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Andy Timmons Discusses Sgt. Pepper

Posted December, 2011

 

AndyNew11Photo by Simone CecchettiOnce in a great while, one comes across an artist who is not only good but scary good.  One such person is former Danger Danger guitarist, Andy Timmons.  As I shared in my interview with Timmons last year, when I heard the strains of Cry For You wafting across the Dallas International Guitar Festival, I became an immediate fan . . . for life.

Since that interview, I’ve become increasingly aware of the level of high respect given to Timmons among his peers.  Some might even go as far as to say that they would just be happy to be able to play his mistakes.  Yeah, he’s that good.

During that interview, Andy mentioned that he was working on a new CD wherein he covers the entire Sgt. Pepper album instrumentally.  A year later, Andy shot me a note to ask me to meet up with him for coffee and to pick up a copy of his Pepper.  Boy! Is this album ever worth the wait!  You can catch the Boomerocity review of Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper here but, suffice it to say, I think you should add this album to your listening library.

After practically wearing out the CD, I, of course, wanted to chat with Andy about the album.  Between touring in support of the album and his continued work with Mesa Boogie as well as Olivia Newton-John, it was tough to get our schedules in sync.  We were able to carve out some time while he was on tour with Olivia.  In fact, it was during some down time during the tour, while Andy was paying homage to John Lennon at Strawberry Fieldsin New York City’s Central Park.

Before we got down to talking all things Pepper, I briefly continued discussion on a topic that Andy and I bantered back and forth on via e-mail a few days prior.  The subject matter was the theme song from a kid’s TV show that ruled the airwaves in the Phoenix area for over 30 years: The Wallace and Ladmo Show. The theme song was written and played by the late Mike Condello who was the musical force behind anything musical taking place on that show.  Andy had mentioned in a previous chat that the Wallace theme song was the second record he ever bought so I started our conversation on that subject.

Before you roll your eyes and fast-forward to Pepper chat, just hold on to your Walrus.  This has everything to do with the Beatles and segues quite nicely into our discussion about Pepper.

“That 45rpm record – I still have the original copy of it. It’s just one of those haunting instrumental tunes.  It’s a very sad, pensive kind of melody. I don’t know if it strikes you that way but for me the tune is very melancholy for a kid’s show. It must’ve been recorded in ’67 or ’68, obviously. It sounded very Abbey Road to me before Abbey Road came out – the way the harmony sounds – like Paul and George singing together. Mike always did a great job of copying Beatle-type stuff. He had quite a history of that. But, yeah, it was one of my first records. It’s an instrumental tune and I love it so much.”

And, just in case you folks think that this is purely a Phoenix thing, realize that greats like Alice Cooper and Steven Spielberg were heavily influenced by The Wallace and Ladmo Show and that the show’s reach spanned the globe.  Andy attests to this fact.

“I was actually in Sydney, Australia, back in about 2000 with Olivia. I was in a really cool collector’s CD shop and I found Wallace and Ladmo’s Greatest Hits in Australia of all places!  They had the theme song so it was nice to have a clean version of the theme song! It had all of the Mike Condello hits like Ladmo In The Sky With Diamonds!” Andy laughs at the memory of the fun of it all and concludes by saying of the theme, “It will always be one of my favorite recorded pieces of music”.

It goes to show you that kids are indelibly impacted by music at a very early age and underscores the importance of music education in the lives of our kids.  It’s a sad thing to see funding of music education fall victim to budget cuts in our schools.

We shifted our chat to Andy’s current tour with Ms. Newton-John and how his Pepper work factors into it.

“We’re actually right in the middle of it. We’ve done three shows and have four more. It’s a brief run.  She’s been very gracious and she’s asked me to open her show with some of my Pepper tunes.  So I’m out there doing that. That’s pretty cool.  She loves the CD and is very into it and very happy to help promote it.  She’s a sweetheart like that.”

As I mentioned earlier, Andy told me last year that he had already started working on the album.  I asked him how long it took to put the project together and out the door.

“The main time spent was just me coming up with the arrangements. I called it kind of a hobby for a couple of years because I wasn’t specifically setting out to make a record initially. We were doing Strawberry Fields live and it was going over great. A suggestion from my Italian promoter was, ‘Why don’t you do a whole set of Beatles?’  I really didn’t think that I could pull that off but it kind of got my wheels turning and I started experimenting with other Beatles songs but not necessarily Sgt. Pepper songs.  I think Lucy In The Sky was the next one that started to develop nicely.

“I thought, ‘How would it be to play the whole record just by myself in my studio just for fun?’ So, I just started working on other arrangements. I thought, ‘What if I did When I’m Sixty-Four or Lovely Rita?’ – like how I had approached the Resolutionrecord in that I wasn’t doing any overdubs. I was using chords and melody together a lot. So that’s how I approached this whole project. I didn’t want to approach it as far as ‘I’m going to do a bunch of overdubs and try to exactly replicate the record’. I wanted to see how much I could incorporate into one performance while really getting across all of the nuances and memorable things about each song.

“As I went about it, I also decided that I was just going to do it completely from memory. That should tell you how much I’ve AndyNew9Photo by Simone Cecchettiheard this music. Obviously, so many people have. It’s very ingrained. But I think it actually helped make it easier for me in that, going back and transcribing the record, per se, would have been a daunting task. Whereas this allowed me to replicate the music as I hear it in my head meaning that, depending how you experience music as you think about it, the important things tend to stick out to me - like whether it’s the vocal or guitar chord or an orchestration from George Martin, or whatever it might be. It’s what helped me thin it out and do what I could in performing it.  It made it fun and extra challenging. I think it’s also a cool story. People like to know as they listen to the record – it makes it more interesting than just somebody who sat at home with 24 tracks or whatever and tried to replicate it exactly. It makes it much more of a personal statement for me as opposed to the other direction.”

As Andy mentioned earlier, Olivia Newton-John loves Andy’s Pepper project.  I also knew that other of his guitar playing peers had received copies of the disc – folks like Steve Lukather and Andy’s label prez, the incomparable Steve Vai. I asked Andy what their feedback was.

“I think one of the most gratifying is Steve Lukather one of my early heroes for many years and we’ve gotten to know each other over time.  He couldn’t be a sweeter, more supportive kind of guy. There’s a handful of guys that I consider when I make a record and I think, ‘Man! I hope they dig this!’ because I respect their ears and I certainly respect their taste in music. My guitar player friends that are definitely Beatles fans , I’m really hoping they’ll connect with what I’ve done because there’s a lot of nuance there that the casual listener may not pick up on but some of the musicians will definitely understand and realize, ‘Alright, this wasn’t an easy feat’ and they can hear the labor of love.

“Steve – he was so sweet!  I sent him a link to the record before it was released.  He sent me a couple of e-mails over the course of a month, saying, ‘Hey, man, I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet. I’m traveling but I’ll get to it.’  Then, apparently, he listened to it while he had a day off in Osaka (Japan). I probably got six e-mails. He was going off on how much he loved it. He called it maybe his favorite instrumental record of all time.  Heavy praise from my hero!  That was very sweet!”

And what has Steve Vai had to say about it?

“He was the first guy to hear it – the first guy I sent it to. One of the most gratifying things he said was, ‘How did you get all those chords in tune?’  The guitar, in general, is a very imperfect instrument. You cannot possibly be perfectly in tune – especially when you have distortion. It magnifies all the impurities of the tuning – especially the more complex chords you’re trying to voice with distortion - it exaggerates the tuning imperfections. I spent a lot of time on that. Some songs happened very quickly on the CD and some I had to figure out how I could achieve the tuning, per se, to really make it listenable for me. It’s a blessing and a curse having great ears in that you know exactly what it sounds like in your head and to get it can be extremely frustrating. We went through a lot to get the tuning just right.”

Bringing his comments back around to what Vai had to say, Timmons said, “He also said that he thought it was a beautiful record and, ‘This is the kind of project everyone talks about doing but never does.’  As I would tell people what I was up to, everybody would have that look like, ‘Really? Is this going to work?’ 

“I have to admit, over the course of a couple of years – after I had the idea, ‘Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool to actually record this?’ I came in a confident mode where, for a while there I thought, ‘Man, this is really gonna work!’ and then when we did the recording, I thought, ‘Man, I don’t think this is going to work.” It took me quite awhile to get the confidence to really be sure, ‘Okay, I love this. I really think it’s going to work.’  Once I got to that place, it was really exciting!  I thought, ‘Regardless what happens, if a couple of my friends dig the way I’m digging it and the way the band’s digging it, then I’m successful.’ 

AndyNew12Photo by Simone Cecchetti“For Steve Vai and Lukather and other people who have been hearing it along the way – no matter what happens commercially, I’m already way successful with what the goal was – to try to present the music in a loving tribute, so to speak. But obviously, it’s nice that it’s getting out there and it’s selling pretty well. I think there’s potential to broaden my fan base that tends to be other guitarists – which is awesome and I’m so thankful for that – but, you know, largely, I want to appeal to a wider group of people and not just people who play the same instrument. I’m hoping this will translate to connecting with Beatles fans in general.

“Oddly enough, I get e-mails from people now that will start off by saying, ‘You know, I’m not really a Beatles fan but I really like your record!’  I’m like, ‘How could you not be a Beatles fan?’  I was fortunate that I was born in ’63 and I had older brothers that were all big fans so I grew up with every record that came out then. So it’s just ingrained in me. If you don’t grow up in that environment and aren’t exposed to it, you’re not as likely to be as connected.  The youth are obviously connecting when they’re exposed to it. It continues to appeal on such a large scale. 

“For me, it’s an honor to add anything to the realm of the Beatle world and to have it be so positively accepted by a lot of Beatles websites already.  Beatles Examiner and Steve Marinucci, I’ve subscribed to his Beatles newsletter which has come out every day for 15 years. I sent him a copy. I’ve never met him before but he immediately picked up on it and loved it. I was blown away because I’m sure he gets hammered with Beatle related releases every day. But he really took a liking to it and is helping spread the word.  It’s a very cool time for me.”

As he finished that particular thought, Andy interrupts himself by saying, “I’m sitting here staring at the Imagine mosaic, by the way, as we’re talking. I don’t know if you ever saw the back of my CD, ear X-tacy, there’s a picture of me sitting in this mosaic which had to be taken in 1993. Here I am, how many years later.”

With Andy’s extensive network of incredible musician friends, I asked if he’s heard whether or not Paul or Ringo have heard his CD yet.

“No, I haven’t. But that would be a dream of mine!  I know that (Beatle engineer) Geoff Emerick has it. I haven’t heard back from him. My publicist, Carol Kaye, actually manages Geoff so she gave him a copy a few weeks ago.”

I caught one of Andy’s performances recently in which he performed several cuts from Pepper, much to the crowd’s delight. I asked Andy what his favorite tune to perform from the disc.

