METALLICA is a
mega-band of heavy metal from 80s and 90s, whose name became a face of heavy
metal for many fans and musicians.
There are only few bands in the history of rock that reached such height
as Metallica, and I doubt that today someone else has such fame and popularity
as them. In short fifteen years this
band turned from a bunch of basement amateurs into a national sensation. Most importantly Metallica never compromised
their music for anyone in show business.
Their music always was their self-expression, their faith. In this story, I will try to tell how
as many other things in this world owes to someone being at the right place in
the right time. I’m talking about one
of the founders of future legend – its drummer, Lars Ulrich, who was born in
faraway Denmark. This fact is
interesting, because only two famous performers of heavy metal were ever born
in Denmark: King Diamond and Ulrich himself.
Lars was born in a suburb of Copenhagen on December 26, 1963 in family
of famous at that time tennis player, Torben Ulrich. Due to this, problem of
Lars’s profession was solved at early age.
At the beginning little Lars constantly traveled all around the world
with his dad to different championships and tournaments, and later took up
tennis himself. By the time Lars was ten, he was in the top ten of Danish junior
league, and would only keep advancing.
Both Lars and his father were thinking that his future was set as a
tennis star. However, that soon changed.
In February of 1973 young Lars accidentally wound up at a concert of
Deep Purple. He was taken there by his father’s friend – old hippie and fan of
hard rock. Lars himself had little
interest in that kind of music. What he
saw, however, turned his world upside down.
A week later, Lars brought home his first vinyl disc – album Deep Purple
‘71’ ‘Fireball’. Lars also got into
Sweet, Uriah Heep, Slade, Thin Lizzy, and Black Sabbath – all the British
rock-elite. Black Sabbath’s concert in
75 inspired other people too, so Copenhagen at the time had plenty of teenagers
jumping with some heavy music and trying make guitarists of themselves. Lars, on the other hand, chose a very
different instrument for himself – the drums.
More and more often you could see him spending time with two sticks and
a bunch of boxes instead of his tennis racket.
Lars finally got real drums for his 13th birthday after bugging his
grandmother for several months. One
time going around his favorite of music stores, Lars found out “New Wave of
British Heavy Metal” or “NWOBHM” that changed his life again. In fall of 79
Lars finally met a real, live rocker – drummer of Motorhead, Phil Taylor. Lars’s parents at the same time were trying
to find a way to deal with their son’s growing music obsession. They decided on moving to America, where
they were sure, it would be easier for Lars to concentrate on sport and
continue his promising career in that field, because of all the different
tennis tournaments going on in there.
So in the middle of 1980 the whole family moved across the ocean to
California. Their new home became a place called New-Port Beach, several miles
to the south of Los-Angeles. Lars’s
parents sold his drums in Denmark before the move and made him start on tennis
again. That didn’t work, however. Two months after the move, Lars got himself
his own drums, and this time there was nothing his parents could do to keep him
away from them. Lars had a problem with
America, though: nobody even heard about the music he was so crazy about. There
was nothing heavier than Van Halen on the west coast at that time. It is easy to understand how lonely Lars was
in his passions. Everyone considered
him completely crazy and hopelessly focused on his drums and foreign heavy
metal. In the beginning of 1981, however, Lars got lucky – he finally met a common
thinker, a guy named Jeff Warner, who played the guitar and also liked British
rock. Right after they met, both agreed
to devote all their free time to heavy metal.
In the end of February they met Lloyd Grant, a skilled black guitarist,
who was ten years older than Lars and Jeff. Even though it didn’t cause any
trouble, after several weeks of training together, the three broke up. Lars and Lloyd had some purely communication
problems, and Jeff, disappointed by what happened, left too.
Now back to 63, when
on August 3, James Allan Hetfield was born in Los-Angeles’s suburb,
Norwalk. Unlike Lars, James Hetfield
started taking on music at very early age – his father Virgil made him take
fortepiano lessons. All those lessons
made Beethoven, Mozart, and all other classics, Hetfield’s “enemies”. With that set of mind, James didn’t really
try with the piano and interest himself with theory part; he just banged the
keys to make some noise. Interestingly enough, James’s older brother considered
him to be skilled enough and accepted him into his own band The Bitter End,
where he himself played the drums.
Gradually James got into heavy metal as much as Lars did.
Story of the third
member of future band Metallica, story of Ron McGownie, can be summed up in
only one saying: “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you
are.” Ron was growing a perfect boy,
until he met with Hetfield. Ron didn’t
share James’s music passions, but in time James infected him with them, and Ron
decided to start playing the guitar, too.
