Thank God the mu­sic was better than the hair

On the morn­ing of Septem­ber 18, 1982, James Het­field, Dave Mus­taine and Lars Ul­rich piled into Ron Mc­gov­ney’s father’s Ford Ranger for the 400-mile jour­ney up In­ter­state 5, from Los An­ge­les to San Fran­cisco. a band for less than a year, Metallica’s in­vi­ta­tion to play their first show in the city by the Bay was ex­tended by Lars’ friend Brian Slagel only af­ter power met­allers Cirith Un­gol cried off the planned show­case for his Metal Mas­sacre com­pi­la­tion al­bum at The Stone night­club at the 11th hour. this mi­nor de­tail did noth­ing, how­ever, to dampen the young quar­tet’s en­thu­si­asm for their road trip. Ever the net­worker, Lars had friends in the city, met­al­heads he’d met while record shop­ping in Berkeley the pre­vi­ous year, and he promised his ex­citable LA pals that Metallica’s 20th gig would be worth the six-hour drive. Noth­ing, how­ever, had pre­pared Metallica for their 45 min­utes on­ James Het­field and Dave Mus­taine cranked out the open­ing riff to Hit The Lights, the room erupted, and the as­sem­bled teenage head­bangers be­gan scream­ing each lyric of Metallica’s es­capist an­them back into the front­man’s face. Bod­ies crashed to­wards the stage, glis­ten­ing with sweat, smeared with blood from tum­bles unto shat­tered pint glasses on the venue floor. The harder and faster Metallica played, the more ri­otous the re­sponse grew, band and au­di­ence bonded in es­ca­lat­ing frenzy.

“First real great gig,” Lars noted in his diary. “real bangers, real fans, real en­cores. Had a great fuckin’ week­end.”

“We had maybe 300 kids there, where in LA we couldn’t give 300 tick­ets away,” the drum­mer re­called. “ev­ery­one in San Fran­cisco was wear­ing Motörhead and Iron Maiden T-shirts, where in LA it was about hair and pos­ing.”

“We no­ticed peo­ple there for the mu­sic,” agreed James, “not for the chicks that were hang­ing out, not for the scene, not for the bar, it was for the mu­sic! They weren’t hang­ing out at the bar, they were at the edge of the stage wait­ing for Metallica.”

The band would play three more shows in San Fran­cisco that the sec­ond of these, at The Old Wal­dorf on Novem­ber 29, the quar­tet gave a Bay Area de­but to a new Het­field/ul­rich com­po­si­tion, whiplash, a song wholly in­spired by their first visit to the city, with lyrics such as ‘Adren­a­line starts to flow/you’re thrash­ing all around/act­ing like a ma­niac’. the fol­low­ing evening, at the Mabuhay Gar­dens, they would play their fi­nal gig with their orig­i­nal line-up, James and Lars hav­ing set their sights on re­plac­ing Ron Mc­gov­ney with the Bay Area’s own Cliff Bur­ton, bassist with Trauma. Such was their

de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­cruit the charis­matic four-stringer, that – hav­ing been in­formed that Cliff had no in­ten­tion of mov­ing to Los An­ge­les – on Fe­bru­ary 12, 1983, James, Lars and Dave re­lo­cated to the East Bay city of El Cer­rito to ac­com­mo­date him. “he was that good,” Dave later ad­mit­ted in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “i think we all recog­nised that by ad­ding Cliff, we would be­come the great­est band in the world!”

The mem­bers of Metallica were not the first teenagers to jour­ney to San Fran­cisco in search of a new life. In the mid-’60s, the city was a mag­net for young, quest­ing Amer­i­cans crav­ing au­ton­omy and a more lib­er­ated, open-minded so­ci­ety. San Fran­cisco’s ‘Sum­mer Of Love’ was ush­ered in at the be­gin­ning of 1967, when hippy psy­chol­o­gist and Lsd-ad­vo­cate Ti­mothy Leary fa­mously urged a 30,000 strong au­di­ence at Golden Gate Park to, “turn on, tune in, drop out.” The city’s rep­u­ta­tion for tol­er­at­ing, even en­cour­ag­ing, free love and ex­per­i­men­tal drug use saw tens of thou­sands flock to the West Coast, the move­ment sound­tracked by Scott Mckenzie’s whim­si­cal an­them San Fran­cisco, with its fa­mous lyric, ‘If you’re go­ing to San Fran­cisco, be sure to wear some flow­ers in your hair.’

Bands such as Jef­fer­son Air­plane ,the Grate­ful Dead, Moby Grape and psy­che­delic hard rock­ers Blue Cheer held free con­certs and, for a time, it seemed the city rep­re­sented a model for an al­ter­na­tive, con­scious, con­ven­tion-free life­style.

