In 1988, Metallica released their seminal album “…And Justice For All”. Beyond being one of the top selling metal albums of all-time it featured the debut of their new bassist Jason Newsted. Newsted took over for the late Cliff Burton who was considered one of the finest metal bass players on the planet.
The band selected Newsted out of a pool of thousands of candidates including jazz legend Victor Wooten, Primus front man Les Claypool and Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak. Newsted, who was never really considered much of musician, was selected for his very metal looking hair and menacing scowl. Following Cliff Burton was a challenge for a guy who only recently had learned to use both hands when playing the instrument. How would Jason replace this legendary metal figure?
Instead of running away from this daunting task, Newsted devised a strategy before the “…And Justice” sessions that would forever change metal bass playing. He simply removed the strings from the instrument. “We knew he had no idea what to do with the bass,” said noted producer Bob Rock. “He’s right-handed and would pick the thing up like he was a lefty. We were really nervous. Then, Jason showed up with the bass with no strings and Lars was like ‘Hell yeah, man!’ The rest is history.”
The invisible playing that Newsted performed on “…And Justice” is some of the most memorable non-playing in the history of the genre. Who could forget the fabulous non-bassline in Dyers’ Eve? Or the complex non-bass solo before the fade up at the beginning of Eye of The Beholder? By simply standing there pantomiming what an actual bass player would do, Jason helped create one of the most important albums in the last 30 years.
Newsted abandoned the no-string bass on later albums. This proved to be a career-destroying mistake. James and Lars called a closed door meeting with Jason and broke the news to him. “I told him ‘Jason, we simply can’t grow as a band if you continue to insist on playing actual basslines. It’s just not your strength. Maybe it’s time for you to move on.’ Besides the “little Danish friend” talk with Dave Mustaine in the movie “Some Kind of Monster”, it was the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had,” said a teary-eyed Lars Ulrich as he casually glanced at his watch.
Newsted tried to bring back the “no string” style on a solo album called “The Sound of No Noise”. He was accompanied by two no string guitarists, a drummer with no sticks and a mute vocalist. The album sold less than 300 copies. Newsted picked up studio work with several well-known bands, playing several times in the silent space between the last song on the album and the hidden track.
Today, Jason is a manager at a Herman’s Sporting Goods store in Bayonne, New Jersey. He doesn’t talk often talk about the time he spent in Metallica. Recently, he’s toyed with the concept of doing a ragtime album using a piano with no keys, but his musician days are probably behind him. He has no regrets about his life on the road with the band, but he is clear that his getting paid a lot of money for looking like he belonged in Metallica days are behind him. “There just isn’t much of a market for a bass player who doesn’t know how to play bass,” said Newsted as he calmly stacked boxes of Reebok sneakers on top of one another. “Honestly, in heavy metal, untalented, tone-deaf bass players are a dime a dozen.”