“Ooh!  Interesting!  I do love all of it. We haven’t performed the whole record yet so it’s hard to say. We’ve done about half of it. Strawberry Fields is still a really strong song to perform live. I really enjoy playing She’s Leaving Home, as well. It’s one of the high points of the record just because it was always the most emotional Beatles song for me. It’s kind of like Paul had really gotten to the same emotional place that Brian Wilson was coming from on Pet Sounds. You hear Brian’s influence on Paul’s bass playing all over the record. But, vocally, that’s one of the influences you hear on that song where Paul gets into that high falsetto stuff. That’s total ‘Brian Wilson’. But he’s mentioned it many times how Pet Sounds was his inspiration, basically, for the Pepper record.

“But Brian Wilson’s music, for whatever reason, is highly emotional to a lot of people, obviously.  When you think of his ballads - not the surfing tunes - In My Room and Surfer Girl come from such a delicate, sweet place and, when you know more about his history and his painful childhood, you kind of understand where that stuff is coming from.  That one Beatles song kind of gets to that level.  It’s a very sentimental lyric, obviously. But what Paul did melodically is really strong.

“Anyway, I took a lot of time trying to get to that same place on the guitar – trying to get it through the guitar in that same way. People seem to really like that, as well.”

As for what he thinks the crowd favorite is, Timmons said, “Strawberry Fields, I think, for sure. It’s fun when we do things like Little Help From My Friends and Lucy In The Sky. No matter what country we’re in – anywhere in the world – the crowd is signing as loud as the band is playing. It’s so cool! Everybody knows the music so well! It turns into these wonderful sing-alongs. It’s awesome!”

For you musicians, guitar techies and gear heads, I asked Timmons about the equipment he used to play on Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper.  You can thank me with tens and twenties.

“Essentially, its four amps running at once. Again, being just one guitar performance we wanted the tone to be as stellar as possible. It’s essentially four Mesa Boogies. There was one Marshall amp involved on a couple of songs but my Mesa’s were basically beating out my vintage amps. When it comes to recording, it’s not about what logo is on the amp, it’s the best tone wins. It’s gonna last forever, hopefully. It’s gotta be right no matter what. I had two Mesa Boogie Lone Star’s and two Mesa Boogie Stilleto Deuce Stage Two heads all running through four separate Mesa Boogie rectifier 2x12 cabinets with vintage Celestion 30 watt speakers.

“So one guitar is basically feeding four amps in a variety of ways, split with an A/B box – one side going to the Lone Stars and those being split by a TC Electronic chorus delay. The other side is split by an A/B box and tube driver feeding into two tape echoes feeding into the Stilettos.  That’s the overall sound of the record, essentially.

“The guitar was my original AT100 Ibanez signature guitar – the prototype from 1994.  On Within You Without You I used a brand new production model AT100 that I set up with the tremolo floating slightly to get those Eastern inflections. I also used a 1968 Telecaster on When I’m Sixty-Four.  I was trying to replicate George Harrison’s Gretsch Tennessean tone like he used on Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and Honey Don’t, those kinds of songs – his Carl Perkins tone. I have a ’62 Tennessean which is very similar to his guitar but the Tele actually sounded ‘Gretschier’ than the Gretsch. I use that old Tele for that ol’ rockabilly/country tone that I got as a tribute to George. But that’s it –those three guitars but it’s mainly my old AT100 – my old faithful – that’s just the home base for me.”

One thing about Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper that intrigued me was why he included Strawberry Fields at the tail end of the album.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled that he did. I was just curious as to why he did.

“Well, two reasons. Obviously, that was the arrangement that got us started in the first place. But, actually – and a lot of people do know this – but Strawberry Fields was the first song recorded for Sgt. Pepper. When the Beatles came off of vacation after they stopped touring in August of ’66, John went to Spain to film a movie called How I Won The War – another Richard Lester film. While he was there, he wrote Strawberry Fields. When they reconvened in the studio for what became Sgt. Pepper, that was his offering so they worked on that first in late ’66. Then Paul had Penny Lane as an answer. When I’m Sixty-Four was the next one. EMI came to Brian Epstein and said, ‘Hey, we need another single.’ So the label pulls Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane as a single. The Beatles didn’t want to put singles in front of the album. But that really was the first track recorded for Sgt. Pepper.

Timmons added, “We’re about to release an official video of us playing it in the studio.  We shot about six videos a couple of months ago and they’re just now being edited. Simple – just us in the studio playing the tunes but it’s kind of cool to see.”

I followed that bit of revelation by asking if he was planning to do like he did when he released Resolution and that was to film a full-blown concert video of the album.

“Yes! Absolutely!  We’re working on logistics as far as how and when and where we’re going to do it.”

When I interviewed Andy last year, he mentioned that he was also working on another CD in parallel with Pepper.  I asked him what the latest scoop was on that CD. 

“The only scoop at this point is that there’s 14 new songs that were recorded essentially at the same time as Pepper. So that’s going to be one of those situations like Resolution where I’m going to scrap everything I recorded guitar-wise and redo it. It will be awhile because I’m so focused now on promoting the Sgt. Pepper record and getting that out there. That’s why the Pepper record happened before that did because I cut about half of the tracks live with the band and I thought, ‘Okay, this is closer to being done. Let me finish this and then I’ll work on the other thing and get that to the place to where I’m happy with it. That was quite handy by the time we did the Pepper record. I knew exactly what I wanted arrangement wise because I’d been playing it by myself for a couple of years. The band hadn’t heard the arrangements. They had them thrust upon them over a 2 ½ day marathon of Beatles songs. Fortunately, the performances were good so I ended up keeping about half of what I did live with the band. I’m happy to have gone down that path the way we did.”

As we were wrapping up our chat, I mentioned that I had heard that he was going to be interviewed by David Lowry on Live From Music City and had heard that he (Andy) was going to phone in from a very interesting location for that interview.

“My dear friend, Uliana Salerno, has a hair salon in the village in New York City. It just happens to be Jimi Hendrix’s old apartment. That’s where I’m going to do the radio interview from. I decided that I would call in from her place. What a cool place to be able to do it from.”

Indeed, it is.  You can catch that interview here.  If you weren’t already an Andy Timmons fan, I’m sure that you are now.  You can keep up with all things Andy by visiting his website, www.andytimmons.com.  While you’re there, why don’t you load up on all of his CD’s and DVD’s in addition to ordering Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper?  You’re going to love everything he’s recorded.

If you’re interested in catching his work with Olivia Newton-John, you can find her latest tour dates that he will be working with her on at www.olivianewton-john.com/tour.html. Who knows? You just might be treated to an Andy Timmons performance before her appearance.

 

Andy Timmons (2010)

Posted October, 2010

AT8True story:  Back in April of this year, as I have done for most of the last six years, I attended the Dallas International Guitar Festival.  It’s three days of wheeling and dealing on guitars and gear as well as seeing some incredibly talented guitarist showing their stuff on a six string.

This year was a little different.  A dear friend of mine from Arkansas came down to the show, bringing his teenage son with him for some quality father/son time.  On the last day of the festival, we were standing in the main all of Dallas Market Hall, having a conversation about who-knows-what when we found ourselves stopping in mid-sentence, listening to the most incredible music that either of us had heard in an incredibly long time.

We looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, “Who is that and where s it coming from?”  Almost cartoon-like, it felt as though we were levitating off the floor and drifting to the back hall area of the main hall.  We floated to the entrance and stopped to look at the artist roster. It was there that the incredible music we heard was the incomparable Andy Timmons, closing his set with Cry For You. The three of us boys became instant Timmons fans and I knew that I had to chat with this man.

After a brief chat after his set, we played e-mail tag for a few months until we could line up a date and time to meet up.  Yeah, meet up because Mr. Timmons lives in the Dallas area as do I. There was no way (if I could help it) that I was going to let the interview be by phone.

We met at an area seafood restaurant that was conveniently located for both of us and proceeded to chat like we had known each other forever. I noticed right away that Andy’s demeanor is consistent with friend and fan alike.  I’ve observed him show the same graciousness towards admiring fans (including this dopey writer) as he did toward the likes of fellow rockers like Ted Nugent.

After we made some small talk while ordering our lunch, I mentioned that I saw Andy chat with Nugent at the festival.  I was pleasantly surprised at the story Timmons shared about the story behind how he came to know the Motor City Mad Man.

“ I’ve had a lot of good experiences with Ted.  I was a big fan. Some of the first tunes I learned were from that first (self titled) Nugent record. Stranglehold, Storm Troopin’ and Just What The Doctor Ordered, those were the songs I played in my first band. So, he figured largely in my guitar education.

“Then years later I got a chance to do a gig with him. There was a guy, Gary Sitton, out in Abilene, Texas, - he’s a roofing contractor and he’s a big guitar fan and he had been bringing Ted out to big concert events because they were big hunting buddies as well. But he was also bringing guys in like Chris Duarte.

A buddy of Gary’s had seen me play. I used to play every Wednesday night at a club called the Blue Cat Blues with my band, The Pawn Kings, which was a pseudo blues band. We called ourselves a blues band but we did everything from Hendrix, to my original stuff, to old blues tunes, some Booker T. – that kind of thing. We had a great Hammond B3 organ player by the name of Tommy Young.

“Long story-short, this guy calls his buddy, Gary, and says, ‘Hey, there’s this guy in Dallas that you’ve got to bring to Abilene.’ So, he got in contact and brought me out for a show. He let me know that during that show, he was going to video tape it and send it to Ted. I thought, ‘Okay, that’s kinda cool” because Ted’s a big hero of mine.

“So, just joking around, I go into Stranglehold. We had never rehearsed it but the guys, they were in so we played the tune. I guess we did a pretty good job of it. He (Sitton) sent the tape to Ted and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard a thousand guys try to play Stranglehold and nobody plays it right. You tell Andy if he can play that song right, he’s got a date.’

“So, long story short, Gary sends him to tape and he (Ted) said, ‘Tell Andy we’ve got a date!’ That was kind of a cool nod from Ted. Then, maybe a year later that same guy put together a big guitar festival and it had Ted, Chris Duarte and my band. We got to play together and jammed with them at the end of the night. So that was kind of cool.

“He came back to Texas later that year, playing with Bad Company – kind of a co-headline – I went out there. He’s going into a song and he says, “I want to do a blues tune because Texas has got so many great blues guitar players – Billy Gibbons, Stevie Ray and Andy Timmons.” I about fell over! I was kind of embarrassed. I’m not in that league. But it was really cool. He’s a really sweet guy.

“I saw him at the guitar show, too. That was a great show because for him to be back with Derek St. Holmes and Rob Grange.  That’s the first time they’ve played together in 34 years! I don’t know if you realize that. The huge fan that I am, and was, it was pretty magical to hear that voice and that guitar – it was really great.”

“It was clear to me Derek Saint Holmes had rehearsed because there was a drummer that Ted hadn’t played with. That was the first time that drummer had ever played that music with Ted. The bass player and the guitar player – that was like an old fit. They were from the original band.  That drummer did a phenomenal job.  You can tell, having been in that position many times, you could tell how he was really watching everybody, he had done his homework. It was clear that Derek had probably rehearsed with him, cluing him in on things.