James started two bands
one after another: Obsession, and Syrinx, but neither lasted that long. In 1980 James’s mother died and he moved to
Brie with his brother. There he met with guy named Hue Tanner and formed a band
called Phantom Lord. The band wasn’t
really one, it was James and Hue sitting and playing together. They didn’t have a bass player, so James
offered Ron that place. Ron wasn’t a
bass player, he didn’t even have a bass guitar, but James didn’t care, he
decided to teach Ron and he did.
Phantom Lord, however, wasn’t doing all that good: Hue Tanner, as good
as he was as a guitarist, finally decided to go into music management. Couple of days after Hue left, James brought
a drummer named Jim Mulligan, who was his former classmate, and a new
guitarist, Troy James – Hetfield still wanted to be only a vocalist. After all
these changes a new band was formed – Leather Charm. This band, however, played a very different kind of music from
what Hetfield played before: Leather Charm played the real glam-rock. For the first time they wrote three of their
own songs: “Hit The Lights’, “Handsome Ransom” and “Let’s Go Rock’n’Roll”. First one was included in Metallica debut
album and the other two later made one song – “No Remorse”. Leather Charm itself, didn’t last long either:
they didn’t play any concerts and Mulligan wanted to played more progressive
music. Nevertheless, Leather Charm
because an ugly prototype of future Metallica.
But without Lars
Ulrich, METALLICA wasn’t destined to be.
This way we come to a moment when James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich finally
meet each other. When Leather Charm
broke up, James placed an ad in California newspaper “The Recycler” – something
like looking for musicians in a band. But here’s the tricky part: such ads were
so rare that in section “Heavy-metal” of “The Recycler” there were only two
names: James Hetfield and... Lars Ulrich! So it was impossible for them not to
call each other. It’s also very
interesting, it turned out that James and Lars already met and even played
together. When it was only James and
Hue, Hue brought Lars to one of their rehearsals, and they all played a little
together. That time, however, both
James and Ron (it happened in his house, but he didn’t play yet) thought Lars
was the worst drummer on earth. Lars couldn’t hold the rhythm, and was awful
compared to Mulligan. Fate, however,
had other opinion, so this time was different.
After meeting with James, Lars dragged James to his house where he
played his vinyl discs to James the whole day constantly adding some needed and
unneeded comments, and also stories about various European concerts and parties
with Diamond Head and Motorhead.
Hetfield instantly fell in love with all those British bands, but he was
too shocked by information overload, moreover as he never even NWOBHM
before. “At that time I was listening
to Black Sabbath, Judas Priest – bands also British, but I never had any idea
about any underground!” His impression
of Lars, however, was much different from impression he got from Lars’ music collection. It’s even rumored that James said to Lars
that he stinks and suggested using soap.
On the other hand, James was downright impressed by how rich Lars’s
family was and all the excellent music equipment Lars had. At the same time Lars was pulled in by
James’s experience in collective work and all his ideas and suggestions for
rehearsals, renting their own place to play, and all the other stuff necessary
for a band to exist. “Of course, I
wanted all this”, Lars says, “but James just stumbled me with all his ideas. To
say the truth, I just wanted someone to play my favorite songs with, instead of
simply sitting alone and mindlessly pounding the drums.” Nevertheless, the same evening, thanks to
James Hetfield’s determination the legendary METALLICA was conceived. Of course it took them much more than one
time to get something done. When it
came to first rehearsals, Hetfield called Lars an incapable Dutch midget, and
left banging the door. To tell the
truth though, Lars wasn’t really wasn’t that good at the time, and had to play
the cheapest “Woolworsth” set of drums that cost him seven bucks. Over a period
of time, however, Lars and James got over their animosity and became good
Their not so big
start came with help of one of Lars’s friends working in publishing of “New
Heavy Metal Review”, Brian Slegel. At
that time, in 1981, there were more and more heavy metal bands appearing in
Los-Angeles, and Brian decided to put best of them on one disc. To put this idea to life Slegel created his
own company – “Metal Blade”, and started calling all his familiar local bands
for this compilation, which was going to be called “Metal Massacre”. Brian already got a yes for a song for
Bitch, Steeler and Ratt, when he got a call from Lars Ulrich who asked if
Slegel could include a song from Lars’s band if he was able to put one
together. Brian said that he would be
happy to do it, by that giving a start to METALLICA! Slegel may overestimate his contribution into creation of this
mega band, but METALLICA really got their first song out with “Metal
Massacre”. After talking on the phone
with Slegel, Ulrich hurriedly found James Hetfield, and told him that they had
a chance to be featured on a vinyl if they came up with a whole band real
fast. Hetfield agreed, as he figured
there was nothing to lose. This way a
distant likelihood of a band was quickly compiled. After that, they still had a task of writing the song itself. This, however, took them even less time than
compiling a band. Their “Hit The Lights”
was piece of James’s old Leather Charm song, with Lars adding something of his
own to it. Due to fact that their
likelihood of the band had an awful shortage of players, Lars and James had to
record drums, bass, guitar and vocal on a primitive four-track “TEAC” all by
themselves. After that they got a
soloist named Lloyd Grant who was already mentioned in the story through the
same “Recycler”. Even though the
quality of their final recording had a vast room for improvement, Brian Slegel
was happy with “Hit The Lights” and even declared it the best song he got for
his compilation. Such turn of events
made musicians themselves much more than happy, and James even changed his
opinion about Lars’s skills and decided the continue their joint playing. Moreover, Lars finally got a new set of drums
and they sounded nothing like the old set did.
