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James Alan Hetfield (born August 3, 1963, Downey, California) is the main songwriter, rhythm guitarist, and lead vocalist for Metallica, who co-founded the band with Lars Ulrich.

Early Life

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)

Early Years

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
  • ESP Custom Black Explorer - Deerskull Inlay
  • ESP Custom Black Explorer - Snake Inlay
  • ESP Custom Black Explorer - Wood-Burn Deer
  • ESP Custom Black Explorer - Black Diamond Plate
  • ESP Custom Black Explorer - Silver Diamond Plate
  • ESP Custom Black Explorer - Bright Diamond Plate
  • ESP Custom Black Flying V - Green Flames
  • ESP Custom Black Flying V - Hot Rod Flames
  • ESP Custom Black "Fuel" Les Paul Style with Gold Pinstripe
  • ESP Custom Black & White Pinstripe Les Paul
  • ESP Custom Black & Gold Pinstripe Les Paul
  • Gibson Les Paul Custom
  • ESP New Model Black Explorer - Mother-of-Pearl Inlay
  • Electra 2236 Flying Wedge (Gibson Flying V replica)
  • Gibson Explorer
  • Gibson Explorer "MORE BEER"
  • White ESP Explorer "EET FUK"


  • 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




Studio Albums

Live Albums


Guest Appearances

  • 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")


With Metallica


With Metallica

Other works