The Untold Truth Of Metallica's Kirk Hammett

Before he became the lead guitarist for the most famous heavy metal band of all time, Kirk Hammett was born on November 18, 1962, in San Francisco, California. When he was still a teenager, he was an active member of the blossoming Bay Area thrash metal scene, which Metallica would eventually become the face of. Hammett was in another band before he was recruited to join Metallica in 1983, and together they released "Kill 'Em All," an influential album that helped define the new direction American heavy metal would go in for decades to come. The band released definitive album after definitive album throughout the 1980s, establishing Hammett as one of the great metal guitar soloists of the era. And while Metallica went through numerous creative changes over the years, one thing that remained constant was Hammett's signature six-string style.

But there's quite a bit more to Hammett than simply being the lead guitarist for Metallica. There's a plethora of fascinating bits from his personal life that even the most hardcore fans may not be aware of. In addition to his role in the band, he's branched out into other, more niche areas that have been largely dwarfed by his main music gig. Here is the untold truth of Metallica's Kirk Hammett.

He's a big fan of comics books

This may be a bit of a surprise to those who only know Kirk Hammett as a professional headbanger, but he actually has a fun, youthful side to him. If anything, his heavy metal job allows him to retain his more innocent pastimes. Following the success of their 1986 album, "Master of Puppets," Hammett was interviewed by Thrasher Magazine, wherein he stated, "Now I get to buy the comics I've been wanting since I was a little kid. I can pay more attention now to my hobbies. When I was younger, I was always into comics and I never had enough money to buy 'Fantastic Four' #1, which I just got today, because of the price." Hammett also revealed in this interview that his comic book obsession was healthier than spending his money on booze and drugs. Who can fault that line of thinking?

Because of his lifelong love for comic books, is it any wonder that Hammett would eventually write a comic book himself? On March 1, 2022, AMC Networks announced the launch of AMC Networks Publishing, which will release fan-focused specialty books. Hammett is slated to work with co-writer Marcel Feldmar on the comic book "Nights of Lono," a horror-mystery series that, according to a press release, "tells the story of a troubled female detective in 1989 Hawaii who is hired to find King Kamehameha's tomb before it is discovered by an unscrupulous occultist from the mainland."

He's a huge horror memorabilia collector

In addition to his ginormous comic book collection, Kirk Hammett also has a ginormous horror memorabilia collection that consists largely of billboards, posters, placards, and lobby cards. While he collects memorabilia from a wide range of horror movies, he's most passionate about anything related to the classic Universal monsters like Dracula, the Mummy, and Frankenstein's Monster. Hammett told Rolling Stone that his obsession started in 1987 when he started amassing posters from cult horror movies of the era. However, it was with his purchase of an original "Bride of Frankenstein" half-sheet that he really got into the hobby. "When the thing arrived at my house, it was an eye-opening moment because it truly turned my head around because of how cool it was — the graphics, the smell of it, the patina of age. Not to mention that it was also one of my favorite horror movies of all time. I put the poster up on a huge pedestal and I just started buying all the older stuff."

Not one to keep his interests a secret, Hammett shared his assemblage of horror movie memorabilia with the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, in 2020. The exhibition, called "It's Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection," featured over 100 pieces from his personal collection, giving viewers a unique look at the evolution of horror cinema art over the last century.

His love of horror movies has influenced his guitar playing

Other than a preoccupation with dark subject matter, there might not seem to be much overlap between horror movies and heavy metal. But for Kirk Hammett, blending the two is an obvious move, largely because he became interested in music and horror movies almost contemporaneously. He told Guitar World, "I saw my first horror movie when I was 5 years old. It was 'The Day of the Triffids.' Also, I remember, at 4 or 5 years old, being aware of music and the radio, and my sister going around singing Beatles songs. So, I think they both kind of crystallized inside of me around the same time." For anyone who's seen his horror movie-influenced guitars, the marriage between his two passions is apparent.

But Hammett's passion for spooky cinema has impacted his guitar work at a much deeper level than that of cool body designs. His 2022 solo EP, "Portals," is a striking departure from the music he's made with Metallica, opting for a more atmospheric movie soundtrack vibe that pays tribute to his other passion. Hammett revealed to Guitar World that the first two tracks from the record — "Maiden and the Monster" and "The Jinn" — were written specifically for the exhibition that featured works from his massive horror movie poster assortment, "It's Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection."

His guitar instructor was another iconic guitarist

Kirk Hammett's blindingly fast fingers, electrifying licks, and copious use of the wah pedal have made him a bona fide heavy metal guitar hero. However, he wasn't born an ax god; no, Hammett got plenty of help from another figure well known to shred fans: Joe Satriani. Despite Hammett's renowned status, he has nothing but good things to say about his old guitar instructor, telling Guitar World that, "All that stuff that he taught me way back is still with me to this day. That stuff will always be a part of me, and it'll never ever go away because it's intrinsic in the way I express myself, and I'm so grateful to Joe for giving me those tools."

