Despite the thrash metal he plays with Metallica, the group’s hard-as-nails lead singer James Hetfield has always had a soft spot for certain genres of country music. In particular, he felt a kinship with Waylon Jennings and the “outlaw country” popularized by the late singer. “The first time I met Waylon was when a college radio station wanted to get the two outlaws together of certain different styles of music,” Hetfield said in a post on Metallica.com. “They thought it was a good idea if I interview him.”
When Jennings died in 2002, Hetfield sent heartfelt condolences to the country legend’s memorial services, held at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. A year later, he appeared on the album I’ve Always Been Crazy: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings.
For his contribution, Hetfield chose the song “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand,” a cut from Jennings’ 1978 I’ve Always Been Crazy LP. Reinvented as a runaway-train jam, Jennings’ tongue-in-cheek dismissal of the “outlaw” tag felt like a lost Load-era Metallica track. Hetfield played all of the instruments on the song, while Bob Rock, Metallica’s producer at the time, oversaw production.
Still, the studio version couldn’t pack the visual oomph of Hetfield performing the song live. That treat came in 2004 when CMT paid tribute to country’s wilder side with the CMT Outlaws special, a concert featuring artists like Hank Williams Jr., Big & Rich, Waylon’s son Shooter Jennings, and Hetfield.
With a country-crooned intro, some crazy eyes and a well-placed “hell yeah,” Hetfield’s blazing performance — with Some Kind of Monster‘s Dr. Frankenstein Bob Rock on bass — was enough to make even the staunchest of country traditionalists throw up a devil-horns salute. It also proved that country and metal, while not as trendy as today’s country-hip-hop union, may have just as much, if not more, in common.