Happy springtime campers! This month we start with part 1 of another 2 (or maybe even 3?) part piece, this time delving into the history of a band still very active after 30 years of recording and touring, and it’s L.A.’s Megadeth.
The bands rich history goes back to 1982, when Dave Mustaine joined Metallica about a year after they formed. He was with them until April of 1983, when he was fired after the band drove to New York to record their first album, due to his excessive drinking, drug use, violent behavior and personality conflicts with the other members of the band.
Although he never got the chance to record any material for the Kill ‘Em All album, he does appear on the bands now legendary demo tape, No Life ‘Til Leather, as lead singer and lead guitarist.
After being fired, he was driven to the bus station and put on a bus back to L.A. While on this trip home, he began plotting his revenge, and that revenge came in the formation of his new band, Megadeth, 2 months later.
Mustaine later said, “After being fired from Metallica, all I remember is that I wanted blood. Theirs. I wanted to be faster and heavier than them.” He has also stated that he told Metallica not to use any of his music, which Metallica refutes, and he got co-writing credits for four of the songs that wound up on Kill ‘Em All (Jump In The Fire, The Four Horsemen(a re-titleing of Mechanix), Phantom Lord and Metal Militia.)
According to Mustaine, the name Megadeth represents the annihilation of power. In his attempt to upstage his former band, he wrote more aggressive and technical songs. An example of this is the tempo increases to the song Mechanix, a song he wrote in Panic (his speed metal band prior to Metallica) and had performed in Metallica. Also, the technicality of the riffs compared to Metallica’s is abundantly clear, but I’ll get into that a bit later.
Not long after getting back to L.A., Mustaine was in his apartment with a bad hangover, when he heard his downstairs neighbour playing the 1 note bass line to Van Halen’s song, Runnin’ With The Devil. He became so frustrated that he threw a potted plant out his window that smashed on the air conditioner of the downstairs apartment.
A few days later, 2 kids came to his door, asking him to buy cigarettes for them, to which he said “the store is down the street” and slammed the door. When they knocked again, asking him to buy beer, his answer was “now you’re talking”. It turns out the one of these kids was the bass playing downstairs neighbour, Dave Ellefson.
They got talking and the formation of Megadeth had begun. They searched unsuccessfully for a singer for 6 months, eventually agreeing that Mustaine would handle the vocal duties as well as being the bands primary lyricist and songwriter while also handling lead and rhythm guitar duties.
In 1984, the band recorded a 3-song demo, featuring Mustaine, Ellefson and drummer Lee Rausch. It contained early versions of Last Rites/Loved To Death, Skull Beneath The Skin and Mechanix.
They did a few live performances in ’84 before replacing Lee Rausch with fusion drummer Gar Samuelson. They signed with the New York based label Combat Records. In December of ’84 they added Chris Poland as a 2nd guitarist.
In 1985, they were given $8000 by Combat to record and produce their debut album, Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good.
After spending half the budget on drugs, alcohol and food, the band was forced to fire their original producer and produce the album themselves.
Despite poor production, the album was released in May of that year and was a well-received effort that combined elements of thrash and speed metal, and is widely considered a classic among many metal fans. Songs such as the title track, Rattlehead, Last Rites/Loved To Death and Mechanix are all considered standout tracks on the album.
They also recorded a version of Nancy Sinatra’s classic These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, with altered lyrics, which sparked controversy in later years when the songs original writer, Lee Hazelwood, deemed the lyric changes as “vile and offensive”, and demanded the song be removed from the album. Under threat of legal action, the song was removed from albums released after 1995.
In 2002, the album was re-released with a partial version of the same song with the altered lyrics censored. In the liner notes of the 2002 version, Mustaine is highly critical of Hazelwood, noting that she received royalties for almost 10 years before objecting to the altered version.
In the 2nd quarter of 1985, the band toured the US and Canada in support of the album with Toronto-based metal band Exciter. Guitarist Chris Poland joined the band as the tour kicked off, but abruptly left the band due to being charged with possession of heroin. He was replaced with touring guitarist Mike Albert, and later rejoined the band in October of ’85, shortly before they began work on their 2nd album for Combat.
Their 2nd studio album, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, was produced using a small recording budget provided by Combat. Although the album was finished in March of 1986, the band was unhappy with the finished product.
