The Story of the Big Four: Slayer’s Kerry King Joins Megadeth
The Big Four of thrash—Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax—are set to play New York City’s Yankee Stadium on September 14. It will be the second time ever that all four groups have shared a stage in the United States. To mark this occasion, Revolver and Guitar World are celebrating the event with the Big Four Weeks leading up to the event. For the next month or so, leading up to the show, our websites will be giving fans eye-popping exclusives (like the Big Four trading cards from the September/October issue, which we unveiled last week), previously unseen backstage video, and excerpts from our interviews with the bands on a regular basis.
This installment is an excerpt from Revolver’s special issue devoted to the Big Four, which you can buy right here. This section recounts the early days of Megadeth, right when they were playing their first shows featuring a young guitarist from another band in the Big Four, Slayer’s Kerry King. The excerpt features interviews with King, Slayer vocalist-bassist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo, alongside Megadeth bassist David Ellefson. It also features photography of Megadeth by Bill Hale, who is working on a book titled Megadeth: Another Time, Another Place, which will feature tons of great photos from this time period (for more on the book, scroll to the bottom). So, without further ado, let’s get back to business.
While in New York, Metallica kicked Dave Mustaine out of the band, replacing him with Exodus’ Kirk Hammett, and sent him back to San Francisco. Not long after, he formed Megadeth. What do you all remember about Megadeth’s early days?
DAVE LOMBARDO I remember seeing Megadeth at Slayer’s rehearsal in Tom’s house before they hit the stage. And I remember Gar Samuelson, the drummer, was amazing. He was really, really good. I thought they were amazing musicians with what they did, with the guitars and the scales and that technical stuff.
Kerry played with Megadeth early on. What were those shows like?
DAVID ELLEFSON He played the first five shows with us as our second guitar player. I think Slayer was a little bit on the fence with what they were doing, what their direction was. Kerry always claimed that he saw Dave play with Metallica at the Whisky [a Go Go venue in Los Angeles] and how it changed his life. Playing with us, Kerry was such a natural fit with Dave’s guitar-playing style. He just fundamentally understood how to play those riffs.
Kerry, did you learn a lot from Mustaine about guitar while you were in Megadeth?
KERRY KING Well, if you listen to him, he’ll fucking say, “Yeah.” [Laughs] As far as he’s concerned, he’ll tell you he fucking created me. [Laughs]
Listen, I’ve learned to take Dave with a grain of salt. He means something, and it just comes out different. [Laughs] I think everybody’s learned that over the years. I’m sure I did learn stuff from Dave. I was very young. I think he’s got a couple years on me. He’d been doing it longer than me.
An early Megadeth show, featuring Kerry King on guitar
What was it like for the rest of Slayer to see Kerry play with Megadeth?
DAVE LOMBARDO It was awkward. It was a little awkward, yeah. But you know, it worked out, and of course the band continued.
TOM ARAYA I guess Dave [Mustaine] was trying to make a supergroup. And I guess Kerry didn’t really…I guess their personalities clashed. [Laughs] He did five shows with them and kind of said, “Eh.” [Laughs] When he was playing with them, me, Dave [Lombardo], and Jeff were like, “Oh well, I guess we can go on.” It wasn’t gonna stop us from doing what we were doing. In the end, I like to think Kerry made the right decision. [Laughs]
David, what do you remember about Kerry’s decision to stick with Slayer?
ELLEFSON During those first few shows, we did an in-store [appearance] at the Record Vault in San Francisco. All these fans were going up to Kerry going, “Dude, Slayer! Slayer!” And I think Kerry kind of had a second thought, like, Wait a minute, maybe I shouldn’t be joining Megadeth, maybe I should go back home and kick my bandmates’ asses and get everything in gear.
I think Kerry making that trip with Megadeth up to San Francisco in February 1984, that again changed Kerry’s whole perception because he got to be right up in the Bay Area and saw thrash metal, front and center, for what it was. It’s funny, ’cause I think he went back home and Slayer wiped the makeup [they wore at the time] off their faces. They definitely got out of L.A. mode and into thrash-metal mode.
To read the rest, get Revolver Presents: The Big Four right here.
Megadeth and Mustaine photos by Bill Hale. For more info on his book, which you can buy here, visit his blog and Facebook group and MySpace page. Also, check out the blog for Hale’s Metallica book, Metallica: Club Daze 1982 – 1984.