Manage episode 334778597 series 3325956
Drummer Lars Ulrich was born into an upper-middle-class family in Gentofte, Denmark, on December 26, 1963. The son of Lone and tennis player Torben Ulrich. In February of 1973, Lars' father obtained passes for five of his friends to check out a Deep Purple (Smoke On the Water) concert held in the same stadium in Copenhagen as one of his tennis tournaments. When one of the dad's friends couldn't go, they gave their ticket to the nine-year-old Lars, who fell in love with the band and ran out and bought their album Fireball the next day. The concert and album greatly impacted Lars, inspiring the start of his music career. He received his first drum kit, a Ludwig, from his grandmother around 12 or 13. Lars initially intended to follow in his father's footsteps and become a badass tennis player, so he moved to Newport Beach, California, in the summer of 1980. Despite being ranked in the top ten tennis players of his age group in Denmark, Lars failed to make it into the seven-man Corona del Mar High School tennis team, solidifying his decision to focus on music.
So, while living in Los Angeles in late 1981, Lars placed an ad in the L.A. newspaper, The Recycler, which read, "Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with. Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden."
Guitarists James Hetfield and Hugh Tanner of Leather Charm answered the advertisement.
James Alan Hetfield was born on August 3, 1963, in Downey, California, the son of Cynthia Bassett, a light opera singer, and Virgil Lee Hetfield, a truck driver. James was nine years old when he first began piano lessons. He then started jamming on his half-brother David's drums, and finally, at 14, he began to play guitar with Robert Okner. He was also in a few bands as a teenager – one was "Leather Charm" with Hugh Tanner, and another was "Obsession." James said that Aerosmith was his primary musical influence as a child and that they were why he wanted to play guitar. His parents divorced in 1976 when he was 13. They were devout Christian Scientists, and following their beliefs, they strongly disapproved of medicine or any other medical treatment and remained loyal to their faith, even as James' mother, Cynthia, was dying from cancer. This lifestyle inspired many of his lyrics during his career with Metallica. For example, the songs "Dyers Eve" and "The God That Failed" from the albums "...And Justice for All" and "Metallica" touch on those topics. His mother, Cynthia, died of cancer in 1979 when Hetfield was 16 years old. After her death, James went to live with his older half-brother David.
Although he had not formed a band, Lars asked Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel if he could record a song for the label's upcoming compilation album, Metal Massacre. Slagel accepted, and Ulrich recruited Hetfield to sing and play rhythm guitar. Lars and James officially formed the band known as "Metallica" on October 28, 1981, five months after they first met.
A funny story; James' and Lars' first encounter was anything but promising. As Mick Wall wrote in his biography of the band "Enter Night", "neither James nor Hugh had anything good to say about [Lars]. The kid was 'weird' and 'smelled funny' [and] he couldn't even really play drums."
Deeming the entire encounter something of a waste, James later recalled (in Wall's bio) that "we ate McDonald's, he ate herring. [Lars'] father was famous. He was very well off. Spoiled – that's why he's got his mouth. He know what he wants, he goes for it and he's gotten it his whole life."
When asked what Lars remembers about their first meet up, in a Blabbemouth.com interview, he said:
"I remember connecting with him," Lars responded. "I could see that, even though he was painfully shy or whatever, that there were some distinctive similarities. I spent six months talking to people about heavy metal, and they'd mention STYX, JOURNEY, KISS or whatever. I'd talk about ANGEL WITCH, DIAMOND HEAD or TYGERS OF PAN TANG. He had a connection to the music and the things I was throwing out there that seemed a little more authentic or trustworthy. Not much happened during that first meeting because he was kind of the wing man, or the plus one, for a guy named Hugh. If James was sitting here, he'd tell you that the drum kit I showed up with was in such bad shape that every time I hit the cymbal, it kept falling over — which is accurate. Hetfield and I ended up staying in touch, and when I came back from travelling in Europe a few months later, I called him up and said, 'Hey, do you want to play and see what happens?' And he was up for it."
