By Scott Ian
Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian is a great storyteller. So great in fact, that these days in between Anthrax tours, he does “Speaking Words” shows (similar, kind of, to Henry Rollins’ one-man shows). And now, he’s collected many of his stories into his memoirs (co-written with Jon Wiederhorn), I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, due out October 14.
The Jamaica, Queens-based band were one of the seminal groups in the early U.S. thrash metal scene, along with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer (nowadays, they’re known as “The Big Four”). In this excerpt, Ian tells the story of future Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine’s unceremonious firing from Metallica, and he recalls meeting his replacement — former Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett — for the first time.
It was New Year’s Eve 1980, and we had a big party at my friend Richie Herman’s house. He lived on the first floor of our building, and his dad was always out of town, so we had fifty or sixty people at his house to celebrate my birthday. I went nuts. I’d been drinking before, but now I was almost legal. I was seventeen, and I drank so many screwdrivers made with that ultrapremium vodka, Popov. It’s right up there with Grey Goose and Tito’s, if they tasted like used Russian bleach. I must have had twelve. I have vague memories of making out with this girl, and we stopped kissing because I was getting queasy. I felt the vomit come up my esophagus, and I pulled away and puked all over her and then proceeded to puke all over Richie’s bathroom.
I crawled up the stairs one flight back to my mom’s apartment, crashed out, and woke up the next day still throwing up. I was sick for two or three days. Just the smell of booze nauseated me for years after that. Looking back, that was an advantage because I didn’t drink much during all the formative years of Anthrax, and that helped me maintain focus. I’d go to bars and have a beer or two, but I was not part of the Alcoholica team. Looking at Metallica now, they had a totally different dynamic. Their music was strong enough to hold up even when they were sloppy drunk, and even when Dave Mustaine was in the band they really were the Four Horsemen. They just all had very strong, different personalities. James Hetfield was actually the wallflower. He was quiet like [Anthrax drummer] Charlie [Benante] with a good sense of humor and hadn’t developed his rock star persona yet. He looked awkward around people, but when he was holding his guitar and screaming into the mike he was right at home. That was where he belonged, even though he never said anything onstage. That was all Dave.
Mustaine was the real front man of the band. He did all the talking onstage and he had that rock star personality. He was also an out-of-control, mean drunk, but he had a sharp sense of humor. Lars could be funny, too, and he could talk a ton of s–t. He actually couldn’t really play when they started. He learned by jamming along with James’s songs and just got better as they went. It would be hard to imagine Lars in any other band, but he’s the right drummer for Metallica. He was also the voice of the band from day one.
If I were to single any of them out as someone who looked like he didn’t belong, it would be Cliff. Anthrax and Metallica had a certain look: tight jeans, high-top Nike or Converse sneakers, metal T-shirt, leather jacket, or denim over leather. And then there was Cliff in his bell bottoms, cowboy boots, R.E.M. T-shirt, and jean jacket decorated with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Misfits pins. He was definitely an oddball, but in his own way, he was the most metal of all of us because he flew his own flag and he was the most talented musician—possibly the best I had ever met—even better than [original Anthrax bassist Dan] Lilker. He was a virtuoso bassist, and he understood music and theory. Compared to him, we were cavemen. He was very aloof but not standoffish. He was cool, laconic. He almost resembled a character from the ’50s, like the Fonz from Happy Days, if the Fonz played in Molly Hatchet. Cliff would stand there with a cigarette, give you a squint-eyed Clint Eastwood grin and say, “What’s up?”
We were into the same movies, books, and TV shows, and we liked all of the same bands, so we became instant friends. I was a Skynyrd fan from growing up, but I had never heard R.E.M. I asked him who they were, and he said they were this killer band from Georgia. Then he gave me a tape with Murmur on one side and Reckoning on the other. I took it home and checked it out, and, yeah, he was right. That early R.E.M. stuff was cool. Cliff was an awesome, awesome dude and everyone knew it. He had this aura. They all did. At first, there seemed to be no dissension between them. They were all drinking buddies and they did stupid s–t. But Dave was a little stupider. And when he was really drunk, he could be a total a–hole. Late at night he would dump piles of trash in front of other bands’ rehearsal room doors, so when they’d show up the next day their whole front door would be covered with a mountain of garbage. And they’d know which band did it because Metallica were the only ones sleeping there. So all these musicians would knock on Metallica’s door, wanting to beat them up.
