James Hetfield gets emotional onstage after feeling “insecure” about his guitar playing

James Hetfield
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Regardless of success or skill level, guitarists are all prone to insecurity at times. James Hetfield, for example, one of the most accomplished rhythm players in history – recently voted by Guitar World readers as the second best rhythm guitarist of all time – admitted that he was feeling “a little insecure” about his playing before performing in Belo Horizonte on Thursday night.

Speaking to the 60,000-strong crowd after finishing ...And Justice For All classic One, Hetfield revealed that he felt like “an old guy”, and that he “can't play anymore”, adding that it was all “bullshit that I tell myself in my head”.

He added that the help of his bandmates – guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Rob Trujillo and drummer Lars Ulrich – helped him overcome his insecurities and take to the stage.

“I talked to these guys, and they helped me – simple as that,” he said. “They gave me a hug and said, ‘Hey, if you're struggling on stage, we've got your back.’ And I tell you it means the world to me.”

After his comments, all three of Hetfield's bandmates left their posts onstage to give him a group hug, leaving him visibly emotional.

He concluded by addressing the audience: “And seeing you out there, I am not alone. I am not alone, and neither are you.”

James Hetfield has been vocal about various personal struggles in the past. Back in 2019, Metallica canceled a planned tour of Australia and New Zealand so Hetfield could attend rehab for alcoholism.

And last year, the frontman spoke of the pressure he felt to front the band during the touring cycle for the Black Album, now one of the best-selling albums of all time.

“There was such an expectation already on myself to not let the team down and be the best possible,” he told Apple Music's Zane Lowe in October. “But then you add 60,000 people out there... You need to be what they need you to be, because this is what you've evolved to be.”

“It is a little bit of Oz,” Hetfield added, referencing the classic 1900 children's book The Wizard of Oz. “Like, the man behind the curtain, pay no attention, but this guy behind the curtain is just dying and struggling and freaking out and not knowing who he is.”

“I'm no good without these guys,” Hetfield continued, referring to his bandmates. “Off tour, it's like, ‘Who am I?’ Like any first responder or football player or even a soldier, you take your uniform off and you're a civilian again. [And you begin asking yourself], ‘Who am I? I don't know who I am.’ There was a lot of fear in that.”

Despite his insecurities, James Hetfield is regarded as one of the most influential metal guitarists of all time. Guitarists regularly cite him as in inspiration, including Alice in Chains leader Jerry Cantrell, who last year called his playing “otherwordly”, adding that he has the “best picking hand in rock”.

In other news, James Hetfield recently launched his first-ever signature strings with Ernie Ball. “It's only taken 40 years for me to have my own strings,” he said upon their release. “Come on!”

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Sam Roche

Sam was Staff Writer at GuitarWorld.com from 2019 to 2023, and also created content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.