The band name, "Metallica," came from Lars' friend Ron Quintana, who was brainstorming names for a fanzine and was considering MetalMania or Metallica. After hearing the two monikers, Lars wanted Metallica for his band, so he suggested Quintana use MetalMania instead. That magazine wound up being a U.S. monthly magazine focusing on heavy metal music, which was published between 1985 and 1991
Guitarist Dave Mustaine replied to an advertisement for a lead guitarist where Lars and James asked him to join after seeing his expensive guitar equipment. In early 1982, Metallica recorded its first original song, "Hit the Lights," for the Metal Massacre I compilation. James Hetfield played bass, and rhythm guitar and sang, while Lloyd Grant was credited with a guitar solo and Lars Ulrich played drums. Lloyd was a Jamaican guitarist who was never officially in the band. Lloyd has said:
"Me and Lars was jammin' down there in Orange County, California and we jam with a few people and we lookin' other people to jam with..." they met through The Recycler. "We were playing for a long time and he came down to my place my apartment once and he says and he keep asking me to come jam with the band, but I was really busy doing other stuff and I went down and play with them-me and him and James. That's three of us. James was playing bass, I was playing guitar and Lars was playing drums and we rehearse that "Hit The Lights" song, but way before that Lars had let me hear that song. We were hanging out watching soccer and he says "hey I met this guy blah blah blah and he's exactly what we want to jam with and he played this one song and it was great and that's how I was first was introduced to "Hit The Lights." After that I went over and jam a few times and he called me and say they gonna be in this compilation album and he brought over a tape of "Hit The Lights" recording on a four track asked me to play some solo for that and they were going to bring the four track down and they were going to bring it down and dump it on the compilation album."
Metal Massacre I was released on June 14, 1982. The early pressings listed the band incorrectly as "Mettallica," pissing the band off. However, the song "Hit The Lights," generated a buzz, and Metallica played their first live performance on March 14, 1982, at Radio City in Anaheim, California. The lineup consisted of James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Dave Mustaine, and newly recruited bassist Ron McGovney, who had been in James' previous band, "Leather Charm." Their first live success happened as they were chosen to open for British heavy metal band Saxon at one gig of their 1982 U.S. tour. This show was Metallica's second gig. In addition, Metallica recorded its first demo, Power Metal, whose name was inspired by Quintana's early business cards in early 1982.
In late 1982, Ulrich and Hetfield attended a show at the West Hollywood nightclub Whisky a Go Go, which featured bassist Cliff Burton in the band Trauma.
Clifford Lee Burton was born on February 10, 1962, in Castro Valley, California, to Ray and Jan Burton. Cliff's interest in music began when his father introduced him to classical music, and he began taking piano lessons.
In his teenage years, he developed an interest in Rock, classical, country, and heavy metal. He began playing the bass at 13, after the death of his brother. His parents quoted him as saying, "I'm going to be the best bassist for my brother." He practiced up to six hours daily (even after joining Metallica). Besides classical and jazz, Burton's other early influences varied from Southern Rock and country to the blues.
Cliff has cited Geddy Lee, Geezer Butler, Stanley Clarke, Lemmy Kilmister, and Phil Lynott as significant influences on his style of bass playing.
James and Lars were "blown away" by Cliff's use of a wah-wah pedal and asked him to join Metallica. The two leaders wanted Ron McGovney to leave because they thought he "didn't contribute anything, he just followed."
According to McGovney, his time in Metallica was reportedly tumultuous, as he often clashed with Ulrich and Mustaine. In addition, he felt that, aside from using the connections he made as an amateur photographer, his role was that of a money man and transportation provider rather than a respected band member. He ultimately quit on December 10, 1982, due to growing tensions. After leaving Metallica, McGovney became uninterested in playing music and sold most of his equipment.
Although Cliff Burton initially declined the offer to join Metallica, by the end of the year, he had accepted on the condition that the band moves to El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Metallica's first live performance with Cliff was at the nightclub "The Stone" in March 1983, and the first recording to feature Burton was the Megaforce demo (1983).
Metallica was ready to record their debut album, but they began looking for other options when Metal Blade could not cover the cost. Concert promoter Jonathan "Jonny Z" Zazula, who had heard the demo No Life 'til Leather (1982), offered to broker a record deal between Metallica and New York City-based record labels. After those record labels showed no interest, Zazula borrowed enough money to cover the recording budget and signed Metallica to his label, Megaforce Records.
In May 1983, Metallica traveled to Rochester, New York, to record its debut album, Metal Up Your Ass, which Paul Curcio produced. Unfortunately, the other members of Metallica decided to eject Mustaine from the band because of his drug and alcohol abuse and violent behavior just before the recording sessions on April 11, 1983. About this time, Mustaine told Loudwire magazine:
"When you're around a lot of people that like to drink and get silly, they just want to have fun," Mustaine explains. "I would drink and have fun until someone would refute something I had said. And then that was war, baby. I'd be aggressive and confrontational because I was a violent drunk. I lost all inhibitions when I was drinking, and that didn't go over to well in the end."
The end came on April 11, 1983, and it came without warning for Mustaine. Metallica had already hired Kirk Hammett as their new lead guitarist.
At around 9AM that morning, James, Lars, and Cliff woke up Mustaine, suffering from a tremendous hangover, and told him he was out of the band.
"The thing that really upset me was that they never gave me a warning and I never got a second chance," Mustaine says. "It was just, 'Hey man. You're out. See ya later."