I was with them on April 9, 1983, when they were playing L’Amour with Vandenberg and the Rods. Vandenberg were onstage in the middle of the afternoon sound checking, and Mustaine was already hammered. He was in the middle of the floor of the venue, and as soon as they ended a song he started screaming at them that they sucked and they should get the f–k off the stage. [Anthrax/Metallica manager] Jonny Z pulled him away. But I didn’t think any of that s–t was enough to get him kicked out of the band. The guy is arguably the godfather of thrash metal. He wrote a lot of the riffs on Kill ’Em All and even some of Ride the Lightning. Without Dave Mustaine, maybe thrash metal never would have happened. At least in the beginning, he was the driving force, artistically.
A day or two later, I woke up, drove to the Music Building saw Cliff standing outside having a smoke. “What’s up?”
“Nothing. What’s going on?” I answered, figuring it was just another day.
“Not much. We fired Dave. He’s on a Greyhound back to San Francisco.”
I laughed because Cliff was always being sarcastic and busting balls.”Yeah, that’s funny,” I said. “Look, I have to go work with my amp. I’m not real happy with the tone. I’ll see you upstairs.”
“I’m totally serious,” he said. “Go upstairs to the room right now and talk to James and Lars.”
I went upstairs, looked around, and didn’t see Dave anywhere. “What’s going on?”
“Didn’t Cliff tell you?” James said.
“Yeah, but he’s lying, right?”
“No, we fired Dave this morning,”
I still figured that was impossible and they were playing a trick on me. “You’re f–king serious?”
“We’re totally serious,” said Lars.
I said, “Holy s–t. You have gigs coming up and you’re making an album next month. Does Johnny Z know?”
“Yeah, we told him a couple days ago,” Lars continued. “We made him promise not to say anything. We didn’t want Dave to find out. We didn’t know what he would do.”
They had the whole operation planned out with the precision of a military air strike. It turned out that L’Amour show with the Rods was Dave’s final straw. They purchased a one-way bus ticket back to LA and waited for a night when Dave got really drunk, which they knew wouldn’t be long. There was a Greyhound station almost next door to the Music Building, they woke him up while he was still mostly incoherent and fired him. He had passed out in his clothes, so they didn’t have to help him get dressed. They just collected his stuff, which they had mostly packed in a bag already, and literally put him on the bus before he understood what was happening. Then they made plans to send him his gear.
I was standing there with my jaw open, speechless, and Cliff walked back in. “See, I told you,” he said.
“Well, what are you going to do about your shows and the record?”
“We have a guy coming in from this San Francisco band, Exodus,” Lars said. “He’s flying in and joining the band. He already knows most of the songs, and he’s learning the leads.”
When he got there, Kirk Hammett was a f–king trouper. Everyone’s attitude in Metallica and Anthrax at that point was, “F–k, put me on a park bench with a newspaper on top of me. I don’t care. We’re making a record.”
I was nineteen. Everyone else was around the same age. We didn’t give a f–k about anything except making music, whatever it took. But adapting to that lifestyle was harder for Kirk than for any of the other guys. He was certainly the most sensitive of the four of them. Sometimes the stress of living like that would show. Back in San Francisco, he was in a band that was starting to happen, and he had a place to stay. He wasn’t living in a filthy rehearsal squat. But he never complained or got angry. He was probably the nicest guy I’d ever met, and he never, ever changed, even with all the money and fame. He’s still the same sweet kid I met the day after he arrived from SF.
Once I got done helping Kirk acclimate to the luxuries of South Jamaica, it was time to focus again on Anthrax. We decided “Soldiers of Metal” would be the song to introduce us to the world because it had that barreling double bass that delivered a knockout combination along with the guitars, bass and vocals. But the demos all sounded flat. We needed someone to produce it properly. Tom Browne was a huge Manowar fan, so he introduced me to their guitarist, Ross the Boss. I didn’t know much about Manowar, but I kind of liked the first album. It was cool that they had Orson Welles narrating “Dark Avenger.” I thought the image of them in loincloths holding swords was a bit gay, but Ross was in the Dictators, and I was a big Dictators fan. I told Ross we wanted to make a quality demo, and he said, “Let me produce it for you; I’ve been doing it for years.”
So in early 1983 I used $1,500 that I saved up from work to go into this really good studio in Long Island, Sonic Studios, with Ross and record five songs. Like I said, I was always paying. [Original Anthrax singer] Neil Turbin was a cheap motherf–ker, Lilker never had money, and even though [original Anthrax lead guitarist Dan] Spitz had some cash he never wanted to spend it on Anthrax. We re- corded “Soldiers of Metal” along with some old songs we had already recorded with [original drummer] Greg [D’Angelo] but that had a different feel with Charlie playing. We tracked the music in two days, and Neil sang his vocals on the third day. It was a solid five-song demo, the best thing we had done.
From ‘I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy from Anthrax’ by Scott Ian with John Wiederhorn. Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.