Metallica are heavyweights of metal. Regarded as masters of their craft, and given their extensive and highly successful careers, their opinions on all things musical are prized. Take the reasoning behind their recent MasterClass lesson, for instance. Legions of fans hail the band as heroes and actively seek out what James Hetfield and Co. have to say, a testament to the illustrious career of the San Francisco outfit.
However, it wasn’t always this way. Naturally, during the 1980s, Metallica were a band of unruly upstarts, and it’s only the passage of time and experience that has given them the maturity and wisdom that their fans hold so dear. In 1986, they toured with their hero, Ozzy Osbourne, and guitarist Kirk Hammett feared that they might end up being kicked off the run of dates due to some youthful recklessness.
During a recent interview with Gibson’s Icons, Hammett revealed all. He explained that at that point, touring with the former lead singer of Black Sabbath was “huge”. Aside from being a huge Black Sabbath fan, Hammett was also a big supporter of Ozzy’s solo material and his late guitarist, Randy Rhoads. In addition to this, Hammett disclosed that Metallica’s bassist, Cliff Burton, was also a huge Sabbath fan and that for him, “It really, really meant a lot – I think more to him than anyone else.”
During soundcheck, Burton would play Sabbath riffs in the hope of catching Ozzy’s attention. Eventually, it worked. The band were playing ‘Hole in the Sky’ or maybe ‘Symptom of the Universe’, and Ozzy responded.
Hammett recalled: “And all of a sudden, out in front of the stage there’s Ozzy with a big ole smile, going, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’ And oh my god, it was amazing for us to be acknowledged by Ozzy during that soundcheck!” Understandably, Burton beamed from ear to ear, and from then on, Burton would frequently speak to Ozzy about Sabbath.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. The band were told by Ozzy’s wife and manager, Sharon, that at no point were they to drink around him. The band obliged, but before too long, the recovering Ozzy would be on the hunt for alcohol. During a pit stop, everyone got off their buses, apart from Ozzy. However, shortly after, Osbourne walked off his bus and straight onto Metallica’s, asking Burton if he had any beer, to which Burton responded: “Yes, right there, help yourself”. After everyone returned to the bus, Ozzy was found enjoying a drink with Metallica, much to their alarm. They thought: “Holy shit! What are we gonna do?”.
The band were at their wit’s end, and they had no idea of how to get out of the mess they found themselves. Hammett said: “I remember at one point, our tour manager went off the bus, went on to Ozzy’s bus, grabbed their tour manager, and said, ‘We’re in a real situation here. Got to get Ozzy off our bus’.”
Thankfully, things quickly sorted themselves out: “After about ten minutes, their tour manager came on and said, ‘Oz, we’re about to leave!’ And Oz was like, ‘Oh… But I want to ride with them!’ And the manager going, ‘Ozzy, we need to ride, we need to be together.’ And Ozzy left.”
The band were sure that they’d be kicked off the tour for being so reckless around Ozzy. He didn’t say what exactly, but Hammett concluded his account by stating: “And there are actually a couple of situations where we thought we were going to get kicked off the tour, but we weren’t.”
Luckily for Metallica, they saw the tour out with their hero, and it provided them with some much-needed experience for the major leagues that they’d enjoy at the end of the decade. Tragically though, Cliff Burton wouldn’t live to see 1987, but in his lifetime, he became a metal legend, a fine way to bow out. He lives on through his stellar music and brilliant anecdotes such as this.
Watch Hammett discuss the tour with Ozzy below.