Today and tomorrow I’m going to look at the major line-up changes in Metallica. The band have had a few over the years and they are some of the most-talked about personnel changes in music.
For the first part I’ll go into the two early era changes that would shape the band’s first run. One saw the addition of the “heart and soul” of the group, while the other change is one of the most discussed band member exits in music history.
Ron McGovney quits, replaced by Cliff Burton
When Metallica originally formed, James Hetfield brought with him Ron McGovney, a bandmate in prior outfits. The band used McGovney’s parents’ house to rehearse in during the early days, and Ron played bass on several demos.
There were apparent tensions between McGovney and the rest of the band, and Ron quit in late 1982. McGovney was not especially active in music after departing Metallica, but has joined the band at anniversary celebrations in the years since.
The titanic shift in Metallica came when McGovney was replaced – James and Lars watched the band Trauma performing at the famed Whiskey A Go Go. They discovered that the crazy sounds came from the band’s bassist, Cliff Burton. Burton was approached about joining Metallica and agreed, as long as the band relocated from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. The move was made and history would follow.
Burton would be a massive addition to the band. He played his bass much like a guitar, employing effects pedals and playing riffs seemingly more suited to six strings. His unique sound became a hallmark of the band’s early recordings and landed him solo spots on albums. Burton was also a huge contributor to the songwriting process, responsible for many of the band’s landmark songs in the first era.
While Cliff Burton’s time would be cut short through tragedy in 1986, he bears great responsibility for Metallica becoming a worldwide phenomenon. His entry into Metallica in 1982 is the catalyst for the band becoming what they were. There isn’t a Metallica as we know them without Cliff Burton.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about Cliff’s death and the shockwaves from that. But for now, it’s time to write about that which has already had trillions of words spilled about it. A few line-up changes in history have been titanic and are discussed widely even to this day, but this one might take the cake as far as how often it’s brought up, both by fans and by the aggrieved party.
Dave Mustaine is fired, replaced by Kirk Hammett
The story is well-known – Dave was in the early version of Metallica. The band were drunken hellraisers as a rule, but Dave took it to a line beyond that. Though specific stories are thrown around and disputed, Dave was eventually booted from the group just as they prepared to record their debut album. Mustaine was given a cross-country bus ticket back to Los Angeles from New York and he would form Megadeth. With a giant chip on his shoulder, Mustaine blazed his own trail in the thrash realm and remains the head of the Megadeth table today (a Megadeth line-up change post would be novel length and may or may not materialize someday).
To replace Mustaine, Metallica called across the country and asked Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett to join. Hammett flew out directly to New York and was given the Metallica job in quick order. Hammett remains Metallica’s lead guitar player to this day.
It’s kind of funny how much there can be to talk about regarding this line-up change, and almost none of it revolves around Kirk Hammett. Kirk seems to be a pretty reserved, quiet guy who doesn’t stir the pot much. Kirk left Exodus, the band he had formed, for Metallica.
Exodus already had a reputation in the Bay Area scene, much of it for their violent live shows. Kirk’s departure left Gary Holt to be the main creative force in Exodus, a path that has served the band well in the decades since. Hammett has appeared live and in studio on occasion with Exodus in the years since.
But, as most already likely know, this line-up change isn’t really about Kirk Hammett. No, it’s about Dave Mustaine. Dave has given countless interviews over the years expressing his displeasure at being bounced from Metallica. While Mustaine is credited for songwriting contributions on the first two Metallica albums, he has in the past claimed to have written far more than he was credited on.
Mustaine also attacked Hammett in the past, accusing Kirk of simply ripping Mustaine off. Mustaine was a vocal thorn in the side of Metallica for many years, though the members of Metallica didn’t often take the bait and discuss Mustaine in any great detail.
It was clear that Mustaine was bitter about Metallica – most likely envious of their huge success, even as he found his own way with Megadeth. I hate to speculate about a person’s thoughts and motivations, but it’s pretty clear there was something to that with Mustaine and Metallica.
Over the years stances would soften, and Mustaine wound up jamming a bit with his old bandmates and his replacement during the Big Four shows. The feud entered an era of relative peace, even though Mustaine can still be counted on to say something occasionally.
A lot is made of Mustaine’s contributions to early Metallica, and this sometimes gets heated fan discussion going over what the band would have sounded like had he stayed, or if he really did provide more early material than he’s credited for, what have you. Various scenarios are argued over and over again, to no real effect but to take up bandwidth on the Internet. No one really “knows” what happened since none of us were there, and it’s so long ago now that it really isn’t important. But people have to have stuff to talk trash on, I guess.
It was just one line-up change for a band in their early years, just before recording their first record. But the saga of Dave Mustaine being tossed from Metallica lives on 40 years later, and will probably remain in the metal consciousness for so long as people have access to the Internet (and Mustaine is around to offer his occasional thoughts).
That wraps up the first part of Metallica’s line-up changes. I’ll be back tomorrow with the death of Cliff Burton and also the departure of the guy who replaced him.