The stories about Metallica's "garage" days have been grossly distorted through the years. Rather than rambling through yet another introductory tale of the "History of Metallica", we here at SHOCKWAVES thought you might wanna get the scoop directly from the source. Here, for the first time in print, original bassist RON McGOVNEY sets the record straight! Was it at Downey Elementary where you first met James Hetfield? "The first time I met James was at East Middle School, I believe it was in music class. James was the only guy in the class who could play guitar."
How did you become friends? Was it the common interest in music? "When we first started high school, which was September of '77, everybody had their little clique - there was the cheerleaders, the jocks, the marching band people.... and you end up with the laggers hanging around without any real social group, and that included James and I. We actually got stuck at the same lockers, and we just started hanging out. At that time I wasn't really into heavy metal or hard rock, I was an Elvis freak... I was devastated when he died. I was into bands like the Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top, The Eagles...things like that. And James' favorite band at the time was Aerosmith - he was a total Steven Tyler freak. And our friend Dave
Marrs was a total Kiss freak. Dave Marrs, Jim Keshil, James and I started hanging out and they would make fun of the music I listened to, so in return, I would tell them Kiss sucks and Aerosmith sucks and it went back and forth -we did this in class all the time."
During Junior High did James have ideas of being in a band? "I knew James in junior high but didn't really start hanging out with him till our freshman year in high school. I remember having James in my driver's ed class, James had drawn a big picture of Steven Tyler on his Pee-chee and I wrote 'Fag' across his face, just to piss James off, and he had a fit in class. But then they started getting me into hard-rock, I had been into Foreigner and Boston... bands like that, but then they got me into bands like UFO. I started taking acoustic guitar lessons when I was a fourteen, a freshman in high school." You had no idea that you were gonna play bass at that time? "No, I knew nothing about bass or any instrument for that matter. I just wanted to learn how to play Dust In The Wind and Stairway To Heaven - that was my goal at the point."
What year was it that James had the idea to form his first band?
"That probably was 10th grade, we were sophomores. He got in this band called OBSESSION, which consisted of James on guitar and vocals, Jim Arnold on guitar and vocals, Ron Valoz on bass and vocals, and his brother Rich Valoz played drums. They did all rock/metal cover songs... Never Say Die (Black Sabbath), Rock'n'Roll & Communication Breakdown (Zeppelin), Rock Bottom & Lights Out (UFO), and Highway Star (Deep Purple) which was one of their favorites."
Did James attempt to sing the Zeppelin songs?
"Jim Arnold sang the Zeppelin songs. James sang Doctor, Doctor and I think the other UFO songs. Ron Valoz sang on Purple Haze - they would switch off on vocals. I remember when Heaven & Hell (Sabbath) had just come out, they started doing that too as well as Scorpions... They played primarily backyard parties, this was like '79 or '80, we were like 16."
Weren't you a roadie for Obsession?
"Yeah. We would go to their practices on Friday and Saturday nights at the Valoz's house on Eastbrook in Downey. The Valoz brothers were like electrical geniuses, they wired up lights all over the place and they built this loft in their garage, Dave Marrs and I would sit up there and work the control panel doing the lights, strobes and stuff... it was like this whole show in a tiny garage."
How long did Obsession stay together?
"About a year and a half or so... they broke away from the Valoz brothers, and then James and Jim Arnold and his brother Chris Arnold formed a band called Syrinx, all they played was Rush covers, and that didn't last long."
So this was about the time when James' mom had passed away....
"James' mom had died when we were in 11th grade, 1980, and James had to move to his brother's house in Brea, which was about 20 minutes away from us. He would come down on the weekends for practice."
Did he ever mention that his mom was real sick?
"No. We had no idea. He was gone for like 10 days and we had thought he went on vacation. When he told us that his mom had just died, we were stunned. And as he's cleaning out his locker he's telling us that he's got to move in with his brother in Brea."
So you guys got together on weekends...
"At the time, James didn't have a band - he had left Syrinx -he would come over to my house and we would jam together with our friend Dave Marrs who tried to play drums - we sounded terrible."
During his senior year at Brea High School didn't James form a new band called "Phantom Lord"?
