If you’re a fan of metal, there’s certain names you’d see on album thank you lists, people who became known for being a big help behind the scenes.
And back in the day, the help and support from the fans went a long way. It’s also amazing to look back at what could be done before we ever had e-mail, or the Internet, and things went round the world through regular mail, and good old fashioned word of mouth.
It’s a cliché to say you go way back with somebody, but with Metallica, KJ Doughton goes way back.
Doughton ran the band’s first fan club, wrote the band biography Metallica Unbound, and we recently spoke to him about meeting up with the band again at The Big Four show, and it was clearly quite a trip to see how far things have come.
To prove that the metal underground truly has no geographic boundaries, it all started back when KJ was growing up in a tiny mill town in Oregon.
On the weekends, Doughton and a friend would drive into the bigger cities like Portland, and buy import albums. Then he started writing letters to bands and calling them from school, which got Doughton in trouble when his high school principal called his parents about a phone bill that racked up thousands of dollars in long distance charges. (On the website, www.voicesfromthedarkside.de, Les Evans of the speedcore band Cryptic Slaughter also recalled a friend of his had stolen calling card numbers that they used to call all their fellow band friends, and they called themselves The Phone Pirates.)
Long before file sharing, you duped a band’s album or demo on a cassette tape, and sent it to friends via regular mail, and tape trading became the lifeblood of underground metal.
“I lived in a small town in Oregon, and I was bored with life,” Doughton says. “My salvation was looking in the mailbox and finding those manila covered envelopes knowing there was a demo tape in there from some band.”
Then the fateful date arrived when KJ got Metallica’s first demo from his friend Pat Scott. Scott wanted a demo from an Oregon band called Crisis, and he sent the Metallica demo hoping it would be a fair trade.
Doughton definitely liked what he heard, and when he called Lars Ulrich, the drummer couldn’t believe someone in Portland of all places had heard the band. The band needed someone to answer their mail, and KJ volunteered to help out. The Doughton family home was now the Metallica fan club headquarters.
When Metallica handed out flyers at their gigs, KJ’s address was on the back of them, letters started pouring in, and he duped somewhere between 600 to 1,000 copies of the “No Life Til Leather” demo in his basement. ”Lars would send me lists of people he would see in the metal magazines, and say, ‘Send one to this guy.’ He’d direct me to people he’d met, radio shows, fanzines he’d heard about.
“He came up with a list of VIPs to send the demos out to. If it got to the right people, they would dub copies of it for their friends, then those friends would dub their copies, and it created this huge grassroots groundswell that went on and on. Lars was always looking for ways to further the cause.”