Bassist Jason Newsted may not have been an original member of Metallica, but he was present for the band's rise from the metal underground to the top of the charts worldwide from the late-'80s up to the dawn of the 21st century. Born on March 4, 1963, in Battle Creek, MI, Newsted and his family relocated when he was 14 to Kalamazoo, MI. Shortly thereafter Newsted discovered rock music via Kiss and their blood-spurting, fire-breathing demon bassist, Gene Simmons. He soon discovered other popular metal bands of the day (Ted Nugent, Rush, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult), all the while learning bass and playing in local bands.
In 1981, Newsted and a friend left Michigan with hopes of making it to California to start up a band, but made it only as far as Phoenix, where they remained. Newsted formed a new band shortly thereafter, dubbed Dogz, which changed their name to Flotsam & Jetsam by 1983, specializing in a newly founded metal style -- thrash. It was also around this time that Newsted discovered the frontrunners of thrash, Metallica, quickly becoming his favorite band. Flotsam & Jetsam signed with the Metal Blade record company, appearing on an edition of the label's Metal Massacre compilation and recording a debut album, 1986's Doomsday for the Deceiver
. All the while Newsted was the band's leader, serving as the main songwriter and lyricist in addition to his bass duties.
Flotsam was quickly moving up the ladder when Metallica (who had just released their most successful album yet, the classic Master of Puppets
release) suffered the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton mid-tour in September of 1986. Metallica decided to soldier on and began auditioning bass players to fill the void left by Burton. Despite a promising future with Flotsam & Jetsam, Newsted opted to try out for Metallica and got the gig. Metallica picked up where their tour left off shortly after naming Newsted their new member and spent 1987 working on their highly anticipated follow-up to Master. Although 1988's epic prog-metal concept album And Justice for All was a major hit and broke Metallica to the big time, Newsted's bass was barely audible in the mix, while his songwriting talents were barely utilized at all (he earned a lone co-songwriting credit with the album-opener, "Blackened"). By the release of 1991's self-titled release, Metallica had become one of the world's most popular rock bands -- a more straightforward musical approach and embracement of music videos had paid off, as the album would eventually sell over ten million copies in the U.S. alone. After a mammoth two-year tour in support of the album had ground to a halt in 1993, the members took time off.
It wasn't until 1996 that the quartet would issue their next studio album, Load
, but the group took some heat from longtime fans due to their new look (short hair, designer threads) and a more varied musical style that embraced other forms besides metal. But Load
was another sizeable hit, as was its follow-up a year later, Reload. 1998 saw a compilation of cover tunes from over the years, Garage Inc., while 1999's symphonic metal experiment, S&M
, was well received. Newsted had also found time to guest on other artist's recordings (Voivod's Phobos, Jim Martin's Milk & Blood, U.N.K.L.E.'s Psyence Fiction
, and Sepultura's Against
) and was set to launch a side-project titled Echo Brain in 2000, which appeared to cause some strife within Metallica -- confirmed by a tell-all interview by all four bandmembers in Playboy magazine in early 2001. Around the same time the aforementioned Playboy interview hit the stands, Newsted abruptly left Metallica, offering the statement, "Due to private and personal reasons, and the physical damage I've done to myself over the years while playing the music I love, I must step away from the band."