James Hetfield turned 51 years old on Sunday (August 3). The METALLICA singer/guitarist’s former bandmate Dave Mustaine took to Twitter to wish James a happy birthhday, calling Hetfield “my first real guitar partner” and adding, “We changed the world, brother!”
Born in 1963 in Downey, California, James was the son of a truck driver named Virgil and a singer named Cynthia. Hetfield’s parents were Christian Scientists and strongly disapproved of the use of any kind of medicine or medical treatments, even when Cynthia was dying of cancer in 1979. This upbringing inspired many of METALLICA’s later songs, such as “The God That Failed”. Hetfield also had two older half-brothers from his mother’s first marriage and a younger sister.
Hetfield took up piano at the age of nine and began playing guitar at 14. He was in bands called LEATHER CHARM and OBSESSION during his teen years. In October 1981 he answered a classified ad placed in a local paper called Recycler by Danish drummer Lars Ulrich, and METALLICA was born.
Hetfield told The Pulse Of Radio he still recalls the group’s first gig, with original lead guitarist Dave Mustaine. “First METALLICA show was at Radio City in Anaheim. I remember the first song we played, Dave broke a string, and I was stranded up there. I was just singing, I wasn’t playing guitar back then, and I was so uncomfortable, I was like, ‘So, how’s it going…’ There were about 200 people. You know, your first gig, everyone shows up. Second gig, there’s about 20, you know. [laughs]”
Solidifying the lineup with bassist Cliff Burton and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, who replaced Mustaine, METALLICA signed to Megaforce Records in 1983 and released its debut album, “Kill ‘Em All”, in July of that year, while also relocating from the Los Angeles area to San Francisco.