That fan­ci­ful no­tion was rather bru­tally ex­posed, how­ever, on De­cem­ber 6 1969, when 18-year-old Mered­ith Hunter was stabbed to death at The Rolling Stones’ no­to­ri­ous free con­cert at Al­ta­mont Speed­way in Almeida County. Soon enough, the area’s anti-es­tab­lish­ment bands them­selves be­came the es­tab­lish­ment, a sta­tus quo against which an emerg­ing gen­er­a­tion would de­fine them­selves in op­po­si­tion. When LA duo Billy Gould and Roddy Bot­tum, later to form Faith No More, moved to the city in 1980, they found a new counter-cul­ture in place, with the likes of Dead Kennedys, Romeo Void and Pink Sec­tion play­ing ag­gres­sive punk and new wave rock in dive bars, free from the con­trol­ling hand of the city’s leg­endary con­cert pro­moter Bill Gra­ham.

“There was an old hippy mu­sic em­pire in San Fran­cisco,” says Gould, “the es­tab­lish­ment who ran a mu­sic scene that none of my friends could re­late to at all. they ran the clubs, they ran the me­dia, they were the old guard who wouldn’t give up what they had.we didn’t want, or seek, their per­mis­sion to make mu­sic.”

The city’s heavy metal scene was sim­i­larly un­reg­u­lated. while Y&T (for­merly Yes­ter­day & To­day) were San Fran­cis­can metal’s undis­puted king­pins – their 1981 al­bum Earthshaker was a high wa­ter mark – a fe­cund un­der­ground threw up a num­ber of less tra­di­tional acts, in­clud­ing the afore­men­tioned Trauma, Anvil Cho­rus, vi­cious Ru­mors, Grif­fin, Lååz Rockit, Ex­o­dus and more. In the sum­mer of 1981, in­spired by the launch of Ker­rang! in the UK, metal en­thu­si­ast Ron Quin­tana started his own fanzine Metal Ma­nia.the ti­tle was sug­gested by his friend Lars Ul­rich, who nabbed one of Quin­tana’s other pro­posed names, Metallica, for the band he was ini­ti­at­ing with James Het­field. With the open­ing of the Record­vault on Polk Street at the be­gin­ning of 1982, the city got its first spe­cial­ist hard rock/heavy metal record shop. That March, Ron Quin­tana and his friends Ian Kallen and Howie Klein were given their own Satur­day evening metal show, Rampage Ra­dio, on the Univer­sity of San Fran­cisco’s KUSF col­lege ra­dio sta­tion.the fol­low­ing month, city cen­tre night­club The Old Wal­dorf, at 444 Bat­tery Street, an­nounced the launch of a new weekly metal night, Metal Mon­days. Fur­ther out, in Oak­land and Palo Alto, clubs such as Ruthie’s Inn, the Key­stone, On Broad­way and Wolf­gang’s opened their doors to un­der­age crowds. though they lived in the same re­gion, Bay Area met­al­heads such as Ron Quin­tana and Whiplash fanzine writer Brian Lew had forged a friend­ship only af­ter plac­ing pen pal ads in Ker­rang!, but now the lo­cal metal com­mu­nity had new haunts to con­gre­gate.and the ar­rival of Metallica at 3132 Carl­son Boule­vard gal­vanised the scene. they were young, snotty and brim­ming with at­ti­tude – “Het­field and Mus­taine were just out of control,” re­calls Ron. “it seemed like Dave would get in a fight ev­ery sin­gle night.” Their fire lit the fuse on a scene primed to ex­plode.

“There was this im­me­di­ate in­tense con­nec­tion,” says for­mer Anvil Cho­rus gui­tarist Doug Piercy. “when Metallica came on the scene, it just clicked. Here was an Amer­i­can band that played all the shit we un­der­stood. We’d all been tape trad­ing, look­ing for the new noisy thing, and sud­denly here was a band of our own.”

Anew scene – younger, wilder, louder, more ob­nox­ious – be­gan to co­a­lesce, with the bar­ri­ers be­tween those on­stage and off­stage oblit­er­ated. “It was like fans were as much a part of the show as the bands were,” Ex­o­dus front­man Steve ‘Zetro’ Sousa ex­plains. “it was wild, be­cause there wasn’t re­ally any se­cu­rity, or any­body tak­ing charge. venue own­ers didn’t know what it was that we were do­ing, and we didn’t know ei­ther!”

“We were a big gang,” says pho­tog­ra­pher Bill Hale, then shoot­ing for Metal Ren­dezvous In­ter­na­tional fanzine (and whose pho­to­graphs il­lus­trate this fea­ture). “But I re­mem­ber one defin­ing mo­ment. Be­fore Metallica played the Wal­dorf, it was kinda re­spect­ful. It had shows from AC/DC and Ju­das Priest and a lot of punk bands, but there was a rev­er­ence and re­spect go­ing on. But when Metallica head­lined, it was an­ar­chy, be­cause these kids didn’t have the same re­spect for venues that the older kids had. Some­one gave James Het­field a full beer on­stage and he poured it over the mon­i­ thought, ‘oh, well, that’s go­ing to change everything.’ It got so wild that the city closed it down.”


