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Tome On The Range

James Hetfield: The Wolf At Metallica's Door By Mark Eglinton - An Extract
Mark Eglinton , May 11th, 2010 15:59

An excerpt from the new tome by Quietus scribe Mark Eglinton, the first author to pen a biography of Metallica singer James Hetfield

As an aspiring rock-star in his own mind, regular work wasn't something James Hetfield was particularly keen on, and to make matters worse, his mother insisted that nobody would even think about hiring him unless he cut his hair. This, according to James, wasn't happening anytime soon. "Well, long hair's part of music, Mom. Y'know, if I've got short hair I can't rock, you know. There's no way," Hetfield later admitted.

Long hair still intact, music continued to be the chosen escape and at this stage James was actively seeking to join or ideally formhis own band.

As well as Ron McGovney, another fellow pupil called Dave Marrs had a similar taste for late 1970s rock (initially unbeknown to each other). As a result, it was perhaps inevitable for them to gravitate together.

"Ron and I were actually friends first, and we all knew James but he was never into our little clique of friends that we had," Dave told the author. "Then in tenth grade I had him in a biology class and I had my KISS t-shirt on and he had his Aerosmith shirt on and we just became really good friends. Everything kind of clicked from there."

So James, Ron and Dave were running in the same circles - largely based on their love of music - and this was a bond that would last for several years to come. The group would spend time doing the kinds of things kids do, which in Downey meant hanging around the local miniature golf course where there were video games, or the local bowling alley where the trio spent free time playing on the pool tables. Nothing out of the ordinary, just regular teenage life in suburban California.

School days continued in late 1970s Downey with rock music taking a position high up the pecking order for this group of like-minded teenagers. While James spent most of his time thinking about how to get in some kind of band, he wasn't totally without talent in other departments. "I would say he was a pretty [normal] student generally." McGovney remembers. "Practicing guitar took up a lot of his time! Even then it was obvious that music was the way forward. But he did excel at art classes though and could probably have made a career out of that," McGovney adds.

That early artistic talent is something that would prove useful in future years, and Hetfield's ability to create an image - whether it be artistically for an album cover, or lyrically for a song - would be of intrinsic value to his future role in all his bands, most notably Metallica.

As much as James wanted to form a band and as desperately as he aspired to be the driving force behind it, the outfit that would offer James his first chance to rock - called simply Obsession - was really the brainchild of a couple of brothers called Ron and Rich Veloz. Marrs tells the story succinctly: "I was real good friends with the Veloz brothers and they had something going on with their band. They had another friend with them called Jim Arnold as well. They said, ‘We need another guitar player', and that's how James ended up joining Obsession."

Arnold himself told the author about the first time he went round to James's house: "The thing I remember most is that he had a life-sized silhouette on his bedroom wall. From what I remember, it was Steve Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and I think he said his mother had painted it for him. It was very cool!"

Obsession would consist of Hetfield on guitar, two brothers Ron and Rich Veloz on bass and drums, and Jim Arnold on lead guitar. Any band needs a kick-ass road crew so McGovney and Marrs were drafted in as exactly that, although Marrs admitted that their role was maybe a little overstated: "We were more like friends than actually roadies really."

The Veloz boys had a garage and that space became the venue for rehearsals with Marrs and McGovney staffing some kind of crude control panel to give the place some basic lighting effects. Marrs remembers the details: "They just played like back-yard parties back then. They were just like your average garage band. They did UFO covers, and I think they did ‘Communication Breakdown', good songs like that. I remember that the Veloz brothers [had] some traffic lights or something, and they hooked them up into the garage and we'd go up there and play with the lights. We were fifteen-year-old kids and we didn't know what we were actually doing up there, we definitely didn't. It was a good time back then though."

Jim Arnold lived down the street at the time, and he too has fond memories of Obsession's early garage days: "We built a wall inside that garage and soundproofed one half of it using old cardboard and carpet. James only lived a few miles from there and he would use his mom's car to drive over, or we would go and pick him up.We spent a lot of time in that garage; it was our party and practice place."

Although no actual recordings of the band in action exist, it is fairly safe to say that the Hetfield of Obsession days and the one we all know now were poles apart.