When Mustaine asked when his flight back to California was, he was told he wasn't flying. He was taking a four-day bus ride. Even worse, the bus was scheduled to leave one hour after he was fired. Mustaine scrambled to pack a travel bag, and James drove him from the Music Building in Queens to 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.
During the seemingly endless bus ride, according to Livewire.com, he was rightfully pissed for a while and then decided to write some new lyrics. Since he didn't have any paper, he wrote on the back of a handbill from Senator Alan Cranston. A message on the front of the card referred to the stockpiling of nuclear weapons that read, "The arsenal of megadeath can't be rid." After considerable thought, Mustaine decided the term megadeath would make a cool name for a metal band, especially if it were misspelled as Megadeth.
Kirk Lee Hammett was born on November 18, 1962, in San Francisco, California, and raised in the town of El Sobrante. He is the son of Teofila "Chefela" and Dennis L. Hammett, a Merchant Mariner. While attending De Anza High School, he met Les Claypool of Primus, and they remain close friends.
Kirk began showing an interest in music after listening to his brother Rick's extensive record collection (which included Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and UFO). In addition, he was a huge horror movie fan but began selling his horror magazines to buy albums. This infatuation led him to pick up the guitar at fifteen. His first guitar was (in his own words) a "wholly unglamorous" Montgomery Ward catalog special that came with a shoebox with a 4-inch speaker for an amp. After purchasing a 1978 Fender Strat copy, Kirk attempted to customize his sound with various guitar parts before eventually buying a 1974 Gibson Flying V.
Guitarist Kirk Hammett replaced Dave Mustaine the same afternoon. Metallica's first live performance with Kirk was on April 16, 1983, at a nightclub in Dover, New Jersey, called "The Showplace."
Mustaine has expressed his dislike for Kirk in interviews, saying he "stole" his job. Mustaine was "pissed off" because he believed Hammett became popular by playing guitar leads that Mustaine had written. In a 1985 interview with Metal Forces, Mustaine said, "it's real funny how Kirk Hammett ripped off every lead break I'd played on that No Life 'til Leather tape and got voted No. 1 guitarist in your magazine".
Because of conflicts with its record label and the distributors' refusal to release an album titled Metal Up Your Ass, the album was renamed "Kill' Em All." It was released on Megaforce Records in the U.S. and on Music for Nations in Europe and peaked at number 155 on the Billboard 200 in 1986. Pretty cool, considering their top ten that year was:
- 1. That's What Friends Are For - Dionne Warwick, Elton John, and Gladys Knight
- 2. Say You, Say Me - Lionel Richie
- 3. I Miss You - Klymaxx
- 4. On My Own - Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald
- 5. Broken Wings - Mr. Mister
- 6. How Will I Know - Whitney Houston
- 7. Party All the Time - Eddie Murphy
- 8. Burning Heart - Survivor
- 9. Kyrie - Mr. Mister
- 10. Addicted to Love - Robert Palmer
Although the album was not initially a financial success, it earned Metallica a growing fan base in the underground metal scene. The band embarked on the "Kill' Em All for One" tour with Raven to support the release. In February 1984, Metallica supported Venom on the "Seven Dates of Hell" tour, during which the bands performed in front of 7,000 people at the Aardschok Festival in Zwolle, Netherlands.
Metallica recorded the album in only two weeks on a shoestring budget. Initially, the band printed 1,500 copies.
Since its release, "Kill 'Em All" has been certified 3x platinum.
Metallica then recorded their second studio album, Ride the Lightning, at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark, from February to March 1984. It was released in August 1984 and reached number 100 on the Billboard 200. Unfortunately, a French printing press mistakenly printed green covers for the album, which are now considered collectors' items. Mustaine received writing credit for "Ride the Lightning" and "The Call of Ktulu."
Elektra Records A&R director Michael Alago, and co-founder of Q-Prime Management Cliff Burnstein, attended a Metallica concert in September 1984. They were impressed with their performance and signed Metallica to Elektra. They also made them a Q-Prime Management artist. Metallica's growing success was such that the band's British label Music for Nations released "Creeping Death" as a limited-edition single, which sold 40,000 copies as an import in the U.S.
Two of the three songs on the record—cover versions of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" and Blitzkrieg's "Blitzkrieg"—appeared on the 1988 Elektra reissue of "Kill' Em All."
With unforgettable songs like "For Whom The Bell Tolls," "Creeping Death," and "Fade To Black", "Ride The Lightning" has sold over 5 million copies in the U.S. and has been certified 5x Platinum by the RIAA.
