James Hetfield

Charity, Music and Craftsmanship

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You know it when you hear it, the guitar riff by Kirk Hammett, 123 beats a minute of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,”James Hetfield’s deep, cryptic message and strong vocal. Their sound and the song just does something to the masses. It makes people want to rev cars, pump fists, shout, rip off their shirts, or declare something fiercely - without even knowing why. I imagine if you put that song on at the next Thanksgiving dinner with friends, family, or any group, someone is bound to grab a turkey leg, or stand on their seat, or cry out "Redemption!!!!" It's visceral. Metallica's music is Rock ‘n Roll fire.

 

Metallica knows it's also about charity and giving back. In a few months the band’s charity foundation, All Within My Hands, established in 2017, will give back to communities with a show at LA’s Microsoft Theater on December 16th. All Within My Hands expenses are covered entirely by the band, the board, and friends who have worked with the band over many years. Because of the community they have built around them,100% of proceeds will directly help those in need. The money goes to creating sustainable communities, workforce education, and the fight against hunger and other local services. This band is synonymous with charity far and wide.

 

As for James Hetfield, rhythm guitarist, songwriter and lead singer of Metallica, he is one of the founding members. The band was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles by James and drummer, Lars Ulrich. The band's fast tempos, instrumentals, memorable guitar lines, and aggressive musicianship made them one of the founding "big four" bands in Thrash Metal, besides Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. Understand, when Metallica rose like a dragon out of mystical rock waters, names like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Bruce Springsteen were selling eight, nine million copies of their albums. Metallica wanted a seat at that table and eventually created a throne for themselves.

Metallica's commercial success began with “Master of Puppets” in 1986. “And Justice for All” in 1988 gave them their first Grammy Award nomination. Since that time, they have won a total of nine Grammy awards and sold over 125 million albums worldwide. In 2009 Metallica was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.

 

Their current lineup comprises founding members and primary songwriters James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, longtime lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett, and bassist, Robert Trujillo. Guitarist, Dave Mustaine, and bassists, Ron McGovney, Cliff Burton, and Jason Newsted are former members of the band. 

 

James was born on August 3, 1963 in Downey, California, the son of Cynthia Bassett (née Nourse) and Virgil Lee Hetfield. He is of English, German, Irish, and Scottish descent. He has two older half-brothers from his mother's first marriage and one younger sister. His parents divorced in 1976 when Hetfield was 13. They were strict Christian Scientists, and in accordance with their beliefs, they strongly disapproved of medicine and remained loyal to their faith when James’ mom battled cancer. By 1980, when Hetfield was 16 years old, his mom passed. After the death of his mother, Hetfield went to live with his older half-brother, David. In 1991 he wrote the song, "The God That Failed," to echo his disappointment about his mom passing.

Hetfield was nine years old when he first began piano lessons, after which he took on his half-brother David's drums and finally, at the age of 14, he began to play guitar. Hetfield has been seen as the master of downpicking in Metal. His songwriting holds nothing back, and his intense lyrics are a big part of the framework of the band, when you hear "Nothing Else Matters," "Wherever I May Roam," "Bleeding Me," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "Master of Puppets" or "Enter Sandman."

 

James has also done a lot for charities. He has collaborated with the organization called Little Kids Rock to make it possible for all kids in public schools to have access to a solid music education.

 

Working with his hands and a sentimental side are one and the same to James. Crafting with a focus that takes it further. From the demolition of the garage in El Cerrito where his band rehearsed most of the songs from Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets, he used a piece of the wood to build his guitar he named Carl.

When he isn't customizing hot rods, beekeeping, woodworking, or spending time with his adult kids, he works on balancing himself. James is the proud father of Castor, Marcella, and Cali. I was grateful for his time.  I couldn't wait to ask him some questions.

By:  Abbe Davis, November 2022

 

AD: First fun question for you: If you had a Rock Opera, a sold-out world tour, and you caught the flu, who would you have cover for you on vocals, if you could have anyone do it for just one night?

JH:  Miley Cyrus without a doubt. That girl can wail!  You know, she's been known for her poppy stuff but given the opportunity, she's a freakin' rocker, the total package. She's got some pipes on her.  We did the Howard Stern Show with her a while back.  She sang "Nothing Else Matters" with us and just killed it.  I know it sounds a bit off the wall but yeah, Miley could do it and I'd be right there in her corner.  

AD:  Yes!! When she sang "Say Hello To Heaven" at the Chris Cornell tribute a few years ago, I loved her Rock sound! She would definitely wail! So now, gimme some band dynamics here. Lars, he used to be kind of outspoken. Have you ever had to step in and rescue him in a public setting or set him straight?

