He is a monster guitarist, recognised from his waist-long, dead-straight raven locks and electrical stage performances, in which he shreds his double neck vigier guitars. Once the lead guitarist of the famed American band Guns N’ Roses, Ton ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal came on a short visit to Pakistan to meet and greet with local musicians and learn more about our rich culture and heritage.
“I do not judge any place without experiencing it. I come as an open book and see what gets written on it as I experience,” Bumblefoot tells The Express Tribune. “And if you start buying all that news channels say, you will have a very negative and myopic view of the world.”
Bumblefoot decided to take a four-day tour to Islamabad after being contacted by artist-management company Shor Bazaar. He has come to the city to conduct a number of music workshops and play a few live gigs.
Read: Branching out: I Am Karachi to host music festival
The guitarist started his musical career when he was five, and formed a band with his friends at age six, with whom he would jam in his backyard. “The first time I discovered my love for music was when I was five and heard Kiss’ music. From then on, it was like planting a tree whose branches start spreading out.”
He rose to fame when he became part of iconic rock band Guns N’ Roses as lead guitarist, replacing Buckethead in 2005, and going on to perform with the band until 2014. Actual name, Ron Thal, he was inspired to keep the quirky alias ‘Bumblefoot’ – a bacterial infection of the same name, while helping his wife study for her veterinary exams.
However, Bumblefoot’s career trajectory wasn’t any different from that of a Pakistani rock musician as his parents immediately got concerned about him taking up music as a career. “Once I was in my teens and still performing, my parents got nervous and asked me to get a degree as plan B. In retrospect, I think that they were right because life is unpredictable.”
From personal interaction, one can sense that Bumblefoot is a person who has experienced a fair share of suppression and depression in life and found a solid middle ground between them. And, in indeed, that is the case. After extensively touring the world with Guns N’ Roses and Art of Anarchy, the guitarist got into a car accident in 2011, after which he suffered so much pain that he had to be kept on a suicide watch. He finally recovered from that pain through a change in diet, but his life took another twist when he got diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2014. Surprisingly, he recovered from that, too, after getting treatment.
“When you have this kind of a life, you start to develop an interesting perspective on things,” elaborates Bumblefoot. He says that such incidents make one see the world and meet all kinds of people. Some will end up owning you, while others assume you’re on this pedestal that they have to knock over.
“Some will see you as an opportunity and try to manipulate you. With this kind of experience, you can either go into a shell and mistrust everyone or embrace reality as it is, know your place in the world and yet try to make it better,” says Bumblefoot
His schedule is already tightly packed with back-to-back music workshops, gigs, media appearances as well as a performance for underprivileged children. After his brief stay in Pakistan, he plans on touring parts of Middle East and Asia.
Bumblefoot is overwhelmed by the hospitability of Pakistanis and is addicted to local cuisines. “I love Pakistan for the hot weather and hot and spicy food,” he says.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2015.
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