When James Hetfield Met Lars Ulrich
Pinpointing any band’s precise day of inception is often impossible, even a band as well documented as Metallica. But sometime during the first few days of May 1981, singer and guitarist James Hetfield met drummer Lars Ulrich, setting the wheels in motion for one of metal's greatest bands.
In the years leading up to this, Hetfield had cycled through a series of short-lived bands, including Obsession, Syrinx, Phantom Lord and Leather Charm – the latter of which had recently broken up, leaving Hetfield and bassist Ron McGovney in need of new bandmates.
So they started looking for candidates in the same place as almost every other aspiring Los Angeles musician did: in the pages of The Recycler. In late April, one particular ad caught their eye: “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with," it read. "Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden.”
Guitarist Hugh Tanner, who had played with Hetfield and McGovney in Leather Charm, noticed the ad and reached out on his friends’ behalf, setting up a meeting with the drummer with a funny accent from Newport Beach in a local rehearsal studio where they could jam.
As events transpired, Hetfield and Ulrich’s first encounter was anything but promising, as Mick Wall wrote in his biography of the band, Enter Night, that “neither James nor Hugh had anything good to say about [Lars]. The kid was ‘weird’ and ‘smelled funny’ [and] he couldn’t even really play drums."
Deeming the entire encounter something of a waste, Hetfield later recalled (in Wall's bio) that “we ate McDonald's, he ate herring. [Lars’] father was famous. He was very well off. Spoiled – that’s why he’s got his mouth. He know what he wants, he goes for it and he’s gotten it his whole life.”
What Ulrich wanted most just then was to travel to Europe – England, in particular – to bask in the thriving New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene, and that was precisely how he spent the summer of 1981, attending every show he could and following his favorite band, Diamond Head, on tour.
When he returned to the States, Ulrich pestered the reluctant Hetfield until the guitarist agreed to come over and spin some records from Ulrich's extensive collection. They soon began bonding over the music so few of their peers were even aware existed “Initially, it was because James was the only other person [I] found who might be interested in forming a band that played N.W.O.B.H.M.-type music ‘rather then copy Van Halen’,” Ulrich told Wall.
“Even though I didn’t spend a lot of time rebelling because my parents were too cool to rebel against, I spent a lot of time by myself immersed in the music world," he explained. "And James spent a lot of time by himself, so the one thing we share, even though we come from different worlds, is we are both loners. It was very difficult for me to find anything that I could relate to in Southern California. That’s why James and I became such good friends – because we both had social issues.”
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