James Hetfield

Missing image
James Hetfield
James Hetfield
Birth Name James Alan Hetfield 
Birth Date August 3, 1963
Place of Birth Downey, CA
Marital Status  Married, 3 children
Eyes Blue
Hair Blonde
Height 6'1" / 1.85 meters

James Hetfield is co-founder, lead singer, main songwriter and rhythm guitarist for the band Metallica, with which he is closely identified. He is known for his stage presence, muscular riffing style and often-imitated signature growl, which has, however, become more melodic as he has grown older.



Hetfield was born on the 3rd of August, 1963, in Downey, Los Angeles County, California. His childhood was difficult in many ways. His father (a truck driver) and mother (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 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 many of Metallica's lyrics.

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 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, 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, (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. 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 (now in Anthrax) to sing for the band.

It is common knowledge among heavy metal 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 slapping Hetfield in response. Eventually, Hetfield and Ulrich fired Mustaine and recruited lead guitarist Kirk Hammett from the band Exodus. 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 thrashy sound.

Hetfield is characterized as the heart and soul of Metallica, but he has also maintained a dictatorial control over the final product. Until the mid-1990s, he recorded all rhythm tracks, most harmony tracks, and the occasional solo (the first solos heard in "Master of Puppets" and "Orion," "To Live is to Die," and "Nothing Else Matters"), as well as writing the lyrics, vocal melodies, and co-arranging the songs with Ulrich. Hetfield 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: he suffered severe second and third degree 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, - 1, 9, 6, 3 - representing the year of his birth.

During 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 earned them the nickname 'Alcoholica' by the music press. Hetfield came out of rehab after 11 months and rejoined the band. He is now sober and clean and is determined to remain so, despite the many temptations dogging rock stars.

Personal life

When he's not writing, singing or playing, Hetfield 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 football team 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 to restore, and The Beast, an all-terrain 4-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, 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 is a major endorsee of ESP and has been since 1991, best known for playing custom-made Explorer style guitars with an EMG 81/60 set for pickups. Arguably the one person who made the model famous. His popularization of the model could easily be considered a big catalyst in Gibson's decision to sue ESP over loss of profits (Gibson made the model in the later 1950's and has allowed other companies to build replicas...until they make substantial money off of it).

He also collects guitars made in 1963, the year of his birth.


James currently uses a Diezel VH4 as his main amplifier, though he was a fan of Mesa Boogie amps in the late 1980's and all through the 1990's. He was arguably one of the first investors in the company during its rise to fame in the 1980's, having used their coveted Mark IIC+ amp, which is to this day considered one of the very best in the business for high-gain guitar sounds.

Speaker cabinets


  • Dunlop Custom Nylon Picks
  • Ernie Ball strings

External links

da:James Hetfield de:James Hetfield es:James Hetfield fr:James Hetfield it:James Hetfield nl:James Hetfield pl:James Hetfield sv:James Hetfield


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