“Ted was free-forming. He didn’t have a plan about what songs were going to happen – kind of making it up as he went. It was actually Derek who would say, ‘Hey, how about, Hey Baby?’ And Ted’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that one! The record version.” That was there rehearsal.  It was a thrill. I thought it was great!”

With our conversation pretty much unstructured, I mentioned in passing about my recent meeting with Dallas radio legend and XM Satellite Radio pioneer, Redbeard, and that we chatted about Andy for a bit.  A grateful, humble smile crosses Timmons’ face as he responds.

“ Such a good guy. He’s been such a good supporter of me and my career since day one. I will never forget the day that he called me up. I just released my first CD called ear X-tacy. I had run into him at a show in Deep Ellum – it had to be in 1995 – I was playing in another band called Tin Man that he had come to check out. There was still a lot of label buzz about this band. We had done some recording so I said, ‘By the way, Redbeard, I’ve got my new record I just put out. If you get a chance check it out.’

“ I get a call from him the next week from his office on a Tuesday morning. His was in the office with some other record promoter and he said, ‘Hey, Andy, I just wanted to let you know I’m adding your song, Carpe Diem, from ear X-tacy to our regular rotation on Q102.’ 

“This is an independent, local artist with no promotional budget whatsoever and I just happened to hand it to the guy and he liked it! He said, ‘You know what? This sounds as good as Joe Satriani’s stuff to me. I like this a lot.’ He played it a lot! It helped us have a great foundation built here in the area.”

When I comment that he would likely not have that kind of break in radio today, Andy concurs enthusiastically.

“Nearly impossible! Back then, it wasn’t much more possible, though. But the programmers did have a lot more leeway. Each market could have a ‘personality’, so to speak, which is nearly impossible now. But I’ll never forget that. I’ll be forever thankful that he took it in his heart and enjoyed at face value. ‘This is what it is. I like this.’ He’s such a good dude. I’m so glad our paths have crossed.”

For a man who has such immense talent, my research on Andy indicated that he has not followed the usual path that musicians of his rare bread typically pursue.  I asked him how he would describe how he has managed his career and what is it that he wants to accomplish.  The ease in which he offers up his answer and the expression on his face as he explained his career philosophy, indicated that his words reflected his heart and the core of his being.

AT6“For me, it’s about having balance of family and career. That becomes the most difficult thing – especially since the birth of my son six years ago. I’ve really made an effort not to be gone too much. As a musician my entire life, I was always concerned about what was going to happen when I have a child someday. So much of your career as an artist is traveling, touring, promoting so that was always in the back of my mind: what if?

“Obviously, since Alex (his son) has come along, the decisions I make are based on how this will affect my family. Will I be gone for too long?  I generally try not to be gone for more than two weeks at a time. Most of the situations that I’m working in, most of the people are aware of that and understand that.  I’ll go tour Europe and I’ll keep under two weeks. I’ll just probably go twice a year instead of doing it all at once. It’s actually financially beneficial to do it all at once. There are less flights, but, again, maybe someday Alex will be able to go with me on some of these trips. That would be fun, too.

“But, for now, it’s like I don’t want to wake up 15 years from now and say, ‘Man, I wish I had been there for my son. That’s the most important thing. You’re faced with decisions: ‘Okay, this might be financially beneficial.’ I’ve turned down a couple of major tours. I can’t really mention what they were, I just had to make that decision. ‘Okay, that might be good for my career or for money purposes but I just can’t because of the family. I just don’t feel right about it.’

“I’m really blessed that the way I’m handling it is really working. I’m still getting out there. The internet has been an amazing thing because the world is at your door step. People, more and more, have been finding out about me without a huge label or budget. It’s happening all on the merit of the music. That’s the most gratifying thing.

“Yeah, to be famous is one thing. I never started playing music to be famous. It never entered my mind. I just love music so much. I love guitar so much. I just wanted to do it. I did it out of that passion out of the genuine love of it. Obviously, I realized that I had to start making a living doing this, if it’s all I’m going to do. And it is all I’ve ever done. ‘I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do.’

“I figured out pretty quickly that making it in a rock band is like winning the lottery. It’s such a long shot. I was in a really great band back in Indiana. I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Evansville, Indiana, when I was five. So, I grew up from five to 18 or 19 and then moved to Miami for college. But I figured out once while reading Guitar Player magazine that there are guys like Larry Carlton and Tommy Tedesco making a living as a studio musician playing other styles and playing on other peoples records. I thought, ‘Man! That seems like the key for me.’

“But I also realized at that point – I was self taught - I started when I was 5 years old. I thought, ‘These guys know how to read music. They can play any style. So I actually sought out a local guitar teacher in Evansville. I was hearing about this guy. His name was Ron Pritchett. He was known to be a great jazz guitar player but he was the best guitar teacher in that whole tri-state area. So, it took me about a week to get the nerve to call him. I was so shy about it. I thought, ‘Wow! This is the guy.’ But I finally called him up. It took a couple of months to get a slot. He started me off on lesson one. Notes on the treble string. I was fifteen or sixteen and was already playing pretty well, playing since 8th grade in cover bands.”

“By ear is definitely the best way. For a musician, it’s our most valuable asset. It’s great to be able to read music but once you internalize it through your ears, you learn it differently. I think it stores in the brain differently. So, when it comes time to make your own music, you’ve got a healthy intuition. It helps you tune in to what’s happening around you musically – not just focusing on your part but really knowing when to play and not to play and what to play in relation to what’s happening musically.

“So, that was the epiphany. I need to learn about all styles of music. I was fortunate in that I just loved anything on the guitar. I wanted to know how to do it. I’d hear a country tune – Wow! The jazz stuff drove me crazy. How do these guys know what notes to play on all these crazy chords? Ron saw that I had the ability. He’d give me these simple lessons and, then, at the end of the lesson, he’d start playing Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson – the jazz pianist. So, he started broadening my ears with that and give me the chord changes to a standard like Satin Doll and Misty. He had written a chord book so I’d take the chord book and so I would find the chord that I would learn to play all these voicings. I would play for him the next week. I would play my little reading exercise and then I would back him up while he was playing these tunes.

“That set me on the course. My thirst for knowledge increased tremendously. So, two years of that. I continued to do that my first two years of college. I went to school in Evansville, Indiana. I kept Mom happy by staying in school. The local university – the University of Evansville, offered a classical guitar program. I said, ‘Well, I know nothing about classical guitar but, great! It’s a guitar – I’m going to learn!’ I started going to the library and checking out Segovia and Julian Bream records. I just wanted to get it in my ear.

“So, I got a nylon string guitar. My audition to get in, I had a Les Paul. It was a cream colored, maple neck Electra Les Paul copy. I didn’t know any classical so I learned a bastardized version of Mood For A Day by Steve Howe on a Yes record. It kinda sounded classical.” Timmons says with a laugh. “So I’m playing it on this electric guitar. They let me in on merit because they could see that I could play but ‘okay, we have a lot of work to do!’

“So, I was still in my rock and roll band – The Taylor Bay Band. I was playing three or four nights a week gigging. I was still taking my jazz lessons. I’m in music school taking classical guitar. So, this really set me up for the future, basically, by being able to do so many different things.

“My third and fourth year of college, I transferred to the University of Miami. I was really more into modern music. The classical was great experience but I had been hearing about the University of Miami because Steve Morse and the Dregs had played there. Pat Matheny had been there. So, this was the place I needed to be. I couldn’t afford to go down there and audition so I made a cassette tape. I got the help of a local buddy of mine on keyboards. It was a cheap demo. I sent it down there and got in.

“So, the two years there were, by far, the two biggest years of musical growth because of the level of players that were there. I was definitely a rock player. I was learning about jazz but there were guys there that were every bit as good as Jim Hall or Larry Carlton. These guys were amazing players. It was kind of sink or swim. Luckily, I was encouraged and not discouraged. Some people get in that position and go, ‘Oh, man!’ and slink back home with their tail between their legs. It just inspired me. That was the beauty of it because we just inspired each other. Everybody had their strong points. It was never competitive and that was what was so amazing because later in life I’ve been in situations where it can be very competitive. But it was a very open bunch of guys who were all equally talented but just in different ways. I got as much from that as I did the faculty and curriculum. It was so valuable.”

With the conversation coming back around full circle, I asked Andy just exactly how does he support his family.

“It’s not that I don’t tour. I do. I’ll be out for the next two weeks for Mesa Boogie doing a clinic tour.  I select when I go and how long I go. I go back to Japan in February for a couple of weeks. I got Olivia Newton-John who has some show in Japan also in November.”

“So, between that and recording work here locally – I produce things for people. I record on other peoples’ sessions. I can record at my home and send it out. Of course, there’s sales of my merchandise that kind of keeps the whole business rolling. It could be better but, at the same time, it keeps getting better. I’m pretty amazed at how the music keeps getting out there and generating more fans.”

Andy then shared with me some insight into an incredible album that he has coming out in the near future.  I won’t tell you about it now but I’ll give you a hint: Think “Beatles”.  That’s all I’m going to say.

With all out chat about the Beatles, it led me to share with Timmons my belief that any new music that is worth listening to has, as its foundation, the sound of the 60’s and 70’s. I wasn’t at all surprised by his response.

“I’m the same way. There are occasionally some modern, recent songs that I connect with – not that many – but I continually go back and always get inspiration and great vibe from that era of music. Absolutely!

Referring again to his upcoming album that I’m not going to tell you about, “I’m excited to see what the potential and possibilities are. So, in that case, maybe I go out and tour a little bit more. We’ll see. Again, I just want to balance it in the right way.”

“Simultaneously, I was working on those Beatles arrangements but I was also working on a lot of new material for the next Andy Timmons Band original recordings.  That material’s being worked on, too. So, I’ve got the Beatles thing out first and then, sometime later, maybe in 2011, release the next record - get the momentum going.”

I asked if that album was going to be a live album.

“We did a live DVD. When we released the Resolution CD, we played at the Granada the day that it came out. We played the whole record start to finish.  We recorded the show in video and we eventually put it out as a live DVD. That’s only available on my website right now. There’s no other distribution – just AndyTimmons.com.”

You can’t talk about great guitarist in the state of Texas without mentioning the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died 20 years ago. I shared with him my story about attending Vaughan’s funeral.

“I was there, too!  I remember it being a really hot day. Me and my friend, Sylvia, went, all dressed in black. It was such an emotional thing.  When Nile Rodgers delivered his speech and played that track, oh man!” Finishing his thoughts about Vaughan, Andy stares off as he says, “It’s hard to believe.  It seems like forever but, then again, it doesn’t.”

Turning the conversation to album sales, I asked if what I heard about sales going well was true. He replies with obvious and well deserved pride.

