22 years ago: Jason Newsted leaves Metallica

“It was not easy to leave them,” Fr.Metallica bassist Jason Newsted told me nearly nine months after he left one of metal’s biggest bands on Jan. 17, 2001. “The first few months were really fucked up and then I slowly got out of my depression and got back on the horse with my new band Echobrain.”

At the time of his departure, Newsted said that he left Metallica because it was impossible for him to play a more creative role in the band and that Metallica was spending too much time fighting Napster and not enough time working on new music . But most importantly, he said he needed time to recover from neck and back injuries he sustained after headbanging.

“Watch a few videos from 1990 and it’s not hard to figure out how I damaged myself,” he said. “I mean, 200 days a year I would whip myself. In 1990 the doctor told me to stop. Well, I did 10 more years after that and now I’m kind of here. I can’t perform , as the executive people know me as, as a complete psycho. Doing that kind of touring is not in the cards for me right now.”

Metallica – Live in 1990

In a 2013 interview with Scuzz TVNewsted changed his stance, stating that his departure from Metallica was largely due to his dedication to Echobrain and the band’s management’s interest in the side project—an interest not shared by Metallica’s frontman James Hetfield.

“Management wanted me to do Echobrain with Metallica as well,” Newsted said. “They felt Echobrain was so good. The singer was so good and it didn’t affect Metallica because it was a completely different kind of thing and I was in Metallica; that would already give it its pedigree.”

Newsted said Hetfield became defensive and territorial when he learned management was interested in Echobrain. For Hetfield, Metallica was the be-all and end-all of any of its members. No one was to step outside the circle and tour with any major side projects.

Echobrain – Live (2002)

“He was, I think, pretty much out to put the kibosh on the whole thing because it would somehow affect Metallica in his eyes,” Newsted told Scuzz TV. “…I have no idea what [Hetfield] thought other than simply protecting what he valued, just as he does; it’s his thing. He protects what he loves, squeezes it too hard, as he said himself. Squeeze it too hard, protect it too much. That’s where I came from. The people that I had counted on for 15 years to help me with my career, help Metallica, take care of my money, do all those things, said to me, ‘Your new project is great, we want to help you that.’ James heard about it, the manager calls me back a few days later – ‘Sorry, we won’t be able to help you with that Echobrain thing’.”

In a statement issued after his departure, Newsted, exhibiting the fine art of diplomacy, said, “This is the most difficult decision of my life, made in the continued growth of my family, myself and Metallica. I send my love, thanks and best wishes to my brothers : James, [drummer] Lars [Ulrich]and [guitarist] Church [Hammett] and the rest of the Metallica family, friends and fans who have made these years so unforgettable.”

Behind the scenes, Newsted was more defensive. “It was like having two of my children taken from me,” he said. “They got it all wrong. It just wasn’t right.”

In response to Newsted’s decision to quit, Metallica issued their own statements. “James, Kirk and I look forward to embracing the next chapter of Metallica with both a tremendous amount of appreciation for the past 14 years with Jason and the excitement of taking on the challenges ahead to make Metallica shine brighter than ever,” Ulrich said. “We part ways with Jason with more love, more mutual respect and more understanding for each other than at any time in the past.”

“Jason is our brother,” Hammett added. “He will be missed.”

Newsted joined Metallica in the fall of 1986 after the tragic death of the bassist Cliff Burton. He came from the band Metal Blade Flotsam And Jetsam and was recommended to Metallica by Metal Blade’s President and CEO Brian Slagel. Metallica also wanted Joey Vera to audition, but he decided to stay in Armored Saint, the band he grew up playing with. Metallica’s A&R man suggested Phil Caivano, who went on to play with Monster Magnet, and also roped in Newsted.

Metallica – Live in 1986 with Jason Newsted

“It bothered me for a moment because I knew it would upset the apple cart with the boys in Flotsam,” Alago shared. Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral History. “But Jason had that same kind of charm and integrity [as Burton did]. And his bass playing was wild and animated. I knew he would be a perfect fit for the guys.”

In truth, Newsted helped save Metallica in a moment of great crisis. They were reeling from Burton’s death and needed a tough, professional player to help them jump back into the driver’s seat. Problematically, Metallica never took any time off the road to mourn the loss of their friend, remaining angry and hurt while on the road. They didn’t blame Newsted for Burton’s death, but he was an easy target to gang up on, and they smeared him mercilessly. Newsted was spry and thick-skinned, and he played superbly on stage; he was soon embraced by fans and critics who never imagined anyone could replace Burton. Newsted played on six Metallica albums, …And justice for all, Metallica, load, Reload, Garage Inc. and S&M. During his 14 years in the band, he performed over 1,000 concerts and toured the world several times.

Jason Newsted reflects on Metallica …And justice for all

“Playing with someone who has such an unbridled passion for music will forever be a huge inspiration,” Hetfield said in Metallica’s statement. “On stage every night, he was a driving force for all of us, fans and band alike. His connection will never be broken.”

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legendsco-author of Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral Historyas well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthraxand Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, The Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

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