How Jimbo became James Hetfield

We know everything about Metallica, but maybe there’s still a bit of a mystery surrounding how his tattoed frontman got started. So, this is the story…

James Hetfield was born into the world with the name James Alan Hetfield A. Downy on August 3rd, 1963 in California. So he is now 54 years old of which 36 he spent leading the Four Horsemen, aka Metallica. Not bad for Jimbo (his most well-known nickname) whose parents – the truck driver Virgil and the opera singer Cynthia – never would have suspected to have brought into the world one of the most brilliant legends of metal.

His beginnings, in fact, were hard. James gets along brilliantly with instruments like piano and guitar, and he’s very self-educated, but at just thirteen years old had to go through his parents’ traumatic divorce taking solace in his music (he’s a huge fan of Aerosmith and Queen) and his relationship with his trustworthy friend Ron McGovney which lasted until the seminal inception of Metallica.

In 1977 the young Hetfield enrolled at Downey High School and after which he developed serious problems adapting. Jimbo was in fact baptized as a Christian Scientist which would later inspire such vitriolic songs like ‘Dyers Eve’ and ‘The God That Failed’. His religious doctrine prohibited him from using traditional medical treatments. For this reason James could not undergo traditional medical examinations. This cost him a place on the high school football team getting him teased to no end by the other students. «Everyone kept asking: ‘Why don’t you play with us? Are you weird?’ And I couldn’t do anything!».

Deprived of an outlet such as sports, James continued to find consolation in rock: he started the Obsession and dedicated himself to covers of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. His group was missing a real singer and so young Jimbo took courage and started grunting verses. The drummer and supporting vocalist Rich Veloz was jealous and left and is currently playing in Syrinx, a band dedicated to the repertoire of Rush.

In 1980 Cynthia died and the family Hetfield transferred to Brea (California) where James met the great musician Hugh Tanner. Phantom Lord was born and shortly after Leather Charm in which Jimbo completely rediscovered his new frontman role. He read an add in a fanzine by a certain Lars Ulrich, and the band changed to Metallica and began jamming with passing guitarists like Brad Parker, Jeff Warner, and Lloyd Grant.

In the meantime he wrote an acerbic song titled ‘Hit The Lights’, except that in the finale composition there weren’t any solos, so Ulrich offered the place of shredder to Dave Mustaine from Panic. There was killer chemistry this time, but because of the capricious character of the Red Axeman (likely drugs and alcohol…) it obviously couldn’t last. In the course of 1982 the violent Mustaine got kicked out during a transfer to New York and replaced by Kirk Hammett from Exodus. Reliable McGovney eventually gave up his place to talented Cliff Burton. The fantastic debut album ‘Kill ‘Em All’ (1983) was right around the corner and the rest is naturally history. Another story called simply Metallica.