“It is! There’s a lot being distributed illegally, too.  That’s the blessing and the curse of the internet. There’s no doubt about it – it’s done so much for players out there that don’t have a label behind them. Even though I’m with Favored Nations – Steve Vai’s label – there’s not a lot of promotional budget. But will gravitate towards it or stumble across it accidentally in regards to another artist that they like that spurs them on. There are certainly a lot of people that know how to download it illegally if they want to get it. That’s an unfortunate byproduct. There are still a lot people that know the value of actually supporting the artists. Those people are still out there that have a conscience and know the value of that. If the artist can’t afford to spend the time and money to make these recordings, there won’t be any more music of the quality that they’re hoping to see.”

Our subject of discussion naturally segued into the state of the music business.  I asked if there was much in the way of label support for artist.

“It was that way at one point. If there was a major label artist, even though it was their money being spent – they might not have been totally aware of that – but, yeah, there was bigger budgets but there was a lot of excess all through the industry and it finally collapsed upon itself. That’s what’s happening now. It’s a much more grass roots approach and everybody is really responsible for every penny and that’s a good thing.”

When I shared with Andy some of the insights of rock icon, Tommy James, he chimes in that, “It’s obviously fascinating to me. I’d be curious to see what kind of ideas they come up with. But there’s this feeling that the cat’s out of the bag. It’s just running rampant and is out of control. But, again, there will be less quality if people don’t really realize that they need to support those artists. But  I think that there a lot of artists that support that – the free downloading – ‘maybe people will listen to it and then come to the show and maybe buy a t-shirt.  Once you get to a certain level with people coming out, yeah.  When I tour, we do pretty well. I won’t be retiring next year by any stretch but it’s great.

Where are Timmons’ hottest fan spots are, he indicated that they Asia and parts of Europe, especially Italy.  I asked Andy if that was, in part, due to his work with Danger Danger.

 “My foot was in the door in Asia because of Danger Danger. But the following I have now is purely on the merit of what I’ve done post those days. But in Europe, it’s most definitely more on the musician side that I do. I’m constantly blown away by how many people still really like that band (Danger Danger) and still revere that music. They were a great bunch of guys and I think that what we eventually did was really great.”

Timmons continued to share his reflections on his experience with Danger, Danger.

 “There was some problems with the label. Epic admitted, ‘We kind of messed up on your record. We learned what not to do with you.’ They really said that!  Firehouse was also on the same label and they broke really big right after that. ‘We learned what not to do with you with Firehouse.’ Thanks, y’all.

“But, honestly, those days, Randy, that really geared me towards how I was going to run my career from those days, on. One thing I always point out as being when the light bulb went off in my head: We were up at Epic records and we were having a meeting with some of the A&R people and the vice president of the label. They’re promising, ‘We’re going to promote you guys and get you on the road!’ Blah, blah, blah.

“Meanwile, somebody comes in – one of the secretaries – to ask this question of this person that is having the meeting with us. ‘Oh, I wanted to ask you about this particular band.’ I won’t mention the band’s name. “I wanted to ask you about . . .” and he (the vice president) says, ‘Don’t worry about those guys.’

“I knew right then that that bands career came to a screeching halt because this one person said, ‘You know? Don’t worry about this band.’ Again, a naïve kid growing up in Indiana that just wanted to play music and be treated fairly because I was a good person, I’m in the middle of this going, ‘What am I in the middle of here?’

“We recorded our third record for Epic that was going to be called Cockroach. This was around the time Seattle and Rap were taking over. We finished the record and turned it in to the label. They were ecstatic – loved it.   But, then, the styles were changing. They’re like, ‘We’re going to put it off.’ Finally, we were told, ‘We’re not going to release the album.’

“So, we had this third record and we realized that it’s not going to come out. At that point, it’s considered that you’ve been dropped by the label. We’re like, ‘Okay, we can continue on and see if we can get the rights to the masters back so that we can release it on our own.’

“Well, they came up with some astronomical figure – hundreds of thousands of dollars – because that’s how much debt the band was in. The musician was so far down the totem pole, it’s just mind numbing. Anyway, long story short, they made it impossible for the band to get the masters back at that time.

“There was the second part of my education. I never want to be in the position where I don’t own my own work. Why would anybody want to put themselves in that position?  Musicians since the 40’s and 50’s will sign anything. ‘I just want to create my art. I just want to get my music out there. Who cares?’  The Beatles fell victim to it, too. They signed horrible deals because Brian Epstein didn’t know any better. I am never going to be in that position again.

“So, I came back to Texas. I had been recording the tracks that ended up on ear X-tacy for several years already. I said, ‘I’m just going to press some copies’ which is where Redbeard comes into play. I didn’t send it to any labels. I was pretty jaded at that point. I just didn’t care about that end of it anymore. Also, I had been in a band that had been chasing the tail of the industry. “We need someone like ‘this’ because that’s a hit’ or ‘we need someone like that’. I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to make the music that was in my heart because I wasn’t doing that at that time.

“I was having a good time. Don’t get me wrong. I was enjoying being that team player.  We played some great shows. We opened for KISS on a couple of tours. We did a whole tour with Alice during his Trash tour in the 1990. All legends and idols that I learned from. No regrets in that way. Anytime I made a decision in the music business based on money or business, it’s always been the wrong decision. If I don’t follow my heart, something’s not right. Everything since those days has been very much about that. I’ve got to really follow that voice so things tend to go really well.”

One of the things that voice helped Timmons decide was aligning himself with Steve Vai’s record label, Favored Nations Entertainment. I expressed my thoughts as to how huge that was.  In a voice that reveals the sense of wonderment of it all, he tells the story of what led up to joining Favored Nations.

“He’s been another huge supporter. For him to want me on his record label?  I didn’t approach him, he came to me.  G3 was coming to town and they played in Fort Worth – John Petrucci, Satriani and Vai. He (Steve Vai) invited me out and I go out there and play. That night Steve said, ‘I’m forming this label and here’s how I’m going to run it. What do you think?’

We further discussed the genius of Steve Vai. It was then that Andy says this about the guitar legend: “He’s really one of the sharpest people I’ve ever met. He’s a really down to earth guy but both sides of the brain are firing heavily”, he says with a laugh. “He’s got a great balance going on. He was the first guy that, as a label, made sense to me. He split things equally with the artists after all of the budgets grosses and stuff. A publicist would be hired and they take out some ads here and there. Not a huge budget but, again, you’re sharing the load and the responsibility.

Despite having played with an impressive list of artists, I asked Andy who he hasn’t worked or jammed with that he would like to.

Before I could even finish the question, Andy enthusiastically injects, “Paul McCartney! No hesitation. No thought process. Ding!  Either he or Ringo would be a dream come true. To do anything at all with them.  Otherwise, Pat Metheny is a guy that I’m a huge admirer of. I have played a couple of times with Eric Johnson. I’d like to play some more with him. Mike Stern is another guy I’ve known over the years. We’ve played together a few times but it would be nice to collaborate with him on something.  Gosh! (Larry) Carlton, Robben Ford, there are so many great players. But, of course, Paul and Ringo would be at the top of the list, hands down!”

What would be your dream gig?                                                                                

“Paul would be it. What’s ironic is the guitarist in his band, Brian Ray, from a distance, the first time I saw Paul with his band in the early 2000’s, we were watching the show and I looked at my wife and said, ‘Does that look kind of like me up there?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, it does!’ Which kind of hurt a little bit because I wished that I was up there!  Ha! Ha!

“I’ve got to meet those guys. Not Paul but Brian and the other guitar player, Rusty (Anderson). Really, really great guys. In case somebody gets sick, I’m it. Call me!”  he says with a chuckle.

Wrapping up our discussion about the Fab Four, I asked Timmons if he ever had the chance to meet Ringo Starr.  Just like a kid meeting his favorite super hero, Andy shares a his story of when he met the famous drummer.

“I finally got to meet him one of the last times he was in Dallas. That was a tough one to arrange. I knew people in the band and on the crew. I understand it because of me working with Olivia, everybody is always trying to get to her and you’re kind of a line of defense. You don’t want to bug this person that you work with and love dearly. So, I also know better than to bug someone in order to meet someone.  I won’t go into the whole story as to how it happened. It was a very brief meeting but it was fantastic. I’ve got a great picture of it!”

I wondered if Andy had a project that he would like to do but was hesitant because of questionable marketability?

“I think that there will be a variety of different kinds of things from me in the future. I would love to do a jazz album. I would like to do some mellower music. I won’t use the term ‘easy listening’ but I think that by the nature of the electric guitar and the way that I play it, there are a lot of high intensity moments on my records. And that’s not necessarily the cup of tea of some of the average listeners or people who are into less notes. But, I think that there’s a huge amount of room to grow as far as the guitar as an expressive instrument. Jeff Beck’s new record is, by far, his best record, in my opinion. It’s kind of like – he’s got to the place where I want to be. He’s 20 or 30 years ahead of me. He’s playing much simpler but every note is so gorgeous and has so much impact behind it. That’s where I want to be.”

“There might be some acoustic moments. Not necessarily quieter but certain ways that it’s delivered and a certain beauty to the whole thing. There are actually things along those lines on my other record of original material coming out. Growing up as an artist in the 80’s, there was so much emphasis on the electric guitar player to be fast.  There was Yngwie (Malmsteen), then Eddie (Van Halen) and then (Joe) Satriani came along. It was fun – the athletic, acrobatic ability. But I’ve always tried to utilize it in a way that it made musical sense – as a device and not as a side show or circus act. There may be those moments in my tunes but, hopefully, they’re balanced by some great melody and a time of passionate direction behind the notes. But I could see it going a lot further in the opposite direction and less about that type of ability. I always liken it to painting a picture. If you play fast all the time, it’s like having a red painting, it’s going to be boring. I like painting with a lot of different colors. I’m taking things much further in that direction. A much simpler approach. I think it would be great – really great.

“This is a horrible analogy but Kenny G’s music connected for a reason. It was a very simple approach. It was hated by a lot of people, as well. But I think there could be music made that would straddle the balance beam of the musician side of it and what the general listening audience would be into and still impact emotionally on both sides of the fence.”

I asked if his The Prayer/The Answer was an example of what he was talking about.

“The intro to that song is certainly in the direction I’m talking about. Some of it has some substance and spirituality.”

I asked Timmons what he listens to when he’s not working.

“It’s the sixties and seventies.  In my car I have XM so I either have Deep Tracks, which Red Beard used to be a part of. Oh my god! The Tom Petty Show and The Bob Dylan Show!  Have you heard those? Ah!  They’re so entertaining! They play the coolest stuff and their witty asides in between the tunes are great! Tom’s demeanor is just so cool and laid back. There was one day where Bob Dylan – he has themes. So the theme that day was ‘I’m Walkin’. Every song that day had to have walking in the title or was about walking. So, at the very end, he recites my favorite poem of all time, The Road Less Travelled by Robert Frost.  He’s reciting this poem with music in the background.  I’m driving down the road and I’m tearing up! It was the coolest thing I had ever heard. It had such power to hear a guy like that recite those words. It was magical.”

