with 1995’s The Adventures of Bumblefoot, with his moniker acquired from his wife Jennifer’s veterinary studies (‘bumblefoot’ is a disease found in rodents and birds, for anyone interested).
“I just figured I had to seize the moment, jump in the water and then figure out how to swim,” he says of his decision to join the Los Angeles hard rock icons, whose 1987 debut album Appetite for Destruction sold 28 million copies worldwide.
“You’re thrown into a different world – more different than you think it would be,” he adds, while also conceding that it would have been “easy” to get lost in the excesses of such a position.
“When the whole world is expecting you too be something, and you’re dealing with so much stress, sometimes you just want to give it back to the world and say, ‘Here’s what you want? Here’s what you’re going to get,’” says Thal. “But I never did that – I’m too old for it! My mould was set a long time ago.”
In the past eight years, the musician has maintained an overflowing schedule of commitments beyond the band, whose touring schedule so far this year has seen multiple shows in the States and South America.
He has grown close to Point of View, the Dubai-based rock quintet, after they sent him an online message of appreciation after Guns N’ Roses played Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island in 2010. Since then, they have worked closely with one another – even embarking on a five-city Indian tour together last year.
And this weekend alone, after Thursday’s performance, Thal played with the combo at The Music Room in Bur Dubai on Friday night and hosted a guitar workshop with Poin of View guitarist Royden J. Mascarenhas back at the Classic Rock Coffee Co. café on Saturday evening.
“I really just hit it off with the guys in Point of View, they were nice guys,” he says. “When they finished the album (Revolutionize the Revolutionary), it was fantastic. I flew out in 2012 and played with them for the launch party of their album.”
While Thal is effusive in his praise for Point of View, he’s rather more tight-lipped about the current situation of Guns N’ Roses. He labels the band’s schedule “completely random”, shrugs helplessly when asked about the state of a follow-up album to Chinese Democracy (2008) and refers to the notion of another LP with the band in the past tense.
On whether he has submitted compositions for the group to record: “I wanted to get together as a band, I didn’t want to submit my songs for the band to play. I wanted the band to write as a band so it would truly be a band. But we’re just too busy with touring and other things, and it just didn’t happen.”
“It’s reaching the point where I’m starting to nurture the rest of my life, because I do a lot of other things – and that’s really who I am,” he adds.
Thal points to his continued work as a producer and solo artist, as well as his soundtrack work (including the theme song for MXC, the American take on madcap game show Takeshi’s Castle) and his latest venture, a line of hot sauces.
Born from his love of all things spicy, which began at age 12 when he ate a hot cherry pepper for a $5 dare, Thal designed the six flavours with CaJohns Fiery Foods – ranging in strength from ‘Normal’ to ‘Bumblef***ed’.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” he says of the sauces, which are available to buy at the Classic Rock Coffee Co. café. “I had the ideas and the flavour profiles, I knew what I wanted to do, I designed the labels, and finally my path crossed with CaJohns. I couldn’t do it without them.”
A confessed multi-tasker, which belies his laissez-faire manner, Thal admits he sometimes gets agitated by the endless demands placed on him as a globetrotting rock star, including the inevitable “chaos” of touring, either with Guns or by himself.
“I think my natural personality is to try not to get p***ed off at those things,” he says. “But everybody’s human, and we’re all going to have our moments. I think we need to have our moments, you can’t just let it all build up. You’ve got to let some steam out once in a while.”
As for his future plans in the UAE, now that’s he’s a regular visitor, Thal says he’d like to “keep coming back and keep making music and keep enjoying life here”.
But for now he couldn’t be happier jamming out and meeting fans at the coffee shop, as opposed to his day job of entertaining baying stadiums of 40,000-plus people.
“It would get very boring if you just did one and not the other,” he says of the divergent experiences. “It’s great to play these big shows with the lights and all the fancy stuff, but you start missing this – the personal, face-to-face interaction. You can’t get that with a big show. This feels more real.
“This actually feels more like you’re doing something.”
Nikhil Uzgare, lead singer of Point of View, is also serving as the marketing manager for the Classic Rock Coffee Co.’s expansion from its American roots into the Middle East.
Point of View with Bumblefoot (second from left) and Nikhil Uzgare (third from right)
He told City Times that the store will sell the CDs of UAE bands, as well as offering a mini-library of classic rock magazines, a listening station, a weekly open mic night and more.
“The avenue for local bands to showcase their stuff officially is tailing down to nothing,” he said of the store’s decision to promote upcoming acts in the area.
About the cafe itself, he added, “Everything’s evolving right now,” saying that another, much larger café was planned for the UAE in the near future. The new store is located at Building 33 in Dubai Healthcare City. See www.facebook.com/classicrockcoffeeUAE for further details.
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