Musicians, regardless of their stature, often find themselves living out scenarios that could easily fit into the script of the beloved music comedy “This Is Spinal Tap.” Guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, renowned for his work with Guns N’ Roses, recently shared his own Spinal Tap-esque tale, recounting how an uncooperative Stormtrooper helmet threw a curveball into an iconic performance at the 2011 Rock in Rio festival.
While “This Is Spinal Tap” celebrates its 40th anniversary next year, it’s clear that the uncanny ability of the film to mirror real-life rock and roll absurdity continues to hold sway. Nearly every musician of repute boasts a “Spinal Tap” story in their repertoire, and Ron was more than happy to share his own during a recent interview with We Go To 11.
Without explicitly naming Guns N’ Roses, the context of Ron’s story leaves little doubt about the band he was referring to. He dove into the “biggest real Spinal Tap moment” of his career, an unforgettable night at Brazil’s iconic Rock in Rio festival in 2011.
According to Ultimate Guitar – He vividly recalled the challenging conditions of that fateful evening, marked by relentless rain that threatened to wash out the performance. He explained, “It was an outdoor show, and just the heaviest rain you could ever get caught in. My skin is all pruned up. I can’t even slide on my fret; it’s like trying to play on a wet balloon. They had brooms pushing the water off the stage. It was getting as high as almost covering our pedal boards; like inches of water, and it was making pyro misfire and things going off…”
However, what made this experience even more “Spinal Tap” worthy was Ron’s decision to borrow a Stormtrooper helmet from a fan in the front row. What was meant to be a quirky stage stunt quickly turned into a comedy of errors.
Describing the unexpected helmet mishap, Ron confessed, “And there was a fan in the front row that had a Star Wars Stormtrooper white helmet. So, I got it from her, and I figured I’d put it on and play with it. And, as soon as it touched my skin, it just, like, it was glued to it. And now, this thing is stuck on my face.”
As the audience looked on, Ron found himself in an impromptu and unintentional Star Wars crossover, struggling to free himself from the unwieldy helmet just as he was about to play an iconic guitar solo for a headlining set in front of a massive audience. With humor and humility, he reflected, “I did what I could, but then I just had to stop and just take this helmet off and continue. It really wasn’t the worst sounding thing in the world; I mean, there’s worse. But, my god, the next day — and to this day — the angry emails and messages we get from people saying how I destroyed their lives.”
Ultimately, Ron Thal’s experience at Rock in Rio serves as a poignant reminder of the unpredictable nature of live performances and the unique charm they hold. Despite the unexpected, it’s the moments like these that make live shows truly unforgettable, illustrating that perfection is not the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. Instead, it’s the unexpected, the humorous, and the human elements that add color and character to the music industry.
In parting, Ron shared exciting news about his forthcoming solo album, an all-instrumental endeavor that’s nearly ready to hit the airwaves. While the Stormtrooper helmet might be behind him, Thal’s music journey continues, proving that even in the face of musical calamities, laughter, and the love of music will always prevail.