After our lunch, I was thinking about the whole conversation that we had.  Yes, I am in awe of Andy Timmons’ talent.  Yes, I would love to meet some of the people that he crosses paths with.  Yes, I’m looking forward to many more years of music from this man.

However, what impressed me more than anything else is that Andy Timmons puts his family first.  If more of us were to do exactly that, the world would be a much better place to live.  And, that, my friends, is truly magical.

You can keep up with all the Andy Timmons happenings by checking out his website, www. AndyTimmons.com.  While you’re there, avail yourself to Andy’s incredible work.  Or, if you don’t want to wait, click on the images to the right and order them now. Believe me when I say that they will provide you with countless hours of listening pleasure.

 

B.J. Thomas

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April, 2010

Edition of
Perfect Sound Forever!

Maylee Thomas and George Fuller

Posted April, 2012

 

thomas fuller liveDuring my first interview with guitar great, Andy Timmons, back in the fall of 2010, he mentioned a husband/wife team that had a band. Her name was Maylee Thomas and, to hear him tell it, she had an awesome sound that he thought I’d really like.  He mentioned that her husband, George Fuller, was the guitarist in the band and had just opened up a great, high-end guitar boutique called The Guitar Sanctuary.  This venture is on top of George’s very successful  construction company and other ventures.

How does he do it?!

In the proceeding months, I managed to check out the store and also hear the band a few times.  Andy was right (not that I would ever doubt him).  When I first heard Maylee and the band perform, I was blown away by her incredible voice, range and stage presence.  Think Janis Joplin, Bonnie Bramlett, Whitney Houston, Bette Midler (and I’m sure that, if I had the time, I could name a few others) all wrapped up into one tiny but explosive individual.  The band was tight and intuitive – not just very well rehearsed but intuitive.

As I researched Maylee and George since that fall day a year and a half ago, I learned that, not only were they good friends with Andy and had worked with him countless times, they were also tight with the great, iconic sax player for Bruce Springsteen, the late Clarence “Big Man” Clemons.

I have six of Maylee’s CD’s and each and every one of them brings on musical, audio phonic bliss.  Being the methodical geek that I am, when I first got them, I listened to them in chronological order – which is a problem.  Why? Well, as you’ll read later in this piece, the very first album, Rhythm of the Blues, has not only the guitar prowess of Andy Timmons but the signature sax sound of Clemons on the sax throughout the CD and even the Edwin Hawkins Choir on a couple of tracks.

That’s not to say that the rest of the musicians are slouches.  Space doesn’t permit me to drill down into all of the musicians just on the first album but check out just a small handful of ‘em:  Jamie Oldaker (Bob Seger, Eric Clapton, Ace Frehley) and Dan Wojciechowski (Peter Frampton) on drums, Chuck Rainey (Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones) on bass, and Dave Grissom (John Mellencamp, Allman Brothers, Dixie Chicks) on guitar.

How am I supposed to get through a single CD – let alone my stack of six Maylee Thomas CDs – if I’m continually slappin’ the repeat button?  Hmmmm?

A line up like these greats show the high level of excellence that Maylee and George strive for in their CDs.  Their stage band is also very, very good local musicians in their own right.  Every time I’ve seen them perform, they seem to raise the bar of excellence higher and higher.  To catch the Maylee Thomas Band live at any venue, any size will insure that you are in for a very real treat.

After too long of time, I finally approached Maylee and George about interviewing them.  We met up at one of their businesses and I was immediately taken by their warmth and graciousness. Both exude a love of life and a humble confidence (no, that’s not a contradiction in terms) in all that they do.

After some introductory small talk, I started off by asking the two of them how they met and got together.  Their response to my question led to stories that show their true heart for people.  George led off.

 “Maylee and I met in the fall of 1990. I was playing in a band in the West End – I was playing at Bahama Bob’s and she was playing at another club down the street. My band mates came to me on a break and said, ‘Man, you’ve got to check out this girl down the road. She’s a tremendous singer and performer!’ I went down there and saw her and I set a goal that night that I was going to get in that band because I was disgusted with my present band.

“As fate would have it, literally that next Monday, she called the studio that I co-owned at the time with Jimmy Wallace – Sound Southwest – asking Jimmy – who she knew – if he could refer any guitar players because they were looking for a new guitar player. So that’s how we met.”

Maylee injected, “Isn’t that bizarre? I mean, that’s kind of a “God thing”. It would have to be.”

George continued by explaining, “I’m trying to give you the Reader’s Digest version because the reality was I was so fed up with the band.  I’m a business guy – left and right brained and a lot of the musicians that I was dealing with at the time didn’t have that. If the gig was at 9 o’clock, they would show up at 9:15 – maybe sober, maybe not.”

George eventually wound up in Maylee’s band and, to hear him tell it, “For the last 20 years we’ve been playing music together, writing music together. We ended up developing a relationship during the early years of the band and at some point got married.

“It’s been a great journey ever since. Our journey has been in a secular band. It’s been in the recording studio. It’s been in worship bands and leading worship. It’s just been all over the place.  In ’92 we decided to begin the Love Life Foundation. I forget what the occasion was but there was a fundraiser that needed to happen and people were racing around trying to figure out how we organize that fundraiser. We decided, ‘Let’s use our music and talent and put together a benefit concert. We did that and that worked out well. Over a period of time we decided that we would formalize that endeavor and formed Love Life Foundation and started that whole journey as well.

“Here we are today with four kids, a guitar store, a construction business, Love Life Foundation, and two bands.  We have a ‘secular’ band and a ‘worship’ band. We have a trio kind of thing and periodically we do a duet. But one thing that comes out in everything that we do – and it’s evidenced in every CD we’ve ever put out and is evidenced in every show that we play whether it’s the secular band or, obviously, the worship band – the common thread that we have in everything – in all of our music – is our beliefs and our faith.

“If you watch Maylee and the band on a Friday night in a bar filled with many inebriated people, Maylee will start ‘preaching’. I think she sometimes gets confused and thinks we’re in church” and then, more seriously, adds, “She never hides her faith and it’s always a real strong component in everything we do – or, what she does specifically”.

If you listen to Maylee’s music, you will immediately sense her deep faith in God.  Talking with her in person is not different.

“I was blessed very early on to sit under the ministry of Kenneth Hagin, Sr. so I saw the real thing and I saw a lot of ‘carbon copies’.  When we first got together, George had never been to a ‘spirit-filled’ church. He had grown up quasi-Catholic. I had been around that, as well, but my dad was Jewish so you can imagine the dynamic in my family. They thought I had totally gone off the deep end. The ‘Jesus’ thing was bad enough but, then, the ‘spirit-filled’ stuff was like, ‘She’s gotten into some bad drugs!’

“When George and I first started dating (and going to church together), he’s like, ‘they’re putting their hands up and this is for real, huh?’”

George interjects some humor at this point.

“I thought everyone was raising their hands because they had a question and I didn’t have a question so I kept my hands down. Then I realized that no one ever got asked a question so I figured out that it was something else. I finally got ticked off because Maylee would always raise her hand and I’d be like, ‘’Scuse me! She’s got a question! Would you let her ask it?!’ Then that embarrassed her and I learned that that was not what she was doing.”

Still in the vein of sharing her religious background, Maylee shared a very personal story about the pain of going through a divorce while being a relatively high profile person within certain religious environments.  Keep in mind as you read her story that, in those church circles, divorce was verboten – especially divorce among those in the ministry. The story revealed her unique perspective on faith, life, love and living as well as her ability to relate on a personal level with the pain that people go through in their relationships and daily lives.

“I went to Southwestern Assemblies of God University (Waxahachie, Texas), and traveled with a group called Maranatha all over the country and abroad. I met a guy and fell in love. He was an evangelist from Rhema (Bible Training Center in Oklahoma) and, unfortunately, the downfall for him was that he was married before. His wife was killed in a car accident that they were in and she was pregnant at the time. It was a real hard thing for him.

“We were together for seven years and travelled all over. We were evangelists for years and also pastored a church in Florida and were associate pastors at a big church out in California. I kind of knew that this couldn’t be the ultimate in a marriage because it was almost like we were living two separate lives. He was up at 5 a.m. every single morning, down in his office studying. I felt so lonely and disconnected but I had made this vow – where I grew up, if you get married it’s for good! I knew that going in. I made this vow to God and I just didn’t have it in me to ask for a divorce. I just couldn’t. I was just going to keep this thing going.

“In God’s wonderful way, I didn’t have to because he asked me for it. Basically, what he said was, ‘I don’t love you in the way I should. I’ve never gotten over my first wife and I need to let you go and let you have a life where you can be loved in the way you deserve to be loved.’

“That’s the nicest thing you can say to someone in that situation. Of course, I was still devastated and I still thought that he would miss me and come around and all of that but he never did. He never remarried. He’s still teaching, travelling and doing all of that but he never got remarried so it wasn’t ‘another woman’ kind of thing . . . although it was. I believe that the love of his life was his first wife.”

Without being asked, Maylee went on to share her opinion as to why her first husband married her to begin with.

“He felt pressured because he would go to churches and all the single women would be hitting on him and he felt that he couldn’t accomplish what he wanted to do being in that arena single. He struggled with it. He told me that. Of course, I didn’t think anything of it because I believed what he was saying when said, ‘I want you go be my wife’.

“Ultimately, the greatest thing that happened was that he let me go. Had that not happened, obviously, I wouldn’t have found my soul mate.”

Injecting what I by then learned as George’s tremendous sense of humor, he asks Maylee, “You are referring to me, right?” and then turns to me while remarkably dead-pan and said, “We had a dog that she loved. I just wanted to be clear.”

Maylee concluded the subject of her first husband by saying, “The other thing was we knew each other three months and got married. Part of it, for me, was that I was ready to get on with my life – ready to get out of school.  Of course, when everybody found out that I was dating this guy, to them it was like the ultimate for a woman – a girl – at a Bible college to hook up with a minister, go on the road and be an evangelist. I had everybody’s blessing.”

Maylee segues from sharing about the pain of a failed marriage to her gospel music background: “The Assemblies of God in California – there were a lot of black churches so I spent a lot of time in a lot of black churches where I was literally the only white girl there. So that’s where I really cut my teeth in that kind of music. You can definitely hear it in the music we’ve incorporated.

“I came here in the 80’s and decided that I was just going to be real. I felt like, at that point – when I got out of that relationship – I had to be real to myself. I felt that I was doing a disservice to God. For a while, I kind of ran from the church, thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t be in church because they’re going to try to make me something that I’m not.’ The reality is, God created us the way we are and to be 100% who we are for Him and that’s what we’ve done.

“I still get people who say, ‘Why are you wasting your talent in a bar? Why aren’t you doing it in the church?’ I’ll say, ‘People are people whether they’re in the bar or in the church. I’m not wasting it if I’m singing to people who are hungry.’

Obviously, Maylee and George come in contact with lots of hungry people at their gigs.