Now the story finally
comes to the name “METALLICA”. After
recording “Hit The Lights”, Lars and James needed a name under which to present
themselves to the world. Back in those
days, long and inflated names like today, were not in fashion, so it was quite
a task picking a good name. James and Lars have gone over a whole bunch of
different names like Grinder, Blitzer, Red Vette, Helldriver, and even
Thunderf**k. They both really liked the
name Thunderf**k and even came up with a logo for it, but censorship is
censorship and they didn’t want to take their chances with this name, so they
had to keep on thinking. They finally
got help with this from another Lars’s friend Ron Quintann. Ron often visited Lars, and one fall evening
of 1981, he came to Ulrich glowing from happiness and told Lars, that his
lifelong dream - creating his own heavy-metal newspaper – is about to turn to
reality, and that all he needed was a name for his paper! It turned out that Ron already had two
choices, and he couldn’t decide to pick either “Metallica” or “Metal
Mania”. Trying to hide his excitement,
Lars blurted out that “Metal Mania” was way better. This famous theft happened on October 27, 1981, giving the world
METALLICA. Almost the next day, James
created a logo for the name: the one with arrows, which you can see on any
Metallica merchandise today. Passing
the name and the logo to Brian Slegel, Lars and James started on the actual
problems: getting a bassist and a second guitarist. Bassist was found very fast – this empty place was given to good
old Ron McGownie. Even though neither
Lars not James ever took Ron as a real musician, they had to compile the band
the sooner the better – that was the main condition for participating in the
project of Brian Slegel. Finding the
second guitarist took a while longer.
The fact that Lloyd Grant is not going to stay in Metallica longer than
it took to record “Hit The Lights” was apparent to everyone: Lars and James
didn’t consider him fit for the rhythm guitar.
After trying out a couple dozens different guitarists, they had to turn
to their old tested method – the newspaper ad.
It worked this time too, getting Metallica – Dave Mustane. For Dave playing the guitar was the only
escape in his awful childhood, so he was good enough for Metallica, and after
one rehearsal Dave did with them, he became their member. First thing, Dave called their “Hit The
Lights” and the band rerecorded all the solos in it. In fact the new version did turn out much better.
At this time, the
kind of music METALLICA played, not only nobody else in America played, but
nobody even heard it! It was really
something new, and unheard of before.
This can be explained be the absence of Metallica concerts, which in
turn can be explained by Metallica not being fully compiled (James Hetfield,
was still torn between vocals and guitar, and refused to do both).
Finally, the historic
even – first, the very first concert of Metallica – happened in the club called
“Radio City” in Anaheim, on March 14, 1982.
For Metallica it was a completely new feeling new atmosphere – the world
of live music, unity of performers and listeners, where the boundaries between
the two disappear. However, in those
years only a few people took interest in Metallica’s music, and the masses were
crazy about the Glam-rock. Despite all
that, guys’ popularity somehow kept growing and even Europe heard of
After some touring,
Metallica set (which consisted of only “Hit The Lights” at the time) finally
had three more songs added to it: “The Mechanix”, “Jump In The Fire”, and
Hetfield’s “Motorbreath”. In April of
82 these three plus “Hit The Lights” were recorded on tape in McGownie’s garage. Later this tape became a basis for all the
business deals. Lars Ulrich and a guy
named Patrick Scott, started on distribution of these tapes, by passing out
free copies with card that said Metallica and their phone number to almost
anyone they saw.
