Guns N’ Roses’ Bumblefoot Offers 10 Songs That Take Him Back
Everyone has songs that transport them to the past. And when you hear the song, you feel like you were sucked into a time warp and are reliving those moments. It’s a beautiful feeling when the first few notes or a key lyrical turn of phrase can be a sonic time machine, taking you back to when you were young and wild and free. Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal — who is currently slinging his axe in the latest incarnation of Guns N’ Roses — took time out of his high profile gig working alongside the temperamental W. Axl Rose to demonstrate how sound is strongly tied to memory by revealing the songs that take him back to the time when he first heard them.
He walks us through his memories of these songs vividly, so it’s like riding sidecar with him as he recounts the soundtrack of his life. He goes back to his early memories as a 5-year-old tot to crushing on his babysitter to listening to an eight-track over and over.
Kiss — ’100,000 Years’: “Five years old. All the older kids in the neighborhood were goin’ on about the band Kiss. The Kiss ‘Alive!’ album just came out, they all got it. As soon as I heard it, I immediately knew that I wanted to do what they were doing. I remember listening to the album over and over, in awe, just sponging it all up. I felt like life was this puzzle that would come together slowly, piece by piece, and hearing this album was a glimpse at the puzzle I selected in its completed form.”
The Beatles — ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’: “I now had this passion and curiosity about music. And I loved the Beatles — more than the songs themselves, it was the studio tricks and added instrumentation that producer George Martin brought into the songs, that’s what did it for me. ‘Strawberry Fields’ — it sared me. Each verse was like getting more lost in a dangerous place, the reversed tracks sounding like footsteps closing in … I’d listen to the song till the very last bit of sound in the fadeout, but made sure I lifted the needle before hearing any of the flutes fade back in — I had to. The erratic pattern and dissonant harmonies was as good as an invitation for the boogieman to get me. And if I heard one note of those flutes, I’d be sleeping with the covers over my head that night.”
Yes — ‘Going for the One’: “I had a major crush on my babysitters. They were my best friend’s older sisters. Usually it was the brunette, a cute Laurie Partridge lookin’ girl. Sometimes it was the blonde, with the sultry Debbie Harry vibe. As seen from the eyes of a 7-year-old. They made me shy. So shy. I remember hangin’ in my friend’s room listening to his older sisters’ records, one of them was the Yes album ‘Going for the One.’ One of my favorite albums to this day. We’d be in his room listening to the album, and one of his sisters would walk by … and my eyes would hit the floor and my heart would pound extra hard in my chest for a few beats.”
New England — ‘Turn Out the Light/The Last Show ‘: “9 years old. After years of begging, I finally got to see my first Kiss concert. And it was everything I hoped it would be. Madison Square Garden, Ace’s smoking guitar, Peter’s drum solo, Paul’s between-song banter, Gene spitting blood and breathing fire, the lights, the pyro … I can still remember feeling the heat on my face from the giant flames shooting up on the sides of the stage, from the second balcony. The opening act was a band called New England. The next day I went to the store with mom to get their album and they didn’t have it on vinyl, only on … ‘eight-track’. I had to have the album, I couldn’t wait, so I got the 8-track. I loved every song, and still do. For years, I’d listen to the album in my room, on eight-track, where songs would fade off in the middle, a little clicking sound as the player switched to the next set of tracks on the tape, and the song would fade back in. It was better than not having the album at all. I listened so many times the tape eventually snapped. Almost 30 years later I found the CD, and like an excited kid I bought it, and emailed the band letting them know what a big fan I was. Only time in my life I ever did that.”
Van Halen — ‘Mean Street’: “Age 12, I had been playing guitar for about five solid years now, and I had become quite the Angus Young-inspired little rock ‘n’ roll guitarist. There weren’t a lot of kids our age playing music yet, but we’d find each other, friends of friends would meet and jam. I was over one kid’s house and his friend asked me if I ever heard Van Halen. ‘Who?’ He put on the ‘Fair Warning’ album and the intro to ‘Mean Street’ faded in. I never heard a guitar make a sound like that, I didn’t know it could. ‘How the f— is he doing that??’ It was called ‘tapping’, and the kid explained it to me. Then he played me ‘Eruption.’ This changed everything. I had him make me a cassette of ‘Eruption’ and I spent the next however long it took learning that song, note for note by ear. And when I was done, I took the cassette apart, flipped the reels, re-assembled it and learned the song backwards, note for note. After that, I never saw playing guitar the same way.”
