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Music

The life-affirming moment James Hetfield met his hero Brian May

As an outfit, Metallica needs no real introduction. Thrash metal pioneers, who took metal stratospheric over the 1980s and ‘90s, they’re one of the biggest bands on the planet, and have inspired countless bands, and will continue to do so as long as their music is readily available. 

Whilst each of the band’s members is iconic in their own right, you cannot doubt that they would not be the same band without frontman James Hetfield. A commanding figure with an unmistakable voice to boot, he also doubles up as a legendary axeman, which not many musicians can claim to do. 

Although Hetfield cites everyone from Venom to Sex Pistols as his heroes, it also turns out that he’s a huge fan of another one of the biggest bands of all time, Queen. Even if this may sound surprising, when you heed the British band’s penchant for dynamics and wailing guitars, you understand just why Hetfield loves them. Duly, he has a particular affinity for Queen guitarist, Brian May, who is one of the most unique six-string players of all time. 

In an interview with Metallica’s official YouTube channel in 2017, Hetfield explained his love for Queen and Brian May, and an anecdote from when he met the legendary rocker after a show. 

He said: “Queen has been a huge inspiration in the early days for me guitar-wise, especially Brian May. Just watching Brian May, there was a moment in the show (during) ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, it was like this rock and roll dream I was looking at. I was right on, right at the sound desk looking at him. Long ramp, he popped out of the middle just before his solo, there’s smoke, there’s a light behind him. His white hair, you know, this big white aura around him.”

Hetfield continued his recollection: “He rises up out of the stage and he is doing the solo and he is in a giant silver cape from the seventies look. Kirk and I just looked at each other like ‘Holy Shit! This is awesome! Total fanboys at that point. Then after the show (laughs), Brian May, he says ‘I’m wondering if Kirk likes what I’m playing”. Then Kirk and I looked at each other again and went ‘Huh?’.”

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The excitement didn’t end there, and the pair were about to get their chance to lay their hands on one of the most iconic instruments in the history of rock. The Metallica frontman explained:

“We met his roadie and we were all hanging out, he had this guitar on his back and he said ‘I know some of your crew guys’ and this and that. And I’m thinking ‘What’s that on your back, It’s that ‘The Guitar’?’ He says ‘Oh yeah’. I said ‘Ok, is there any way possible that I can take a look at it?’ and he goes ‘Hey Bri, is that ok?’ and then Brian says ‘Oh sure, yeah’.”

Then Hetfield got the opportunity to hold one of the guitars that had inspired them as kids: “So he takes it out, opens it up and I’m jamming on Brian May’s ‘old girl’. (The) original guitar that him and his dad made when he was 18 years old and he still has it on tour and still plays it every night. It was spectacular. Then Brian leans on to me and he is taking selfies and it was like ‘Oh my God!’ Can’t wipe that smile off my face, it was extremely cool”.

“So we all got to play Brian’s guitar. Just a super, super memorable and redundantly unforgettable moment. Hopefully, if I’m alive at 70, (I wanna be) that cool and that down to earth, just giving and loving life. He is so serene and a big inspiration as far as all that goes,” Hetfield concluded.

An incredible tale, and one to tell the grandchildren, I don’t think many people can claim to have played Brian May’s iconic ‘Old Girl’.

Listen to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ below.