“The Mighty Matt”
If you came of age in the Detroit area before the release of The Black Album , perhaps you remember him. A DJ for this Ontario-based radio station called 89X, Matt was one of Metallica’s most fiery advocates. When the band debuted …And Justice for All , for example, he played all 65 minutes straight without a commercial. But what really made him synonymous with the group was the lead-in to his show.
It wasn’t simply “Oh, here’s The Mighty Matt” with a jingle; rather, a voice drawled out ominously “THE… MIGH-TY… MAAAATT…” as the beginning bars of either “Damage, Inc.” or “Battery” gathered in the background. So if you planned on tuning into his set, this was like the clock striking twelve, a wolf gone howling, or some lighting storm getting a better read on your position. It was a lock-up-your-doors, my friend, kind of greeting: The metal militia is coming for you!
For me, he was at the vanguard of fandom spinning an all-Metallica hour that aired each Saturday at midnight. In a time before corporate DJs blanded the airwaves with “Flashback Fridays,” “Two-for-Tuesdays,” and “No Commercial Three-Plays,” Matt offered a revolutionary concept: How ‘bout I just spin the deepest cuts from a band I like? And that’s what he did. With little interruption from ads, Matt unleashed the most brutally unapologetic tracks I’d ever heard at that point in my Metallica listening career. He played stuff you couldn’t buy, live recordings that sounded as if the band were jamming in a primordial cave, and the B-sides I never knew existed.
I’d prepare for one of these magic hours by first popping a fresh cassette tape from Sony/TDK/Maxwell into my boombox radio. Then I’d make sure to correctly depress the right combination of play/pause/record buttons. (My device was so sensitive.) Sometimes I’d run a test. I never wanted to miss an astounding song from the previous week Matt might repeat. You could easily be late to push PLAY, so I put the boombox on the floor and crouched right down next to it. So whether lying supine or knees pulled up to my chest sitting, I was ready to react.
My first capture was a cover: Metallica doing Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” with its explicit lyrics and a meticulously lumbering guitar solo from Kirk Hammett. More would follow. I expanded my collection with their take on Budgie’s “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” — the one where they guys are howling along in the bridge section — and then Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy.” (For years, though, I thought James Hetfield was shouting “Don’t go crazy, ya know!” instead of the real “Stone cold crazy, you know!” chorus. Oh well.)
I loved my early bootlegs. In fact, two of them rank among my most cherished Metallica songs. There was the precise, melodic drum bashing Lars Ulrich laid down on their version of Budgie’s “Breadfan,” and the shrill shredding both Hammett and Hetfield delivered to Blitzkrieg’s “Blitzkrieg.” (Of course, if you’re a fan of surprises, the best moment of “Blitzkrieg” was when Hetfield elected to drop that conspicuous belch at the end of the song. Ha ha. Rock n’ rock, man!)
Unfortunately, I’m not sure of Matt’s doings and whereabout these days. I haven’t been able to spot a mention of him anywhere in the media. I hope wherever he is, though, he’s still turning people on to Metallica. Or at least still involved with spinning music. One thing’s for certain: I would never have been a Metallica fan for this long without his influence. Nor would I still be referring to the band by the brilliant moniker he used for his show. So, wherever you are, man, here’s a big metal up your ass! Long live The Migh-ty Maaaatt!
Photo by Rick Stachura. May 14, 2017
James Hetfield of Metallica at MetLife Stadium. The band’s WorldWired Tour.