James HetfieldJames Hetfield derives his fame from being co-founder, lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the band Metallica; indeed, whenever describing Metallica, most people base their comments and definitions upon Hetfield and his distinctive vocal stylings and muscular, high-energy musicianship. James was born on the 3rd of August, 1963, in the City of Downey, County of Los Angeles, California. Many aspects of Hetfield's childhood were difficult. His father, a truck driver, and mother, a light opera singer, were devout and strict adherents to Christian Science, and accordingly, much of Hetfield's young life revolved around religion. In accordance with their beliefs, Hetfield's parents strongly disapproved of medicine and remained vigilant in their faith even as Hetfield's mother began to die of cancer. The death of Hetfield's mother, and his subsequent disenchantment with religion, are both recurring subjects which have been the focal point of many of Metallica's lyrics.
James Hetfield was 9 years old when he first took piano lessons, before taking on his brother David's drums and finally picking up a guitar in his pre-teens. Inspired by bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy, Hetfield, formed his first band, Obsession, in his early teens. Composed of the Veloz brothers on bass and drums, Jim Arnold on guitar, and Hetfield providing lead vocals, the band spent plenty of time in the Veloz brothers' garage jamming, with Ron McGoveny and Dave Marrs acting as roadies. Marrs and McGovney subsequently joined the band itself when the Veloz brothers quit.
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 while playing guitar. The group went through a few bass players until graduation, when James moved back to Downey, California, located in Los Angeles county, where he was born.
Once 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' disbanded, and then the third band under Hetfield's leadership, Leather Charm', was born. The only difference between 'Charm' and 'Lord' was James singing without guitar while Ron played bass guitar, and 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, and was replaced by Troy James, then Mulligan left for a more progressive, Rush-like band. Without a drummer, the band was forced to call it quits. Although it was Mulligan's departure that led to James searching for a new drummer, it may be safe to say that Hugh Tanner was responsible for the catalytic moment which would change the course of James Hetfield's life and set him on the path to achieving his childhood ambition inasmuch as Tanner introduced James to Lars Ulrich: The rest, as may be read elsewhere, (see Metallica), is a long, illustrious, albeit occasionally curious, and still-evolving history.
Ironically, the voice of Metallica, (indeed, the defining voice of Hetfield's rock'n'roll generation), very nearly wasn't a voice at all, simply because in the early days, 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, the almighty 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.
It is common knowledge among heavy metal fans that Dave Mustaine, and James Hetfield had serious conflicts with each other during 1981-83, in which time Mustaine's famous rock and roll lifestyle cause an altercation between the two. Mustaine also frequently abused Hetfield's dog but he did not kill it, as the popular legend goes. Eventually, Hetfield and Ulrich recruited lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett, from his band, Exodus, fired Mustaine, and set him on his 4-day bus journey home -a journey that would end in the creation of the great Megadeth, which became Mustaine's speed metal answer to Metallica's more thrashy challenge, although the members of Metallica always resented being labelled 'thrash metal' which is exemplified by the lyrics of the song, Damage Inc, where the band effectively rejects their thrash pigeonhole.
Hetfield is the heart and soul of Metallica, playing all rhythm tracks, most harmony tracks and the occasional solo, (see 'Nothing Else Matters' from the band's self-titled album which has been dubbed The Black Album due to its dark, minimalist cover), as well as writing the lyrics, vocal melodies, and co-arranging the songs with Ulrich. He has been involved in many accidents onstage, the most well-known being an incident with pyrotechnics while on the Guns N' Roses/Metallica tour in 1992: Hetfield suffered severe burns to his left arm during the opening of "Fade to Black" and was unable to play guitar for the last two-thirds of the tour (former Metallica roadie and Metal Church guitarist John Marshall filled in while Hetfield continued to sing). He has tattooed his left arm with a picture of flames encasing four cards, - 1963 -, representing the year of his birth.
Before the recording of the St. Anger album, Hetfield went into rehab for alcohol and "other addictions": Alcohol had long been a problem for Hetfield; indeed, the band's alcoholic antics caused them to be nicknamed 'Alcoholica' by the music press. Hetfield came out of rehab 11 months later to rejoin the band. He is now sober and clean and is determined to remain so, despite the many temptations dogging rock stars.
When he's not writing, singing or playing, James enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including hunting, snowboarding, water and jet-skiing, sketching, as well as annoying neighbors with guns, loud pipes on his chopper, '"The Saga"', and watching his favorite Oakland Raiders in addition to going to hot-rod shows. He also collects vintage guitars, (particularly those from 1963), and enjoys working on classic automobiles. Amongst his favorites are a '55 Chevy BelAir, (which he helped build and restore himself), and The Beast, which is a fearsome all-terrain 4-wheel drive Blazer that is designed to survive everything from earthquakes to nuclear holocaust(s). Aside from these pursuits, James is often happiest spending time with his wife Francesca and three children: Cali, Castor, and Marcella. He has recently put his 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, (which was used in the video for I Disappear and was given to him as a gift upon the video's completion), up for sale on Ebay, with the proceeds to go to a Music for Schools program.
James Hetfield's Music Equipment:
- Ken Lawrence Custom Explorer Natural *ESP Custom Deerskull Inlay Explorer
- ESP Custom Black Explorer with Diamond Plate *ESP Custom Black Silver Diamond Plate Explorer
- ESP Custom Black "Fuel" Les Paul Style with Gold Pinstrip *ESP Custom Flying V with Green Flames
- ESP Custom Flying V with Hot Rod Flames
- ESP Custom Black Explorer Bright Diamond Plate
- ESP Custom Black Explorer with Wood-Burn Deer
- ESP Custom Black & White Pin Stripe Les Paul
- ESP Custom Black & Gold
- ESP New Model Explorer Black with Mother or Pearl Inlay
- Dunlop Custom Nylon Picks
- Mesa Boogie 4x12 Speaker Cabinet
- 2x Mesa Boogie Strategy 400 power Amp
- Likes to collect guitars made in 1963, the year of his birth