Kirk Hammett was born on November 18, 1962. His mother was from the Philippines and his father was Irish. He spent his childhood in a small Californian town called El Sobrante, which was also home to fellow musicians Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde, and John Kiffmeyer. Hammett attended De Anza High School in Richmond, California. His first exposure to rock music would be listening to his older brother Rick’s record collection. He was inspired by the albums of popular rock acts of the day, such as UFO, Hendrix, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, and Black Sabbath.
At the age of 15, driven by the interest in music created by those albums, Kirk began playing guitar. He first learned to play using a guitar from the catalog of now defunct retailer Montgomery Ward. A few years later he switched to a Fender Stratocaster, which he altered with various pickups in an attempt to find a signature sound. Eventually he acquired a Gibson Flying V, like the one played by one of his influences, Michael Schenker of UFO.
Armed with his Flying V, and a growing competency on the instrument, Kirk began playing with other musicians. The cheap amp he had been using up to this point no longer lived up to the demands that he required of it and Hammett took a job at the local Burger King. He stayed there only long enough to save up the money to by a Marshall amp. Around this time Kirk co-founded a band named Exodus with Paul Baloff. Exodus was a supporting act for a band named Metallica on two different occasions.
Soon, though, Kirk Hammett would go from being a supporting act for Metallica, to sharing the stage with them. Increasing problems between the band and their original lead guitarist, Dave Mustaine, led the band the part ways with him. Metallica’s road manager at the time had once managed Exodus and quickly suggested Kirk as a replacement. Kirk flew out to the east coast to join them after scraping up enough money to afford the flight. It was his first time out of California. He would take the stage with his new band a mere 15 days later.
Kirk joined the band shortly before the recording of the album “Kill ‘em all” and performed with the band on that recording. Following the supporting tour for the album, Hammett wanted to expand his guitar playing repertoire and began taking lessons with virtuoso player Joe Satriani. From Satriani, Hammett learned the benefits of incorporating jazz, blues and classical music into his playing. The result brought a more melodic sound to Metallica’s music. He composed the signature riff to “Enter Sandman” which has become one of the most recognizable songs in American Pop Culture.
Despite Metallica’s tremendous success throughout the 80s, Kirk didn’t stop trying to learn and improve his guitar playing. In 1993, after the tour in support of their self-titled album from 1991 (also known as the Black album), Kirk enrolled himself in guitar classes at the City College in San Francisco. Kirk’s attitude that one is never finished learning is one of the things that has contributed to the long term success of him as a guitar player, and of Metallica as a band. It was also around this time that Kirk’s first marriage to now ex-wife, Rebecca, would fall apart.
His time at City College would have an apparent effect on Hammett’s playing on the next two Metallica albums. “Load” and “Reload” would feature more of a blues sound than was previously present on Kirk’s tracks. The two albums were actually the result of one writing session. During production of “Load” the band had enough material for a double album. Ultimately they decided to release half of the songs and take some time to further tweak the other half to release on another album at a later date. The records were released in 1996 and 1997. Shortly after the release of “Reload”, Hammett would marry for the second time, to girlfriend Lani. The couple has two sons together, Angel Ray Keala Hammett and Vincenzo Kainalu Hammett.
Kirk has avoided side projects that may distract from his role with Metallica, but has popped up in a few cameo appearances. He played on an Orbital track called “Satan” that was released on the Spawn soundtrack in 1997. He also played guitar with Carlos Santana on the song “Trinity” on Santana’s 2005 album “All That I Am”. A couple of other notable tracks featuring Hammett are “Kichigai” by punk band Septic Death and “If Rap Gets Jealous” by K’Naan. Hammett also dabbled in acting a little, playing himself on the animated shows The Simpsons and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.