Mudvayne and Metallica are both tearing through North America for the remainder of the summer on their respective headlining tours and it was 20 years ago on the Summer Sanitarium tour that the two groups hit the road together.
Speaking with WRIF’s Talkin’ Rock With Meltdown, Gray reflected on first discovering Metallica through an older friend who let him borrow a cassette copy of Ride the Lightning during his school days and talked about Hetfield’s outstanding qualities as a person and a musician.
Mudvayne’s Chad Gray on Hearing Metallica for the First Time
He recalls buying his own copy of Ride the Lightning the day after he first heard it and then was enthused to learn that Metallica had issued another record prior, the Kill ‘Em All debut, and, not long after that, Master of Puppets came out.
“t was a fucking pretty small fucking window of time I had three fucking Metallica records and I was, like, the happiest motherfucker on the planet,” Gray beams (transcription via Blabbermouth) So I always will have a connection with ‘Ride The Lightning’ over the other ones, even though maybe I technically like ‘Master Of Puppets’ better or ‘…[And] Justice [For All]’. But ‘Ride The Lightning’ was my first one.”
Mudvayne’s Chad Gray on James Hetfield
Gray calls Metallica “the sweetest fucking people” and notes how down-to-earth the band’s members are, especially considering their enormous wealth, which is basically, as Jason Newsted said in Some Kind of Monster, “squillions” of dollars. Or, as Gray presumes, “hundred-millionaires.”
“James Hetfield, the king of fucking everything, is the nicest fucking guy,” the Mudvayne frontman continues, sharing a fond personal memory, “I remember one time I was in the hallway and he comes walking out of his dressing room. I just stand there, and we just start shooting the shit — you know, very small talk. I think it was the first time I talked to him. Next thing we’re talking vocals and shit like that. I’m talking fucking singing with James Hetfield — one of my biggest vocal influences, by the way.”
The impact Hetfield had on Gray’s vocal style is something he dubs “yellody,” a self-coined term to describe Papa Het’s way of yelling lyrics in a melodic way.
“I do that in a lot of my music,” the Mudvayne vocalist assesses before revealing an onstage tip Hetfield once gave him to help maintain saliva production while singing.
“I’m sitting there talking shop with him, man, I’m talking vocals with James fucking Hetfield. Are you kidding me? And he gives me, he’s, like, ‘You know, man, I use these little things, these little Pastilles. You put ’em in your mouth and you suck on ’em and they stick to the back of your teeth.’ I’m, like, ‘Oh, wow, I’ve never heard of that.’ He’s, like, ‘Hold on a second.’ He goes in his room and he comes back out and he hands me a box of ’em. He’s like, ‘Yeah, just put ’em in your mouth. You just slide ’em up on the side of your teeth. They stick and it creates saliva for you while you’re singing.'”
Effusing more praise unto Hetfield, Gray goes on, “He’s a really cool dude. And not only just being insanely fucking loaded, he is like the godfather of metal — he really is.”
He cites the Metallica legend’s dominant picking hand, which he says “all the great fucking guitar players have modeled their right hand from his right hand.”
Regarding this technique, Gray continues, “He is the fastest down-picking motherfucker on the planet. [Anthrax‘s] Scott Ian, [Pantera‘s] Dimebag [Darrell] — fucking, you name it. People literally [focused] on his right hand.”
The accolades don’t stop there, either as Hetfield is called a “fucking beast” concerning Metallica’s lyrical content as well as his riff-writing. “Lars [Ulrich] kicks a beat to what he writes, but at the end of the day, Lars is a drummer and James Hetfield is James fucking Hetfield, and you can’t touch that shit. [Laughs].”
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