At the same time, the
band was continuously searching for a rhythm guitarist. They found an extremely weird guy named Brad
Parker, but after one concert with him, they had to kick Brad out, and James
Hetfield finally realized that he would have to carry the burden, of playing
the rhythm guitar.
In 1982 the “Metal
Massacre” finally came out. Even though
its cover had countless typos and the band’s name was spelled “Mettallica”, it
became their first official disc, and planted the seeds where Metallica’s later
fame would be partly rooted.
Things really to
started to pick up the pace for Metallica when of their concert recordings
wound up in the hands of Kenny Kane, owner and manager of independent company
“High Velocity”. Having found
Metallica’s work very innovative, Kane contacted the band and offered Metallica
to release a whole EP, promising to cover all the recording costs. Sure enough, the band agreed, but later it
turned out that the concert tape Kane heard had only the cover songs, not the
Metallica originals, so Kane refused to put out the Metallica vinyl. However, the band still got their paid
studio where they recorded “No Life ‘Till Leather” – their new demo tape, which
was spread the same way as the first one.
On September 18 in
San Francisco, Metallica appeared at the presentation of “Metal Massacre”
organized by Brian Slegel himself. The
band wound up there pure accidentally after Cirith Ungol (one of Slegel’s
picks) couldn’t make it. The
interesting thing was that all the fans that came to that concert had “No Life
‘Till Leather” and jointly sang the words of almost all the Metallica
songs. This was the first time
Metallica met with its real fans.
playing in San Francisco, gaining more and popularity until November 28, when
the band finally headlined their own show!
That show was also where and when Metallica met Kirk Hammett, who then
played in Exodus – a band who was warming the crowd up at the show.
At the same time,
there were and more problems with Ron McGownie in the middle of Metallica
itself. Ron was getting more and more
distant from other band members, even during their friendly parties. As things were getting worse, Brian Slegel
invited Lars and James to visit concert of the band called Trauma. There, both were completely captivated by
Trauma’s bassist – Cliff Burton. Cliff
didn’t have any desire to leave Trauma, but after the concert and months after
that Lars and James were literally stalking Burton, trying to get him into
Metallica. Ron McGownie accidentally
found out about all this, and in December he officially left Metallica. Several weeks after that whole Metallica
moved to San Francisco, and Cliff Burton finally agreed to play with them.
When 1983 started,
growing financial problems stopped Metallica’s growth, until they a very
influential west coast guy named Johnny Z.
Johnny Z. managed his own store called “Rock-n-roll Heaven” where you
could find anything connected with heavy metal. Same Johnny Z. also organized rock concerts in New York and New
Jersey from time to time. Johnny
convinced Metallica to go New York where he housed all four guys for three
Mustane and his heavy drinking started to distance him from the band as Ron got
distanced before that. Moreover, other
members of Metallica got an Exodus tape and just as they did with Cliff, they
got determined that they have got to have Kirk Hammett instead of Dave. In April of 83 they shamelessly booted Dave,
and instantly Kirk Hammett became the newest member of the band. Still Metallica kept playing at the same
clubs introducing their new member to the public. The fun ended when Johnny Z.
kicked them all out of his house for drinking two bottles of champagne that
were his family’s treasure. For several
weeks Metallica had to live in the abandoned warehouse.
In the beginning of
May, however, the band got news from Johnny that even though he kicked them out
of this house, he kept his word, and rented a recording studio “Music America”
for two weeks. May 10, 1983 Metallica
first came into that studio. Their material was ready and dozens if not even
hundreds of times rehearsed. Finally, Metallica got its wish and they could
release their own disc!!!
allow the original name of the disc – “Metal Up Your A**”, with a logo of a
hand with a sword coming out of a toilet.
Metallica had to settle on “Kill ‘Em All” that basically expressed their
feelings toward the censors.
This album sold
thousands of copies and made finally made Metallica a success, but that’s
already another story...
P.S. You can find out more about Metallica on my
Dougnton, K. J. Metallica unbound: the unofficial biography. New York: Warren Books, 1993
Metallica live! London: Omnibus press,
Rees, Daffyd and Luke
Crampton Encyclopedia of rock stars New York: DK, 1996
Crocker, Chris Metallica: the frayed ends of metal New
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993
person. Port Chester, NY: Cherry Lane