James Hetfield is an American professional musician and singer, most notably known as the founding member, lead singer, rhythm guitarist and original songwriter for the influential heavy metal band Metallica. He is mostly recognized for his complex, folky rhythm playing, although sometimes performs solo acoustic guitar duties and solo vocal performances, both live and on-stage. An avid music fan, James Hetfield always had a musical ear that led him to become a professional musician in the first place.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, James Hetfield was the middle child of five children born to parents who were both musicians. His younger siblings were equally interested in playing rock guitar and music, and his interest in music would begin when he was a young teenager watching his favorite bands like King Curtis, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Rush. This would become an abiding musical passion which would become a strong influence on him. He even went on to form a successful rock band with a similar, yet completely different, sound.
Although James Hetfield’s musical tastes would change throughout his career, he would remain true to his roots and continue to play loud, aggressive music that resonated with a hardcore audience. The core of this band was the guitarist, Cliff Burton, who played lead guitar and sang lead in addition to being a seasoned blues guitar player. This was before Hetfield became known to the world as the lead vocalist for Metallica and, later on, as the lead guitarist in such well-known groups as Dream Theater and Metallica. Regardless of the change in style, the sound of Metallica and the extreme popularity of the band would remain.
In addition to having a heavy metal band, James Hetfield and Cliff Burton also formed a company called Motley Crue. This is a band consisting of three members, yet when it first got together, it had only two members. When this group finally came together, James Hetfield replaced Cliff Burton on lead vocals and became the band’s primary lead guitarist. When he left the group, bass player Kurt Cobain took his place.
When this new line up was initially rehearsing, James Hetfield would often take a few days off to go back and forth between his home in Los Angeles and the small town of San Francisco. He would practice guitar until he was well into his fifties. He did not consider himself a great guitar player, however, he knew enough about the drums and keyboards to play them well. Many other guitarist bands, when they first formed, did not have the musical knowledge to play the instrument as well as Hetfield. They were often thrown together and given a short leash by their record labels.
James Hetfield, through his lyrics and through his playing would say that he was not the best guitarist ever but that he was the most innovative. It was also said that he was one of the toughest players to follow because of his busy schedule. He wrote several songs each week while he was on tour with Motley Crue and the final track he played with the band on their final album was entitled No One Knows. It was his last song to date. Due to the extreme amount of partying he would engage in, he would say that he would be able to remember the songs from his past few years if someone gave him a guitar and told him to play it.