Jason Newsted’s Childhood: Metallica Bassist’s First 72 Seasons
Metallica’s 11th album, 72 Seasons, arrives on April 14. Frontman James Hetfield revealed that the LP’s title and theme revolve around an individual’s formative years. "Seventy-two seasons. The first 18 years of our lives that form our true or false selves,” he explained in a statement. In anticipation of the album, UCR looks back at the respective childhoods of Metallica’s current and former members.
Jason Curtis Newsted was the third of four children growing up on a Battle Creek, Mich., farm in the 1960s. “I was from a very strong family and I was raised to be a strong, pure Americana farm boy,” he recalled of his rural upbringing. “[The farm was] where I learned about life — seeing a baby cow born right in front of your eyes when you’re 8 years old is pretty intense.”
Newsted woke up to feed the farm animals at 6:30 a.m. before school, and, like his future bandmates James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, was raised by strict Christian parents. “My father and I raised Arabian Stallions on our farm,” he recalled in All That Matters. “I rode all the time, and I did the circuit horse shows, all that sort of crap. My parents were very hard workers. They set a real good example, ‘go-gettedness.’ My dad would always say, ‘Take the incentive and don’t sit around waiting for something to happen. You gotta get to it and take advantage.”
Newsted also raised dozens of rabbits and chickens, selling them for meat and as pets. Every spring, he bought Cornish hen chicks to raise for meat and eggs, which he sold at church on Sundays. “When I was 11 years old, I spent $110 on a pair of sharkskin boots that I fit in for five months,” he recalled in 2021. “That's how hard I was working with my own thing, and I kept my own books. I kept my own, all of that stuff. Because my dad was an accountant, so I learned how to do that myself.” To the amusement of future interviewers, Jason’s mother worked for a hearing-aid company.
He didn’t love going to church and would tell So What! he wished he learned “more about Da Vinci and modern heroes like Medgar Evers” in school, adding, “There are so many things people don’t know about now that people should learn about. There has to be more of a world scope than just traditional Anglo-American history.” But Newsted took to music and started playing guitar in church at age 9, before switching to saxophone for middle school. “I was playing saxophone in high school band, right from seventh grade, marching and otherwise,” the musician recalled. “Pretty cornball, middle-of-Michigan-farmland thing, was something to do.”
Newsted narrowed his musical calling when the school band’s drummer brought a record by four makeup-wearing rock superheroes to class. “As soon as I saw that cover of [Kiss'] Dressed to Kill, and that's them in the suits with the makeup on still, that was it," Newsted remembered. “When my next birthday came around, I wanted to be Gene Simmons. I asked for a bass, and my dad got me one.”
He soon co-founded a band named Diamond and looked up to bassists like Geezer Butler, Geddy Lee, Lemmy Kilmister and Motown legend James Jamerson. “I will say that the record that I probably know the nuances of more than any other is the Jackson 5’s third album, that I got for my eighth birthday from my oldest brother," Newsted admitted to The Vinyl District. "Every little thing … of a drum hit, of a bass line, of a guitar, of a breath of a 'oooh!' … every single thing. ... So yeah, Jackson 5 was the first one, but then when it gets heavy, it’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
“I listened to all that Motown stuff when I was a kid,” Newsted noted. “At the Woolworths, for 19 cents you go into the 45s and you could get garage funk, all these different bands that only have one single out. All these bands of just bass-dominated music, and that played through my household when I was a little kid. I didn’t know at the time, [but] I look back now, [and] there’s a reason I was drawn to the bass from the beginning, and why it did what it did. [It] was that soul music.”
His family moved to a Kalamazoo horse farm when Newsted was 14, but he was much more taken by music than farming or his new high school. “The first bands I was in, in Michigan, I was always the younger one. I was 16 years old, and everyone else in the band was 26-27 years old," he recalled.
"I was actually playing bass and singing back then. We were playing Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Riot, Tom Petty, Bad Company, things like that, always towards the heavier side. We played Rainbow a lot, too, things like ‘Stargazer’ and those kinds of songs.”
Three months before his graduation, Newsted quit high school to join a hard rock band with guys in their 20s calling themselves Gangster. They were planning to move west in pursuit of their rock-star dreams. The bassist’s parents weren’t thrilled, but Newsted sold much of his record collection to support his move to Phoenix, where he worked restaurant jobs and played AC/DC covers with Gangster.
The group broke up quickly, but in 1982 Jason saw a music-store ad from drummer Kelly Smith that cited Iron Maiden and Rush as influences. They joined up to form Paradox, a band that renamed itself Dredlox and then Dogz, with singer Erik A.K. Knutson and guitarists Kevin Horton and Mark Vasquez in tow. Newsted stepped up in writer and managerial duties.
“Every waking moment I was tape-trading, international communications - which in those days meant putting all the parcel post together and all the airmail crap, no internet thing where you push one button and a million people get it,” Jason remembered in Justice for All. “It was the real deal!”
But Dogz wouldn’t make history until they underwent a lineup and name change in 1984, renaming themselves after the ninth chapter of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers: Flotsam and Jetsam.