During a recent appearance on “Waste Some Time With Jason Green,” MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson looked back on the early days, including SLAYER guitarist Kerry King who was with the group for a short period of time in 1984.
When asked about King‘s involvement with the band, Ellefson replied: “The original founding lineup — so Dave [Mustaine], Greg Handevidt, my friend from Minnesota who I moved out to L.A. with, me on bass. Greg was playing rhythm guitar, the second guitar to Dave. Dave had a vocalist named Lawrence Kane, who Dave was trying to work with as a singer when Greg and I met Dave in June of ’83. Keep in mind, this is only like six or seven weeks after METALLICA [fired Mustaine] when we met Dave.
“There’s another guy named Matt Kisselstein that Dave was teaching the songs to, a bass player — cool guy, a young guy from Beverly Hills, I wouldn’t say a rockstar bass player. It’s funny — he actually works in administration, he’s kind of higher up. The last time I saw him at the Eagle in Dallas, a big P1 rock station down there, we had a good laugh.
“It all kind of worked out, you know? He ended up — he’s a businessman and I’m a bass player, so he actually is somebody I did run into recently,” Ellefson continued. That lineup with Dijon [Carruthers] on drums, that lasted kind of like through maybe June and July of ’83. By August, everybody was gone except just me and Dave, and then we started auditioning, we got a drummer named Lee Rausch who came into the fold, and then Kerry King.
“By the end of ’84, Kerry King had come in to start playing to be our second guitar player. He was in SLAYER at the time, and we were still trying to audition singers up to this point. And I remember, it was New Year’s Eve of ’83 going into ’84, and another singer flaked out.
“Dave just took the lyrics and pinned them up either on the wall or like on a mic stand, we had a microphone there and then he just went up to the mic and we started playing. And I don’t know what it was, I think it was something like ‘Chosen Ones’ or ‘Looking Down the Cross,’ it was not easy to play and sing, and then he did it, he sang through it.
“And we stopped and I just went, ‘Dude, that was freaking amazing,’ and he looked at me and he was like, ‘Really?’ And his face is all red, he’s not really breathing like a singer, plus trying to riff and play those complex parts, and you know, it just hit me.
“I was just like, ‘Look, man, you’re writing the lyrics, no one’s gonna get inside this character that you’re singing from more than you. You’re the obvious guy.’ So it was weird that we then turned into a four-piece, which is what Dave had just come out of from METALLICA, and of course, in METALLICA, Dave was not the singer.
“He was kind of the frontman, as I understand. Between the songs, he did all the banter with the audience, but he was obviously the lead guitar player and James Hetfield was the singer. It’s kind of interesting how then James became really the frontman of METALLICA when Dave was out of there, and then Dave now in MEGADETH becomes the singer, so they both kind of swapped roles, they both kind of had to step up to maybe the parts of the job they weren’t doing before.
“Not that Dave was never hired to be the singer of METALLICA. So it’s kind of funny that that was now a new role for him, and of course, Hetfield has become one of the greatest frontmen in rock ‘n’ roll, period. I mean, he’s on the level of, like, Bono. Doing those Big Four shows with him, hearing him command the stadiums, he’s just such a powerhouse, it’s impressive.”
On how Chris Poland ended up playing guitar on band’s debut album in 1985, Ellefson said: “There’s a lot of detail to this stuff, and I’m sorry I get so bogged down with it. So we debuted the band in early 1984 in San Francisco with Kerry King on guitar, Lee Rausch on drums, me, and Dave. We’d go back up again in April, February and April of ’84, we debuted the group, and right after that, Kerry King decides he’s going back to SLAYER full-time — because he saw there was an audience for it, and the Bay Area was the holy grail.
He continued: “Kerry saw that, and that’s it, that’s, ‘I now see the vision of SLAYER.’ And Lee Rausch came home, and he literally said, he goes, ‘Man, I got to take some acid and go up in the mountains and go find myself.’ Me and Dave were like, ‘Alright, have at it.’
“We had met a manager guy, we were rehearsing at this rehearsal studio called Curly Joe’s in Downtown, it’s like an old brewery and he’d have a floor that he’d converted to a rehearsal hall, and we met this real fast-talking manager guy named Jay Jones. I had gotten a job working, just trying to make some money, because me and Dave were just flat broke, so I got a job at this rehearsal studio called Mars Studio on Melrose, over by Vermont.
“And by working there, not only did finally have a little paycheck, but Dave and I actually moved in with the guy that was managing the place, this guy named Hanley, and of course, after hours provided free rehearsal for MEGADETH.
“So it was a great job, it had many perks — we got a place to live, got a place to rehearse, and had a little money. Jay Jones brought down, he recommended a guy named Gar Samuelson to play drums, and Jay had recently managed a band that Gar and Chris Poland had called THE NEW YORKERS.
“They were like a really progressive fusion group, very much like RETURN TO FOREVER and MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA — incredible.
“And they didn’t get signed, they missed their window, and MÖTLEY CRÜE and RATT, all that happened, so they kind of missed their window. Gar was working, he was a general manager of B.C. Rich guitars at the time. So Gar comes down to Mars Studio, and I reserve a little room for us, and so he sets up, and he’s got a smaller double bass, but a smaller tom-tom, not a big thundering cannon heavy-metal drum kit at all, right?
“Two racks, two floors… And sets up, he’s got these dress shoes on and slacks because he just comes from work at B.C. Rich, and he starts playing. Gar was a real finesse guy, he kind of had this Charlie Watts meets Bill Bruford thing, very much a fusion-rock kind of player.
“We started playing, and I could tell right away, it was kind of interesting to see how Dave was going to respond — because I played in a jazz band growing up in high school, so I knew of all these people Gar was kind of taking a page out of their musical playbook if you will.
“And I had done my studies with jazz, so it was interesting to see how that would integrate with music that we were writing then, and he loved it,” Ellefson added. “For Dave, Gar was an instant great, drumbeat on demand. He could play something, and Gar‘s interpretation of it, it wasn’t like it was like every other heavy metal drummer of that day, and he could explain things to Gar. Gar was a couple of years older than me and Dave — so he had more experience.
“So he wasn’t intimidated at all by anything, and that’s how he got into the fold. We went up to, I guess we played in San Francisco, we played at the Waters Club down in San Pedro, and you got to realize, for a heavy metal band in LA, there’s the Sunset Strip with MÖTLEY, RATT, QUIET RIOT, and that whole scene, VAN HALEN.
“But bands like MEGADETH, SLAYER and DARK ANGEL, and I guess probably even METALLICA before they moved to Bay Area, you know, with these really off-the-Strip, almost more like rock theaters and very… these clubs were not by any means the hair-metal thing. Jay Jones kept recommending that Chris Poland joined the band, he and Gar were friends, Gar and Chris had come down to the band, he saw us play in San Pedro, and Jay took us in the studio.”