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.
“I think he thought he could do this on his own—that he would just to go rehearsal and play, and that that would be his rehab. But I think he started to learn, once he tried rehearsing, that he wasn’t playing up to his ability and that he wasn’t able to play guitar at the speed he was used to. And I think that really hit him hard, and he started to lose hope.”
The incident with Jeff’s arm couldn’t have come at a worse time for the band. A European tour was booked for March and April 2011, and the legendary Big 4 tour, which saw Slayer sharing a stage with fellow thrash pioneers Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, was on the schedule between April and September. These shows were immensely important for the band, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that Jeff wouldn’t be able to participate.
“For me it was really difficult to make the decision to go on without Jeff,” Araya says. “They started naming names to take his place, and I’m like, How can you guys even think about this? We can’t do this without Jeff. But we had to do something. Slayer, aside from being band members and really tight-knit, we are a business. Those are aspects of what we do that fans have a tough time understanding. So we had to make decisions because we were obligated to do these tours.”
Of all the possible replacements for Hanneman being bandied about, everyone was most comfortable with Exodus mainstay Gary Holt, a longtime friend of the band’s.
“I remember when the tour came up, Jeff said to me, ‘No. No. There’s no way in hell this band is going out without me,’ ” Kathryn says. “He was definitely hurt by the fact that, for the first time ever, the band had to go on without him, but eventually he became okay with it, and a lot of that was because it was his friend Gary that was going to fill in for him. He knew the band had to go on.”
“Gary was a friend, he wasn’t an outsider,” Araya says. “We’ve known him for 30 years and he was a good friend of Jeff’s. When we first met Exodus, he and Jeff were inseparable.”
Fans were hopeful that Hanneman was well on his way to a full recovery when the guitarist joined his bandmates onstage for two songs—“Angel of Death” and “South of Heaven”—at the Big 4 show in Indio, California, on April 23, 2011, four months after the bite on his arm. Behind the scenes, however, a different story was emerging.
“He wasn’t at his best that night, but he was able to come out and do those two songs,” Araya says. “It was after that that I think he realized that he could only play for a little bit and then had to stop. He would come in to rehearse and he would jam out some parts and then he’d stop and just kind of fiddle with his guitar. He did that a few times, but then he just stop coming to rehearsal.
“We told him, ‘Listen, we understand that you’re having a tough time playing your guitar, having a tough time coming back 100 percent, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a part of what we do, which is write songs. You are still Slayer, you are a big part of this band, you can still write music and you can still put ideas together. Sit in the studio and work with us, make us what we are.’ He was a big part of this band. I knew it and realized it a long time ago.”
“We were holding out hope until the day he died,” King says. “If he ever came to us and said, ‘Okay, I can do this,’ there was no question. This was his gig. Now, did I think that would actually happen? No, I didn’t.”
“I think part of him knew that he wasn’t going to be back in the band,” Kathryn adds.
As the realism about his situation began to set in, Jeff was forced to accept the fact that his livelihood was being stripped away, no doubt fueling his alcohol-induced decline over the next year and a half. Factor in Hanneman’s uncommunicative, reclusive nature, and there wasn’t much his bandmates could do but carry on.
“People have to make their own decisions about how they want to live their lives,” Araya says. “You can’t start dictating to people how they should live because it just pushes them away. It doesn’t help anything. It wasn’t easy but it’s not like we were blind to what was going on. We knew. And there were points that we tried to help and encourage him to come back—tell him he could still be a part of what we do, even if it wasn’t full time.
“But I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he didn’t want to let us down. He didn’t want to disappoint us. He was very prideful and wanted to make sure he could come back at 100 percent. I think when he was having real difficulty over that last year, he just didn’t want us to know about it. He kept saying that he needed more time. And the isolation didn’t help much either. I think that no matter how things would have worked out, the end result would have been the same.”
“It eats you up because you think, Why can’t I fix this guy?” King says. “And it’s not that he didn’t want to be fixed. I mean, he didn’t want to die. But he also couldn’t help himself before it was too late.”
On May 2, 2013, the sudden news took the metal community by storm: Jeff Hanneman had died. Araya recalls his final communications with his longtime friend and bandmate: “I had been texting with him, and he even sent me a song that he had been working on. So it seemed like he was doing okay. But when I got the call that he was back in intensive care, I became concerned. Eventually he stopped responding to my texts. It was like a one-sided conversation.
“I was home with my family when I found out he had died. The phone rang and my wife answered it, and she had this look of dread on her face. She handed me the phone and didn’t say anything, and it was our manager, Rick [Sales], and he told me. I hung up the phone and went to my room and I cried.
“It hit my family hard, because they really liked Jeff, they knew him really well. My mother was really upset, my sisters really loved Jeff, and my brother too—he was Jeff’s tech for a long time. Everyone in my family knew him and loved him a lot.”
Currently, the future of Slayer is uncertain. Upcoming short tours of Europe and South America will go on as planned, but what happens after that is anyone’s guess.
“I plan on continuing,” King says. “I don’t think we should throw in the towel just because Jeff’s not here.”
As for Lombardo, even though his split from the band a few months ago was publicly acrimonious, he says his door is open for any future discussions with his former bandmates. “If they want to talk, I’m here. I don’t want any kind of animosity between us. Life is too short and we’re too old for that shit. I’m ready and willing, so we’ll see what happens.”
Araya, on the other hand, has no idea what the future holds for this band. And it’s a decision he’s currently struggling with.
“After 30 years, it would literally be like starting over,” he says. “To move forward without Jeff just wouldn’t be the same, and I’m not sure the fans would be so accepting of that drastic a change. Especially when you consider how much he contributed to the band musically. And you can have someone sit in for him, but there’s no one on this planet that can do what Jeff did.
“There’s no replacing him.”
This feature is from the 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine. For more information, visit the Guitar World Online Store.
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