"Let's see... he had hooked up with this guy named Hugh Tanner at Brea Olinda High School and they formed Phantom Lord , but it wasn't really a band, they just got together and jammed but they never did any shows. They didn't have a bass player, and James suggested that I play bass, and I told him 'I don't know how to play bass, I don't even have a bass guitar'. James said 'I'll show you how to play'. So we rented a bass and an amp at Downey music center and James showed me the basics, how to follow him on guitar. So we started jamming in my bedroom - at the time my parents homes were being taken away by the State in order to construct the new (105) freeway. My parents had three rental houses and one of them was empty and they told me I could live in it since it's going to soon be torn down. After we graduated from high school James and I moved into that house and we fixed up the garage into a rehearsal studio. We insulated it and put up dry wall and James painted the rafters black, the ceiling silver, the walls white, and red carpet!"
So this was about June of 1981; is this when Leather Charm was being formed?
"Yeah. We jammed with Hugh Tanner for a little while, he was actually a pretty good guitar player, but he decided he wanted to be into music management, so it was back to just me and James. Then we hooked up with a drummer named Jim Mulligan, who James went to school with. We put out an add for a guitar player and a guy named Troy James answered the ad and he joined our band, which was called LEATHER CHARM. We were doing kind of a glam thing, like Motley Crue, Sweet , and this British band called Girl (which featured Phil Lewis and Phil Colin), we did that song Hollywood Tease . We did a bunch of covers as well like Pictured Life from Scorpions, Wrathchild and Remember Tomorrow from Iron Maiden, and Slick Black Cadillac from Quiet Riot (the Randy Rhoads era)."
Was James singing and playing guitar at this time?
"No. He wanted to be the singer/frontman so it was just Troy on guitar. We started working on three original tunes, one ended up to be Hit The Lights , which became a Metallica song, another song called Handsome Ransom , and a song called Let's Go Rock'n'Roll . The combined riffs from Handsome Ransom and Let's Go Rock'n'Roll became the Metallica song No Remorse . We never really played any gigs, Mulligan decided he wanted to play more progressive 'Rush' type of music, he was a real good drummer, very technical, and I guess he thought we were a little too heavy or too glam for him at the time."
So this is around mid 1981... is this when James met Lars for the first time?
"Yeah. Lars and James hooked up I believe through Hugh Tanner, Hugh brought Lars to our house and I think Troy had already quit the band so James had to go back to playing guitar. When he and Lars first jammed, I thought Lars was the worst drummer I had ever heard in my life! He couldn't keep a beat, and compared to Mulligan, he just couldn't play. So I told James, 'This guy sucks, dude'. And I told them to do whatever they wanted to do and I was just gonna stick to photography, at the time I was taking pictures for bands like Motley Crue. Anyway, Lars would come over and I would watch him and James jam together, and it got better and better but I still didn't feel like getting back into it."
Were you guys working jobs at the time?
"I think James was working at a place called Steven Label Corporation in Santa Fe Springs making stickers. He used to bring home all these stickers like 'Danger: Explosives' and High Voltage' which we stuck all over our rehearsal studio. I was working for my parents truck repair shop at the time. Lars was still in high school, he was a year behind us. He lived down in Newport Beach so he had to commute from Newport to Norwalk to rehearse with James."
At what time did Lars tell James of the opportunity to be on a record if they formed a band together?
"James had told me that they had a guitarist coming over for an audition. I remember opening up the front door and seeing this black dude with a Jamaican accent. He came in and they started jamming to Hit the Lights - the old Leather Charm song. They had this bass player at the time for about 2 or 3 weeks, I believe his name was Glen - he had long black hair - he couldn't really play too good at the time so they kicked him out. Lars had borrowed a 4-track TEAC machine to record a demo. So it was James playing the rhythm guitar riffs and singing, Lars on drums, Lloyd playing the leads, and I played bass."
So Dave Mustaine did not play on the first version of "Hit The Lights" which ended up on the Metal Massacre compilation album?
