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Metallica’s Ulrich: How I Met James Hetfield

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was recently asked by Mike Hogan about how he met his bandmate James Hetfield. He replied:

lars ulrich young

“This was obviously pre-internet and all that stuff – there was a classified ads newspaper in the greater LA called The Recycler, primarily used for selling.

“It was like Craigslist basically, like selling cars and selling whatever you would sell, lawn mowers… And there was a very small [section] – you really had to know where to look for it in The Recycler – musicians seeking bands and bands seeking musicians.

“And I put an ad in there – it was free by the way, that was really cool – for a drummer looking for other musicians to start a band. And I put sort of obscure New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands in there, like Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Witchfinder General or whatever.

“And I would get all these calls from all these guys. There were a lot of people calling and saying like, ‘Heavy metal? You mean like Kansas and Styx?’ [Laughs] And then I would sit and talk to them about the three Tygers of Pan Tang singles that have come out the last few months in England.

“So that didn’t go very far, but long story short, a guy named Hugh Tanner showed up one day and he said, ‘Can I bring a friend of mine along?’ And this very shy, introverted, very awkward kid, came with him.

“Tall, skinny… and his name was James Hetfield.

“We sort of had a jam together, the three of us, and absolutely nothing happened. I’ve heard James tell the story a thousand times, it’s always, ‘Lars’ cymbal stands kept falling over.’ And, ‘Lars, being a Danish person, hadn’t washed in two months,’ or whatever.

“I’ve heard his side, now you’re hearing my side – I’ll be kinder and gentler. So nothing much happened, it was just we didn’t connect that much.

“But there was something – because this Hugh Tanner guy was sort of the front line – there was something about this James guy that I felt the kinship to.

“So I ran screaming out of Southern California back and spent that summer in England and Europe sort of following bands around, Motorhead and Diamond Head and all these bands.

“Four months later I went back to LA. It was the fall of ’81 and I called up James Hetfield and said, ‘Listen, let’s give it a shot. And we’ll leave this Hugh Tanner guy out of it.’

“James and I connected and I played him all the singles that I collected in England over the summer. His version of heavy metal was Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. He just started hearing about Judas Priest and that kind of stuff.

“But I played him all these cool underground British bands. And I don’t know if he fell in love with that or fell in love with me, but somehow it worked.”

Asked whether “you guys had an idea of what you wanted to do or was this just sort of like, ‘This is awesome, let’s play,'” Ulrich replied:

“The closest to an idea was to sort of be a European, British type of band in the greater LA pond of – the word that was used a lot at that time was the word ‘posers.’

“A lot of poser bands and a lot of radio-friendly hard rock that was played on the radio KLOS and so on. And so we wanted to try to do a European kind of dirtier, punkier, hard thing that Motorhead and Iron Maiden and these bands were playing.

“Obviously there was a punkier side to the Sunset Strip but at that time, late ’81 – ’82, it was Ratt and Motley Crue and bands like Steeler, and all those guys were the ones that were riding high in those clubs.

“So we felt completely like outsiders and ostracized, and we showed up in our Motorhead t-shirts and all that.

“Basically Metallica started as a cover band. We figured that if we covered all these songs by all these obscure bands from England that nobody had ever heard of then we could go up and play and people would think that they were originals because nobody knew them obviously.

“So we learned a set of cover songs, Diamond Head songs, Blitzkrieg songs, Sweet Savage songs, and then we started playing gigs within a few months. And then, after we were out playing and getting our chops together, then we slowly started playing our own material.”

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