In Tribute: The Complete, Untold Story of Slayer's Jeff Hanneman
The complete, untold story of Jeff Hanneman, Slayer's guitariast for more than 30 years.
And when it came to sightseeing, “Jeff pretty much only went to war museums, as you can imagine,” King says. “I remember the first time we went to Moscow, maybe around 1998. His whole thing was going to one of the Moscow war museums, so I was like, ‘Hey, that sounds cool,’ so I went with him. And it was just windy and cold as fuck there. But Jeff loved that stuff.”
For Kathryn, who preferred to remain at home when Jeff went on tour, all she could do was count the days until he returned. “It was extremely hard for me,” she says. “The first tour they did was a three-week tour from southern California up to San Francisco, and in those days there were no cell phones or internet, and it was difficult for him to stay in touch with me. And at first I just thought, Oh my god, I’m gonna die. When the band finally started touring Europe, he made sure to send me letters and postcards almost every day, and that was the only thing that kept me going, because I really didn’t know when I would talk to him again.”
As the years wore on, returning home from tour usually meant the rest of the band had seen the last of Hanneman for a while. “He would just go home and detach,” King says. “He might have lived only 45 minutes away, but unless you were part of his inner circle, it was hard to stay in touch with him. And it took me a few years to understand that. For a while I was just like, ‘Why isn’t this guy calling me back?’ But as I got older I just realized that that was who Jeff was.
“I don’t think Jeff and I were ever best friends,” continues King. “I think we were probably the closest in the band, but never best friends. To put it in a way that everyone could understand, Jeff and I were like business partners. Was he my friend? Of course he was my friend. But we didn’t really act like that. The last time I was at Jeff’s house was January 2003. We went to his place to watch the Raiders in the playoffs. And it sounds horrible, but it wasn’t horrible. That was just how it was.”
“When Jeff was home, Jeff liked to be home and stay home,” Kathryn says. “He was over it—over the road, over people, over everything. He just wanted to hibernate for a while, and I always respected that. When he was home he liked to sleep in and just kick back during the day. Sometimes he’d get an idea for a song and run down to his music room and start working on music.
And video games—Jeff was a huge video game buff. It started around 1983 with Intellivision, and after that it was Sega and Nintendo and everything else. If any new system came out, we went out and got it immediately. First-person shooters were his thing. He kept up to date on all of them.
“The TV was always on Seinfeld, Frasier, Cheers, Scrubs. And of course football or hockey. Sometimes all the TVs in the house would be on, and we’d be watching different games in every room.”
Pets, football, Seinfeld, video games, music—yes, home life for Jeff and Kathryn Hanneman was almost surprisingly wholesome, particularly around the holidays.
“Christmas was his absolute favorite holiday,” Kathryn says. “He loved giving gifts, and he would always get me quite a few gifts. He started me on a German nutcracker collection and a bear collection, so he was always buying me new pieces for those. For Jeff, the bigger the tree, the better. Our house has 24-foot-high cathedral ceilings, and I remember one year him coming home with a tree that was 22 feet high! [laughs] And of course I would be the one climbing up and down the ladder decorating it. Jeff liked to just sit back and watch me decorate the tree.”
When it came to playing guitar and writing songs at home, Jeff never had any kind of set structure. He would go long stretches without picking up a guitar when the band wasn’t active, and songwriting was done on the spur of the moment, whenever inspiration struck.
“He would never ever say, ‘I need to go and write a song,’ ” Kathryn says. “It would just hit him out of nowhere. He never planned it or was preoccupied with it. If we were at a restaurant, he would ask me if I had the recorder with me, and I’d pull it out and he’d basically hum the riff or speak the lyric into the recorder. And if we were home in the middle of watching TV, he’d get up and run down to the music room and start laying out the drums. That’s how many of his Slayer songs came about.”
Hanneman established himself as Slayer’s principal songwriter early on. By the late Eighties and early Nineties, he had formed a close working relationship with Araya, who handled lyrics for many of Hanneman’s most iconic songs, including “South of Heaven,” “War Ensemble” and “Seasons in the Abyss.”
“We seemed to connect on ideas and themes,” Araya says. “He would have an idea that was half-written, and I’d read it and work on it and disappear and put thoughts together and then I’d say, ‘What do you think?’ and he’d say, ‘This is great. This is exactly what I was hoping you’d come up with.’ He was very encouraging about me putting my ideas down and the two of us working together. I always liked working with Jeff because he allowed me to do things that came naturally. There was a lot of freedom between the two of us when we wrote music and created songs. I think I’m really going to miss that.
“Of all the songs that we’ve ever written as a band, the two songs that ended up getting Grammys—‘Eyes of the Insane’ and ‘Final Six’—were songs that Jeff and I worked on together. That’s something I’m really proud of and something I always tried to make him proud of. I would say, ‘Look, you wrote two Grammy-winning songs. You can’t get any better than that. That’s a milestone.’ ”
Lombardo, too, had great respect for Hanneman as a songwriter and admired the fact that Jeff would present his songs with a basic drum-machine beat already in place. “So many guitar players can’t program a drum machine or play along with their own songs,” says Lombardo, who is currently performing and writing with his band, Philm. “Doing it the way he did takes a lot more talent because you’re thinking of all the instrumentation in a song rather than relying on other people. He heard everything in his mind before anyone else did.
“The ‘vibey’ quality of Jeff’s songs allowed me to create these crescendos and decrescendos, making the song dynamically louder or bringing it back down with the drums. His songs were never just a constant roar of guitar playing—they were dynamic, and it gave me the opportunity to decorate the songs a little more in a form that made sense.”
While news of Hanneman’s death in May came as a shock to all but his closest friends and family—“Was I surprised by how he died? No,” King says. “Was it a surprise that it was that quick? Yes.”—there were events that occurred in the previous few years that could be viewed as contributing factors in the guitarist’s downward spiral. One was the death of his father in 2008.
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