"O.K... I believe on the very first pressing of Metal Massacre, they kept Lloyd's lead tracks, Lloyd actually only came over twice, and then they ended up recruiting Dave Mustaine on guitar - they had kept the ad running in the Recycler, they only planned on using Lloyd as a fill-in. As I remember, Dave played the two leads on Hit The Lights but they kept the second lead which Lloyd played because they liked it better. Now on the second pressing of the Metal Massacre, it was all Dave's leads."
So we progress to the beginning of 1982... Metallica is a four man band, with you playing bass, you're practicing in your garage... what would a typical day be like?
"We would all get together after work. James wasn't working at the time and Lars was working a graveyard shift at a 24 hour gas station, and Dave was... self employed. At the time it was just Dave playing guitar and James was just singing. It got to the point where James had said that he didn't think he was too good of a singer and he only wanted to play rhythm guitar. So we found this singer named Sammy Dijon who was in a local band called Ruthless - he rehearsed with us for about three weeks but we never played a show with him. They told Sammy it wasn't working out and James went back to singing again."
So we're at around March of 1982, how did Metallica get the opening slot for the infamous Saxon gig at the Whisky?
"On the 4-track TEAC we recorded a demo of three songs: Hit the Lights , Killing Time (from the Irish band SWEET SAVAGE), and Let It Loose (from the British band SAVAGE). We had heard that Saxon was gonna be playing the Whisky in Hollywood. So I went over to the club with our demo, and as I was walking up, I run into Tommy Lee and Vince Neil from Motley Crue (who I was taking pictures for at the time.) They said 'Hey Ron, what's up?'. I told them that Saxon was doing a gig at the Whisky and I wanted to try to get my band to open up for them. They said, 'Yeah, we were gonna open up for them but we're getting too big to open. Come on in and I'll introduce you to the chick that does the booking'. So I dropped off the tape and she called me back the very next day, I remember her telling me, 'You guys are pretty good... you remind me of this local band called Black'n'Blue. Anyway, she said 'Saxon is scheduled to play two nights; we're gonna have RATT open for them the first night and your band can open the second night'. So we actually have Motley Crue to thank for getting us that gig, which was a major break for us back then. It was Metallica's third show. We actually played two shows that night opening for Saxon."
After that show you recorded a new 4-track demo in April of '82, which later was known as the "Power Metal" demo...
"We recorded that demo in my garage on a 4-track. The four songs were Hit The Lights , The Mechanix , Jump In The Fire , and Motorbreath - which were all originals. Those songs were later re-recorded on the demo called No Life Til Leather . James sang differently on it, like on Jump In The Fire he would hold the note on the chorus. He was trying to be like the singer Sean Harris from DIAMOND HEAD, but he later figured that he didn't sound like Sean Harris so he decided to sing gruffer. It's funny how that demo was labeled the Power Metal demo. The story is, I went to make Metallica business cards to send to the club promoters along with our demo. The card was supposed to just have the 'Metallica' logo and a contact number. But I thought it looked too plain and decided it should say something under the logo. I didn't want to put 'hard rock' or 'heavy metal', so I coined the term Power Metal, I thought it had a nice ring to it. No band had used that term before as far as I knew. I remember bringing the business cards to the band and Lars got so pissed off at me. He said, 'What did you do! What the hell is Power Metal ?! I can't believe you did such a stupid thing! We can't use these cards with the words Power Metal on it!'. So, that's how that tape became known
as the Power Metal demo."
Shortly after, Metallica recruited a new guitarist and did a gig....
"Yeah, we took on this guy named Brad Parker, a.k.a. Damian C. Phillips, which was his stage name. We did one show at the Concert Factory in Costa Mesa, and while James, Lars, and myself are getting dressed to go on stage, we hear this guitar solo so we look over the railing of the dressing room and we see Brad on stage just blazing away on his guitar. So that was Metallica's first and last gig with Damian C. Phillips. Later I think he went on to join Odin." Is that when James decided to sing and play guitar full-time? "Yeah. He decided to do what he does best, that is play guitar and sing. And it's not easy to play the type of riffs he plays and sing at the same time - it's really difficult." So that brings us to the summer of 1982... Can you tell us the story of the infamous "No Life Till Leather" demo? "Lars hooked up with this guy named Kenny Kane who was a real snake in the grass. He had this punk label called High Velocity which was a division of Rocshire Records, an Orange County record company. He said he would put up the money to have us do an EP. So we went in the studio and recorded the songs Hit The Lights , Mechanix , Phantom Lord , Jump In The Fire , Motorbreath , Seek And Destroy and Metal Militia , which were done in an 8-track studio in Tustin called Chateau East. After hearing the tapes Kenny realized we weren't a punk band so he ended up not being interested. So we took the tapes which eventually became the 'No Life Till Leather' demo."