“George will tell you that people have come up countless times afterwards – a lot of times they’re pretty emotional – and they’ll say, ‘I just want you to know that I was really moved tonight when you started singing. I really appreciated it’. And then some people come up and say, ‘I don’t know what it was but you made me cry.’  That’s the spirit of God. So, it’s really been a great ministry and I feel very blessed that we’re able to do it the way that we are.  Of course, there are some clubs that we play in and once we give the message, they don’t ask us to come back. But, for the most part, they do.”

This crowd reaction dovetails with the band’s “mission statement”, if you will, that George shared.

“Every song we write and virtually every song that Maylee sings – and there’s many songs that she won’t sing – if there’s a mission statement it would be that all music we play has a good message – a pure message.  At the same time, we don’t say that we’re going to go out and play bars and spread the Word of God in our playing otherwise we’re not doing it.  We don’t have that restriction either. That just happens to be something that comes natural and is part of our thread that we’re woven with. It’s not a contrived or forced thing. It happens as it happens.”

Before Maylee’s total immersion into the soulful sounds of black gospel music, she was exposed to other great music. She shared those influences in response to my question of past and current influences.

“My very first record I ever bought was Tapestry by Carole King. Of course, at that time there was James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and those kinds of people and then Janis Joplin, Tina Turner and that genre.   Even, in the 80’s, Pat Benatar and some of these big, gigantic voices of the secular field.  On the Christian side, I was more into the black gospel kind of stuff – Shirley Caesar, the Winans.  The Edwin Hawkins Choir is on our first record. They sang background on two of the songs that we wrote.

“Right now?  The cool thing about right now is, for me, is that there’s definitely two completely different styles of music that are hitting the radio waves hard. To me, one of them is all created in the studio and is all technology and I’m just not a big fan of that. I guess that’s because I grew up when you where, if you were a musician, you really play. I’m okay with some tone mistakes and some hissing.  I like that!  I’m a very passionate, emotional kind of singer and I love that. I don’t like it when they clean everything up to the point that it’s just sterile. I think that our group of people is coming back to that from some of the musicians out there.”

George’s response to the same question was also interesting.

“My musical influences have always been guitar players – a lot of guitar heroes – Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Gary Moore.  On the other side, I’ve always been a huge songwriter fan. People that influenced me were Billy Falcon, who a lot of people don’t know by name but had some hits in the mid-nineties – written a lot for Bon Jovi and many, many other people.  I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan just from the whole songwriting aspect and as live performers.  And, then when I came to Texas, I was actually influenced mostly by local talent.  Jimmy Wallace, Andy Timmons – Andy continues to be my greatest influence – I don’t know about ‘influence’ but he inspires me the most.

“Then, on a current level, I would still have to say Andy. Anything that has melody and strong in songwriting – I’m not a guitar gymnastic guy. I’m not a fan of the Yngwie Malmsteen’s or anything like that. I’m more of about melody, soul and passion.”

Maylee added, “You were talking about Bruce – that was the other thing that we were so blessed with having a relationship with Clarence Clemons for so many years. That opened me up. See, the only ‘Bruce’ I was familiar with was all the hits they used to play on the radio and they weren’t even my favorite songs of his. George would go, ‘Aren’t you a Bruce Springsteen fan?” and I’m like, ‘Ah, well, he’s okay’.  But once I heard him in concert, I was blown away.”

I asked Maylee and George how their relationship with Clarence Clemons started. George shared the surprisingly funny story.

“We were playing at a club – we were at Take 5 in Dallas and in walks an entourage of people.  It Clarence Clemons, Kelsey Grammer, Alan Thicke, Dave Anderson (“McGyver”), Leonardo DiCaprio – they all walked in. They were travelling at the time with the 1980 gold medal hockey team doing this charity thing. There was a celebrity team playing on ice against the gold medal hockey team and it was all for charity. So they came walking in. Of course, I’m a fan of a lot of them. I love Kelsey Grammer and Frasier – big fan.  But my attention was immediately to the large black man. That’s the Big Man – Clarence Clemons.

“So, we took a break and I immediately went over to Clarence and said, ‘You don’t happen to have your sax with you, do you?’  He said, ‘Ah, man, I wish I did!  You guys rock!’  I said, ‘Where is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s at the hotel.’  I said, ‘I got a car right out back. We could go get it.’  He said, ‘Let’s go!’

“He got in my car and we drove one-way streets the wrong way and down sidewalks to get him to the hotel.  We go up, get his sax.  I don’t know this guy from Adam. I’m just a fan. We’re coming down the elevator in the hotel that happened to be hosting the national cheerleading competition. Clarence loved life and loved as many in life as he could. I almost didn’t get him out of the hotel. Girls started paying attention to him and he was like, ‘Maybe I should stay?’ and I’m like, ‘NO!’

“I got him back in the car. We go back. We made it there and back within the 30 minute break. Kelsey Grammer got up and played piano, Alan played guitar and sang, and Clarence blew sax. That was a fantastic night playing the last set together.

“Maylee knows me and knows that I’m not going to let that opportunity go.  At the time I had the studio with Jimmy Wallace and we were working on our first record.  It’s two in the morning and I don’t want to push my luck but I said to Clarence, ‘ Man, it’s a long shot but is there any way I can talk you into coming into the studio with us? We’re doing this record and it would be so awesome if you could play on it” He asked, ‘Where’s the studio?’ and I said, ‘Oh, it’s ten minutes from here’ – it was really 40.  He’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s go!’

“So, we get in the car and I’m freakin’ out, thinkin’ ‘How do I make 40 minutes seem like 10 minutes?’ It’s 2:30 in the morning by the time we leave.  We get him into the studio and we played until dawn. He played the solos on I’ve Got You and Beyond My Wildest Dreams – they were all just first takes. Incredible. Just incredible.

“So, then, I take him back to the hotel and he’s going to be on a plane in hours. He’s been up the whole night. I’m thinking, ‘I don’t want to let this go!’ and so I’m talking to him and he’s telling me about his birthday. He was turning 50 in two weeks. He made the comment – I’m sure that he was just being polite – ‘Too bad you don’t live out there. If you can make it, you ought to come to my birthday.’

“Well, I latched on to that and two weeks later I fly out there. I go to his house. I didn’t have his phone number or anything. I can’t confirm that I’m really invited but I do my research and find where he lives and I show up!  He had said, ‘When you come you can stay with me!’  I had my bag and I show up at his door, ringing the doorbell. Someone answers and they said, ‘Who are you?’ Clarence jumped up and hugged me. He was very gracious.  He told everybody about the recording session. He remembered every detail. He welcomed me in and insisted that I stay there. We laughed about that story for many years afterwards.”

Maylee added, “From that point on, George, Clarence and I became very, very close friends. We saw him through a lot – a lot.  He (Clemons) told me later, ‘I never had anybody make me laugh as much as Geo has! I would cry I would be laughing so hard.’

I asked George and Maylee how they met Andy Timmons.

“Maylee met Andy playing in some clubs when she was with Robert Lee Kobb. The real strong friendship between the three of us came later when I met him and befriended him. At the time he was living in Denton and had an unreliable car – Druzilla was its name – and Druzilla ran part of the time and didn’t run most of the time. I would drive up to Denton, picking up Andy and bringing him into town and we’d go cruising around. We had a lot of time to become friends.

“Andy played in the band for 2 – 2 ½ years maybe. Here’s been involved with virtually every record we’ve ever recorded from all the way back from Rhythm of the Blues to now. He’s obviously a tremendous talent. He’s a tremendous individual and a tremendous person. Very genuine. He is exactly what he projects himself to be. That’s just him. He’s wonderful, passionate, caring and giving. To me, he’s truly the most talented guitar player I’ve ever seen, heard or listen to. He has all of that technical proficiency but he also has that unequalled sense of melody and passion that comes through in his playing.”

Then, with the humor that I quickly grew to love and appreciate during our visit, George adds, “I think he’s stolen some of his licks from me over the years. He and I talk about it often. I’ll single out one note from one of his records and say, ‘That note sounds pret-ty familiar!’ and he’s like, ‘Man! You caught that? The thirteenth bar on the seventh song?’

As we finished our mutual, verbal love fest for Andy, Maylee shared how George and Andy connect on a comedic level. However, in telling me this, she let it slip that Andy and George are both actually super-hero crime-fighters with well ventilated, official super-hero costumes and real super-hero motorcycle and side-car.  I saw photographic evidence so I know this to be true.

I’m sure I’m going to hear about this later.

Blown away by the current Maylee Thomas Band catalog, I asked what the plans were as far as a new CD in the near future.  George indicated that “We’ve written new songs and we’re getting ready to record. We’re going to start recording them as soon as possible.”

As for what’s on the radar for the next year and the next five years, George shared that it was to  “Finish this record and get it recorded will be the immediate goal. Over the next five years? Wherever God takes us. I mean, really. I don’t mean to sound hokey but that’s it. We’re going to continue to write, play, lead worship and see where that takes us. We recently did a song for the Rick Santorum campaign. You can hear it on YouTube. It’s called A Better Day. We were contacted by someone at the Republican National Committee about using the song for him. So, maybe we’ll go down that road. Just wherever God takes us.”

Then, again, with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye that warns me that I’m about to laugh yet again, he shares what their lofty goal as a band is.

“We’re going to hire Bruce Springsteen to play with us in our band. The G Street Band with special guest, Bruce Springsteen! That’s our lofty goal!”

Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal

Posted January, 2013

 

Bumblefoot1photo by AlwaysAcousticPhoto by Always AcousticGuns N’ Roses.  The band name conjures up images of many of the stereotypes of bad boy rock and roll.  Some of those images might be deserved. I don’t know. I’ve never been around when any of the reported bad stuff supposedly happened.  I know that, a) I’ve seen the band twice in a one year period and they’re consummate performers and professionals; and, b) I’ve now interviewed two members of the band and they’ve both been incredible to chat with.

My first interview was in November of last year with band keyboardist, Dizzy Reed, via an amazingly clear phone connection to his hotel room in Paraguay.  The second interview was recently – again by phone – with one of the band’s three guitarist, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal.

Okay. I’ll stop right here and, for you uninitiated and unwashed readers, I’ll answer the question that is bouncing around your mind: What is a “bumblefoot” and why is Mr. Thal called that?  Bumblefoot was the name of Ron Thal’s first album, The Adventures of Bumblefoot which he came up with while helping his then-girlfriend study for veterinary school. Click here for why she might have been studying that term. 

Now, back to my chat with Mr. Thal.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah!  After tracking down how to get in touch with Ron, he was gracious enough to grant me a phone interview.  Originally slated to take place at his home, snow storm Euclid had him snowbound in the southeast after Christmas.  Having recently completed a world-wide tour – as well as a residency at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas – with Guns N’ Roses, Thal was enjoying some down time with his wife and in-laws when he broke away to call me. He said, “This exactly why I wanted your number because I never know where the hell I’m gonna end up.”

An unexpected – but pleasant – surprise came in the form of Bumblefoot explaining how he and his wife met.