“The Bay Area had just gone through a huge re­ces­sion,” says Robb Flynn, then a teenage fan, later one of the scene’s key play­ers with For­bid­den, Vio-lence and Ma­chine Head. “there was a lot of aban­doned build­ings, a lot of drugs, a lot of crime. I don’t want to say that it was law­less, be­cause there were po­lice, but if you were a white, long­haired dude, you could get away with a lot.”

With the re­lease of Kill ‘Em All in 1983, the Bay Area scene be­gan to gain na­tional in­famy. Speak­ing to one fanzine writer dur­ing the record­ing of Metallica’s de­but, Lars Ul­rich had en­thused about the wild scenes at Bay Area shows (“The first 10 rows are just hair and sweat and bob­bing heads…”) and other bands wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence this may­hem for them­selves. For Metallica’s East Coast bud­dies An­thrax, their first San Fran­cisco show, at the Kabuki Theater with Ex­o­dus and Raven in the sum­mer of 1984, was a rev­e­la­tion.

“We’d heard the stories of the West Coast head­bangers, but when we stood on the side of the stage as Ex­o­dus came on I’d never seen any­thing like it,” mar­vels gui­tarist Scott Ian. “kids were walk­ing on each other’s heads, and [there was a] sea of head­bang­ing. When we came on we couldn’t even be­lieve that peo­ple knew our mu­sic, be­cause our al­bum [1984’s Fist­ful Of Metal] had only been out a few have all these in­sane kids go­ing nuts for us too made us think, ‘wow, this is re­ally start­ing to catch on.’”

The scene could be sav­age, though. Self-ap­pointed scene guardians such as Ex­o­dus front­man Paul Baloff and his min­ions in the ‘Slay Team’ would lit­er­ally rip T-shirts off pun­ters they con­sid­ered posers. there were more sub­tle forms of in­tim­i­da­tion, too. when Metallica be­gan play­ing their first bal­lad, Fade To Black, the Bay Area hard­core pulled out tis­sues and be­gan to openly mock the band by pre­tend­ing to weep. when Slayer ar­rived up from LA for their first San Fran­cisco show, the ‘Trues’ waved pa­per tow­els at them and chanted “Take off the make-up!” Three days later, at their sec­ond area gig, their eye­liner was gone.

But for all the vi­o­lence and may­hem, the scene was sup­port­ive and nur­tur­ing, and a host of bril­liant new bands sprang up: the Legacy (who sold a stag­ger­ing 40,000 copies of their first demo tape be­fore chang­ing their name to Tes­ta­ment), Hea­then, Blind Il­lu­sion, death met­allers Pos­sessed, Robb Flynn’s vio-lence, and Death An­gel. For a time, with thrilling records emerg­ing ev­ery few months, it seemed like the Bay Area was the cen­tre of the metal uni­verse.

“I never went to col­lege,” says for­mer Death An­gel drum­mer Andy Ga­leon, “but I imag­ine what we had was sim­i­lar to a fra­ter­nity.we grew up to­gether, and we were just skate­board­ing and par­ty­ing and play­ing fast metal, and no­body knew how big an im­pact it would have – on the Bay Area, never mind world­wide. The bands all pushed one an­other, ei­ther with friendly com­pe­ti­tion or with cer­tain bands hat­ing other bands and try­ing to blow them away. whether the in­spi­ra­tion was neg­a­tive or pos­i­tive, it def­i­nitely pushed peo­ple on.”

Naturally, some­thing so com­bustible couldn’t Metallica be­came the big­gest metal band in the world with their self-ti­tled fifth al­bum, else­where, as grunge and al­ter­na­tive rock took over both the air­waves and the live cir­cuit, the scene be­gan to crum­ble. Higher rents forced the clo­sure of the city’s key venues: the Stone is now a strip club; the Old­wal­dorf a com­edy club.the cream of the crop – Ma­chine Head, Ex­o­dus, tes­ta­ment – con­tinue to make ex­hil­a­rat­ing records, but while a bur­geon­ing un­der­ground com­mu­nity re­mains, it’s hard to es­cape the feel­ing that the Bay Area is now fu­elled more by nos­tal­gia than adren­a­line.

That mu­sic, and its en­dur­ing legacy, how­ever, will never be si­lenced.

A lit­tle band called Metallica in 1982.Won­der what hap­pened to them?

San Fran thrash­ers A young, and pre-metallica, Kirk Ham­mett (front, cen­tre) ‘Al­co­holica’s’ Mus­taine years

‘Scene guardians’ Ex­o­dus de­fend their ter­ri­tory Tes­ta­ment: big hair, zero fucks Cliff Bur­ton says ‘cheese’ in his own style

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