Someone you can assume had an interesting perspective on Dave Mustaine getting sacked from Metallica back in the day: Anthrax’s Scott Ian. Metallica famously did the dirty deed while in Ian’s native Queens, New York, where they were rehearsing before going to Rochester to record their debut album, Kill ‘Em All.
During a recent appearance on Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn’s No Fuckin’ Regrets podcast, Ian recalled learning that Mustaine had been fired later the very same day Metallica sent him packing:
“They all drank, but Dave drank more than they did. And the difference with Dave was, from my memory of that time, ’cause we were there all the time — we were hanging out with them all the time — all those other guys would get drunk and it was always fun, and Dave was kind of the not-fun guy when he would get too drunk. I mean, everybody knows one [guy like that]. And I think that was basically the beginning of the end, because now they were living together [at the rehearsal studio], and they were in close quarters all the time together, and I think they realized, they were, like, ‘How the hell are we gonna keep doing this and move forward if we’re constantly worrying about this?’ “I remember walking in one day and Cliff [Burton, then-Metallica bassist] was standing outside having a smoke. And I [said], ‘Hey, man, what’s up?’ He was, like, ‘Not much. We fired Mustaine. He’s on a bus, he’s on a Greyhound back to the [San Francisco] Bay Area.’ [And I was, like], ‘Yeah, right.’ He was, like, ‘No. I’m serious.’ And it’s Cliff, so he was that total ballbuster wise-ass. And he was just kind of smirking at me. And I’m, like, ‘Shut up. You’re playing a show this week. Who’s gonna play guitar?’ He was, like, ‘We’ve already got a guy coming.’ I said, ‘Get the fuck outta here.’ He goes, ‘Go upstairs. Ask James.’ So I go up to the room. They’re just kind of dicking around in the room. I don’t see Dave. And I’m, like, ‘What’s going on? Cliff tells me you guys fired Dave.’ And Lars [Ulrich, Metallica drummer] was, like, ‘We did. Early this morning, we put him on a bus. He’s already five hours on the way back to California.’ [I was, like], ‘What? What?’ We had no idea. I [said], ‘What are you gonna do?’ [They said], ‘We’ve got this guy coming from this band Exodus that we know. He’s getting here tomorrow.’”
Ian went on to reiterate a long-known but seldom-discussed factoid about early Metallica: James Hetfield may have been the band’s singer, but Mustaine was their frontman.
“People don’t know that. James wasn’t James yet. When I first met James, he would drink and he would change, but James, he was kind of like a shy, quiet dude. Dave was the mouthpiece. Dave was the guy. He was the frontman — a hundred percent… He was the attitude; he was the personality — it was everything. And I was kind of, like, ‘You think this is the right idea?’ And [they said], ‘We had to. We couldn’t deal with it anymore. He was getting us into trouble.’ “Everyone knows the stories, but they just didn’t wanna have to deal with that. It was hard enough living on the floor of a freezing-cold building, I guess, and dealing with your own issues [and then] have to worry about someone else’s… I mean, I get it. I understand. It’s what had to happen in that moment. I’ve been there myself, making personnel changes in my band. I understand it. Sometimes it’s the most impossible, worst thing in the world to have to do, but in order to take that next step forward, you have to.”