METALLICA's Lars Ulrich & Kirk Hammett Recall Jason Newsted's Audition Process After Cliff Died
On September 27, 1986, Metallica bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a bus accident in Kronoberg County, Sweden. The band purposefully gave themselves little time to grieve and recruited then-Flotsam & Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted. Metallica was still touring on the Master Of Puppets album at the time, meaning Newsted had to learn the songs and also would eventually contribute to …And Justice For All.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lars Ulrich & Kirk Hammett discuss what it was like the days after Cliff died, and what the process was for recruiting Newsted. They also reveal that Newsted's audition tape will be available in the remastered version of Master Of Puppets, which is out today everywhere.
Ulrich: Yeah, we didn't know what was up, down or sideways, and we decided that the smartest thing we could do was to keep going. We laid Cliff to rest a week or two after the accident, and then there wasn't five minutes after that [to process it] because if we slowed down, we were afraid we were going to disappear into nothingness or go so far into the abyss that we wouldn't be able to pull ourselves up. So I called a few people, including [Metal Blade Records founder] Bian Slagel, and said, "Who are the guys out there that were the hot bass players?" And we set up auditions the week after Cliff's funeral.
Hammett: It was weird. We were all very nervous about the first show back. Things sounded good in rehearsal, and we were wondering if Jason would be able to cut it live. You can rehearse with someone 'til the cows come home, but once you go on tour, and being away from home and playing shows, that's what really separates the men from the boys. There are no manuals or training courses. And Jason was good at it. He really rose to the occasion.
Ulrich: Jason had this incredibly useful positive energy and was like a fireball. He came in and was gung-ho and ready; he just had the right attitude, the chemistry and his personality and approach to his instrument were really unique. And he could not have been more of a 180 from Cliff, so it wasn't like were getting a "Cliff Junior" replacement. I remember having a gut feeling that Jason was the one to beat.
Newsted went on to make more money than he can spend in his lifetime. The entire interview is worth reading. There are a lot of great details about that era of the band, including Cliff's final show with Metallica:
Ulrich: We’d finished playing all the “odeons” in England, which are these old, 3,000-seat movie theaters and we got to Scandinavia where they were more like ice-hockey holes – smaller, colder, darker. It was a different vibe. We played the show in Stockholm, and it went incredibly well. I think it may have been a rare case where we actually played an additional song that wasn’t on the set list, because the show was so good. That’s not something we did a lot then or now. So there was a good vibe.
Hammett: It was significant because it was the first show where James played guitar again [after hurting his arm in a skateboard accident. He strapped on a guitar and was able to play the encore; I think it was “Blitzkrieg” or something. But I remember the five of us, including [temporary replacement guitarist] John Marshall, being really stoked James was back and playing and looking like was gonna make a pretty healthy recovery. I distinctly remember that show being good, and the feeling when we got offstage was really great and positive and forward-looking. Like, “Great, James is back in and it won’t be long ’til we’re back to our old selves again.” It was that kind of mood after the show and then the accident happened and it literally felt like we were going from a hopeful sort of circumstance to one where we found ourselves in into a deep, black pit.
Ulrich: We did a lot of press that day, and we did a photo shoot for a Swedish magazine called OK, which was almost like a teenybopper magazine. We were sitting on the bus afterwards, talking about how cool it was, and Cliff and I were hanging out, having a beer. It’s a little fuzzy now but it was a good day.
Hammett: I remember right when we were about to leave in the bus, the fans started running towards us. And Cliff said, “Look at them. They look like zombies!” He was way into zombies. We were all just kind of laughing. Then we started playing cards. And we had a long, long drive. And everyone knows the rest of it.
Read the rest here.