In this exclusive SHOCKWAVES interview, original METALLICA bassist Ron McGovney tells the true-life stories about the early days of one of the biggest rock'n'roll bands in the world
By Pounding Pat O' Connor
The stories about Metallica's "garage" days have been grossly distorted through the years. Rather than rambling through yet another introductory tale of the "History of Metallica", we here at SHOCKWAVES thought you might wanna get the scoop directly from the source. Here, for the first time in print, original bassist RON McGOVNEY sets the record straight!
Was it at Downey Elementary where you first met James Hetfield? "The first time I met James was at East Middle School, I believe it was in music class. James was the only guy in the class who could play guitar."
How did you become friends? Was it the common interest in music? "When we first started high school, which was September of '77, everybody had their little clique - there was the cheerleaders, the jocks, the marching band people.... and you end up with the laggers hanging around without any real social group, and that included James and I. We actually got stuck at the same lockers, and we just started hanging out. At that time I wasn't really into heavy metal or hard rock, I was an Elvis freak... I was devastated when he died. I was into bands like the Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top, The Eagles...things like that. And James' favorite band at the time was Aerosmith - he was a total Steven Tyler freak. And our friend Dave Marrs was a total Kiss freak. Dave Marrs, Jim Keshil, James and I started hanging out and they would make fun of the music I listened to, so in return, I would tell them Kiss sucks and Aerosmith sucks and it went back and forth -we did this in class all the time."
During Junior High did James have ideas of being in a band? "I knew James in junior high but didn't really start hanging out with him till our freshman year in high school. I remember having James in my driver's ed class, James had drawn a big picture of Steven Tyler on his Pee-chee and I wrote 'Fag' across his face, just to piss James off, and he had a fit in class. But then they started getting me into hard-rock, I had been into Foreigner and Boston... bands like that, but then they got me into bands like UFO. I started taking acoustic guitar lessons when I was a fourteen, a freshman in high school."
You had no idea that you were gonna play bass at that time? "No, I knew nothing about bass or any instrument for that matter. I just wanted to learn how to play Dust In The Wind and Stairway To Heaven - that was my goal at the point."
What year was it that James had the idea to form his first band? "That probably was 10th grade, we were sophomores. He got in this band called OBSESSION, which consisted of James on guitar and vocals, Jim Arnold on guitar and vocals, Ron Valoz on bass and vocals, and his brother Rich Valoz played drums. They did all rock/metal cover songs... Never Say Die (Black Sabbath), Rock'n'Roll & Communication Breakdown (Zeppelin), Rock Bottom & Lights Out (UFO), and Highway Star (Deep Purple) which was one of their favorites."
Did James attempt to sing the Zeppelin songs? "Jim Arnold sang the Zeppelin songs. James sang Doctor, Doctor and I think the other UFO songs. Ron Valoz sang on Purple Haze - they would switch off on vocals. I remember when Heaven & Hell (Sabbath) had just come out, they started doing that too as well as Scorpions... They played primarily backyard parties, this was like '79 or '80, we were like 16."
Weren't you a roadie for Obsession? "Yeah. We would go to their practices on Friday and Saturday nights at the Valoz's house on Eastbrook in Downey. The Valoz brothers were like electrical geniuses, they wired up lights all over the place and they built this loft in their garage, Dave Marrs and I would sit up there and work the control panel doing the lights, strobes and stuff... it was like this whole show in a tiny garage."
How long did Obsession stay together? "About a year and a half or so... they broke away from the Valoz brothers, and then James and Jim Arnold and his brother Chris Arnold formed a band called Syrinx, all they played was Rush covers, and that didn't last long."
So this was about the time when James' mom had passed away.... "James' mom had died when we were in 11th grade, 1980, and James had to move to his brother's house in Brea, which was about 20 minutes away from us. He would come down on the weekends for practice."
Did he ever mention that his mom was real sick? "No. We had no idea. He was gone for like 10 days and we had thought he went on vacation. When he told us that his mom had just died, we were stunned. And as he's cleaning out his locker he's telling us that he's got to move in with his brother in Brea."
So you guys got together on weekends... "At the time, James didn't have a band - he had left Syrinx -he would come over to my house and we would jam together with our friend Dave Marrs who tried to play drums - we sounded terrible."
