1963 – Metallica’s James Hetfield is born This day in rock history!
Born: August 3, 1963
From: Los Angeles
Personal: Married, 3 Children
Instrument: Vocals, Guitar
When it comes to defining Metallica, most people use James Hetfield as their guide. There’s never any bullshit with James and there’s never any shirking of duties. Example? When he threw his back out on the Summer Sanitarium 2000 tour, James ploughed his way through three weeks of intense physical therapy in four days, according to his physical therapist. And when the going got really tough, and James needed help in 2001, he sought it out, took it on and came back stronger than ever. It is precisely this sort of fierce, unbending dedication, devotion and spirit which has made James such an inspirational focal point through the years for millions of fans.
Ironically, the voice of Metallica (indeed, a defining voice of his rock’n’roll generation) very nearly wasn’t a voice at all, simply because in the early days, James Hetfield didn’t fancy being a lead vocalist. Metallica tried a few different vocal/guitar configurations. Some of the options considered included adding another
guitar player, having then-lead guitar player Dave Mustaine play the sole guitar and asking John Bush from Armored Saint to sing for the band. Of course common sense prevailed, James decided to fight harder to establish himself as a frontman and the results are, ahem, history
To trace the roots of Hetfield’s unflinching dedication and determination, you have to go back to a childhood that was often tough but laid a foundation, which underscores James today. Born to a truck driver and light opera singer on August 3rd, 1963, in Los Angeles, his family’s Christian Science religious beliefs played a large part in the young Hetfield’s life, and subsequently form a central point for many of Metallica’s lyrics. He was 9 years old when he first took piano lessons before taking on brother David’s drums and finally picking up a guitar in his pre-teens.
With the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy providing inspiration, James quickly set about the task of becoming a rock star in his first band, Obsession. Made up of the Veloz brothers on bass and drums, with Jim Arnold on guitar, plenty of time was spent in the Veloz’s garage jamming with Ron McGoveny and Dave Marrs acting as roadies. McGovney subsequently stepped in alongside Marrs and Hetfield when the Veloz brothers incarnation ended.
After moving to Brea, California, James attended Brea Olinda High School and met up with drummer Jim Mulligan. The two jammed at lunch time scaring fellow guitarists with their loud and heavy sounds before a guy called Hugh Tanner was seen carrying around part of a flying V guitar at school. Phantom Lord was born with Hugh on guitar, Mulligan on drums and James singing plus playing guitar. The group went through a few bass players until graduation when James moved back to Downey.
Back in Downey, James moved into a house owned by Ron McGovney’s parents that was slated for demolition due to an expressway expansion. It was the perfect place for James and Ron to crash, rehearse and jam. James talked Ron into taking up bass, Phantom Lord was no more and the third band under Hetfield’s leadership.
Leather Charm, was born. The only difference between Charm and Lord, was James singing without guitar and Ron playing bass guitar, Hugh Tanner and Jim Mulligan retaining their former ‘Lord positions. Leather Charm was a largely hard rock combo, playing some originals and covers such as Iron Maiden’s ‘Remember Tomorrow’ amongst others. The band managed to perform at a few parties and recorded a demo, but then began to fall apart.
First Tanner left the band (replaced by Troy James), then Mulligan left for a more progressive, Rush-like band. And with no drummer, the band was forced to call it quits. Although it was Mulligan’s departure that led to James searching for a new drummer, we can safely say that Hugh Tanner was responsible for the catalytic moment which would change the course of James Hetfield’s life and out him on the path to achieving his childhood ambition. How? Simple…Tanner introduced James to Lars Ulrich. The rest, as you’ll read elsewhere, is a long, illustrious (occasionally curious) and still-evolving history…
James is the main songwriter in Metallica, co-creating the framework and structure for most Metallimaterial. When he’s not writing, singing or playing, James enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including hunting, snowboarding, water and jet-skiing, sketching, annoying neighbors with guns and loud pipes on his chopper “The Saga”, watching his favorite Oakland Raiders and going to hot-rod shows. He also collects older guitars (particularly those from 1963) and enjoys working on old cars. Amongst his favorites are a ’55 Chevy BelAir (which he helped built and restore himself), and ‘The Beast’, a fearsome all-terrain 4-wheel drive Blazer that is designed to survive everything from earthquakes to nuclear holocausts. Aside from these pursuits, James is often happiest spending time with his wife Francesca and three children, Cali, Castor, and Marcella.