“I’m from Brooklyn and she’s from Queens. We met twenty-two years ago and been together ever since. It was actually a blind date. People tried to set us up for six months and we wanted no part of it. Then, finally, it was, like, ‘Alright, yeah, we’ll get together’ and we were just bent on hating each other just to prove everybody wrong. Then, she tried to get rid of me by asking me questions about science and parallels between matter and anti-matter and the asymmetry of the universe. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! She has a brain!’ and we started talking and, yeah, there you go!  Twenty-two years later we’re having breakfast in North Carolina.”

When Ron learned that I grew up in Phoenix, his voice lit up even more. “Oh, man! I love Phoenix! You know that Musical Instrument Museum that they just opened up a few years ago? Man! It is incredible! You can spend the whole day there!  You put on a set of headphones and they have all these displays of every single type of instrument from every period in time.  It’ll have African tribal instruments and ones that they use for rituals and for certain ceremonies and ones that they use for all different things. It’s just incredible! They had one of John Lennon’s pianos there. They had all kinds of stuff there.  You could easily spend an whole day in there.” We continued to talk about different things about Arizona and Texas – almost like two old school mates catching up on news about the old homestead. 

After we settled into our chat, I asked him what he was doing on his valuable time off besides talking to boneheaded interviewers like me.

“I’ve been laying down a bunch of riffs and guitar solos for a bunch of different albums and songs for (Arizona artist) Christy Paige, Tony Harnell (of the Norwegian band, TNT). He’s an incredible singer and I’ve been a fan of his for almost thirty years now – for about as long as he’s been putting out music. Someone gave me a copy of his first album when I was fourteen and I was just blown away. Then twenty years ago we were going to put a band together when TNT was kind of on the rocks but it didn’t happen. Then twenty years later – it was last year, we met up at NAMM and started chatting. He was doing some New York acoustic shows and I went to see them. They were some of the best shows I’ve ever seen. We started working together doing acoustic stuff. We’re working on putting out an acoustic album. We’ll see what happens from there.”

Since one doesn’t usually associate acoustic guitar work with Bumblefoot, I asked him if it was a challenge for him to work on that kind of music.

“No, I like it. For me, diversity and stepping out of the usual and not getting locked into any kind of comfort zone – I prefer that. I like to keep it fresh. I’m definitely enjoying the acoustic stuff.”

After such a monster storm-trooper of a GNR tour, I wondered if it was hard for Thal to come down from it or is he just SO ready to be home that he doesn’t know what to do first.

“The hardest part of starting a tour or ending a tour is the transition from being home to being on the road. You get off tour. You don’t have a day sheet slipped under your door. You don’t know what to do with your time. You don’t know what to do with all this freedom to do anything because, when you’re on tour, you’re kind of limited as to what you can do. But, when you’re home, for me, I can do anything. Because of that, I just don’t know what to do with myself. There’s been time when, as soon as I got home – before even unpacking, I just started tearing up the ceiling and putting in recessed lighting for three days. This time, I immediately went right into the studio and started blasting out stuff. If find that that’s the best thing to do is just right back into some kind of work that you would normally be doing at home and that gets you right back into it where you don’t have time to get all weird about the transition.

“That’s the toughest part. When you leave to go on tour, you feel like you pressed a giant pause button on your life and you Photo by Jarmo LuukkonenPhoto by Jarmo Luukkonenhave all the stuff waiting for you. Finally, it hits you when you’re on the plane, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do so I might as well wipe my hands of it all and think about what I need to do here which is put on a good show. Then, when you’re on the plane ride back, it’s like you’ve taken your finger off of that pause button and it’s like, ‘Alright! I’ve got to get to the doctor! I’ve got to get new contact lenses! I’ve got to renew the box at the post office!’ The list comes into play of everything you need to do – all the little stuff. You start planning it out. ‘Alright, I’ve gotta do this, this, this, and this and tomorrow this, this, and this.’ And you slowly get back to normal life.”

As for how Mrs. Thal handles him during those times, he said, “She’s been watching me do this for so long, she gets it. She comes on tour a lot, too, and she knows how weird it is to get off the road and come back home. She’s experienced the transition, as well. For me, I could be gone for three months and for her, she could come out for a couple of weeks or a couple of days and then go home and then do it again. She’ll pick and choose where she wants to go. Like, ‘Ah! I’ve never been to India!  Let’s go to India!’ And we work it out.

“That’s the whole thing that really helps us is not separating the two lives where you have your touring life and your home life; when you can put the two together; where you can make that leap and combine the two lives into one; it actually winds up being better. It’s actually good like that with Guns. A lot of times we have family members joining on the tour and it really is like one big family now. It’s always like that. It’s one thing I’m happy about is that, in the Guns world, family is treated like everybody’s family.”

When I comment that many people may find that description of life on the road with Guns N’ Roses as quite different from the image of trashing hotel rooms and such, Thal said, “There’s a lot of everything. There’s trashed hotel rooms, sometimes, but it’s usually for a good reason! Ha! Ha!  One time, they were testing the smoke alarms every morning starting at eight in the morning and sometimes going on until one in the afternoon. Picture three mornings of that when you’re working at night. Finally, by the third morning, one of our guys went out and found the guy in the hallway testing everything and pretty much told him that he was going to kill him if he makes one more sound. He was so mad that he just kicked around some things in his room.

“There’s been times when – it’s usually just the sleep deprivation when you really need to sleep because you’re on the opposite schedule than the rest of the world. Guns shows start late and go on for three hours and by the time you get out of there and get back to bed, the sun is coming up and you don’t want, two hours later, the phone ringing saying, ‘This is room service. Do you want us to come in?’ And I’m like, ‘The “Do Not Disturb” sign, it applies to not just the door but to the phone. “Do Not Disturb” means do not disturb by any means. I’m trying to sleep!’ Then, two hours later, they call and say, ‘I was just calling to make sure you want us to not call.’ It’s that kind of stuff. Those are the things that have you ripping the phone out of the wall and sticking it in the toilet and then going back to bed. I think that half the times people destroy a hotel room, it’s not for fun, it’s because they’re trying to sleep and the hotel won’t let them! So, that happens. Yeah. Oh, and my wife was there when that happened so all the crazy room-trashing now happens with family!”

Then next three GNR specific questions I asked Bumblefoot were the same three that I asked Dizzy Reed. I started off by saying that, from the outside looking in, people view GNR as a rolling thunderstorm of chaos, confusion and confrontation.  What does it look like to him from his vantage point?

“A rolling thunderstorm of chaos, confrontation and . . . yeah.  They’ve got it exactly right. That’s exactly what it is”, Thal said in an obvious joking tone. “If people only knew how much, they wouldn’t believe it. They used to say that Guns N’ Roses was the most dangerous band in the world. If anything, it might be more dangerous. We just hide it better. I mean, the things that go on as far as the volatility and the fragility of making this beast run is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely a runaway train. Actually, it’s more like a runaway planet!  That’s what it is. Picture a planet that leaves its orbit and it’s just shooting through space, smashing anything in its path. I think it’s more like that. But, yes, as far as chaos and rage and all of that stuff, oh yeah, plenty of that.”

What does Thal think is the most misrepresented, misunderstood or most unknown “thing” about GNR is?

“That we are not wrestling characters that are good guys and bad guys when it comes to the past and the present versions or different members of the different chapters of the story of Guns N’ Roses. People are surprised to know that Izzy (Stradlin) came out and jammed on a couple of songs with us for some of these shows. And Duff (McKagan) did. Things like that. It’s not all this past versus present, one versus the other. It’s all part of the same story. Guns N’ Roses is like this big book filled with so many chapters that are so unique and a story within themselves but they’re all part of the same book, part of the same history. It’s all part of the same life span of the twenty-five year life of the band. It’s a continuing story.

“People tend to look at it like, ‘That’s not Guns N’ Roses’. Well, in a sense, a butterfly isn’t a caterpillar but it’s the same life, the same creature. It just goes through changes. It started off as one thing but slowly morphed into another.  That just happens – whether people die or quit, technology change, music styles change, or whatever happens.

“It’s the same band but you have to look at it like one is the child, one is the adult, one is the gray haired wise dude. It’s the same life and the child isn’t the same person that he is when he is going to be fifty. But it’s the same life and the sum of the same experiences in the end.  People say, ‘Well, it’s not the same band.’ You’re right, it’s not the same band. Different people. Different sound. Different world. Different century. Different everything. But it’s part of the same story and if you want to not acknowledge any aspect of that story, you’re just missing out on a lot of it you might enjoy if you let yourself.

“Every life has its peak, its part that someone is going to favor. That’s fine. Appreciate and enjoy the whole story. There’s a lot to it. It’s very interesting and I’ll even say that there’s been no band in the history of rock that has a story as crazy as Guns N’ Roses is. So, enjoy it! Why fight it? Enjoy it!”

On a slightly different note, I asked Thal what he thought is the most misrepresented, misunderstood or most unknown “thing” about Axl?

“I think that, a lot of times, if he’s late on stage or if he’s not going to show up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or if an album is taking too long to come out – that kind of stuff – I think a lot of times people think it’s because he doesn’t care about his fans. They just take it that way. But the truth is I think, from what I see, he cares so much that it almost gets in the way. I would say he cares too much. That’s what people don’t realize about him. They take it the wrong way. They think that if he’s stalling on something that it’s that he doesn’t care but it’s actually because he cares so much that he’s so concerned about doing the wrong thing. He’s trying to feel out what the right thing is to do. That’s one thing I noticed about him: that he cares maybe too much. That’s my perspective if I were to put it into my own words.”

I couldn’t resist asking Ron if Guns N’ Roses are going to be touring again in 2013.

“Yes. In March we have a bunch of shows in Australia. I’m hoping that we can do more after that. It’s looking like it will be three or four weeks but I’m hoping that we can expand on it. It would be great if we could work out something in New Zealand or the Philippines or Malaysia, Thailand, China – anywhere we can do.”

Bumblefoot3Bringing the conversation back around to what’s on his plate right now, Mr. Thal said, “Most of the time, I’m looking at fonts. I’m a putting out my own line of hot sauces that’s going to be out next month. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years and I’m finally making it happen. The hardest part is designing the labels for the bottles, choosing between thousands of fonts for the right one to use for the name of this or the name of that. So, I’ve been spending most of my time designing the bottles for the hot sauces. In either Dallas or Austin – and right around NAMM – there’s a little chili or hot sauce festival and I’m seeing if I can find a way to jump out of NAMM just for the day to Texas for that.

“I’m very excited about the hot sauces. You’re going to like these. These really get up there. One is called “BumbleF**KED”. That one, it has ginger and lime and six million Scoville units of heat and it has ginseng and caffeine so it’s almost an energy shot mixed with a super ridiculous, pain-junky level hot heat. Then, I have one called “Bumblicious” which is made with a cherry bourbon and it’s mild and it’s just delicious. I just can’t wait to share these with everybody.”