Who was in charge of getting this demo distributed?
"Lars and his friend Pat Scott. They would record tapes and send them out, they had connections all over the world."
Whose idea was it to take out a full page ad in BAM magazine?
That was a big investment in those days for a young band. "It cost us $600 which was a lot of money back in 1982. It was probably Lars and James' idea. They laid the ad out and showed it to me and said it will cost $600. I said 'OK, Lars...James - where's your money?' and they said 'We don't have any money'. I was the only one that had any money, so I wrote out a check for $600 to BAM, til this day I never got that money back."
So during this time you never heard any complaints or anything from the other band members that they thought you were inferior as a bass player?
"I don't think at the time it had anything to do with my musicianship because I was basically playing what they asked me to play. James showed me what to play and I played it. I understood the camraderie between James and Lars as far as writing goes and I didn't want to infiltrate that. I think the reason that they kept some of Dave's (Mustaine) songs was because they thought he was a good guitar player and they did it to keep him happy. Like the song Mechanix , some of the lyrics in that were ridiculous, so they ended up changing the lyrics later when Dave was out of the band (and re-titled it The Four Horsemen )."
So what's the story about Dave Mustaine and his dogs?
"I think it was the summer of '82. Dave had come over to my house on a Sunday afternoon and he brought his two pit bull puppies. I think I was in the shower at the time; anyway, Dave let the dogs loose and they were jumping all over my car scratching the shit out of it, I had a rebuilt '72 Pontiac LeMans. And James came out and said 'Hey Dave, get those f**kin' dogs off of Ron's car!'. And Dave said, 'What the f**k did you say? Don't you talk that way about my dogs!'. Then they started fighting and it spilled into the house, and when I came out of the shower I see Dave punch James right across the mouth and he flies across the room, so I jumped on Dave's back and he flipped me over onto the coffee table. And then James gets up and yells to Dave, 'You're out of the f**kin' band! Get the f**k out of here!'. So Dave loaded all his shit up and left all pissed off. The next day he comes back crying, pleading 'Please let me back in the band'."
So how did Metallica come in contact with Cliff Burton, did you guys see him when his band TRAUMA was in town?
"I think we just showed up at a TRAUMA show at the Whisky for some reason. We were sitting there watching the band and all the sudden the bass player goes into a solo as the guitar players were playing rhythm and he's just thrashing his head all over the place. And James and Lars were just bowing to him. We didn't talk to Cliff that night but they might have approached him the next night at the Troubadour. I don't know how they actually hooked up."
How did your first San Francisco gig come about?
"I think that was a Metal Massacre Night with BITCH, CIRUTH UNGOL, and I believe LAAZ ROCKET. And Ciruth Ungol had canceled so Brian Slagel called us last minute to fill in. It was at the old Stone. I rented a trailer and we loaded our drum riser and all our gear and pulled it with my Dad's '69 Ford Ranger, we all drove up in that one truck. I had never been to San Francisco before, I remember driving around Chinatown with this trailer and I was getting so pissed off trying to find this club. All the other band members are back there in the camper shell drinking and partying and I'm just pissed as shit."
But the show went over really well...
"Yeah. We had no idea that our No Life Till Leather demo had gotten up there, they knew all the lyrics to our songs and everything. People asking us for our autographs, it was a trip, we couldn't believe it. When we played in L.A. with bands like RATT, people would just stand there with their arms
How did the second San Francisco show in October '82 go over ?
"That was at the Old Waldorf on a Monday night. The people went nuts at that gig. In fact I think Cliff Burton came to that show."
So, you knew nothing of any negotiations between the other band members and Cliff?