During his senior year at Brea High School didn't James form a new band called "Phantom Lord"? "Let's see... he had hooked up with this guy named Hugh Tanner at Brea Olinda High School and they formed Phantom Lord , but it wasn't really a band, they just got together and jammed but they never did any shows. They didn't have a bass player, and James suggested that I play bass, and I told him 'I don't know how to play bass, I don't even have a bass guitar'. James said 'I'll show you how to play'. So we rented a bass and an amp at Downey music center and James showed me the basics, how to follow him on guitar. So we started jamming in my bedroom - at the time my parents homes were being taken away by the State in order to construct the new (105) freeway. My parents had three rental houses and one of them was empty and they told me I could live in it since it's going to soon be torn down. After we graduated from high school James and I moved into that house and we fixed up the garage into a rehearsal studio. We insulated it and put up dry wall and James painted the rafters black, the ceiling silver, the walls white, and red carpet!"
So this was about June of 1981; is this when Leather Charm was being formed? "Yeah. We jammed with Hugh Tanner for a little while, he was actually a pretty good guitar player, but he decided he wanted to be into music management, so it was back to just me and James. Then we hooked up with a drummer named Jim Mulligan, who James went to school with. We put out an add for a guitar player and a guy named Troy James answered the ad and he joined our band, which was called LEATHER CHARM. We were doing kind of a glam thing, like Motley Crue, Sweet , and this British band called Girl (which featured Phil Lewis and Phil Colin), we did that song Hollywood Tease . We did a bunch of covers as well like Pictured Life from Scorpions, Wrathchild and Remember Tomorrow from Iron Maiden, and Slick Black Cadillac from Quiet Riot (the Randy Rhoads era)."
Was James singing and playing guitar at this time? "No. He wanted to be the singer/frontman so it was just Troy on guitar. We started working on three original tunes, one ended up to be Hit The Lights , which became a Metallica song, another song called Handsome Ransom , and a song called Let's Go Rock'n'Roll . The combined riffs from Handsome Ransom and Let's Go Rock'n'Roll became the Metallica song No Remorse . We never really played any gigs, Mulligan decided he wanted to play more progressive 'Rush' type of music, he was a real good drummer, very technical, and I guess he thought we were a little too heavy or too glam for him at the time."
So this is around mid 1981... is this when James met Lars for the first time? "Yeah. Lars and James hooked up I believe through Hugh Tanner, Hugh brought Lars to our house and I think Troy had already quit the band so James had to go back to playing guitar. When he and Lars first jammed, I thought Lars was the worst drummer I had ever heard in my life! He couldn't keep a beat, and compared to Mulligan, he just couldn't play. So I told James, 'This guy sucks, dude'. And I told them to do whatever they wanted to do and I was just gonna stick to photography, at the time I was taking pictures for bands like Motley Crue. Anyway, Lars would come over and I would watch him and James jam together, and it got better and better but I still didn't feel like getting back into it."
Were you guys working jobs at the time? "I think James was working at a place called Steven Label Corporation in Santa Fe Springs making stickers. He used to bring home all these stickers like 'Danger: Explosives' and 'High Voltage' which we stuck all over our rehearsal studio. I was working for my parents truck repair shop at the time. Lars was still in high school, he was a year behind us. He lived down in Newport Beach so he had to commute from Newport to Norwalk to rehearse with James."
At what time did Lars tell James of the opportunity to be on a record if they formed a band together? "James had told me that they had a guitarist coming over for an audition. I remember opening up the front door and seeing this black dude with a Jamaican accent. He came in and they started jamming to Hit the Lights - the old Leather Charm song. They had this bass player at the time for about 2 or 3 weeks, I believe his name was Glen - he had long black hair - he couldn't really play too good at the time so they kicked him out. Lars had borrowed a 4-track TEAC machine to record a demo. So it was James playing the rhythm guitar riffs and singing, Lars on drums, Lloyd playing the leads, and I played bass."
So Dave Mustaine did not play on the first version of "Hit The Lights" which ended up on the Metal Massacre compilation album? "O.K... I believe on the very first pressing of Metal Massacre, they kept Lloyd's lead tracks, Lloyd actually only came over twice, and then they ended up recruiting Dave Mustaine on guitar - they had kept the ad running in the Recycler, they only planned on using Lloyd as a fill-in. As I remember, Dave played the two leads on Hit The Lights but they kept the second lead which Lloyd played because they liked it better. Now on the second pressing of the Metal Massacre, it was all Dave's leads."
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