It was 1983 when David Ellefson, an 18-year-old Minnesota farm boy with a love of rock 'n' roll and talent for the bass, moved to Los Angeles and knocked on his neighbor Dave Mustaine's door because "he looked like a rock 'n' roll guy." He was right, and Mustaine, who had just been booted out of Metallica, and Ellefson formed Megadeth.
Three decades later — and more than 20 million albums sold worldwide — the celebrated metal band is still rocking … to the delight of headbangers everywhere.
Ellefson visited Yahoo Studios in New York to talk about his new book, "My Life With Deth." It's his story of the band — from being christened "Junior" and their early days of being homeless aspiring rock stars to his dark period of battling addiction and then coming out the other side with a newfound sense of faith. The tome also includes his run-ins with rock stars beyond Mustaine and their revolving crew of bandmates, like Slash, Nikki Sixx, and Steven Tyler, and the forward is written by Alice Cooper.
We asked Ellefson, who when he isn't touring with Megadeth is studying to become a Lutheran pastor, to share memories of making some of the group's most memorable albums. Here's what he told us…
1. Blowing Their Budget Making "Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good!": The guys were given $8,000 to produce their 1985 debut album, but it didn't get them far with half of it going to "lifestyle expenses" (read: drugs and alcohol). They were "living hand to mouth" and Ellefson would sleep in his van or in their rehearsal studio. To shower he had to — well, let him tell you…
2. Returning to His Midwest Hometown — With Mustaine — After Completing 1986's "Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?": Ellefson, who had been using drugs regularly by that point, detoxed during their week-long stay with his parents' Jackson, Minnesota, farm. But what he remembers best from the visit was his dad, a successful farmer, giving long-haired, metal-lovers Ellefson and Mustaine some tough talk about how they could become better businessmen.
3. Getting Sober in the Middle of "Rust in Peace." The 1990 album was written during Ellefson's darkest days. Three stints in rehab hadn't defeated his raging drug addiction — neither had methadone — and he was struggling. Then he had an epiphany, which came after a night of partying with strippers and porn stars.
4. Losing Big at the Grammys for "Countdown to Extinction," Leading to Biggest Regret: Ellefson considers the album the band's "coming of age." But while the period was filled with many high points, the rocker — who was then drug free — was served a dose of humble pie at the 1993 Grammys when the band, which has received 11 total Grammy nominations over the years, was nominated for Best Metal Performance. Find out why he describes the incident his one regret in life.
5. When an Infant Was Tamed by ... Thrash Metal During "Cryptic Writings": The band was happily out of their element when they arrived in Nashville to record the 1997 album, which Ellefson has described as the "most musically invigorating next to 'Countdown.'" But by then he was married (he said "I do" to wife Julie in 1994 — the same day his father unexpectedly died), they had a young son, and he wasn't getting much sleep...
Ellefson, who formed his own bands following Megadeth's 2002 disbandment but returned to the group in 2010, said it was having children (in addition to son Roman, now 17, they have a 15-year-old daughter, Athena) which reconnected him to his Lutheran roots. He and Julie decided to look for a church where they could take their kids — and the need for a bass player at services kept him going back. He's now studying to be a Lutheran pastor and is a founder of the worship series MEGA Life! Ministries near his home in Arizona.
"God knows if he can get me to come with my bass, I'll probably show up. That's how I started to get involved in any church work — it wasn't some spiritual platitudes or anything like that at all. I'm just this guy playing bass in Megadeth and one day I'm playing in church," he told us. Watch it all here:
David Ellefson's new book, "My Life With Deth," is on sale now.
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