In an interview with Kylie Olsson, Satriani stated that even though Hammett was well into his tenure with Metallica in the 1980s, he still took lessons twice a week. But does Satriani reciprocate the good will that Hammett expressed toward him after all these years? Absolutely. "He was so motivated; he was such a good student," Satriani told Olsson. "He knew exactly what he wanted and he was really hungry. So, it was great. And he was actually my very last student; the very last lesson I gave in early January of '88 was to Kirk, and then the next day I was off becoming a solo artist for the first time in my life."

He once lost his phone – which contained 250 song ideas

During a 2019 appearance on The Jasta Show, Kirk Hammett revealed that he had misplaced his phone and had been looking for it for the previous six months. But it wasn't just to reclaim old photos or text messages — this phone had rough recordings of 250 song ideas in it. What's worse is that he lost the phone during the period that Metallica was working on the next album after 2008's "Death Magnetic." Hammett told Jamey Jasta that, of the 250 riffs that are now gone, "I can only remember, like, eight of them. So I just chalked it down to, 'Maybe it just wasn't meant to be,' and I'll just move forward." He also left musicians with some hard-won sage wisdom: "All you musicians out there who use your phone, make sure it's backed up, right?"

Unfortunately, Hammett's loss resulted in him not getting a writing credit on the album "Hardwired... to Self-Destruct," something that's never happened on a Metallica record. The guitarist didn't take the situation well, telling KISW 99.9 (via Louder Sound), "It was devastating for me. I had to start at zero again while everyone else had material for songs." However, that didn't stop Hammett from putting a positive spin on the situation: "I had to think, 'Okay, I have stuff — but it looks like it's going to make it onto the next album." For those keeping score, he did get writing credits on the band's following record, "72 Seasons."

The biggest disappointment of Kirk Hammett's career

Considering how much success Kirk Hammett has achieved as the lead guitarist for Metallica over the last 40 years, it's hard to imagine him looking back on his impressive career and finding anything to be disappointed by. However, during his 2016 appearance on the Word of Wheeler Podcast (via Metalhead Zone), Hammett made a fascinating admission: His biggest regret was the lack of support he and his bandmates received during their fight with Napster in 2000. Hammett said, "I was very disappointed that other musicians who saw our point, they supported us in ways that were less inconvenient to them. ... At the end of the day, I'd like to say what we were doing had some merit — some truth to it. From that point on, everyone who cares has seen the music industry go on this total downward spiral."

For those who don't remember or weren't even born, the controversy saw Metallica sue P2P file sharing service Napster when the company allowed a demo version of their song "I Disappear" to be shared by many users on their platform for free. The band, especially drummer Lars Ulrich, endured harsh blowback from fans who accused them of being greedy. However, Metallica always contended, and rightfully so, that Napster would financially hurt musicians by enabling fans to download their music for free and without the artists' permission. Napster ultimately lost the suit and filed for bankruptcy afterward.

He's a vegetarian

When listening to Metallica's fist-pumping riffs and scorching guitar solos, you'd think the band's members subsisted purely on a diet of large mammals they killed with their bare hands. But despite the primal thrust of their music, their lead guitarist is actually a vegetarian. On the band's official YouTube channel, Kirk Hammett tells a humorous story of how, right after he became a vegetarian in the 1980s, he and the band played a show wherein a fan threw a severed pig's head onstage. Being the animal lover that he is, he wasn't thrilled with that. But that wasn't the only affront to his diet that he faced at that concert; soon after, someone threw a deviled ham sandwich right at his guitar. A picture was taken of an angry Hammett, and that image is on the back of "Master of Puppets," ensuring that his veggie-rage will live on forevermore.

In recent years, Hammett has kept himself busy rockin' with Metallica, but he's also found time to take up gardening to support his vegetarian diet at his homestead in Northern California. He was interviewed in Sunset, where he stated, "I'm way into eating raw fruits and raw vegetables. I stroll out on the grounds and just decide what I'm going to eat right there and then, standing in the midst of all this great stuff. ... I like being in control of what I put into my body. Ground zero for that is growing your own food."

He helped form another influential heavy metal band – before Metallica

Metallica really was the epicenter of the early-1980s thrash metal scene. Most fans of the band know about how they kicked out their first lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, and how he went on to form another massive heavy metal band, Megadeth. Following his departure, Metallica was in need of a replacement, so they turned to Kirk Hammett. The only thing was, he was already in another influential heavy metal band at the time: Exodus.