Manowar — ‘Blood of My Enemies’: “I’m a Manowar fan. Eric Adams. Best. Metal. Singer. Ever. To me. (With honorable mention to Tony Harnell as Best. Singer. Ever. Check out his work with TNT.) Manowar — ‘Battle Hymns,’ ‘Hail To England,’ ‘Fighting the World’ — love those albums. I was 15 and the high school experience was not working out so well. Cliché cliques, psychotic girlfriends, teachers that judged my character by the length of my hair, completely frustrated with a world I couldn’t move forward in, and it was bringing out the worst, I was slowly imploding. I had one group of friends, a few years older than me — that’s where I first got into Manowar. Sittin’ on a lawn in the middle of the night drinkin’ beers, while the timebomb in my head slowly ticked away. They were good people – I was a fucking mess and they were OK with it. A dozen years later, 1997, my first European tour. I’d warm up for every show at soundcheck with the song ‘Blood of My Enemies.’”
Soundgarden — ‘Outshined’: “I had a vision of what I wanted my band to be. But it was the late ’80s, it was all about being the next big hair band, and people would say, ‘You can’t have dark moody songs, you gotta have party songs …’ and, ‘You can’t have different time signatures, they gotta be 4/4,’ and sometimes, ‘You can’t have a singing guitarist, you gotta have a frontman.’ Then late one night in ’91 something caught my ear from the TV. It was the video to ‘Outshined’ from Soundgarden. I knew things were about to change. Faith No More, Primus, Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Alice In Chains, Nirvana — I felt like I was in my element. My own songs started getting picked up on comp CDs, signed my first record deal in ’94.”
Muse — ‘Stockholm Syndrome’: “2003, exhausted from years of dealing with Satan’s minions in the music industry, started on anti-depressants. I began writing a song about it, called ‘Normal.’ I wrote the first line ‘I just got a new medication …’ and then the drugs kicked in. It was like someone pressed a giant pause button in my head and I couldn’t write another word, another note, anything. All the bad stuff in my head was silenced, and the good stuff, too. A year later, I was off the meds, batteries re-charged and waiting for the creative juices to start flowing again. It wasn’t happening. It sometimes takes a fit of rage to break my head open and get the songs to pour out. And right on schedule, a prominent figure in the music industry tried to blackmail me — that did it. The songs started flowing, and the Muse ‘Absolution’ album brought me great peace and inspiration during that time. Hearing it reminds me of being at a resort in Hawaii writing songs for the ‘Normal’ album. When I toured Europe later that year, we sometimes did a cover of the Muse song ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’”
Bumblefoot — ‘Simple Days’: “I can never write songs on the road. I bring recording gear with me every tour and have yet to ever touch any of it. I only write songs when I have a story to tell, something to say. I never write for the sake of writing, every song has to be from a real place, a personal place. I don’t want writing to feel like a chore. I don’t force it. The only time I wrote a song while on tour was the song ‘Simple Days’ from the ‘Abnormal’ CD. I wrote it in 2006 while on my first tour with GNR. We were on the road for months, and just observing everything and everyone around me, picking up occasional sadness, this song happened.”
Guns N’ Roses — ‘Shackler’s Revenge’: “This was the first song I heard off GNR’s ‘Chinese Democracy’ album in its final mixed and mastered form, summer of ’08. I heard my guitar kick in on the verse, the fretless guitar solo … hearing it that first time made me remember being in the studio a year before, recording the album — a dozen hours a day, sitting on the edge of a swivel chair with a guitar in hand, in front of me a million dollar mixing board spanning the length of the room, an old Marshall head by my right foot, guitars all over the couch behind me, pictures of Hendrix on the walls, Thai food in a delivery bag on a table in the next room … I drive past the studio sometimes, and it all comes back to me.”