Metallica was for a long time assumed to be the biggest metal band worldwide, but in 2019, it was confirmed after the numbers came in; since 1982, the band had sold almost 22.1 million tickets and raked in $1.4 billion. The success can be attributed to the band’s commitment to producing great music, and every time Lars Ulrich is asked what his favorite record is, he insists it is the one they are yet to release. The band’s music could be due to the rigorous selection of members. The band has changed its lineup through the years, and they always sought unique talent for replacement. You can tell they are very keen about who gets to join the band going by the time Les Claypool tried out for Metallica in 1986. He remembers that day and has a great laugh about it because it was not what he expected. Let’s tell you what happened.
The Death of Cliff Burton Leaves an Opening
Cliff Burton was in another band when he caught the eye of Ulrich and James Hetfield. The way Burton used a wah-wah pedal captivated the two Metallica members; thus, they asked Burton to join them. In 1983, Burton became a member of Metallica and was featured in the band’s “Megaforce” demo. In March 1986, Metallica released “Master of Puppets,” their third studio album, which became the first to be certified gold.
By September 1986, they were doing a tour across Europe to promote the album. According to Express, Burton and Kirk Hammett, the band’s lead guitarist, playfully disagreed on where to sleep. They decided to resolve by dealing cards; Burton drew the Ace of Spades, meaning he would sleep in the bunk bed at the back, and Hammer had to sleep at the front. Unfortunately, early in the morning, they heard the tires screeching. The driver lost control of the bus causing it to flip over on its side. Burton had preferred the top bunk, and when the bus overturned, he was thrown out of the window, resulting in the bus lying on top of him. His legs were sticking out from beneath the bus, and when a crane came to the rescue, it accidentally dropped the bus again in Burton. Hammett believed the bus driver was drunk, but an investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. The band returned to America without a bassist; hence the search for Burton’s replacement began.
Claypool Tries out for Metallica
According to Loudwire, Hammett and Claypool were childhood friends. When the band recorded “Ride the Lightning,” Hammett even gave Claypool a copy. Therefore, since they were still in touch, Hammett invited him to audition for the bassist vacancy. At the time, Claypool had no idea how big the band was, neither was he interested in heavy metal music. All he knew was that his friend needed help, and he would not disappoint.
He got to the audition with his bass banjo, and as he told Loudersoud, he did not fit in with the band’s style. While the band members all wore black, Claypool donned different-colored tennis shoes, skater pants, and a bleach-blond Mohawk. He carried on with the audition but could tell that only Ulrich was interested in his act. The rest maybe were still shaken by Burton’s death, but the bassist noticed Hetfield was unmoved and was probably not going to give him a chance. Still, after the audition, Claypool fantasized about touring with Metallica in Japan. Unfortunately, that remained to be a dream because he did not bag the role. Regardless of the missed opportunity, the bassist thought it was for the best because he could not picture himself lasting for a month or two before being fired. Later on, in “Behind the Music,” Hetfield disclosed that they did not hire Claypool because he was too good, and it was better if the bassist went on to pursue his own career. However, Claypool felt that Hetfield thought of him as a thug who would not fit in with the band.
The Rejection Was a Blessing in Disguise
According to iHeart Radio, at the time Claypool was invited to audition for Metallica, he was already struggling to get the right lineup for his new band, Primus. He had begun by playing in Blind Illusion with Larry Lalonde, who would become Primus’ future guitarist. The ambitious bassist quit Blind Illusion to form primate with Todd Huth and Jay lane. They later changed from Primate to Primus, and the members were also replaced: Huth with Lalonde and Lane with Tim Alexander. The band grew to gain mainstream airplay, and as published by My Hero, GuitarWorld Magazine voted Claypool as the best and most unorthodox bassist of all time.
While Claypool stamped his authority in the world of rock music, he would not have scaled the heights were it not for Hammett, who believed in him. He revealed to Revolver Magazine that they had bonded in 10th grade during algebra classes. Hammett dreamed of forming a band and would show Claypool pictures of his dream guitar, the Fender Telecaster. The Metallica guitarist told Claypool that he would want him to join his future band as a singer. Hammett kept his word, and when he formed a band, Claypool was called upon to audition for the frontman role. He had to sing “Sunshine of Your Love,” but the bassist was too shy to do it. Instead of giving up on being in a band, Claypool decided to try his hand in bass guitars. The pictures that Hammett had been showing him were engrained in Claypool’s mind and had piqued his interest. Thus due to his embarrassment to sing, playing bass guitar was the only way out, and he opted to audition for another band as a bassist. Needless to say, that was where his talent lay all along, and he has been using it since then to appease the fans. He was even honored by the city of Cincinnati, whose mayor John Cranley declared June 12, 2018, “Les Claypool Day.”