BAY AREA METAL
A HOTBED OF MUSIC HARDER AND FASTER SAN THAN ANYTHING ELSE, THE BAY AREA OF IN THE FRANCISCO CHANGED THE FACE OF METAL ’80S. PAUL BRANNIGAN CHARTS ITS RISE, TWISTS AND TURNS, AND PAYS TRIBUTE TO THE SCENE’S LEGACY OF GLORIOUS SPEED AND NOISE…
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 onstage.as 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 year.at 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 monitors.you thought, ‘oh, well, that’s going to change everything.’ It got so wild that the city closed it down.”
“FANS WERE AS MUCH A PART OF THE SHOW AS THE BANDS” STEVE ‘ZETRO’ SOUSA, EXODUS
“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 months.to 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 last.as 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