Drinking with Metallica’s Rob Trujillo

Metallica's legendary bassist sits down to talk about drinking on the road, finding balance and the time he drank Jack Daniels with his musical idol, Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister.

In the 1990s, Rob Trujillo, the bassist for Metallica, made the leap from whiskey and Coke to whiskey and ginger—for health reasons. According to Zakk Wylde, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, ginger counteracts the negative effects of drinking. While not even close to scientifically proven (and far from doctor’s orders), Trujillo still swears by it.

When he met his wife Chloe in 1995 in Paris while on tour with Suicidal Tendencies, she vividly remembers his drink of choice: Crown Royal and ginger with two waters (the waters were also, ostensibly, for health reasons).

That ’90s romance ended up in marriage, two kids and permanent residence in LA. He recounts the meeting at Baltimore’s Rye Bar, though without a drink in his hand. Trujillo is recovering from both a hiatal and umbilical hernia, likely a result of a combination of genetics, life on the road and years performing the “crab walk,” the signature guitar-playing style (typified by a sumo stance and “mean mug”) Rob invented while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. When offered a drink, he lifts his shirt up to reveal the damage wrought.

Despite his current dry spell, the brawny, raven-haired bassist—who competed to replace former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted after his 2001 departure, recorded for posterity in the documentary Some Kind of Monster—was irrepressible in his storytelling. Two hours and several whiskies, mezcals and cocktails later, Trujillo proved himself to be as happy sober as Chloe reports him drunk.

The famed combination of rock ‘n’ roll and alcohol has been known to cause its share of ups-and-downs. Even Trujillo’s bandmate and singer in Metallica, James Hetfield, has traded in his drinking days after struggles with alcoholism. But for Trujillo it’s been more ups than anything else.

Many banished spirits later, present-day Rob Trujillo is much more interested in quality over quantity—something about having kids and getting up at 6:30 a.m. on school days. Hernias, too. He’s switched from his beloved Crown and ginger to craft cocktails and red wine (his father-in-law owns a wine shop in Paris).

While his predecessor Newsted was hazed immediately upon joining Metallica—sometimes jokingly referred to as “Alcoholica” in reference to the band’s notorious affection for the bottle—Trujillo argues that his “welcoming” period lasted a decade, beginning in Madrid in 1993 with Suicidal Tendencies’ (he played bass for the band before joining Metallica) last gig opening for the band.

He describes most of his drinking history as a process of elimination, getting sick after drinking too much of one spirit and then vowing never to touch it again. He spent years drinking Jack Daniels with Suicidal Tendencies. After a vicious night, he quit Jack for good. Ditto with Jäger. In retrospect, his process of elimination (however unpleasant) may have been what saved him from a permanent downward spiral.

Many banished spirits later, present-day Rob Trujillo is much more interested in quality over quantity—something about having kids and getting up at 6:30 a.m. on school days. Hernias, too. He’s switched from his beloved Crown and ginger to craft cocktails and red wine (his father-in-law owns a wine shop in Paris). Now a typical week in his drinking life sometimes includes Mojitos, and, in keeping with Wylde’s advice, any and all cocktails that contain fresh ginger—often by way of his two favorite LA watering holes: Crossroads (for fresh ginger beer drinks) and Santa Monica’s dive-y classic, Cock ‘n’ Bull. His tastes have evolved right alongside America’s new penchant for Mule mugs and artisanal ingredients. Gone are the days drinking without conscience.

Trujillo confirms many of his fellow rock stars have turned from whiskey and Jägermeister binge-drinkers into tequila, sake and wine connoisseurs, including some of his bandmates. Even the most hardcore of metal elites develop a taste for the good life. Though for some, old habits die hard.

Consider Lemmy Kilmister, the bassist and front man for Motörhead who, as Trujillo recently found out, is a dependable Jack and Coke drinker. Kilmister, a musical idol of Trujillo’s, is cast in a forthcoming animated movie produced by Trujillo and James Hetfield called Tallica Parking Lot, about fans pre-gaming Metallica shows. (Rob has a budding interest in producing film, including an upcoming documentary on the legendary Jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius.)

Trujillo lined up the cartoon’s voiceover actors, including cameos from characters in South Park and Beavis & Butthead. Kilmister initially declined to come to the studio, opting instead to record it at home. When the recording didn’t turn out, Trujillo was left to lure Kilmister into the studio himself. So, he solicited advice from Whitfield Crane of Ugly Kid Joe and Steffan Chirazi who works with Metallica and Motörhead. Both said the same thing: make sure to have a fresh hard pack of Marlboro Reds, a bottle of Jack Daniels, ice and Coca-Cola waiting.

Rob got the goods and headed over to Kilmister’s apartment in his 1964 Buick Riviera lowrider, knowing the bassist was also a car buff. He rolled up, turned off the engine and watched as Kilmister came down, cigarette hanging out of his mouth. “Oh, ’64 Rivie…” he murmured in a British growl of approval. He got in. The car wouldn’t start. Trujillo, nervous in the presence of his idol, started sweating. He tried the engine again; no turnover.

While Trujillo fidgeted nervously, Kilmister assuaged him with stories before asking if there was going to be any booze at the studio. Trujillo had already prepared, realizing Kilmister’s ritual was a way not only to corral his idol, but to connect with him. When they finally made it to the studio, a 1.75 ml of Jack Daniels was waiting. Kilmister grabbed the bottle and the ice and started pouring. It was in this moment that Trujillo began to relax and allow himself to revel in his fellow rock star’s presence, feeling that familiar backstage bond take hold.

Kilmister offered him a whiskey. And though Jack is on the ban list, Trujillo thought for a moment and replied, “Count me the fuck in.”

Derek Brown has one of those dream jobs that your high school counselor never tells you about. He drinks for a living. He's a cocktail and spirits writer, spirits judge and owner of acclaimed bars Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency, The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington D.C. He travels around the world learning and teaching about how drinking is an integral part of our culture and values.

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