"Things started happening back at the house... my things would be missing. The worst thing was when we played with my friend Jim's band KAOS, and ROXX REGIME (who later became STRYPER). Apparently one of Dave's (Mustaine) buddies stole my back-up Ibanez bass guitar...My leather jacket was missing...I was really getting sick of the situation. And I didn't know why this was happening because I did what I could and what they asked me to do. Lars and I butted heads a lot, I hate when people show up late and use you all the time and that's just what Lars did. I would have to drive all the way down to Newport Beach to pick him up, so I told him 'If you can't make it, it's not my problem'. Everytime we did a gig up in San Francisco I had to borrow my Dad's truck, pay for the gas, I had to rent the trailer out of my pocket, I paid for the hotel rooms on my Visa card... and San Francisco is expensive even for a cheap room. I paid for all of this and they couldn't understand why I was mad, they said 'Well, you're getting the check after the gig', and we were only getting paid a $100 per gig at the most, which didn't even cover the hotel room. Plus we drank a couple hundred dollars worth of alcohol. I always said to them, 'If I'm a part of this band, why is it up to me to pay for everything while you guys get the free ride?'. I had suggested we get a manager or somebody that could back us because I was really getting tired of this. And they just laughed about it and said 'have a sense of humor'. They just didn't understand, so they interpreted it as me having a bad attitude."
So you were just fed up with their antics and you probably didn't think that they would become successful...
"Right. I knew the way they were... Dave, at the time, was an asshole, and Lars only cared about himself. But what really hurt me was James, because he was my friend and he was siding with them and I suddenly became the outcast in the band."
At the end of November '82, when you went up to S.F. for the third time, did you have any idea that they were planning on replacing you with Cliff?
"After I heard them talk about Cliff, I had some idea. I remember after that show it was raining like a
motherfucker and I saw Cliff, all in denim, just standing there in the rain. And I said to him, 'Hey dude, do you want a ride home', I kind of felt sorry for the guy. I kind of saw the writing on the wall...We played at the Mabuhay Gardens the next day, it was a little hole in the wall. That was the last gig I did with Metallica."
Driving back home to L.A., did you think to yourself that you were about to be replaced? "First off, let me clear something...I'm talking a long time ago, this was so long ago it doesn't even matter today. I'm just telling you what I was feeling then. I want to make it clear that it doesn't bother me now, this was 14 years ago, it's just memories. I get along with all the guys now. So, this is what happened.. On the way home we stopped at the liquor store, I was driving, and they got a whole gallon of whisky. James , Lars, and Dave were completely smashed out of their minds. They would constantly bang on the window for me to pull over so they could take a piss, and all the sudden I look over and see Lars lying in the middle of Interstate 5 on the double yellow line. It was just unbelievable! And I just said
'fuck this shit!'. Then one of my friends told me that they witnessed Dave pour a beer right into the pickups of my Washburn bass as he said 'I
fuckin' hate Ron'. The next day my bass didn't work. My girlfriend at the time also told me that she overheard that they wanted to bring Cliff in the band."
Do you think their intention was to harass you until you would quit the band?
"I don't know. If you listen to their version, they claim they kicked me out. But I never, ever heard them tell me 'You're out of the band'. What happened was, after Dave f**ked my bass up, I confronted the band when they came over for practice and said 'Get the f**k out of my house!' I turned to James and said, 'I'm sorry, James, but you have to go too'. And they were gone within the next couple of days. They packed all their gear and moved to San Francisco."
So this all happened around the first week of December '82.