Bumblefoot has worked on a ton of different kinds of projects so I asked him what kinds of projects that he hasn’t worked on yet that is on his bucket list to do.

“I find all these things just happen unexpectedly and unplanned. My paths cross with people that I didn’t think to meet and things like that just happen. I don’t know, it’s almost like I don’t really plan anything anymore. I just go the way the wind blows and just roll with whatever happens. Things tend to always happen. But let me think.” Then, once again with that joking lilt to his voice, he added, “Hmmm, gee, it sure would be nice to put out some music with Axl on some Guns music. That would be kinda nice.”  Then, getting back into a more serious tone, said, “We’ve spoken a lot about it. It’s just a question of – I wouldn’t even say the planets aligning; That’s a little extreme as far as a metaphor – but I think we just need to have nothing else going on to where we can just focus on making new music and putting it out. There’s such strong people in the band. Dizzy is a great singer and songwriter. DJ – a great songwriter. Pitman is a great singer and songwriter. Frank is a great drummer. Tommy, he’s a great singer and songwriter. Richard, he’s a great player, songwriter. We have all the parts of the machine there. All we have to do is assemble that machine and hit the on switch.

“We’ve been doing a lot of touring. It’s great and it’s made us tight and it’s made us solid. It’s made us to the point where we can jam and just sort of read each other’s minds and know where we’re going to go without having to look at each other. Now, I would love to put out music. It doesn’t even have to be an album. Let’s just put out songs.  Put a song then hit the road and play that song. Then put out another song and hit the road and play that song, too. If we did that for each leg of the touring over the last few years, we would’ve had an album finished by now song by song.

“That’s how I look at it: that, these days, putting out an album is too big of a bite to bite off. It’s not necessary. You can keep a constant simmer going by putting out a song and then a song and then a song, putting out music throughout the year rather than waiting two or three years and putting out fourteen songs at once. Albums are nice as far as having a piece of merch that you can hold in your hand but they’re no longer the source of the music.

“Now, with the technology, you don’t just put out the song. What I did, I put out the song but I put it out in options of high res format, if you want .wav, if you want 320 MP3, FLAC, whatever you want. Here’s the instrumental version if you don’t want vocal. Here’s the recording stems if you want to do your own mix. I’ve had people do it where they want to keep the drums and bass and play their own guitar and vocals over it and stuck it on YouTube. I’ve done transcriptions with backing tracks. You can take each song and do more with it if you just focus on the song, I find.

“For me, it’s not so much about the money because it all, in the end, it all kind of ends up the same way, anyway. I don’t even worry about the money. The money is secondary to getting people what they want. That’s really the primary focus of why you do what you do and you never want to lose sight of that. If you’re going to make a living off it, that’s because people are helping you because you’ve giving them something they enjoy. I’m doing enough things in a variety of places where I can put food on the table. I’m not trying to nickel and dime the people that care about what I do. I’m just putting it out there whenever I can put it out there and put it out in a way that people like it. There are people that still want CDs because they want that thing in their hand. They should have that, as well. At this point, I think the CD has become like a piece of merch and that’s even why people like it is because they want it as something that they can hold in their hand. It’s not even for the music because they can get the music a million different ways now.”

I’m always curious who commands an artist’s attention so I Ron who is on his radar these days.

“My favorite new band that I’ve heard – and it’s been a long time since I’ve heard a band that I just completely love – is a band out of New Jersey and I swear to you that I’m not biased but the guitar player used to be a student of mine and he’s a friend of mine. He grew up into this incredible genius of a musician. He has a band called Thank You Scientist. It’s drums, bass, guitar, vocals, two horn players and a violin. Just picture Dream Theater mixed with Incubus, mixed with maybe Dave Matthews with a melodic and having a violin in there . . . with Frank Zappa. It appeals to you intellectually. It appeals to you on this primal, melodic, emotional level. It’s fantastic stuff and the guys are impeccable live. They are absolutely my new favorite band.”

At one point in our chat, Thal shared his thoughts about what up and coming musicians should be doing as they’re building their careers.

“Musicians need to look at themselves as small business owners – that they’re the president of a small company. They need to do things like, when they’re young, they need to take out IRAs and retirement accounts and prepare for when they’re old because nobody’s going to take care of them. Nobody’s going to do this for them. They need to do this for themselves. They need to plan for their entire life. That’s one thing I think musicians need to do so when they’re young, they’re twenty, definitely take out some Roth IRAs or something that’s not for the purposes of sheltering your current taxes and changing your income bracket but something that is going to build a nice nest egg for you 40 – 50 years later.”

I knew that Ron was incredibly active in helping various charities so I asked him to tell me about some of what he’s been working on in that area of his life.

“I get involved with a lot of different groups. When I was in Dubai, I visited the autism center there and they’re in need of a bigger building. The number of children every year that are affected by autism is growing so quickly and exponentially and is reaching the point that, now, one out of eighty kids have it. They’re thinking that by next year it will be one out of fifty-five. It’s not just children – it’s not just about teaching the kids how to be more functional – it’s about teaching families how to understand and help the kids. Everybody needs to learn and there are people who are experts and can teach that. There’s a school in Dubai where they’re doing great work there and having great success. I visited the school with a local band out there that I am friends with – a band called Point of View – we did a couple of acoustic songs for the kids and spoke with them there. I’d love to do a fundraiser over there and help them get a bigger building to be able to accommodate the amount of families that really need to be there. That’s something I want to try and do.

“Right here in our home, as well, there is a good friend of mine, Ralph Rosa, guitar player and he was diagnosed fifteen years ago with multiple sclerosis. He decided that he wanted to get involved in funding research. He went through all of the paperwork, the bureaucracy, and managed to start a non-profit organization where all of his family and friends volunteered our time. We did concerts. We did little dinner comedy shows and all kinds of events where we raised money for research and the money went – all of it – right to the labs. There’s a lot of things out there. The world needs help and, you know, you can’t save the world but if each of us maybe takes a brief moment to stop and help a little bit – what we can, however we can . . . it doesn’t hurt to help!”

Concluding his thoughts on this, Thal mentioned how you can help him help others.

“One thing that I’m doing is any autographed merch – whether it’s a signed photo or a signed CD that someone gets from my merch store – I donate five dollars of it towards charities.”

In conducting my research on Bumblefoot, his biography on his website where he doesn’t mince any words about being the odd guy out while he was growing up and used that to fuel his creativity. No doubt that has contributed to his study of music and made him the kind of musician that he’s become. I asked him what kind of advice and encouragement he would give if he saw a pre-teen or teenaged Ron right now.

“I would say don’t overthink because thinking too much is the enemy. We tend to start creating bloated scenarios that are based on our own fears and you can think yourself right out of something good in life. Don’t overthink.

“Don’t care too much. It’s our natural tendency to care as much as we can but there is a limit. It’s like overeating – don’t over care. Care just enough to be positive and be productive and to be helpful but not to the point to where you feel that you’re crucifying yourself.

“Keep your body healthy. No matter how much time you’re spending sitting down with your guitar, take a break and run around the room and keep your body healthy. That will keep your mind healthy. That will keep your world good. A healthy body is so important. You don’t realize it until it’s not there and, then, nothing else matters. So definitely stay healthy physically.

“Stay in school!  No matter how much you think you’re smarter than it, you’re not! Staying in school has nothing to do with education, it has to do with discipline. Stay in just so the discipline of doing something you don’t want to do and finding the good in it that you can benefit from. So definitely see it through no matter how much you don’t like it and uncomfortable you feel there and how out of place and how wrong it seems to be there. Whatever it is and whatever you’re telling yourself, stop telling yourself that crap and see it through.

“I give myself the same thing that I tell everyone – three major things in getting ahead in life: Don’t be late!  Be on time and being on time means being early; getting there fifteen minutes early, waiting five minutes and calling the person saying I’m ten minutes away and then walking five minutes later. Be on time which means be early and be ready.

“Number two: Be over-prepared. For example: say you’re doing a session of some kind. You’re supposed to lay a guitar part. The bassist doesn’t show up. Well, guess what? You learned the bass part, too, you tell them, ‘Hey, I can lay down that bass part if you need. I learned it just to be safe. You’re going to be the most valued player in the room and they’re going to greatly appreciate that.

“The other thing is, be cool, be mellow. Going back to that same situation, everyone is freaking out. They don’t know what to do and panic is contagious. If you are this mellow, rock voice of reason person that doesn’t contribute to all of that tension and go, ‘It’s cool, man, I’ll take care of that. It’s all good,’ they’re going to value you so much. They’re always going to want you in the room with them and they’re going to want you back and want you in their lives.”

Summarizing like the excellent teacher that he is, Ron closed by saying, “So, those three things: Be on time, be prepared and be cool.”

Guitars. Do you mind if I ask how many you own? In your mind, is there a “holy grail” of guitars that you either own or would like to own?

“I’m not sure. It’s not as many as I should own. It’s not that many. If there’s a guitar I like, that’ll be my guitar for, like, thirteen years. I’ll play it straight. I used to take my guitars and modify them and keep on playing them.  I think, maybe at the most twenty and a majority of those are probably on the road in a guitar vault waiting to be shipped to Australia in March.  I have the Vigier double neck and a backup of that.  I have three single necks from them. I have my ’89 Les Paul which is a reissue of the ’59.  I have my Swiss cheese guitar. I have a replica that Vigier made of my Swiss cheese guitar. I have all of the other weird guitars. I have my flying foot guitar.  It’s probably twenty guitars or under. I still have pretty much every guitar that I’ve had since I was a kid. I don’t sell guitars or get rid of them. I just get them because I like them and want to keep them and want to have them.

“There’s only one guitar that I’m thinking of getting rid of which is one of my very first fretless guitars – a single neck fretless and it’s one of the first fretless’ that Vigier made and it’s the one I use for all of my recordings and on the first tours with Guns N’ Roses. What I did is on the last tour I had Axl and the band sign it, Izzy signed it and I want to auction it off at some point for Hurricane Relief from Sandy.”

As for what he considers to be the holy grail of guitars, Bumblefoot said, “I think that the flying foot guitar – which probably only a fan of Monty Python could appreciate – and the double-neck fretted fretless. That’s all I really need.”

When you’ve stepped off the tour bus of life and onto the stage of that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy is?

“I hope that after all is said & done, that I've made a positive impact on people's lives.  Whether it's from the music itself or through actions I'd taken as a musician or from exchanges on a personal level.  I hope to have earned people's respect musically.  That's all I want, is to hopefully be a musician that people respect and are inspired by.  That'd be just fine.”

Normally, I would end an interview piece with the quote to that question. However, I have to add that, at the end of our call, the battery on the phone I was using died suddenly and threw the phone line into a lengthy, inexplicable reboot process.  Ron tried repeatedly to call me back in order to make sure that I got everything I needed for the interview.  How cool is that?  It shows that not only is Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal is an immensely talented and prolific guitarist, a highly intelligent conversationalist, but a class act who truly cares about others.