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"James isn’t the middle-finger guy people see from the outside."

Hetfield Cash
Heinrich Klaffs, CC BY-SA 2.0, Johnny Cash via Wikimedia Commons

Metallica's James Hetfield might be known for his intense stage presence and aggressive vocals, but according to their longtime producer, there's a surprising side to the metal icon.

Greg Fidelman, who has worked with Metallica on multiple albums, and co-produced Hardwired… To Self-Destruct and 72 Seasons, recently revealed in a new interview with podcast The Metallica Report, an interesting comparison between Hetfield and the legendary country singer Johnny Cash.

Fidelman, who also had the experience of working on Cash's album American V: A Hundred Highways, highlighted a shared quality between the two seemingly disparate musicians: a powerful presence that transcends their public image.

"Working with Johnny, he had an older, very grateful gentleman vibe, but still just had the legend, part of it. I suppose that the part of the person that's the legend also comes down to the person that's approaching the legend; what they have in their head,” Fidelman said.

Cash, for Fidelman, embodied a sense of gratitude and wisdom alongside his undeniable legendary status. Hetfield, on the other hand, was described as someone who actively strives to move beyond the angry persona often associated with him.

"So for me, and most people, probably, working with Johnny Cash was completely fairytale stuff. So I was a little apprehensive, and also, this is early on in my career. But, when I'd hear Johnny say, between the takes or something, 'Hey, Greg, can you bring me another cup of tea?' When I heard that over the speakers in the control room, I was definitely like, 'Whoa, okay!'"

"James is also obviously a lot younger than Johnny was when I met him, but James isn’t the middle-finger guy people see from the outside."

Fidelman portrays Hetfield as someone who prioritizes authenticity in the studio, focusing on being "just a guy" rather than playing up to expectations.

I don't know that James; I know *of* that James, but by the time I'm working with him, he's already trying to not be something other than just a guy. I think he wouldn't really like it, but he's more than that."

The comparison goes deeper than just demeanor. While acknowledging Hetfield's introspective nature, Fidelman emphasizes his ease of collaboration. There's a complexity beneath the surface, but it doesn't translate into difficulty working together.

"When James comes in, there's a presence, but James has also become grateful, and tries to be very kind. James still has much more of a mercurial kind of personality, where the moods are clear and you know when they're this, that, and the other. All good things, but that's a different thing. James can be much harder to sort of dig into — he's very easy to work with, for me, anyway — but just to understand what's happening on the inside. There, sometimes it's a little complicated."

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