James Alan Hetfield (Downey, California, August 3, 1963) is an American musician known for being the vocalist, rhythm guitarist and main composer of the thrash metal band Metallica, as well as of being co-founder of it together with Lars Ulrich.
Of German, English, Irish, and Scottish descent, he was born on August 3, 1963, in Downey, Los Angeles County, California. His childhood was difficult in many physical aspects. His parents, Virgil Hetfield (truck driver) and Cynthia (opera singer) were members of a religious Christian Science group. For this reason, most of Hetfield's childhood revolved around these religious activities. His father also suffered from alcoholism.
According to the doctrine of the sect to which his family belonged, the use of medicine to cure illnesses was prohibited. James's mother died of cancer when he was 16 years old, a fact that marked a serious conflict between James and the religious dogmas practiced by his family and that, later, would greatly influence the lyrics of his future compositions such as: Dyers Eve, Mama Said, Until It Sleeps and The God That Failed.
At age nine, James began taking piano lessons. Later, he would play the drums for his brother David, to finally dedicate himself to the guitar in his teens, more specifically when he was 14 years old. In those years, James formed his first band called Obsession, inspired by groups such as: The Beatles, Black Sabbath, UFO, Kiss, Aerosmith, Motörhead, Queen and Thin Lizzy. Obsession was composed of the Veloz brothers, on bass and drums, Jim Arnold on lead guitar, and Hetfield on vocals. His friend Ron McGovney played the role of roadie, later joining the band as a member of the Veloz brothers' retirement.
After moving to Brea, California, James met drummer Jim Mulligan at Brea Olinda High School. During lunch breaks, both rehearsed, scaring other guitarists with heavy and loud sounds, hitherto unknown. One day, a student named Hugh Tanner was seen by James and Jim carrying parts for a Flying V at school. The three formed the band Phantom Lord, with intermittent bass players. The project lasted until James' graduation, at which point he had to return to Downey.
At that time, James and his friend Ron McGovney moved into a house scheduled for demolition, then owned by McGovney's parents. The house was the ideal place for James and Ron to hang out and rehearse. James convinced Ron to play bass, the band Phantom Lord disbanded, giving rise to Hetfield's third band to be called Leather Charm. The only difference from the previous band was that in Leather Charm, James no longer played guitar and Ron now played bass, while Tanner and Mulligan kept their original instruments.
The band dedicated themselves to performing heavy rock songs at some parties and even managed to record a demo. After that, the band began to break up. The first to retire was Tanner, who was replaced by Troy James. Later, drummer Mulligan decided to join a band with a more progressive style. Lacking a drummer, James and his bandmates decided to disband Leather Charm for good.
Although Mulligan's departure was what determined Hetfield to look for a new drummer, it was also Hugh Tanner who greatly influenced James's musical life.
Hetfield did not initially consider taking on the role of vocalist in his previous bands. Eventually, he invited John Bush of Armored Saint (later lead singer of Anthrax) to sing in the band.
Drummer Lars Ulrich, who had gotten a slot on a compilation album produced by Brian Slagel