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James Hetfield Biography

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James Alan Hetfield (born August 3, 1963 in Downey, California) is the main songwriter, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and a founding member of the American thrash/heavy metal band Metallica.

Hetfield was born on August 3, 1963, in Downey, Los Angeles County, California. His childhood was difficult in many ways. His father, Virgil Hetfield (a truck driver) and mother, Cynthia (a light opera singer) were devout and strict adherents to Christian Science, and accordingly, much of his young life revolved around religion. In accordance with their beliefs, Hetfield's parents strongly disapproved of medicine or any medical help and remained vigilant in their faith even as his mother began to die of cancer. Her death, and his subsequently turbulent relationship with religion, are both recurring subjects which have been the focal point of some of Metallica's lyrics (the song "The God That Failed" is about Hetfield's mother and father and "Until It Sleeps" is about cancer, of which both of his parents died).

Hetfield was 9 years old when he took his first 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, The Beatles, 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 McGovney and Dave Marrs acting as roadies. Marrs and McGovney subsequently joined the band itself when the Veloz brothers quit.

After moving to Brea, California, due to the death of his mother, 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 another student named 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 also playing guitar. The group went through a few bass players until graduation, when James moved back to Downey.

Once back in Downey, James moved into a house owned by 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 no longer played guitar and McGovney played bass guitar, while Tanner and Mulligan retained their former 'Lord' positions. 'Leather Charm' was largely a hard rock combo, playing a few originals and in addition to covers, such as Iron Maiden's Remember Tomorrow. The band managed to perform at a few parties and recorded a demo, but then began to fall apart.

First, Tanner left the band, to be replaced by Troy James. Then Mulligan left for a more progressive, Rush-like band. Without a drummer, the rest of the band decided to call it quits. Although it was Mulligan's departure that led to James searching for a new drummer, it was also Hugh Tanner who was responsible for perhaps the catalytic moment in Hetfield's musical life, one which set him on the path to achieving the level of success he's experienced: he introduced Hetfield to Lars Ulrich. The rest, as may be read elsewhere, (see Metallica), is a long, illustrious (albeit occasionally curious), and still-evolving story.

Ironically, the voice of Metallica nearly was not a voice at all, simply because in the early days, Hetfield did not fancy being a lead vocalist. Very early in its career, Metallica experimented with 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; as well as asking John Bush from Armored Saint (who later joined Anthrax) to sing for the band.

It is common knowledge among heavy metal/thrash fans that the relationship between Hetfield and Dave Mustaine trod a thin line between partnership and derision during 1981-83, during which time Mustaine's famous rock and roll lifestyle sparked heated altercations between the two. One particular event that brought the conflict to the foreground involved Hetfield kicking Mustaine's dog and Mustaine punching Hetfield in response and throwing an all-out rage against his fellow bandmates (flipping Ron McGovney on the ground, breaking things, etc.). Eventually, Hetfield and Ulrich fired Mustaine due to his alcoholic tendencies and recruited lead guitarist Kirk Hammett from the band Exodus the same day. Mustaine was sent home on a 4-day bus journey – a journey that would end in the creation of the band Megadeth, Mustaine's speed metal challenge to Metallica's more thrashing sound.

Due to his alcoholism, Hetfield has had many family problems. Since rehab, he tries to spend a lot more time with his wife and kids. When he is not writing, singing or playing, Hetfield enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including hunting, skateboarding, snowboarding, water and jet-skiing, sketching, working in his garage customising cars & motobikes, watching his favorite football team the 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 Bel Air, which he helped restore, and The Beast, an all-terrain four wheel drive Blazer. Aside from these pursuits, Hetfield says he's often happiest spending time with his wife Francesca and three children: Cali, Castor, and Marcella. He put his 1967 Chevrolet Camaro up for sale on eBay, with the proceeds to go to a Music for Schools program. The car was used in the video for I Disappear and was given to him as a gift upon the video's completion. He even performed at the Outlaws Concert in 2004, alongside Hank Williams Jr., Cowboy Troy, Gretchen Wilson, and Kid Rock. James played one of close friend Waylon Jennings's songs, "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand", the very same he recorded on the tribute album to Jennings, I've Always Been Crazy.
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