Frustrated with the small independent label’s financial limitations, the band signed to major label Capitol Records, who also bought the rights to the new album. Capitol hired Paul Lani to remix the recordings and in November of ’86, more than a year after recording began, Capitol released the album, which became the band’s commercial and critical breakthrough, selling more than a million copies in the US alone.
Critics called it one of the most influential metal albums of its decade, and certainly one of the few truly definitive thrash metal albums.
Songs such as Wake Up Dead and Peace Sells are still staples of the bands current set list, while others such as Devil’s Island, Good Mourning/Black Friday and Bad Omen are album highlights and are a few of the many examples which show the “jazz influenced” style of thrash metal the album exhibits.
In February 1987, the band was added as support on Alice Cooper’s Constrictor tour. Cooper, alarmed by the band’s drug habits, summoned them to his tour bus to warn against excessive drug use. They were unfazed by this, and continued to tour the US supporting Mercyful Fate. In March of ’87, Megadeth began their first world tour as a headlining act, with support bands Overkill and Necros.
In July ’87, both Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland were fired from Megadeth following the last show of the tour in Hawaii. Mustaine claimed Samuelson became too much to handle when intoxicated.
He had replacement drummer Chuck Behler flown out to finish the band’s commitments. He also claimed that Poland had sold band equipment to fund his increasing drug habit. Poland was initially replaced by Jay Reynolds of Malice, but as the band began work on their next album, Reynolds was replaced by his own guitar teacher Jeff Young, who joined six weeks into the recording of their 3rd album.
With a major label recording budget, the recording process of So Far, So Good… So What! took over 5 months, due to various problems that occurred in part to Mustaine’s ongoing battle with addiction.
He later stated that “the production of the album was horrible, mostly due to substances and the priorities we had or didn’t have at the time.” He also clashed with producer Paul Lani on several occasions, beginning with Lani’s insistence that the drums be recorded separate from the cymbals, an unheard of process for rock drummers. During the mixing process, Mustaine and Lani had a falling out and Lani was replaced by producer Michael Wagener, who remixed the album.
In January of 1988, the album So Far, So Good… So What! was released. It eventually reached platinum status, but was originally panned by critics, saying the album lacked conceptual unity and musical bite and that it wants to sound threatening but comes off as forced and juvenile. However, songs like the instrumental opening track Into The Lungs Of Hell, Set The World Afire, and In My Darkest Hour are standout tracks.
In February the band began touring in support of the album opening for Dio in Europe, later joining Iron Maiden’s 7th Tour of a 7th Tour in the US.
Noticing problems developing with Behler, Mustaine brought in Nick Menza as Behler’s drum tech. He was to be ready to take over for Behler in the event he could not continue with the tour.
In June Megadeth appeared in Penelope Spheeris’ documentary film The Decline Of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years which chronicled the L.A. metal scene of the late ‘80’s, mostly focusing on glam metal bands. Mustaine recalls the movie as a disappointment, aligning Megadeth with “a bunch of shit bands.”
In August the band appeared as part of the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington in the UK to an audience of more than 100,000 people.
They were soon added to the M.O.R. European tour, but dropped out after the first show due to Ellefson’s drug problems, which he immediately treated.
Shortly after that appearance, Mustaine fired both Chuck Behler and Jeff Young. Young’s firing stemmed from suspicions that he was having an affair with Mustaine’s girlfriend at the time, but Young denied it.
The band then cancelled a scheduled Australian tour. Mustaine later recalled “On the road things escalated from a small border skirmish to a full-on raging war. I think a lot of us were inconsistent on the ’88 tour because of the guy we were waiting for after the show.”
While holding auditions for a new guitarist, in March of ’89, Mustaine was arrested for driving while intoxicated and possessing narcotics after crashing into a parked car occupied by an off duty police officer. He entered court ordered rehab soon after and became consistently sober for the first time in ten years.
In July of 1989, Nick Menza was hired to replace Behler on drums.
Unable to find a suitable lead guitarist at the time, the band recorded a cover of Alice Cooper’s No More Mr. Nice Guy as a 3 piece, the song later used on the soundtrack for Wes Craven’s movie Shocker.
I’ll wrap up here and continue next month with Megadeth in the 90’s.
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