From High School to Metal Legends: The Hammett-Claypool Friendship

While Metallica and Primus have carved distinct paths in the metal genre, the friendship between Kirk Hammett and Les Claypool remains a constant. Explore the origins and impact of this remarkable relationship.

From High School to Metal Legends: The Hammett-Claypool Friendship
Les Claypool, Mike Bordin and Kirk Hammett

In short…

  • Kirk Hammett and Les Claypool became friends in high school, bonding over music.
  • After Metallica’s bassist Cliff Burton died in 1986, Claypool auditioned but was considered “too good” for the band.
  • Despite the failed audition, Hammett and Claypool’s friendship led to collaborations, including on Primus’s album “Colma.”

High School Rockers

In the bustling hallways of a high school in El Sobrante, California, two young lads, Kirk Hammett and Les Claypool, found a shared passion: music. It wasn’t just any music, but the kind that makes your heart race and your head bang. While most high school friendships revolve around sneaking out or complaining about homework, these two were jamming and dreaming of the big stage.

Les fondly remembers those days, chuckling about how Kirk, with his ever-present guitar magazines, would often be caught up in some side hustle, like selling dime bags. But amidst all this, Kirk saw potential in Les, often nudging him to lend his voice for his band. Little did they know where their paths would lead.

The Audition That Almost Was

Fast forward to 1986, the metal world was shaken to its core with the tragic passing of Cliff Burton, Metallica’s iconic bassist. As the band grappled with their loss, they began the search for a new bassist. And who did Kirk think of? His old high school buddy, Les Claypool. But as fate would have it, despite a memorable audition where Claypool cheekily suggested jamming to some Isley Brother tunes, he wasn’t the fit Metallica was looking for. James Hetfield, Metallica’s formidable frontman, remarked that while Claypool’s talent was undeniable, he was just “too good” for their style.

Too good for Metallica? Now that’s a compliment!

Claypool, ever the humble soul, admitted he wasn’t deeply entrenched in the metal scene. He even candidly shared that he didn’t grasp the sheer magnitude of Metallica’s stardom until that audition. Imagine hoping to swap a carpentry job for a spot in one of the biggest metal bands in the world! But despite not making the cut, Claypool had a humorous take on the situation, jesting that the band probably saw him as a bit of a “weirdo”.

Enduring Ties Beyond The Audition Room

But here’s the kicker: not getting the gig didn’t dent the bond between Hammett and Claypool. Their friendship only grew stronger, leading to several musical collaborations, including on Claypool’s band Primus’s album “Colma”. Their mutual admiration is evident. Hammett has often lauded Claypool as one of the most gifted musicians he’s encountered, while Claypool has dubbed Hammett a “guitar god”.

Their influence on each other is palpable. Hammett credits Claypool’s innovative playing style as a source of inspiration, pushing him to venture outside his comfort zone. On the flip side, Claypool holds Hammett’s guitar prowess as “the gold standard” for all metal guitarists.

In the ever-evolving world of heavy metal, where band members come and go, and friendships can be fleeting, the bond between Kirk Hammett and Les Claypool remains unbreakable. It’s a reflection of their shared history, mutual respect, and the enduring power of music.