Metallica’s James Hetfield is a metal legend.
A formidable songwriter, vocalist and one of the greatest rhythm guitarists in heavy music, he’s an institution in his own right.
Naturally, when we think of James Hetfield, we tend to think hard rock. But, if you know your Metallica, you’ll know just how indebted Papa Het is to the world of country. And, that love of old-time music sometimes finds its way into the Bay Area Thrashers’ output.
Case in point, here are three times that Hetfield swapped his Gibson Explorer for a slide and Stetson and went a little bit country.
Released in 1996, Metallica’s “Load” was a turning point album for the band, and remains a divisive record among fans. Yes, they’d strayed from their thrash roots into hard rock territory with “The Black Album,” but for many “Load’s” dalliances with blues and alternative were a step too far.
And then there was “Mama Said,” an acoustic country ballad unlike anything the band had ever released before. For some purists, Hetfield’s reinvention as a post-grunge good ole’ boy was heresy; the moment that the ‘Tallica boyz forfeited their crown as the masters of modern metal.
Yet, with a bit of much needed temporal distance, “Mama Said” is due something of a re-evaluation. If you want proof of Hetfield’s prowess as a songwriter, as well as his country credentials, this track is a pretty good place to start.
Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Gone Out of Hand?
Here’s James Hetfield sans Metallica for a rendition of Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Gone Out of Hand.” Performed live at the Country Music Awards in 2004, the second single from Jennings’ “I’ve Always Been Crazy” album gets a suitably Hetfieldian treatment.
When Het goes country in Metallica, it usually means toning the band’s sound down. Here though, the inverse is true. It’s a raucous arrangement with shades of thrash and hardcore punk thrown in for good measure. It works though, and makes you wonder if he couldn’t carry a whole album of country standards in this style…
The Four Horsemen (Live at the Masonic)
If you’re familiar with Metallica’s debut album, “Kill ‘em All,” you’ve probably heard “Four Horsemen.” And, you’re probably aware that it ain’t country. A blistering slab of primordial thrash, it was one of the band’s calling cards when they pedalled their “young metal attack” back in the early ‘80s.
When the band took the stage unplugged at San Francisco’s Masonic last year, though, they gave the song an unexpected makeover. Complete with lap steel and some slinky slide playing from “Kirk Hammett,” this is “Horsemen” country style.
Het brings the twang on this one; less thrash metal beast, more snarling outlaw raconteur. “Sounds a little different,” he intones at the song’s end. He ain’t wrong, but it sure works. Goes to show: if Metallica’s thrashing prowess fails them in their twilight years, an unplugged reinvention could be a good way to age gracefully.
What’s your favourite country Hetfield moment? Or your favorite Metallica moment full stop? Share your stories in the comments!
Cal Jam doesn’t get the same love as festivals like Monterey Pop or Woodstock. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have the late ‘60s countercultural cred, happening a full five years after the summer of love reached its peak. Maybe it’s because it was staged to be filmed for television (as part of ABC’s legendary “In Concert” series). Why do I love California Jam so much? It is because it established the record for the largest concert sound system ever assembled? Was it because it featured the first ever appearance of the Good Year blimp at a music festival?
Guitar lessons eventually followed. But, classical guitar didn’t grab me in the same way that my own freeform compositions had. Firstly, I didn’t know any of the songs I was supposed to be learning. Secondly, it required the kind of co-ordination and finger dexterity that I was – at that time at least – far too impatient to master. “I read somewhere that there are these things you can use to hit the strings so you don’t have to use your fingers. I think they began with a P,” I once told my guitar teacher. “The thing that begins with a P is called practice,” he replied. He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear it.
This week, to satisfy my yearning for live music, I’ve taken a deep dive into my record collection and rediscovered some live favourites. Given how much joy I’ve got out of these records, I thought I’d share them with you today. Putting together this list, I’ve tried to take the road less travelled. I didn’t want to put together a list of classic live albums that everyone already knows like the back of their hand. Instead, my three picks serve as alternatives to some of those classic albums, offering a new look at some legendary bands.