In a new interview with Fox Sports 910's "Freak Nation", MEGADETH mainman Dave Mustaine reflected on the fact that he was sued in 2004 by the band's original bassist, David Ellefson, 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.
"I think forgiveness is a super-cool thing," Mustaine said (hear audio below). "When David Ellefson sued me for 18 and a half million dollars, and the judge dismissed it and then made him pay a bunch of money on top of that, he got his ass handed to him in public. And I was really, really, really hurt by the things that he said about me. And I thought, 'You know what? If I never see him again, I guess I'll be okay.' And I was sad, but I figured he was gone. One day, I was flying home from Dallas, and the flight stopped in [Ellefson's hometown of] Phoenix, and for some stupid reason, I called him up and I said, 'Hey, you wanna have dinner?' And he said, 'Yes.' So we went out. And the first thing he said was, 'I wanna tell you, it was the stupidest thing I ever did suing you, and I wanna apologize.' And I looked at him and I waited a beat, and I said, 'Dave, I forgive you. I completely forgive you. I love you.' And it was over like that. And I think that that's really something great that people should take with them today, anybody listening to this. There may be somebody you need to forgive or somebody you need to apologize to, but I'll tell you what – it makes [you feel] a lot better at the end of the day."
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.
Mustaine reformed MEGADETH 16 years ago. Originally setting out to record a solo album, Mustaine enlisted studio musicians to play on what ultimately became MEGADETH's 2004 "The System Has Failed" comeback album, subsequently recruiting former ICED EARTH bassist James MacDonough to take Ellefeson's place for the album's touring cycle.
In his 2004 lawsuit against Mustaine, Ellefson claimed that he "attempted to resolve his differences with Mustaine on an amicable basis and offered to continue to perform with [MEGADETH]." However, his "offers were met with verbal abuse, threats, lies and continued invective from Mustaine." Ellefson also said that Mustaine — a veteran of at least 17 drug rehab stints, according to the bassist — resented Ellefson, a former drug addict, for having kicked his own habit. According to Ellefson's court papers, the battle of the band spread to the Internet when Mustaine posted on Megadeth.com that Ellefson was trying to extort him.
Mustaine gave his version of why the 2004 reunion with Ellefson didn't pan out in a message posted on the MEGADETH web site. In lengthy essay, Mustaine claimed that Ellefson missed several deadlines to accept his offer, which included 20% of the artist royalties on "The System Has Failed", none of the publishing royalties and a $2,500-a-week salary while the band was on the road.
In his first book, Ellefson admitted that he became a salaried employee upon his return to MEGADETH 10 years ago. He told Metal-Rules.com in an interview: "Going from being a co-founding owner to just a sideman musician was initially why I didn't come back in 2004. I was not happy with the participations that were presented to me. In recent times, coming back, I found great joy in doing music with a lot of other people in other settings that helped me fall back in love with playing music. Now I can come back into or go into musical situations and be able to be there for a purpose and level of pay. Being a sideman absolves you from being involved in all the other stuff. At this point in my life, I would rather leave that stuff on the sidelines. Like American Express says, 'membership has its privileges,' being a sideman has its benefits. In my case, it helps retain a friendship too. In order to have a friendship, I had to give up some ownership."