"Yeah. It was right after we had returned from that trip to S.F. I was so disgusted with the whole thing that I sold all my equipment: my amps, my cases, I even sold my Les Paul which would now be worth about $1,200. I was just so pissed with the whole thing. Then in 1986, my friend Katon DePenna, who was a singer, told me that I should get back into it. I had some cash in the bank at the time so I went and bought a Fender P bass and a Marshall half stack bass amp. So Katon and I started jamming and we formed a band called Phantasm. It was more like progressive punk, it's hard to describe; the lyrics were punk but the music had tons of different changes in it. Our first two shows with Phantasm were on the same two nights as Jason's first shows with Metallica, when they played the Country Club & Jezebel's. I think November 7th and 8th. We played Fenders Ballroom in Long Beach with about ten other punk bands. We also played Fenders opening for the Plasmatics in front of 1,500 people - it was totally cool, that was actually the biggest crowd I ever played in front of. The reason Phantasm broke up is because I just kept getting bombarded with the Metallica thing and the band got sick of it. A lot of kids came to our gigs just because I had been in Metallica. When we went to play Phoenix all the guys from Flotsam and Jetsam were jumping off the stage and after the show everyone bombarded me for autographs. So it just faded away after that and I haven't been in a band since."
What was the most memorable moment when you were in Metallica?
"Probably the first time we ever played the song Whiplash , I think that was at Billy Barty's (Roller Rink in Fullerton). That was the most ultimate headbanging song. Everytime we played that song it totally kicked ass."
And the lowest moment?
"Probably at the end, when I found out I was double crossed. I would have been better off as a paid road manager rather than the bass player, I probably would have been more respected. But like I said, that's all history..."
"The truth of the matter was that things just didn't click. I was a different person back then. I was a brash person that was always drunk and having fun and James and Lars were withdrawn little boys. James hardly ever talked to people, we did that Saxon gig a while back and he was singing but it was I who talked in between songs. The whole thing was that I had too much to drink. But I
fuck up one time and it costs me the band and they fuck up 100 times...there's been times when I had to carry both James and Lars because they were so drunk."
- Dave Mustaine talking about his departure from Metallica (taken from an interview conducted by Bob Nalbandian back in January of 1984, in what became Megadeth's first ever feature interview)
"I'm just wondering what Metallica are gonna do when they run out of my riffs."
Dave Mustaine from January 1984 interview
"I already smashed James in the mouth one time, and Lars is scared of his own shadow."
Dave Mustaine, January 1984
"When I joined that band they only had one song - "Hit the Lights" - James did not write that song, a guy by the name of Hugh Tanner wrote it. Then we did "Jump Into The Fire", "The Mechanix", and the song "Motorbreath" - which is another Hugh Tanner wrote, and I wrote the intro to that, which Lars didn't know how to drum. I wrote the most songs on that whole f**kin' album! I wrote four of them, James wrote three, and Hugh Tanner wrote two!"
Dave Mustaine, January 1984
"Kirk is a 'Yes' man...."Yes, Lars, I'll do Dave's leads"; "Yes, James, I'll play this" ..James played all the rhythm on that album and Cliff wrote all Kirk's leads - so it shows you they're having a lot of trouble with this "New Guitar God!"
Dave Mustaine, January 1984
"I thought I'd have a helluva lot harder time coming up with something better, but this is three times faster, more advanced and a helluva lot heavier!"
Dave Mustaine, January 1984 (talking about Megadeth)
"I answered an ad in the Recycler that read 'Heavy Metal Guitarist Wanted for music much heavier than the L.A. scene'."
Lloyd Grant from an interview on January 15, 1997 (describing his first encounter with Metallica)
"Hit The Lights" was composed by James and one of his friends. I remember the day I went over to Lars' house , he said, "Check out this song" and he played me "Hit The Lights". We were both into that heavy kind of shit. He wanted me to play some guitar leads on it but I couldn't make it over to Ron McGovney's house to do the recording so James and Lars brought the 4-track over to my apartment and I did the solo on a little Montgomery Ward amp."
Lloyd Grant, January '97 (regarding the first ever Metallica recording session)
"I had several disappointments with previous bands I was in, I guess that's my reason for not pursuing Metallica. There were a lot of flaky musicians; however, this was not the case with Lars, he was 100% intense with the music."
Lloyd Grant, January '97 (explaining his departure with Metallica)
"Lars was very easy to get along with, although he had very strong ideas and opinions. I was not around James a lot; the times I was around him he was very quiet."
Lloyd Grant, January '97
In this exclusive SHOCKWAVES interview, original METALLICA bassist Ron McGovney tells the true-life stories about the early days of one of the biggest rock'n'roll bands in the world
By Pounding Pat O' Connor