Hammett looks fondly back on his time with the band, telling Louder Sound that, "We were just trying to find our sound. I remember months in and months out, in Gary's [Holt, guitarist] garage, playing cover songs, trying to write songs that were as good as the songs we were covering, and just finding ourselves through our instruments and our music and just playing together."

But even after his place in Metallica was secure, Hammett kept some remnants from his time with Exodus, reusing a riff he'd written for their song "Impaler" for "Trapped Under Ice." In another interview with Louder Sound, the guitarist said, "They came from songs I had written, music I had written. I consider them my parts. I didn't feel guilty about that, but I did feel guilty about leaving the band I started in high school. ... We're all close to this day, but there was a lot of guilt there for a while. ... But I really felt that Metallica was my calling."

He's an avid surfer

Guitar virtuoso. Comic book collector. Horror movie connoisseur. Surfer?!

Yup, it seems that Kirk Hammett can never have too many hobbies, with surfing being one of his many pastimes. In fact, since he's taken up the water sport, he's become a prominent member of the community and, along with Metallica bandmate and fellow surfer Rob Trujillo, got to be a keynote speaker at Surf Summit 17 in 2014. At the event, which took place in Los Cabos, Mexico, Hammett and Trujillo shared their personal stories of the waves they surfed across the globe and the positive impact that surfing has had on them.

In the same way that Hammett fused his passion for horror movies with his passion for music, he married surfing to music, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. Hammett and co. teamed up with Billabong to release the Billabong x Metallica 2019-2020 Collection, which included t-shirts, boardshorts, wetsuits, and more, all sporting a theme based on a different Metallica album.

He thought his call to audition for Metallica was a prank

Considering that Hammett has been one of the band's most consistent elements since the early 1980s, it's pretty hilarious to learn that his induction into their ranks was actually a bit rocky.

According to Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood's biography "Birth School Metallica Death, Vol. 1," Hammett got a call in 1983 from Exodus' manager Mark Whitaker, who also worked with Metallica, asking him if he wanted to join the band. However, Hammett, having been a fan of Metallica's music for some time, thought the call was a prank. Why? The call was placed on April 1 — April Fool's Day. Hammett asked why they wanted to replace Dave Mustaine, to which Whitaker responded, "He f***ing sucks, man. His tone sucks, his playing... He's a f***ing drunk." Eager to prepare for his audition, Hammett snagged himself a copy of the band's "No Life 'Til Leather" and quickly learned its songs. The rest is heavy metal history.

Because Hammett was a founding member of Exodus at the time, his departure left a big hole in the band. However, their other guitarist, Gary Holt, saw it as an opportunity to step up and take more creative control over the band's direction, resulting in Exodus cultivating their own devoted following.

Kirk Hammett went to high school with Les Claypool

Les Claypool has carved out a name for himself as one of the most talented and original bassists in rock music. He's most famous for forming Primus, a band that has fused funk, alternative, and experimental elements into a sound that's hard to describe but easy to enjoy. However, Claypool has also kept himself busy over the years with a variety of other musical projects, including his Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and Fancy Band. But before that, he went to school with a young Kirk Hammett. In an interview with Revolver, Claypool said, "Kirk was an interesting guy in high school. ... I think a lot of people didn't even realize they went to school with the guitar player from Metallica — you know, he was a very unassuming person."

It's surprising to know that the person who would go on to become the lead guitarist for the biggest heavy metal band of all time started off as just a normal teenager. However, there is one aspect about him when he was young that shouldn't surprise anyone: his love of guitars. Claypool told Kerrang that, "When I was in ninth grade I had an algebra class. There was a guy sat behind me, a Filipino guy who always wore Coke bottle glasses and a white T-shirt, and he would show me pictures of what he hoped would be his future guitar... He was always talking about how he was gonna have this band..."

Hammett's deep love for the band UFO

UFO is a hard rock band who, despite some moderate mainstream success in their career, never achieved the heights of many of their contemporaries. However, that has never stopped them from influencing generations of young rock musicians. In fact, their most famous fan is most likely Metallica's Kirk Hammett, who's made no secret of his love for the band, particularly the guitar stylings of UFO ax man Michael Schenker. Hammett recounted to Guitar World his experience listening to them for the first time, saying that, "I was just blown away by Michael Schenker's tone, phrasing, and technique. ... From that point on I knew there was an entire rock vocabulary out there that was not just based on pentatonic scales, and I set out to learn as many Schenker solos as possible while trying to write heavy riffs just like UFO."

In what surely must have been a bucket-list moment for Hammett, the guitarist actually got to perform with UFO at the Avalon theater in Hollywood as part of the Megacruise pre-cruise party in 2019. He played two songs with them, "Doctor Doctor" and "Shoot Shoot," essentially filling in for his idol, Schenker.