That bell in the beginning of "For Whom The Bell Tolls", isn't really a bell at all. As producer Flemming Rasmussen recalled:
“We had an anvil in the studio, and Lars had to bang that; it could’ve been that or from a record of sound effects. But there was a really heavy, cast-iron anvil and a metal hammer, and we stuck them in an all-concrete room. He’d just go wang.”
If you've ever tried to play along with the studio album version of "For Whom, The Bell Tolls, " you’ve probably had some guitar tuning issues. That’s because the song is a quarter step above standard tuning.
Why? As the Metallica Wiki says, there are two theories. The first is that the band intentionally sped up the recording, pitch shifting it in the process. The second is that the guitars are tuned up a quarter step to match the pitch of the "tolling bells." I mean anvil... now that's "metal AF".
Metallica embarked on its first major European tour with Tank to an average crowd of 1,300. Returning to the U.S., it embarked upon a tour co-headlining with W.A.S.P. and supported by Armored Saint, featuring John Bush on vocals, who later went on to front Anthrax. Metallica played its largest show at the Monsters of Rock fest at Donington Park, England, on August 17, 1985, with Bon Jovi and Ratt, playing to 70,000 people. Then, at the "Day on the Green" festival in Oakland, California, the band played to a crowd of 60,000.
Metallica's third studio album, Master of Puppets, was recorded at Sweet Silence Studios in Denmark from September to December 1985 and was released in March 1986. The album reached number 29 on the Billboard 200 and spent 72 weeks on the chart. It was the band's first album to be certified gold on November 4, 1986 and has sold over 6 million copies.
In 2015, Master of Puppets became the first ever metal album in history to be selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry.
Following the album's release, Metallica supported Ozzy Osbourne on a U.S. tour.
During this time, James Hetfield broke his wrist while skateboarding; he continued with the tour, performing vocals, with guitar technician John Marshall playing rhythm guitar.
On the night of Sept. 26, 1986, Metallica was traveling between tour dates in Sweden when Burton and guitarist Kirk Hammett drew cards to decide who would get to choose a bunk. The bassist drew the Ace of Spades and chose the bunk Hammett had been occupying. "I said fine, take my bunk," the guitarist recalled in VH1's Behind the Music. "I'll sleep up front; it's probably better anyway."
In the early morning of Sept. 27, 1986, shortly before 7 AM, the band members were awakened abruptly when the bus began to sway from side to side. The driver later told authorities that he lost control of the bus after hitting a patch of black ice. The bus left the road and flipped over on its side, and Cliff Burton – asleep in the top bunk – was thrown through the window. As the bus came down, it landed on top of him. He was only 24 years old.
Reportedly, attempts were made to rescue him from underneath the bus by lifting it with a crane, but the crane slipped, and the bus crashed down on top of Burton a second time. Band members and onlookers have given different accounts of whether Burton died upon the first impact or when the bus came down again. Whichever way it happened, Cliff Burton died at the scene.
"I saw the bus lying right on him. I saw his legs sticking out. I freaked. The bus driver, I recall, was trying to yank the blanket out from under him to use for other people. I just went, 'Don't fucking do that!' I already wanted to kill the bus driver. I don't know if he was drunk or if he hit some ice. All I knew was, he was driving and Cliff wasn't alive anymore."
James has said he walked up and down the road in his socks and underwear looking for black ice and found none. The band has speculated over the years if drinking or drugs could have played a role in the accident or if the driver fell asleep at the wheel. An investigation cleared the driver of any wrongdoing.
Burton was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at the Maxwell Ranch in California. Metallica's "Orion" was played at the ceremony, and lyrics from "To Live Is to Die" are engraved upon his memorial stone: "Cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home."
In an interview with Gibson TV, Kirk Hammet, who could have been the one in that unlucky bunk said:
"The last show that we played with Cliff was a spectacular show," Kirk recalls in the interview. "It was the first show after maybe six or seven weeks when James was back on guitar because he had broken his arm during the Ozzy tour. His arms was healed enough so he was able to play guitar and it was the first show where we had James back… and it was the night that Cliff died.
"Everyone was just so happy James was back and to have James's guitar fuelling everything again, rather than me and John Marshall [tech and stand-in guitarist] sharing that duty. We played really, really well and felt like we were back 100%… so that last show was one of the best shows we'd played all fucking year and in retrospect I'm glad Cliff's last show was special in that regard. It really was, in all respects, one of the best shows we'd played and Cliff was very, very happy. So knowing that is a good thing."
"It' didn't really, truly sink in until about three weeks or so [afterwards]," Hammett remembers. "As a tribute to Cliff's memory it was important for us to go on [but for] those first two weeks it was up and down, we had no idea what we were going to do. I was taking guitar lessons, the old standby for musicians who can't find any gigs or band. That's what I was actually thinking."