In the final instalment of our interview series with Annihilator founder Jeff Waters, the Canadian – now resident in Durham, UK – reveals all to Rich Holmes about how metal history could have gone a little differently, had certain events taken a different turn.
Jeff Waters admits that he’s comfortable about where Annihilator – and his life – is in 2019. The frontman is very grateful for the support his band has received throughout its 35-year history. He’s happy about how his career has evolved from his days as an eager young metalhead in Vancouver, writing the opening riffs to Alison Hell and Crystal Ann.
But after such a long career, there are a few twists and turns in his tale. Ones that got away. Moments of regret. Surprise revelations. And times that he has just said to himself: “oh shit”.
Here, the accomplished songwriter and guitarist lifts the lid on just a few of them…
The thing that should not be…
Montreal, August 8, 1992. Metallica are playing the Olympic Stadium as part of their joint headlining tour with Guns N’ Roses. James Hetfield is playing Fade To Black when a pyrotechnic charge reacts close to where he’s standing, leaving him with second and third degree burns. Metallica’s guitar tech – and former Metal Church guitarist – John Marshall is drafted in on guitar duties for four weeks while Hetfield recovers.
But the unfortunate incident may have had an alternative outcome, according to Annihilator’s frontman.
Jeff recounts: “I was at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards in 2013. I went in feeling a little awkward, you know, because there were some American bands there. The Americans hang with themselves. And I was Canadian – and nobody else was Canadian!
“And then I hear ‘Waters!’ and I’m like, ‘oh, cool somebody wants to talk to me’. And Jason Newsted was sitting on a couch. I’d never met him before. He asked me, ‘what the fuck happened in 1992?’. I said, ‘what do you mean?’. He said, ‘well remember when James burned his arm? What was wrong with you, what happened?’. He wasn’t angry, he was just smiling. I had no clue what he was talking about.
“Turns out they had a vote with the band about who’s going to be the replacement: I got voted the replacement! They called my manager in Vancouver, who never told me that I got the offer.
“So Newsted is telling me, ‘hey, a couple of us were pretty pissed off that you didn’t even bother to get back to us!’. And I’m like, ‘that’s why when I met Hetfield in Vancouver, he would look at me and would not smile, he just shook my hand and turned his head and talked to Mark Morton from Lamb of God, who they were touring with at the time. I was thinking, ‘oops, I guess he just he just wants to eat, maybe I’m not in his circle and he doesn’t want to talk to anybody outside’. But I felt very strange, like he gave me a little look at death!
“No wonder James didn’t want anything to do with me, because he probably thought – which he should have – ‘how dare the fucker not even have the respect to get back to us when we were in a jam?’.
“I looked at Jason and went, ‘oh, no’.”
Jeff continues: “That was a sad thing to find out. To know that any time my name may have been brought up or heard or seen in a magazine or something by those guys, at least one of them is going, ‘asshole’.
“I could have been technically the stand-in in Metallica, which would have helped my career, but even as a fan, that would have been all I needed in life!”
Never Neverland had just taken off. Annihilator has been touring with Judas Priest. The momentum was building. Jeff believes his management were concerned that he’d become distracted. “I guess they didn’t want me to get tempted by a Megadeth or Metallica,” reflects Jeff. “But… wow.”
Alice in Peace?
1989. Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine is looking for a new guitarist for the follow-up to So Far, So Good… So What!, following the departure of Jeff Young.
According to Annihilator’s founder, he was in the frame for the role – alongside virtuoso six stringer Marty Friedman.
“Dave Mustaine called me in ‘89 we were on tour with Testament,” Jeff recalls. “Chuck Billy came over to my hotel room and banged on the door and said, ‘Waters, come to my room, it’s Dave Mustaine!’
“Mustaine was auditioning guitar players. Essentially, he was saying, learn this B-side of the Peace Sells album. I was blown away. He gave me two days. I had to check with my manager and record company but there was no way they wanted me to do that because Alice In Hell had hit big and they were going to push the next album. So, I had to decline and he hung up the phone on me, not happy.”
Yet Jeff did have an influence on Megadeth’s landmark fourth album after all…
“Rust In Peace is in my top three legendary albums for metal. I’ve always loved Friedman’s soloing on that album and I was following the ‘guitar god’ stuff he did before that. But when he got in that band, I was listening to it going, ‘wow, he must like the same guitar players as I like because there’s this blues-based stuff thrown in with the technical stuff that I don’t know, the scales and the school side. But he’s got this street blues thing, fast, mixed in. This guy’s killing it, the way he can mix the school lesson stuff with the street blues stuff and fast, like Tipton does for Priest’. And I had been a fan of that for decades.
“I thought he got the inspiration from the blues part from the same place I got it. I always wanted to talk to Marty and ask him, ‘was it Tipton, or the Van Halen blues sections or Chuck Berry or BB King, or John McLaughlin?’
“And then I saw Dave Ellefson. We’re having coffee and he sits back and says, ‘me and Marty, we’d get in the car and go to the writing sessions for Rust In Peace’. And every single time they drove that car to the rehearsals for that record, they listened to Alice In Hell. He told me, ‘Marty got a lot of that blues stuff in there from your solos on your Alice In Hell record’. I was looking at Dave going, ‘yeah you’re full of shit – seriously?’.”
Scott’s gain, Jeff’s pain…
Sepultura’s third album, Beneath The Remains, broke the Brazilians on the international metal scene. A bona fide thrash classic, it was produced by Scott Burns – the studio guru forever associated with extreme metal, thanks to his work with the likes of Obituary, Death and Morbid Angel.
Maybe classics tracks like Inner Self and Mass Hypnosis would have sounded a little different though, if a young Canadian had been looking into a crystal ball…
In 1988, Annihilator had just finished recording Alice In Hell, in New Westminster, near Vancouver. Jeff produced the album himself.
He recalls: “Monte Connor has signed this new band called Sepultura from Brazil and a band called Defiance out of San Francisco. Defiance were more Exodus and Sepultura had this mystique – South American, Slayer-esque but it had this different twist.
“Monte said, ‘do you want to produce a band while you are waiting for Alice In Hell to come out? It sounds on this Alice In Hell thing, maybe the engineering isn’t there but the producing… you are pretty good at putting the stuff together’.
“I said ‘sure’. He said, ‘ok, I have two bands. Sepultura will fly up from Brazil to Morrisound, these nice studios in Florida. Or I can bring this Exodus-style band up to Vancouver to the studio’.
“I thought, ‘they both sound good, but I think Defiance sound like they will translate better’.
Annihilator’s European tour is now underway – check out our review of the first night at Riverside, Newcastle here.