Metallica Is Hardwired to Arizona — Here's Why

Arizona is ground zero for so many of the important events in this band’s juggernaut career.
Arizona is ground zero for so many of the important events in this band’s juggernaut career.
Photo by Ross Halpin

Thrashnicks the world over know Metallica is the biggest of the Big Four. But how actually gargantuan is Metallica in the non-headbanging world? Billboard recently named them the third best-selling group in the SoundScan era. Since 1991, the band has moved 54.26 million units, just behind Garth Brooks at 69.52 million and that other unstoppable foursome The Beatles at 65.55 million.

Metallica’s recent Hardwired ... to Self-Destruct sold over a mil in these United States, and it’s the band’s 12th consecutive album to do so since the 16 million sales of their 1991 self-titled album. Metallica still sells about 2,000 to 3,000 per week.

While San Francisco claims the transplanted Metallica as their own, Arizona is ground zero for so many of the important events in this band’s juggernaut career. Here’s why.

Dave Mustaine lived here.
In 1994, former Metallica lead guitarist Mustaine literally put his band and Arizona on the map by launching what is believed to be the very first official band website, designed to look like a travel postcard to Megadeth, AZ. Mustaine, who lives to answer the question, “How much do you have to drink to get kicked out of a band nicknamed Alcoholica?”, relocated here with his band. Mustaine thought the move would make it easier for Megadeth members to be with their families and record their next album. Soon, the band began bickering and underwent group therapy sessions, which drove Mustaine to start drinking again. The new record had to be put on hold while its leader entered rehab. Sound some kinda familiar?

Jason Newsted lived here.
When bassist Cliff Burton was killed in Metallica’s tragic tour bus crash in 1986, many big-name players were considered to replace him. Flotsam & Jetsam bassist Newsted won the slot because he was able to learn the band’s current setlist song by song, thanks in no small part through intervention from Flotsam’s tour manager and future creator of Heavy Metal Television, Eric Braverman.

Though joining Metallica meant moving to the Bay Area, you couldn’t keep Newsted away from Arizona. His side project Copper Biscuits played one of its only two gigs at the Mason Jar in 1992. And when Newsted married his first wife, Judy Talbot, in Peoria, Illinois, he returned to Arizona to honeymoon at The Wigwam in Litchfield Park, a fact corroborated by Braverman, who was best man at the wedding.

Metallica played America West Arena before Charles Barkley did.
Before the paint dried on America West Arena (now Talking Stick Resort Arena), the venue was stress-tested with two shows by Metallica on June 10 and 11, 1992. (George Strait preceded them on June 6.) No other artist with the exception of Bruce Springsteen has played a two-night stand at the arena.

James Hetfield went to rehab in Arizona, allegedly.
James Hetfield allowed all the world to see some of the most embarrassing sessions with their sensitivity coach Dr. Phil (Towne) in Some Kinda Monster. But the specifics regarding Hetfield’s two 2012 rehab stints during the making of the documentary remain a mystery. Confidants close to the band have hinted that he sought rehabilitation in Tucson and Wickenburg.

They filmed their most expensive music video in Monument Valley.
The band were first photographed at the Arizona/Utah border for use in the 1988-89 tour program, but returned there in 2000 to shoot the music video for “I Disappear,” Metallica’s contribution to the Mission: Impossible 2 movie. Plopped atop an enormous unscalable rock structure by helicopter, the band performed while intercutting with scenes of Tom Cruise rock climbing and the foursome re-creating more famous expensive movie action sequences. Clearly, this had an influence on their self-financed 2013 IMAX concert and action movie hybrid Metallica: Through the Never. How much did the “I Disappear” video cost? The conservative estimate is more than the $3.4 million Through the Never earned, but much less than the $20 million it lost.

Metallica Is Hardwired to Arizona — Here's Why
Courtesy of Killing Time Productions

The first full-length Metallica documentary (Metallimania) was filmed here in 1996.
The band’s 30-years-running fan magazine So What originated here, so it was natural that the band’s first documentary should also be also made here. Filmed by local company Killing Time Productions at the behest of the band itself, it features the aforementioned Braverman antagonizing drunk and tweaked-out Metallica fans for 100 minutes, no acolyte more lit than the crazed fan who sidestepped Sandman and stayed up five days straight to come up with this assessment of The Black Album: “There’s nothing I don’t enjoy about it. But there’s nothing I enjoy about it.”

