James Hetfield on how Aerosmith inspired him to sing and play guitar

Metallica frontman James Hetfield has always been open about his influences. Taking cues from a mix of classic rock, metal and punk, a list of familiar faces, including Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Led Zeppelin and even Scorpions, have all been credited by the Californian with helping him establish his style.

One group that Hetfield has a particularly long-running admiration for is hard-rock heroes Aerosmith, the American answer to The Rolling Stones, led by the swaggering duo of frontman Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry. Together, the quintet produced many classics in their early years, including ‘Sweet Emotion’, ‘Walk this Way‘, and ‘Dream On’, before returning for a second stint that provided hits such as ‘Love in an Elevator’ and ‘Livin’ on the Edge’.

Aerosmith were such a pivotal band for James Hetfield’s development that he revealed that they inspired him to sing and play the guitar, as he couldn’t decide whose job was cooler out of Tyler and Perry’s. Of course, this is a momentous point, as without Hetfield’s work, modern metal would be a completely different beast. The Metallica leader made this revelation in 2002 when MTV Icon invited him to honour Aerosmith alongside his bandmates, Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich.

All three gave candid accounts of what Aerosmith meant to their lives, with Hetfield’s particularly personal, as it was the first time he’d been on a stage since leaving rehab. He recalled: “I would just like to close my eyes and imagine myself in my room as that teenager listening to Toys In The Attic and Rocks. Playing them to the grooves were worn out. Listening to every Brad and Joe lick toward the very end. I could sing every one of those things.”

He continued: “I would turn them up so loud to get every last note that the next song would scare the hell out of me. Especially little things like before my favourite song, ‘Nobody’s Fault’. Someone walked in the studio, and I heard a door. I simply thought that was so cool, ‘They didn’t take that out!’”

Expressing the impact they had on him via an anecdote involving his late mother, Hetfield explained how Tyler and Perry inspired him to sing and play the guitar. He said: “But anyway, there were plenty of posters on my wall, and the one that really meant a lot to me was the one of Steven and Joe up there singing into the same microphone. My mom, God rest her soul, she was an artist. She projected my image onto the wall and painted me as Steven and as Joe, in a silhouette. It was so cool, it was in my room. I just really couldn’t decide which was cooler. So I decided to sing and play guitar in a band.”

The Metallica leader concluded by praising the example that Aerosmith set for him following his period of personal turmoil, in which he described himself as “fallen”. He thanked Tyler and the group for staying “human” despite all the “hell” they have experienced in their career.

“I just wanted to acknowledge how much I admire you as humans; in this music business, it’s really tough to stay human,” Hetfield said. “There’s a lot of people that demand a lot of things from you. All the hell that you guys have gone through and come through as stronger people are extremely inspirational, especially to myself, someone who has fallen. I love you guys, thank you”.

Watch Hetfield discuss his long love of Aerosmith below.

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