MEGADETH's David Ellefson says that says that he got Dave Mustaine's "blessing" to audition for the bassist position in METALLICA after Jason Newsted left the band nearly 18 years ago.
Newsted exited METALLICA in January 2001, after he clashed with James Hetfield over the release of an album by ECHOBRAIN, Jason's side project. He was replaced by producer Bob Rock in the studio, for the recording of 2003's "St. Anger" album, and then permanently by former OZZY OSBOURNE bassist Robert Trujillo.
In a new interview with Doc Coyle's "The Ex-Man" podcast, Ellefson was asked if he took part in the METALLICA bassist tryouts once it was announced that Newsted had split with the group.
"I did not," Ellefson said. "Lars [Ulrich, METALLICA drummer] had contacted Dave [Mustaine] to ask him permission, which I thought was kind of him, to say, 'Hey, would it be okay if we reach out to Ellefson?' 'Cause Dave called me. And he said, 'Listen, I would hate to lose you, but, as your friend, I certainly couldn't hold you back from an opportunity like that. So he gave it his blessing. I never did get the call."
Ellefson also once again discussed the differences in the musical approach of METALLICA and MEGADETH, especially as the two bands progressed and eventually became two of the biggest metal bands in the world.
"I'm a big METALLICA fan, starting with [the] 'No Life 'Til Leather' [demo," he said. "In fact, quite honestly, 'No Life 'Til Leather', that's my heart of METALLICA. I love 'Kill 'Em All'. I really love 'Master Of Puppets'. There's a different vibe about ['No Life 'Til Leather'], 'cause, obviously, Dave played on that. So that's why I heard it first — because when I met Dave, 'Kill 'Em All' wasn't even out yet. They had let Dave go, then they recorded 'Kill 'Em All', but that album wasn't out yet. So this is June of '83. What I liked was the bass player, Ron McGovney. As much as everybody's really into Cliff [Burton], my METALLICA was with Ron McGovney. And that's why on 'Mechanix', when we put it on 'Killing Is My Business', I played Ron's bassline."
David went on to say that he learned how to play some of METALLICA's songs in preparation for what he thought would be an audition for the bassist position in the band.
"I sat down in 2001… I thought, 'If I do get the call, I should probably be kind of prepared,'" he explained. "So the first time I sat down and I actually played along with something simple, like stuff off the 'Black' album — 'Holier Than Thou'; stuff like that. And that was the first time I realized, man, for as much as METALLICA and MEGADETH are so similar — seemingly similar — riffs… Dave obviously having been in the band, so there's a piece of the DNA inside of MEGADETH, for sure, the way Dave phrases his vocals over the riffs versus how James [Hetfield] phrases his vocals… Dave's almost like Geddy Lee does it."
He continued: "What I noticed, sitting down to it, playing bass to it — like playing bass to Jason Newsted's, on the 'Black' album, to how he played over the riffs, okay, musically, I grasped that, but to hear the vocal over it. Because now you're playing it as an instrumentalist inside the composition, not listening to it as a fan, kind of paying attention to the vocal and the vocal melody. Now all of a sudden, I'm going, 'Woah! This is so, so different than anything that I'm…' I mean, forget about thrash metal or us being from the same family tree; it was an entirely different gig."
Back in 2011, Mustaine said that he was relieved that Ellefson wasn't invited to join METALLICA after the tragic death of Cliff Burton.
Burton died on tour in 1986 in a tour bus crash, three years after Mustaine was kicked out of METALLICA and went on to form MEGADETH.
Mustaine told CBS: "When Cliff died, there was a moment where Dave's name had come up [as Burton's possible replacement in METALLICA] and I was a little concerned. I didn't want to lose my bassist and I certainly didn't want to have another reason to be upset. God knows I had my reasons, even though they weren't all real. A lot of them were caused by myself."
He admitted: "I just don't think I would have done well if I'd have known that had happened. Fortunately for me, I think those guys took that into account and just said, 'Let's find someone else.'"
Ellefson was in MEGADETH from the band's inception in 1983 to 2002, when the group briefly broke up because Mustaine suffered severe nerve damage that left him unable to play. After Mustaine reformed MEGADETH with an all-new lineup in 2004, Ellefson sued his former bandmate for $18.5 million, alleging that Mustaine still owed him substantial merchandise and publishing royalties. In January 2005, the case was dismissed in court, and five years later, Ellefson rejoined MEGADETH.
Photo credit: Mike Savoia