Led Zeppelin were trendsetters that helped bring heavy rock into the mainstream consciousness, playing an essential role in persuading Metallica frontman James Hetfield to take refuge on the dark side.
Although his memory is a little hazy about when he first started playing the guitar, Hetfield vividly recalls attempting to recreate the lustre of Jimmy Page in his bedroom to no avail. Like many guitarists, the first song he spent hours aimlessly trying to learn was ‘Stairway To Heaven’, and for that reason, the track has always retained a momentous place in his heart.
“I would invariably do guitar solos at the end, once the finished vocals and any overdubs were already on,” Page once noted about the creation of ‘the forbidden riff’ to Classic Rock. “Under the circumstances here, there’s a bass, an electric, 12-strings, recorders, a whole manner of things. I always put the solo on at the end because you’ve really living the track by then, and being the producer you’ve already supervised all the overdubs that have already gone on.”
Hetfield continued: “I basically got my Telecaster out to do that solo. Even though I’d been playing Les Pauls, I wanted to get that bite of the Telecaster on it. It was the same Telecaster that I’d played on the first album, the one Jeff Beck had given me that I’d used in The Yardbirds. A bit of a magical guitar, really”.
It’s a right of passage for any guitarist that wants to test themselves, and the sense of accomplishment that overwhelmed Hetfield as he finally cracked ‘Stairway To Heaven’ was an enormous sense of pride for the budding musician.
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2004, Hetfield named his ten favourite songs of all time, and ‘Stairway To Heaven’ was understandably on his list. Explaining his decision, the singer blissfully remembered: “When I first got a guitar, I figured out the first couple of fingerings to this, and I ran around the house saying, ‘Check it out — I can play this!’ My family was like, ‘Where’s the rest of the song?’”.
Once he formed his first band, Obsession, they collated their smorgasbord of influences which, of course, included Led Zeppelin. Although the group didn’t go onto greatness, it was this experience that was part of Hetfield’s development, a stepping stone that would be beneficial years later when he formed Metallica.
“Obsession was a high school band and we would basically just jam in my friend’s garage, doing cover songs,” he told Louder Sound. “We’d do Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, some Robin Trower, some Led Zeppelin and we’d do a couple of parties; that was pretty much it. I don’t remember learning guitar, ha ha ha! I just remember picking up a guitar for the first time and going, ‘How do they make all these noises?’”.
Hetfield’s love for Led Zeppelin came full circle in 2009 when the frontman realised a childhood dream when Jimmy Page joined Metallica on-stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Along with Jeff Beck and Flea, the newly created supergroup performed a thunderous rendition of Aerosmith’s ‘Train Kept A Rollin”, and Hetfield couldn’t hide his delight.
Watch the performance below.