RON McGOVNEY Remembers First METALLICA Show: We Played For 40 People, All Our Friends

Original METALLICA bassist Ron McGovney – who was briefly a member of the band back in 1982 – talked about the band’s beginnings and first live show. You can check out the conversation with Chris Jericho below (as transcribed by

Jericho: “What was the first METALLICA gig like?”

McGovney: “The first gig was on March 14th of 1982 in a little club called Radio City in Anaheim, CA. It was in a little strip mall and next door was a club called Woodstock. We ended up playing Woodstock later, but Radio City was our first gig.”

He continued: “We go ‘Hit the Lights’ and then Dave [Mustaine] breaks two strings on his guitar. No backup. So he’s sitting changing the strings. We stopped. It’s like, ‘What are we gonna do now? We’re just gonna sit here?’ Sitting waiting there to tune it back up.”

Jericho: “How many people were there?”

McGovney: “Maybe about 40, 50, something like that. All our friends. [Laughs]”

Jericho: “How did you get that gig?”

McGovney: “I think we just went over there with a demo and they just put us in there in any slot. It was probably a Monday night, something like that. But yeah, it wasn’t really good. We started over again. ‘Hit the Lights’… And we were playing ‘Sucking My Love’ from DIAMOND HEAD. We ended up dropping it because we had too many songs. Every time we got a new song, we’d drop a DIAMOND HEAD song. But we kept ‘Am I Evil‘ for some reason. People wanted to hear that one. We kept that one.”

Jericho: “Did that show start the buzz about METALLICA?”

McGovney: “We played that gig and we were supposed to play Woodstock on the 26th, which was a couple of weeks later. And in the meantime, within those couple of weeks, we found out that SAXON was gonna be playing at the Whisky A Go Go on their ‘Denim and Leather’ tour. So like, ‘Man, we gotta get on there.’

“So we had cut a… We put out a four-track demo. I’m trying to think of what songs… I’m thinking it’s ‘Blitzkrieg,’ ‘Killing Time,’ ‘Hit the Lights,’ and ‘Jump in the Fire.’

Jericho: “So this wasn’t the famous ‘No Life ‘Till Leather’ demo?”

McGovney: “No, this was the first demo, just to give to people, to see what people thought. So I said, ‘You know what, I’m gonna go down to the Whisky, I’m gonna try to get us on that bill.’

“So about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I’m standing out there in Hollywood on the corner of Sunset and Vine with this cassette in my hand. I’m looking up, ‘What the hell am I gonna do now? I’m gonna get in here.’

“Just at that point, I look up the hill and here it comes – Tommy [Lee] and Nikki [Sixx] from  MOTLEY CRUE. And I had known them because I followed MOTLEY CRUE around. And they knew me, I used to take pictures for MOTLEY CRUE.

“I was standing there and they come down the hill. The first thing they asked me: ‘Hey Ron, you got any toot?’ I’m like, ‘No. I don’t do that, man.’ They say, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I’m trying to get my band in to play that SAXON show.’ They said, ‘Yeah, we heard about that show. We’re too big now, we can’t really play that show. But I’ll get you in to talk to the girl up there.’

“So they took me in, we went up there, gave her our demo tape, and she called me back a few days later and said, ‘Yeah, you guys are on with SAXON on the 27th.’ And the 26th we were supposed to play at the Woodstock, but SAXON was playing 26th and 27th.

“So, on the 26th, we go down to the Woodstock to play. We were there at like 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and they want to put us on at like after midnight or something. We said, ‘Screw it, we’re not playing, we’re going back to Hollywood, we’re gonna go see SAXON.’ So we went back and saw SAXON.

“And then we played the next night. That was pretty awesome. Ozzy was there. Randy Rhoads had just been killed and Ozzy was sitting in the back over there. The guys from MOTLEY CRUE showed up. I remember standing there between songs, I saw Nikki Sixx walk upstairs, he gives me like a high five. I was like, ‘Yeah!’ He was my hero. ‘Nikki Sixx is watching me play. I usually watch him play.’

“Then RATT would call us up: ‘Hey you wanna play?’ We ended up playing with RATT like four or five times. They would call us up, they’d say, ‘Hey, you wanna open for us?’ And we say, ‘Sure.’ And then we find out later that they thought that we suck so bad that it made them sound so much better. So… That’s the way it was back then.”

Jericho: “What was the dynamic within the band like back then?”

McGovney: “It was pretty good, actually. We were practicing every day, three to four hours a day, everybody was getting good. I remember we would turn off our lights in the studio just so we could know what would it be like if the lights went out. We could still play when the lights went out. Just in case.”

Jericho: “Who was the leader of the band at that moment?”

McGovney: “Well, it was Dave and James [Hetfield]. They worked together pretty good. But Lars [Ulrich] is the master at putting the riff together in the correct order. And he belched out riffs with his voice.

“‘Hey, play this.’ *sings a random riff* Whatever. Somebody would copy it and he’ll say, ‘Yeah, we’ll take that and we’ll put it here or we will put it here.’ So they had all these riff tapes of all these riffs. If you listened to it, it wouldn’t make any sense, but if you go and pick and choose to put in certain songs, it all made sense.

“And we actually took some of our old LEATHER CHARM songs, took those apart, took some of the riffs, and made a song called ‘No Remorse. So if you listen to it, it’s like… There’s a song called ‘Handsome Ransom’ that we had… *sings the riff* That’s ‘Handsome Ransom.’

“And we had a song called ‘Let’s Go Rock ‘n’ Roll.’ And it went… *sings the riff* So we kind of took other songs and took them apart.”

Jericho: “How do you feel about playing in one of the biggest bands ever?”

McGovney: “Some people have asked Dave Mustaine: ‘Do you think you’re the godfather of thrash?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, I guess I am.’ And I’m the Forest Gump of METALLICA. Because I was kind of there in history but I didn’t really know it.

“You’re playing on stage with all these icons and things and you’re just like… I mean, back then, obviously, you don’t know. But you look at it now, it’s like, ‘That’s pretty awesome.'”