Lars Ulrich’s crusade against Napster led to the prosecution of an Arizona music pirate.
On September 2, 2008, Metallica’s Death Magnetic leaked online after a French record store reportedly sold copies of the CD 10 days ahead of the album’s official worldwide release date. By then, Napster nemesis Lars Ulrich softened his file-sharing stance: “Ten days out and it hasn’t quote-unquote fallen off the truck yet? Everybody’s happy. It’s 2008 and it’s part of how it is these days, so it’s fine.”

During that same 24-hour period in Arizona, Scottsdale resident Jeffrey Howell was one of the few copyright infringers the Record Industry Association of America actually went after and won a settlement from. Howell was ordered to pay $40,850 for copying tracks from CDs he bought and inadvertently shared over the Kazaa network. It didn’t help that Howell acted as his own lawyer and wiped his hard drive, thereby destroying the evidence.

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Kirk Hammett’s Classic Monsters came from Arizona.
Metallica staged their own financially disastrous Orion Music + More Festival in 2012 (Atlantic City) and 2013 (Detroit). On the festival grounds, each Metallica member had a designated area dedicated to celebrating his interest. Horror fan Hammett had “Kirk’s Crypt,” displaying monsters that were even scarier than the band’s penchant for losing millions putting on festivals. Hammett imported many of the monsters from designer Kyle Thompson of Midnight Studios FX, based here in the Valley. Thompson also contributed to Hammett’s stand-alone horror convention "Fear FestEvil," which he staged to show the band he could lose money on his own. Like Orion, there was no third Fear FestEvil. Hammett presumably was too busy looking for the phone he lost that contained the 250-ish riffs he would’ve contributed to Metallica’s last album. Pretty scary, eh, kids?

The guy who supplies all Metallica’s guitars lives in Phoenix.
Chris Canella’s the director of artist relations and product management for ESP Guitars and lead vocalist and guitarist for Autumn’s End. He lives in Arizona with his family but commutes three days a week to North Hollywood and then delivers all of Hetfield and Hammett’s guitars to San Francisco (because it’s still less of a hassle than living in Los Angeles).

The Metallica “Live at Joe’s Crab Shack” in Tucson hoax.
Although not quite as compelling a hoax as Smash Mouth appearing in the dumpster behind Gelson’s Market or Sugar Ray appearing at Ross Dress for Less, a Facebook page announced that Metallica would appear at Joe’s Crab Shack in Tucson on August 7 and 9, 2016. The news drew fans who were promised Metallica would play all the band’s albums in their entirety while fans feasted on a buffet of crab legs. Although Joe’s had been closed for years, the ruse managed to draw people to the very active Los Betos, where lunchtime Metallica fans skipped their “Hero of the Day” hoping to find one of five golden tickets in random carne asada burritos.

James Hetfield performed guitar-less at Phoenix International Raceway.
The joint 1992 tour with Guns 'N' Roses yielded many disasters, including the August 8 show at Montreal's Olympic Stadium when Hetfield's arm was blasted by a fountain of flames and he suffered second- and third-degree burns. When the tour resumed at Phoenix International Raceway on August 25, Hetfield sported a thick elbow-to-finger bandage and former Metallica roadie and Metal Church guitarist John Marshall filled in on rhythm guitar for the rest of the tour. “It sucks,” Hetfield later said. “A lot of our songs have some pretty long instrumental bits; it’s like, ‘What the hell am I going to do here? Head back stage, do some laundry?'" (Now he knows how fans feel singing Metallica songs at karaoke.)

In a grim footnote, Jonas Jolly, 19, a Tucson fan, drowned trying to cross the rain-swollen Gila River to avoid the massive traffic jam exiting the concert.

James Hetfield appeared at Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona on May 12, 2011.
He didn't just appear there like the face of Christ in a tortilla. No, Hetfield was part of a Q&A session following a screening of the award-winning documentary Absent, which explored the impact of absentee fathers. And this year, Hetfield lent his voice to Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly, a documentary that had its world premiere in Tucson.

Metallica is scheduled to play University of Phoenix Stadium with Avenged Sevenfold on Friday, August 4. Tickets are $55 and up via Ticketmaster.

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