James Hetfield’s Six Weirdest Gigs

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PHOTO: Miikka Skaffari | Getty Images

He may be a thrash metal god, but James Hetfield isn’t about to be pigeonholed.

The Metallica guitarist—who celebrates his 53rd birthday today—has played a lot of shows with the group over its 35 years. During that time, Hetfield has also played his share of unusual dates—strumming on an acoustic guitar, fronting Queen, performing with his daughter and serenading baseball heroes.

What’s evident from the six gigs highlighted below is that the man devotes much of his time to some very worthwhile causes.

So please join Guitar Player in giving a big hand to a metal monster with a whole lot of heart, Mr. James Hetfield. 

Little Kids Rock Benefit
November 9, 2013

On November 9, 2013, Hetfield teamed up with nonprofit Little Kids Rock for its annual “Rockin’ the Bay Benefit.” The event raises money to help deliver the gift of music to thousands of students in Bay Area public schools. Each year, the benefit features a night of music and live auctions, as well as a number of musical performances from special guests.

The 2013 event, at which Hetfield was honored with a special award, brought in more than $225,000. The highlight of the evening was Hetfield rocking out Metallica tunes with a group of kids whom the program supports.

“Motorbreath” Acoustic
Acoustic-4-A-Cure Benefit, May 15, 2016
On May 15 of this year, Hetfield and Sammy Hagar hosted their third annual Acoustic-4-A-Cure benefit for the pediatric cancer program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital on Sunday night.

One of the evening’s highlights was Hetfield’s three-song set, where he turned Metallica’s raging “Motorbreath” into a country ballad. He also performed the group’s “The Unforgiven” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic “I Put a Spell on You.”

“Stone Cold Crazy,” with Tony Iommi and Queen
Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, April 20, 1992
Queen were joined by a host of artists for the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, held in London’s Wembley Stadium. In one of the wildest match-ups of the night, Hetfield and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi teamed up with Brian May and the band for a performance of Queen’s 1974 song “Stone Cold Crazy.”

“Crazy for You,” with Cali Hetfield
Acoustic-4-A-Cure Benefit, May 15, 2015
At the second annual Acoustic-4-A-Cure pediatric cancer benefit concert, Hetfield performed a cover of Adele’s “Crazy for You” with his 16-year-old daughter, Cali, handling vocals. (Sammy Hagar, the event’s emcee, can be seen at the beginning escorting Cali to the stage.)

“Happy Birthday to Willy Mays”
Metallica Day, May 6, 2016
On May 6, for the fourth year in a row, Metallica and the San Francisco Giants held their annual Metallica Day at AT&T Park. Hetfield and Kirk Hammett once again performed a wah-drenched version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the start of the game, but this year’s event featured a little something extra: Baseball legend Willie Mays was in the audience, and as the day marked his 85th birthday, Hetfield led the audience in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for the “Say Hey Kid.”

The Gak
Fourth Annual RIP Magazine Party, November 9, 1990
On November 9, 1990, the metal community gathered at the Hollywood Palladium for the fourth-annual party of RIP magazine, an essential metal tome during that quintessentially metal decade known as the Eighties.

For the evening’s entertainment, the crowd got quite a treat: members of Metallica and Guns N’ Roses performing together as the Gak. The quickly-assembled band included GN’R singer Axl Rose, guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan along with Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich. The band was rounded out by Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach.

As you can see in the grainy video below, the band had little material prepared. After performing the Nazareth classic “Hair of the Dog” they performed renditions of their own songs, including GN’R’s “You’re Crazy,” Skid Row’s “Piece of Me” and Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Whiplash.” The last number actually got played twice: once with Bach on vocals, then with Hetfield at the mic.