Former OVERKILL and current VIO-LENCE guitarist Bobby Gustafson spoke to WWMusic about his experience auditing for METALICA as James Hetfleld‘s temporary replacement (on guitar only) while James recovered from being burned onstage back in 1992. He said: “Yeah, James, he caught on fire. They asked me to fill in, so I tried to learn all eighteen songs that they gave me in literally two days. Going in, because I didn’t have much time, I really didn’t know any full songs. They should have given me four or five [songs], and let me learn over the two weeks we had off. That I do regret. It could have been cool.”
He continued: “I guess they knew I knew the songs. James, Kirk [Hammett, METALLICA guitarist] and I were good friends, but I never really was the type to play other people’s material. I was always writing myself. I was the first person they called that night. I feel bad that I let them down.”
Gustafson previously discussed auditing for METALICA two years ago while appearing on an episode of EXODUS frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza‘s YouTube show, “Zetro’s Toxic Vault”. At the time, he said: “They had called me. Tony called me, their road manager at the time. [He] gave me the entire setlist to learn in two days. I had, like, 18 songs. But I knew bits and pieces of METALICA; I couldn’t get my way through an entire song. That’s just not what I did — I didn’t learn other people’s stuff. So they probably thought I knew it. I did the last show — which I should have canceled — but I did the last show with I4NI, and they were flying me out to Denver to audition. And I said, ‘Well, I can’t learn all these songs. What am I gonna do?’ So I tried to learn the changes off the vocals. I said, ‘Let me get really into the vocals and I’ll get all the changes in.’ I was supposed to leave Newark airport. There was a downpour for, like, 10 minutes, and it delayed my flight for, like, four hours, so I wasn’t getting into Denver till really late. And James was still in pain then, so he didn’t wait — he left. So they canceled it for the night and we went the next day. I’m, like, ‘Oh, great. I’ve get some time to work on the stuff.’ But then the next day he didn’t even show up. And then they auditioned on five songs. So I’m, like, ‘Why didn’t they just tell me the five songs? I could have spent a lot of time learning them instead of spreading it out.’ So he wasn’t there the next day. It was just me, Kirk and Lars [Ulrich] and Jason [Newsted].”
John Marshall, METAL CHURCH guitarist and onetime METALICA roadie, who had already filled in before when James broke his arm skateboarding, eventually landed the gig.
“JohnI think, they kind of knew would be the back-up plan if nobody else worked out,” Bobby told “Zetro’s Toxic Vault”. “I think Pepper [Keenan, CORROSION OF CONFORMITY] auditioned. I know Mike [Gilbert] from FLOTSAM [AND JETSAM] was there at the same time I was; he tried out too. And there may have been a couple of others — just a handful. They kept it tight, ’cause they had to get it done and get back out on the road.
“Yeah, I missed out on that,” Gustafson added. “That probably would have been pretty cool. That would have been my first outdoor stadium rocking show.”
During the “Zetro’s Toxic Vault” chat, Souz brought up the fact that Gustafson‘s visual appearance toward the end of his time with OVERKILL closely resembled that of Hetfield. (Gustafson was accused by some METALICA fans of ripping off Hetfield‘s stage moves and wristbands, as well as “jacking” the white Gibson Explorer in OVERKILL‘s 1989 video for the song “Elimination”.)
Gustafson said: “I was the better-looking one. That’s all I’ve gotta say…” When Souz asked Gustafson if Hetfield “stole” his look, Bobby said: “Well, not all of it… He’s actually the one who recommended the guitar. I got it from Gibson. They gave me a white V, white Explorer. I still play ’em — love ’em to death. But sometimes you can do something first, but you don’t reach as many people as someone who hits a million people. So they think he did it first sometimes, and you’re just still underground.”
When Souz pointed to Gustafson‘s “armbands” as another similarity between him and Hetfield, Bobby said: “That was the MISFITS. The other guys in the band, we were wearing that stuff for years.”
Gustafson joined OVERKILL in 1982 and played on the band first four albums — “Feel the Fire” (1985),“Taking Over” (1987),“Under The Influence” (1988) “The Years Of Decay” (1989) — before being shown the door in 1990 amid growing tension between him and OVERKILL bassist DD Verni.
Gustafson is currently the guitarist for veteran San Francisco Bay Area thrashers VIO-LENCE.