"You make us play better, man!" – 20 years ago Metallica auditioned a host of bass players to replace Jason Newsted

Geordie White auditions for Metallica in 2003
(Image credit: Some Kind Of Monster / YouTube)

Two years after Jason Newsted quit the band, Metallica still had a crew documenting the fallout and recovery of a tumultuous era that would be revealed in the 2004 Some Kind Of Monster documentary. Hetfield, Hammett and Ulrich were still tracking parts of the St Anger album with producer Bob Rock on low-end duties in early 2003 but they were looking ahead to getting back on the road with a permanent bass player.

The filmed meeting with Down and Corrosion Of Conformity member Pepper Keenan – a trusted friend of the band – at the time revealed some of the dilemmas they faced ahead of the selection process. But while Keenan opines that they needed a bassist who could play, sing and write, it's arguable the then dominant songwriting partnership of Hetfield and Ulrich wouldn't be too concerned about the latter. Nevertheless, when rehearsals began they had some tough choices – because the field of candidates was so strong.

"If you want somebody to just play the friggin bass, that's easy," noted Keenan. "But I know you don't."

It was an honour to be asked

Scott Reeder

The relationship between Metallica and Some Kind Of Monster's Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky was strong enough by then that they opened the bassist audition process up to the camera; so we got to see exactly who was vying for the most prestigious bass slot in metal.

The players included Kyuss, The Obsessed and Unida man Scott Reeder, Hollywood Vampires' Chris Wyse, James Addiction's Eric Avery, former Marilyn Manson / A Perfect Circle man Jeordie White (Twiggy Ramirez), Nine Inch Nails' Danny Lohner and former Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves and Ozzy Osbourne bassist Rob Trujillo

"To grow up and have my own success in music and be friends with those guys and have them call me to come and audition, it seemed natural – It didn't seem that crazy," White told Artisan News in 2003. "But the kid in me was completely freaked out. And to show up and actually play Master Of Puppets with James Hetfield across the room was scary." 

Metallica's status is such that even the members of fellow heavy influential acts are reverential in their presence. Scott Reeder recounted to Playthisriff.com how he had two weeks to learn 20 songs before he was flown up by the band for a couple of days of auditions. 

"It was like a dream, it's still weird thinking about it," he remembered. "It was awesome though… it was an honour to be asked."

Reeder ended up playing around eight of the songs he'd learned with the band, and stuck around to see Hetfield tracking vocals for St Anger. We're assuming Lars had already committed his infamous snare to tape by that point. 

To his credit, Keenan was able to separate his own honest opinions from the fact he was auditioning too. And on paper he would have been the strongest candidate for us musically and because of his existing friendship with the band, except for one fact; he's a band-leading guitarist and vocalist in Corrosion Of Conformity.

“It was between me and Trujillo,” Keenan later revealed to 100percentrock.com before laughing: "Yeah, I was cool with it until I saw the movie and saw Trujillo get a check for a million bucks! It was all good until I saw that part, then I’m like ‘wait a second now!’

“Yeah, but hey, everybody’s cool man, it’s a good thing," he added. "Everything evolves and happens for a reason. It was an awesome opportunity. I was pretty close in the scheme of things, but in the long scheme of things, I dunno if I would have been Pepper Keenan anymore, I’d just been the bass player for Metallica.” 

Hetfield himself had three personal favourites; believed to be Wyse, Keenan and Trujillo. "The three guys that I like all have unique features that I'd like to Frankenstein," he told the other members of Metallica in Some Kind Of Monster. But one player soon emerged as the man for the job.

We all know how it ended, and Trujillo's ability to play Master Of Puppets opener Battery with his fingers clearly impressed Hetfield, Hammett and Ulrich early on. Hammett even noticed how his fingerstyle approach on songs "hadn't been played that way since Cliff."

"He was the first guy of any of them that didn't look like he was struggling with it," noted Ulrich in the film. "With some of the other guys it was sort of 10% over their capabilities… and I don't feel that with this guy at all."

For Hetfield, it was Trujillo's second audition that sealed the deal. "The second time you came back, that for me [made me realise], you make us play better, man!" he told their new bassist. "You make the band so much better, so solid."

In the video above we even get to see the touching moment when the band and its inner circle embrace Trujillo as a member of Metallica for the first time. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.