From Avi Vinocur, in his own words:
I began working for the band in 2008 during overdubs for what would become their album Death Magnetic. I started out running errands and cataloging equipment for their head equipment manager Zach Harmon, until someone found out I could tune guitars and I started doing some guitar tech work for their rehearsals at their headquarters. I toured with them a little bit, but preferred to be a home base guy so I would be able to take time to tour with my own band. They were very supportive and encouraging and told me I’d have work when I’m home.
In 2016, James (Hetfield, singer/guitarist) was scheduled to do a solo appearance at the Acoustic for a Cure benefit with Sammy Hagar and I think Zach told him “you should have Avi play mandolin” and he shot back “definitely” without missing a beat. James asked me if there were any Metallica songs I thought would be fun to try acoustic so I nervously worked up a weird little mandolin version of Motorbreath and emailed it to him. He replied that he loved it and we got together to rehearse it the next day. That was the first time we tried harmonizing and I think we found it surprisingly easy to lock in together.
Because that show turned out a success, in 2018 when they were planning an acoustic benefit show for their All Within My Hands charity they decided they wanted other musicians to fill out the sound. They asked me and a few other talented local guys and “mandolining and singing on a few songs” somehow miraculously turned into the whole set! Even playing guitar on “Bleeding Me”. They put it out as a live album a few months later and their fans, who could have ravaged me for not being “metal”, really seemed to embrace what I added.
When it came time to do S&M2 with the SF Symphony, they decided to add the acoustic version of the song “All Within My Hands” to the setlist and asked me to come sing the part I had done at the charity benefit show. This was the first time I had ever used in-ear monitors, or even sung in an arena, but somehow luckily it all came together. The song ended up being the lead single from the upcoming album, which prompted Howard Stern to ask them to perform it during their appearance on his show.
Fast forward a week and I get an email saying, “I know you’re already working it but can you also sing on “Hands” on Howard Stern?” And the deal was sealed.
During soundcheck the night before they had me check singing but also talking which I found surprising, but I know Howard can randomly start a conversation with anyone in the studio. It happened to Zach once. I highly doubted it would happen to me.
The next morning, 5:30am, the band goes on air. My song is last. I nervously wait for 80 minutes. Lars (Ulrich, drummer) shouts me out right before the song and Howard starts talking to me. Somehow my nervousness evaporates under his questioning. Like I forget I’m nervous? It’s hard to describe. I immediately understand his talent as an interviewer. Lars gets me to plug my band, James talks a
little about my sound. I was floating. And now we have to perform! I think it goes ok. I have no idea! Watching the video back now is insane. And we sound good!
My gratitude for the Metallica guys and Howard is immense. James, Lars, Kirk and Robert took a chance on the lunch kid from the studio and it made me rise to the occasion. So yes, I’ll keep getting them lunch till 2050 if they want me to! And if things continue like this, I’ll pay for it.
Lindsey Shea photographer