James Hetfield was born to Virgil Hetfield (a truck driver) and Cynthia Hetfield (an opera singer). They were devout adherents to the Christian Science faith. At an early age, he was surrounded by many kinds of musical things. His two older step-brothers played a variety of different instruments consisting of drums, guitar, and piano. At first, James tried the piano but as soon as he picked up an acoustic guitar, he was hooked. He has said "when I was younger I had an acoustic guitar, a melody type thing, and I would hear Sabbath and Aerosmith, and those guys play so good, but I just flailed up and down on the damn thing. I was always asking 'Why don't I sound like those guys yet!?!' Hehe, but I loved the instrument." He would also sneak his older step-brother's Black Sabbath records when he went to college and would get caught when he returned. He stated his main influence as Aerosmith, which inspired him to play guitar. Among other influences are Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Thin Lizzy, and Queen. When he was sixteen, his mother died of cancer and being of the Christian Science faith, they did not seek any medical help.
In high school, he formed his first band, Obsession, composed of the Veloz brothers on bass and drums, Jim Arnold on guitar, and Hetfield on lead vocals, later before the Veloz brothers quit Fernando Martinez (Alvarez) joined to take James Arnold's place temporarily. The band spent a lot of time in the Veloz brothers' garage jamming, with Ron McGovney and Dave Marrs acting as roadies. Marrs and McGovney subsequently joined the band itself when the Veloz brothers quit.
Phantom Lord and Leather Charm
After a few more bands like Phantom Lord and Leather Charm, Hetfield eventually needed another drummer. Danish drummer, Lars Ulrich, posted an ad in the local newspaper looking for a band to jam with on NWoBHM songs. Hetfield, in his eagerness to get a band started, answered his ad.
In Metallica (1983-Present)
Metallica formed in October 1981. Hetfield originally intended to focus on rhythm guitar, but eventually changed to vocals when they couldn't find a suitable singer, and even played a few shows as a singer only. James eventually settled on performing both duties. In 1983 the debut album of Metallica, Kill 'Em All, came out. In 1984 and 1986 came Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets respectively, on which James vocals continued to improve. After the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton, James Hetfield decided to go on with Metallica and adopted Jason Newsted as their new bassist. With Jason, the album ...And Justice For All came out, showing yet another lyrical increase of Hetfield.
Mainstream Success and Pyro Incident
In 1991, the Black Album was recorded, Metallica's landmark success. Hetfield, however, blew his voice out on the cover "So What!?" and needed to take vocal lessons to get his voice back on track. A trained vocalist will spot this on the "Nothing Else Matters," in particular. The huge tour from 1991 till 1994 had its influence on Hetfield; fans started to note that he could not sing as he used to.
In 1992 in Montreal, Canada, during the performance of the song, "Fade to Black," Hetfield had stepped into the pyrotechnics, which gave him severe second and third-degree burns on his body and singed his hair. Newsted recalls Hetfield's skin "bubbling like on The Toxic Avenger". Zach Harmon (the stage manager) stated that he had ran over to James as he was holding his arm with skin coming off. At the hospital, doctors sawed off a ring on his left hand and sedated Hetfield with morphine. Released from the hospital a day later, Hetfield began painful daily 90-minute therapy sessions, where his wounds were cleaned and redressed. John Marshall, the band's Guitar Technician, stepped in on rhythm guitar while Hetfield continued to sing so that the tour would not be canceled. James would have to wear an elasticized net glove for 6 months to minimize scarring.
The Load albums, Garage Inc, and S&M
In 1996 the "Alternative Metal" album Load (and in 1997 ReLoad) came out, in which Hetfield and the band cut their hair and adopted a more "Hard Rock" approach to music. The fans of the past were all over the place in terms of opinions - many hated this 'new' mainstream, hard rock-ish approach to the material. There were many on the other side of the spectrum, however. The two new albums had also brought in new audiences.
Once again, fans noticed a strong change in Hetfield's voice. They were starting to notice that there were less of his hard-hitting vocals on the two new Metallica albums.
Metallica also released Garage Inc. - a compilation of cover versions that the band had recorded over the years, one of them being the song that Hetfield blew his voice out on; "So What!?". The last album Metallica released in the '90s was S&M, a live album with an orchestra added to some of Metallica's hit songs, along with two new songs written specifically for S&M "No Leaf Clover" and "-Human".
St. Anger and Death Magnetic
In 2001, Jason Newsted left Metallica. After disputes with the band while making their eighth album, St. Anger, Hetfield went into rehab for "alcohol abuse and other undisclosed addictions." He was gone for roughly half a year. Nearing the end of 2001, he returned sober and clean to finish the album, although some band disputes still continued. Hetfield had agreed that they would work from 12 to 4 PM and return home to spend time with his family, something in which Ulrich showed displeasure for. After the recording of the album, Robert Trujillo was auditioned and selected as a full-time Metallica bassist. In 2008, Metallica released their "comeback" album Death Magnetic. Hetfield apparently drew inspiration from the death of Alice In Chains singer, Layne Staley, for some of the lyrics and themes in the album. In 2009, Hetfield and Metallica were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
- Ken Lawrence Custom Explorer Natural
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- Gibson Explorer
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- Mesa Boogie 4x12 Speaker Cabinets
- Wizard 4x12 Speaker Cabinets
- 4x Customized Mesa Boogie Tri-Axis Pre-Amps
- 4x Mesa Boogie Strategy 400 Power Amps
- Mesa Boogie Tremoverb 2x12 Combo Amp
- No Life 'til Leather - 1982
- Kill 'Em All - 1983
- Ride the Lightning - 1984
- Master of Puppets - 1986
- ...And Justice for All - 1988
- Metallica - 1991
- Load - 1996
- Reload - 1997
- St. Anger - 2003
- Death Magnetic - 2008
- Hardwired...to Self-Destruct - 2016
- S&M - 1999
- Live at Grimey's - 2010
- Helping Hands... Live & Acoustic at the Masonic - 2019
- S&M2 - 2020
- Garage Days Re-Revisited - 1987
- Live in London: Antipodean Tour Edition - 1998
- Beyond Magnetic - 2011
- Danzig - Danzig - 1988 (background vocals on "Twist of Cain" and "Possession")
- Corrosion of Conformity - Wiseblood - 1996 (background vocals on "Man or Ash")
- Primus - Antipop - 1999 (guitar on "Eclectic Electric")
- Cliff 'em All - 1987
- 2 of One - 1989
- A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica - 1992
- Live Shit: Binge & Purge - 1993
- Cunning Stunts - 1998
- S&M - 1999
- Classic Albums: Metallica - 2001
- Some Kind of Monster - 2005
- The Videos: 1989-2004 - 2006
- Français Pour Une Nuit - 2009
- Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria - 2009
- Quebec Magnetic - 2012
- Metallica: Through the Never - 2014
- Kill 'Em All for One Tour (1983)
- Seven Dates of Hell (1984)
- Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang (1984)
- Ride the Lightning Tour (1985)
- Damage Inc. Tour (1986-1987)
- Monsters of Rock '87 (1987)
- Monsters of Rock '88 (1988)
- Damaged Justice Tour (1988-1989)
- Tour 1990 (1990)
- Monsters of Rock '91 (1991)
- Wherever We May Roam Tour (1991-1992)
- Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour (1992)
- Nowhere Else To Roam Tour (1993)
- '94 Shit Hits the Sheds Tour (1994)
- Escape from the Studio '95 (1995)
- Lollapalooza No. 6 (1996)
- Poor Touring Me (1996-1997)
- Blitzkrieg '97 (1997)