40 Years Ago: Kirk Hammett Invited to Audition for Metallica
In the middle of the afternoon on April 1, 1983, Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett was sitting on the toilet when the phone rang. He picked it up and it was the band’s manager Mark Whitaker. After exchanging pleasantries, Whitaker cut to the chase and asked Hammett if he wanted to audition for Metallica.
Figuring the call was an April Fool’s prank, Hammett responded, “Yeah, right” and then hung up. Whitaker called back and explained Metallica manager Jonny Z wanted him to call Hammett since he was close to both bands. When Hammett asked why Metallica wanted to replace Dave Mustaine, Whitaker said, “He f—ing sucks, man,” according to the biography “Birth School Metallica Death, Vol. 1,” by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood. “His tone sucks, his playing… He’s a f—ing drunk.”
Whitaker told Hammett he would overnight a copy of Metallica’s demo No Life ‘Til Leather and that he should learn the songs. Instead of waiting for the overnight package to arrive, Hammett made some calls and got his own copy of the demo through the tape-trading scene. By 12:00AM April 2, he had learned half of the songs.
Exodus guitarist Gary Holt was surprised at first when Hammett told him he was going to audition for Metallica; the two were close friends. Hammett was the one who introduced him to guitar and taught him how to compose a song. But Exodus was Hammett’s creative vehicle and Holt realized that without the guitarist he would have more control over the group’s future direction. “I wanted the band to be much faster,” Holt says. “I wanted the songs to be heavier and nastier, so when Kirk left it let me do what I wanted, which was cool.”
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To celebrate Hammett’s departure for Metalica, Exodus threw a party for the guitarist and everyone got hammered. Then Holt and vocalist Paul Baloff cut Hammett’s image out of a stack of promotional Exodus photos and stuck them all over the Waldorf Club. “Kirk ran all over the place trying to pull down these pictures,” Holt says. “He ran into the girl’s bathroom and pulled them out of the s–tters. I don’t know why he seemed so frantic but it was really funny.”
A week later, Hammett flew from San Francisco to Newark, N.J. During the flight, he was nervous because he had packed up his amplifier and Marshall head in a box. They were wrapped in towels and tightly duct-taped, but he was still worried about them getting damaged or stolen. He felt better about his guitar, which was packed away in the overhead compartment. When the plane touched down on the runway, Hammett met Whitaker at the airport and retrieved his gear. Then it was off to the Music Building where Hammett aced his audition. All that was left for Metallica to do was to break the news to band co-founder and songwriter Dave Mustaine.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
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