JH:  Ha!  Yeah, I've had to jump in and throw it down on his behalf a few times. The other times, he wheeled it out of there. He's pretty quick from all those years of playing tennis. He used to be pretty damn vocal, very opinionated. He still is to some extent, but he's definitely reeled it in over the years. I've had my issues, arguments, disagreements with Lars over the years. The guy can be like the little kid with his finger in your face, 2 inches from you, "I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you."  Then, you wanna break that fucking finger, but he's my drummer.  LOL.  So, that would be pretty fruitless. Maybe one swift "bitch slap" now and then is more appropriate.  LOL.  With Lars, it's I hate his fucking guts one minute and I love the hell out the guy the next.  It's a pretty dynamic relationship.  

AD:  LOL!!  I have people in my life like that. You could solve world hunger and they would still find something to pick apart. As you know, Kirk Hammet just did his solo music project with fictional diary entries yet, if he came to you to do a NONFICTIONAL project of diary entries of you guys touring together, past to now, would you sing whatever he wrote about you- if he asked you to? 

JH:  Ha!  Oh man, I don't know.  Hmm.  Abbe, where are you getting some of these questions?  LOL. These are definitely a first. Wouldn't you rather know about the tour or what guitar I'm playing?  LOL.  You know, easy shit.  LOL.  Alright, you know, yeah, I'd do it.  I'd probably regret it but yeah, I'd do it.  It would definitely be an interesting song or series of songs, that's for damn sure.  LOL.  Hell, he could do a non-fictional on Lars alone and that would be more than enough.  LOL.  Lars would definitely agree.  Even better, I'll sit back behind the drums and let Lars take over the vocals on this project.  LOL.  

AD: LOL! He'd be all over that, mic in hand, his finger in your face! (These questions are entirely from my mind..mind..mind) What about this, it’s always good to have that one person, friend, management, or maybe a family member to set you straight/ guide you, who is that person for you? 

JH:  Believe it or not, it's Lars.  He's my brother, my best friend in the world. I love the hell out of him when I'm not hating him. He's always been there for me, has always had my back.  I trust him implicitly.  When I went back to rehab a few years ago, most people were wondering, is this it for Metallica?  What about the tour?  What about the recording?  What about the money?  Lars was all about, "How are you doing?  What can I do for you?  Is there anything I can do to help?  He was genuinely concerned about me, about my physical and emotional health. That's who he is.  

AD: Ah, Lars. Ha! The antagonist is the best friend. It's great to hear you guys are like brothers that way. Well, relating to you as he does is how we all should be when anyone has those hardcore things. In mid-December, Metallica has an LA benefit concert, All Within My Hands, exactly where will that money go, how does that work when you divvy it up?

JH:  The money we raise will go to the Foundation and then we decide how to divide it and give it to different charities in need. In the past, we've given money to food pantries, women's shelters, flood victims.  It all goes to good causes and we make sure the funds are used appropriately.  

AD: The level of charity your band and you yourself have done, is really an important thing with so many causes in need out there. Let's change gears here. Let's go back a bit. Your parents, they were heavy believers of Christian Science, and your mom passed when you were a teenager (she wouldn’t use medicine to heal her cancer). Later in life, did your dad ever change his ideas, your mom not having medicine, or about Christian Science before he died in the 90's?

JH:  No, he really didn't. I think if he had when he was younger and still married to my mother, she may have had a chance to either survive her cancer or at least have some extra time. I never saw a doctor as a kid. Whenever I was sick, or my parents or my siblings were sick, we had to pray for healing. It wasn't until I was older that I realized that seeing a doctor for illness or an injury isn't going against some higher power.  Sometimes, you have to seek medical advice and attention.  If I hadn't had surgery on my hands several years ago after a stage accident when I was engulfed by flames (James suffered third-degree burns due to a pyrotechnics incident at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, on August 8, 1992. After this terrible accident, the left half of his body was heavily burned) I either wouldn't be here or wouldn't be performing and playing the guitar anymore. All the prayer in the world wasn't going to heal those burns or take away all the intense pain from those burns.  

AD: That was a scary thing to go through, and I mean, when you are doing what you love, too. As a kid having that "pray to heal" message in your head, yet seeing other friends go to doctors, I mean, that must have been confusing and alienating. I have become a healer in the past few years. So, I see Jesus tattooed on your arm, do you think Jesus wants us to idolize him, worship him only? Would he like the flash, the big statues, huge churches?  If he came back today, what do you think he would feel about all of that? What would you wanna talk over with him?

JH:  I have that tattoo to remind myself that there is a higher power always looking out for all of us. I don't idolize Jesus. There are a lot of people who definitely do. If he came back, what do I think he would say about all these people worshiping him?  I think he'd step back, have a glass of wine or beer, maybe roll one up and smoke it, and tell everyone to chill the f out and to worship their kids, their lives, their health. If I could speak to him in person I'd ask about his beliefs.

