When Metallica broke out of the Metal underground

When KJ Doughton headed up Metallica’s fan club, and volunteered to help spread the word, who could have predicted the band would have become as big as they did?

Original core fans like Doughton figured they’d become as big as Motorhead, and until the Black album, a lot of people in the music industry just didn’t get it. Metallica opened for Twisted Sister way back in the day, and writer Mick Wall remembered Dee Snider telling him they were “a nice bunch of kids, but “no way” they’d ever make it.


Once Metallica got their record deal with Megaforce, things changed in a big way. They were now managed by Q-Prime, who handled Def Leppard when were having enormous success with the Pyromania album, and Doughton was no longer running their fan club.

“That was the point I realized there were other people who a piece of the band,” Doughton says.

“By the time I knew they were getting huge was the time I alsso realized they’d probably outgrown me, because there were other people that jumped into the picture business-wise. Suddenly merchandisers were calling me and saying they bought the fan club rights. In my naivete, I felt like the music was all that mattered.”


Doughton would go through what a lot of metal fans go through when their favorite bands become very successful. 

”I definitely felt a certain betrayal, as I’m sure a lot of other metalheads did when Metallica became more popular, because it’s kind of like losing your baby. You feel a certain ownership, then suddenly the band becomes more corporate and there’s this feeling of, ‘Hey, wait a minute. That’s our band, that’s the underground’s band.’ But in retrospect, if the potential is there to become commercially viable, you’re gonna jump at the opportunity to get bigger.”


Still, many years later Metallica invited everyone on the Kill ‘Em All thank you list to their induction into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, and Doughton also caught up again with the band at the Big Four show in Southern California. 

“I had this surge of gratitude to the band,” Doughton says of seeing them again at the Hall of Fame ceremony. “I hadn’t seen them in over twenty years, but they hadn’t forgotten. The moral of that story: Don’t second guess yourself into thinking you’ve outgrown something that’s such a big part of your life.

“I think as people get older, they lose the spontaneity and the joy that comes with really embracing something. Life’s too short not to be excited about something, and to have a little pocket of something you’re really interested in. I think it’s incredibly important to have that little hobby that you can call yours, that you can claim ownership of. You definitely need to counter reality with something that’s a little more escapist and fun.”