Shawn Murphy saw Metallica on the '...And Justice For All' tour when he was just 14. It was the second time he had seen the band, and it was at that show that he knew he would spend the rest of his life playing drums in metal bands.
"That was it. I said, 'I'm playing drums, man,'" Murphy said. "It was the coolest thing I ever saw and it's still one of the best concerts I've ever seen."
Murphy went on to play in band after band in his hometown of Spokane, Washington. All the while he dreamed of buying an '80s TAMA GranStar kit with shark-tooth lugs, just like the one he saw Ulrich playing* back as a young teen. Over 20 years later, he finally found one, putting it to use with his Metallica tribute band called Blistered Earth.
The group built a sizable West Coast following, concentrating on the masters of metal's earliest, thrashiest hits. "Other tribute bands get booked at casinos -- you know, the higher-end gigs -- and we don't get those because we're metal," Murphy said. "It's funny, because those guys will book a Boston tribute at a casino, and Boston's not even a pimple on Metallica's ass."
But Murphy's prized TAMA drum set is gone now, along with the rest of Blistered Earth's equipment. After their show in Portland on April 23, Murphy says the band let their guard down and didn't keep the equipment at the venue, leaving it locked up in their hotel's garage instead. While the band was asleep, two thieves made off with the gear, trailer and all.
"I'm not quite sure how they did it because [the trailer] literally weighed a ton," Murphy said, having seen surveillance footage of the two men entering the garage. "We've tried to pick it up and it doesn't work."
"Meth is a hell of a drug," he added.
The police found the trailer the next day, abandoned in a park 25 miles away -- with all the equipment missing. The band had insured their gear for theft, but Murphy still wanted his drums back. Murphy says TAMA stopped making GranStars about 25 years ago, and if he wanted another one, he would have to piece one together, drum by drum.
So Murphy took to Facebook and posted about the theft, saying he'd even be willing to buy them back, no questions asked.
The post got some traction on social media and the theft was even mentioned on a local radio station. Just a few days later, Murphy was told not to worry.
"Next thing I know I'm getting a phone call from some lady at Metallica HQ, saying they want me to send them a gear list and they're going to replace the stuff," Murphy said.
As it turned out, Metallica frontman James Hetfield had heard about the theft and promised to replace their gear. After posting the good news on the band's Facebook page, articles about Metallica's good deed -- and of Blistered Earth's existence -- started popping up all over.
"Getting a little publicity has been nice," Murphy said. "We're probably on the last five minutes of our 15 minutes of fame."
Metallica hasn't posted a statement about their good deed, and they may not ever. But it may represent a corrective steer from an incident last year, after Metallica came under attack for sending a 41-page cease-and-desist letter to Sandman, a Metallica tribute band in Canada, for using a logo similar to the original group. In an interview with Rolling Stone that published the next day, Metallica apologized to the tribute group and blamed the incident on "an overzealous lawyer."
Metallica also had its equipment stolen once, in 1984, after a show in Boston. The theft reportedly inspired the song "Fade to Black."
Murphy said on Monday that the band still hadn't received any gear from Metallica, but he's not too worried. He also doesn't expect Metallica to replace each and every piece of stolen equipment, like his TAMA GranStar kit, even though it's possible that Urlich still has some in his collection.
"I'm sure he's got one, but I'm sure I'm not getting it," Murphy said.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, the day this story ran, the first of the replacement equipment -- a signature ESP guitar -- showed up at Murphy's house.
*According to several drum forums, Urlich actually played a TAMA ArtStar II with GranStar lugs in the '80s. In the early '90s, TAMA sold an Urlich signature model of the GranStar series.
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