AD: Yes, I think you are onto something. Jesus, any divine master, meditation led them to their spiritual selves, to get answers while having a quiet mind.  It's all about how to help the world out there. You have done that in so many ways already. So then, what keeps you up at night about the world? Anything?

JH:  I worry about my kids and their safety. Even though they're older and independent, well mostly, LOL, I still worry about them.  I want them to always be safe and feel loved. I worry about the environment, people, our planet. I want our planet to be here for my kids and their kids and their kid's kids.  

  

AD: I hear you, it's weird seeing my kids grow up. Nobody tells anyone, before they become a parent, how deep it will go, plus it's hard to explain. The environment, it's hard to not think about those things. You contribute, the band is involved in so much charity, and if all of us are in that mindset, then the planet has more of a chance.

 

Let's get into your music head, if you could summon from the dead, one musician, alive or dead, to jam on a song for ten minutes with, who is that person? If you do this in band form, whom do you choose?

JH:  Wow. This is really a tough question. I can't really think of just one. How about Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Freddy Mercury.  I loved him.  Such an amazing performer, incredible singer and amazing stage presence. Janis sang with so much soul. She could front Metallica. Stevie Ray. Man, there's too many.  

AD: Nailing it! That would be one hell of a show! I wish I had been able to see any one of them live. How is Castor, your son plays drums for Bastardane, do you like that he is in Music? What are your daughters busy with?

JH:  Castor is one hell of a drummer, very talented.   He's doing great.  I'm very proud of him and his accomplishments, not just with music but in his life direction. He's a great kid. My daughters do their own thing, especially my youngest, Marcella. She stays away from the limelight and media. Cali is actually a pretty talented singer. She's done some acoustic stuff with me on and off stage.  It's up to her if that's what she wants to pursue, music.  I support all my kids in whatever they want from life.  

AD:  It's good you give them that laid back kind of support. Casper sounds great! I heard some things he was doing. And Cali singing, "I Put A Spell On You" onstage with you a few years ago. What a soulful voice! It's always cool to see the next generation in Rock families. Let's get in your head some more here. Do you believe in meditation for unblocking who we all are? Have you ever tried it? 

JH:  I actually started meditating several years ago after a stint in rehab. I learned yoga and meditation and it really helped get me through some tough times.  Addiction is a bitch!  LOL  Let me tell you.  It's a day to day thing. You're always in recovery and if someone tells you differently they're not being honest with themself. Do I have struggles with staying sober?  Yeah.  If I said no I'd be lying to you and to myself.  It's a tough deal.  And now with some of my personal issues, my divorce, it's tough!  I was sober for over 15 years and in 2019 I checked into a rehab center.  Once I completed that stint, I decided I needed a hobby, something to occupy my time and mind when I was feeling down or felt like having a drink.  I started woodworking and it's fun!  And, I found I was pretty damn good at it, too.  During the pandemic I made a few end tables out of wood and we auctioned them off in Metallica's charity, "All Within My Hands."  

AD: I know about addiction through what I've seen in some friends of ours over the years. I've seen how the disease doesn't just leave once someone is sober. I'm sorry you're going through these tough changes, yet I'm also glad you have a support system. That is critical when it comes to addiction.

I'm glad you meditate. Transcendental meditation is how I came to heal people. I kept it simple on OHM in my mind and never have taken a single class for healing anyone. I saw visions of past life things. That is meditation though. Available for answers on one word in your head for twenty minutes. There is a lot of energy people don't tap into about their own selves. You've already tapped into many energies, James.

You invent not just Rock Music, with the Hot Rods, and guitars, and in woodworking tables. Michelangelo said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." You seem to find the art in things to set those things free, too. 

James, it has been an honor and thanks for being so open, and we all send you love through the changes going on. 

Your songs and Metallica, well, you have healed so many people doing your music, so that many can relate to the messages in your songs and deal with this world more easily. When times get tough, you know we all turn on our Rock songs. Namaste

INFO: www.metallica.com

Abbe Davis, Editor/Musician

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Abbe Davis is the lead singer and songwriter of Hard Rock band, Sordid Fable. She has performed alongside legendary Blues artist, Buddy Guy at the Riverwalk Blues Festival and has done shows in the northeast with Karma Daze. She has co MC'd the Tru Rock Live (livestreamed) shows. Her background has been Classical singing, Jazz, Blues and Rock. Her new solo album of Hard Rock music will be out this year. Abbe is also a masterful healer at One of Asheville in Asheville, NC.  www.abbedavis.com