The godfather of Heavy Metal according to James Hetfield

James Hetfield

Photos by Brett Murray

Metallica’s enduring success is stronger than ever and they are one of the few Heavy Metal who are able to play to completely sold stadiums all over the world nowadays. The band was formed in 1981 by the singer and guitarist James Hetfield alongside his friend and drummer Lars Ulrich. Although they had a broad musical taste, their main inspiration came from the Heavy Metal groups.

By the end of the 60s the Rock and Roll bands were experimenting and becoming heavier, what ended up creating the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal genres with bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. However, for the Metallica frontman, the godfather of Heavy Metal wasn’t part of those bands.

The godfather of Heavy Metal according to James Hetfield

By the time Metallica released their debut album in 1983, Heavy Metal already was huge and had countless famous groups playing all over the world with millions of fans. During that decade they ended up being the most famous band from the style that would later be baptized as Thrash Metal, that took Heavy Metal to another level, making it heavier and faster.

In the beginning of their career, Metallica was part of countless festivals and was the opening act for several famous bands and artists. So they had the opportunity to meet many of their heroes and start a friendship with them. One of the group’s that inspired Metallica the most was Motörhead. Hetfield even said that Metallica probably wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the British band.

In an interview with Newsweek in 2017, the musician praised the late legendary bassist, songwriter and singer Lemmy Kilmister, calling him the Godfather of Heavy Metal.

“We all have our mentors, and we need them, or at least I do. I need someone who I’m lookin’ up to, to either try and chase or learn from. We were asked by Dio’s wife, Wendy, to contribute to (This Is Your Life). And that was kind of a no-brainer. We’re no strangers to doing covers. So the Ronnie Rising Medley was kind of a combination of all the good stuff we loved from Dio. It’s great to challenge myself with singing stuff like that. It helps me grow. And it also helps me push limits that I think I’m stuck in.”

“Lemmy in particular was an icon, sort of a godfather for people who love heavy metal. He was the captain of the ship. And we all felt he was immortal [laughs], doing the hard, hard, hard livin’ for such a long time on the road, and just really goin’ for it [laughs]. We knew it would come to an end at some point. But we really didn’t expect it. There’s certainly no Metallica without a Motörhead.’

He continued:

“We would get to jam with Lemmy. He was a very friendly guy. We covered quite a few of their songs. You know, Motörhead never made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a shame. But he did win a Grammy for a song called ‘Whiplash’ that we had recorded on ‘Kill ’Em All’. We were trying to write a Motörhead song. He covered our song that was kind inspired by him, and he wins a Grammy for it. That is very cool,” James Hetfield said. Motörhead’s version was released on their 2006 album “Kiss of Death”.

As the Metallica frontman said they had a great friendship and had the opportunity to play together many times until Lemmy’s passing at the age of 70 in 2015. Metallica covered four Motörhead songs “Overkill”, “Damage Case”, “Stone Dead Forever” and “Too Late Too Late” on their 1998 covers album “Garage Inc.” Lemmy eventually played some of those songs live with the group a few years before his death.

Besides “Whiplash”, Motörhead also covered “Enter Sandman” with Zebrahead for the compilation album “Extreme Championship Wrestling: Extreme Music” (1998).

Hetfield is not the only Motörhead fan in Metallica

All the members of Metallica are huge fans of Motörhead’s music but the drummer Lars Ulrich and late bassist Cliff Burton have a special history with the group. Before Metallica was even formed, both of them chased the band’s bus during an American tour and saw multiple concerts of the band. They had created a fan club of Motörhead and even had the opportunity to meet Lemmy at that time.

Kilmister recalled that in an interview with Dave Ling back in 2010. “There’s always been something special ever since Lars and Cliff Burton came to my hotel room before Metallica even existed. Lars introduced himself to me in his ever-modest way with the words: ‘I’m the head of your West Coast Fan Club’. We later found out there was only him and Cliff in it”.

Rafael Polcaro: I'm a Brazilian journalist who always loved Classic Rock and Heavy Metal music. That passion inspired me to create Rock and Roll Garage over 6 years ago. Music has always been a part of my life, helping me through tough times and being a support to celebrate the good ones. When I became a journalist, I knew I wanted to write about my passions. After graduating in journalism from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, I pursued a postgraduate degree in digital communication at the same institution. The studies and experience in the field helped me improve the website and always bring the best of classic rock to the world! MTB: 0021377/MG