Jeffrey John Hanneman (January 31, 1964 – May 2, 2013) was an American musician, best known as a founding member and rhythm/lead guitarist of the American thrash metal band Slayer. Hanneman composed both music and lyrics for every Slayer album until his death in 2013 at age 49. He had his own signature guitar, the ESP Jeff Hanneman Signature model.
|Birth name||Jeffrey John Hanneman|
|Born||January 31, 1964|
Oakland, California, U.S.
|Died||May 2, 2013 (aged 49)|
Hemet, California, U.S.
Hanneman was born January 31, 1964 in Oakland, California, and grew up in Long Beach, California in a family containing several war veterans: his father fought in Normandy during World War II and his brothers in Vietnam, making warfare a common conversation topic at the dinner table. War films were popular on TV at the time, and Hanneman often joined his brothers in constructing and coloring tank and plane models. His interest in warfare and military history has been attributed to his upbringing.
In a 2009 interview with Decibel magazine, he stated his father is German, but fought for the Allied side in World War II. In the same interview, he also goes into detail of what district of Germany his father and grandparents hail from. His grandfather was fluent in German.
Hanneman was introduced to heavy metal music as a child through his older sister Mary, when she was listening to Black Sabbath at her house. Once he reached high school, he discovered hardcore punk, which had a significant influence on his style and attitude.
In 1981, Hanneman, who was working as a telemarketer at the time, met Kerry King, when King was auditioning for a southern rock band called "Ledger". King remembered: "As I was leaving, I saw Jeff just kinda standing around playing guitar, and he was playing stuff that I was into, like Def Leppard's 'Wasted' and AC/DC and Priest". After the try-out session, the two guitarists started talking and playing Iron Maiden and Judas Priest songs. Slayer was born when King asked "Why don't we start our own band?", to which Hanneman replied "...Fuck yeah!".
Hanneman stated that he was playing guitar for a year by the time he met King and put an effort into improving his skills after watching him play. Hanneman, who was heavily influenced by hardcore punk music, got the other members into the genre, leading Slayer into a faster and more aggressive approach. The band's drummer Dave Lombardo asserted that his hardcore influences pushed him to play faster, contributing to shape his drumming style.
In 1984, Hanneman, Lombardo and Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Rocky George had a brief hardcore punk side project called "Pap Smear" – the band had many tracks and was due to start recording when Hanneman was advised to avoid the side project by Slayer's producer, Rick Rubin, who is quoted as saying "Aaaah, don't do it, man – this is the kind of thing that breaks bands up!" and Hanneman took Rubin's advice. Only a demo was recorded, consisting of Hanneman on vocals and bass, Lombardo on drums and George on guitar. Later two of the songs were re-recorded on Slayer's 1996 album Undisputed Attitude.
In light of his illness and Slayer's upcoming participation in the Australian Soundwave Festival tour that was set to begin on February 26, 2011, the band made the decision to play the dates without Hanneman, and on February 16, 2011, brought on Gary Holt (Exodus) to fill in for him. Pat O'Brien (Cannibal Corpse) joined as Slayer's temporary second guitarist when Holt left the tour to play with Exodus. In 2012, bandmate Tom Araya announced a recovery from the disease. However, in February 2013, King revealed that Hanneman was still battling health issues that prevented him from performing.
Hanneman died of liver failure on May 2, 2013, in a Southern California hospital near his home. On May 9, 2013, the official cause of death was announced as alcohol-related cirrhosis. Hanneman and his family had apparently been unaware of the extent of the condition until shortly before his death. Holt eventually became Hanneman's permanent replacement in Slayer, remaining with the band for the next six years until they disbanded after finishing their final tour in 2019.
Hanneman was a reserved person when he was offstage. Unlike the other members, he was very selective in socializing and rarely gave interviews. As vocalist/bassist Araya said: "If he didn't like you, he wouldn't hang with you."
Hanneman's interest in German war medals and Nazi Germany was illustrated by many of his lyrics. Those interests in the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS began with medals given to him by his father, including some taken from a dead German soldier. His most prized medal was his Knight's Cross, which he had bought from a Slayer fan for $1,000. While touring with Motörhead, Hanneman discovered Motörhead vocalist Lemmy's interest in medals, and the two discussed medal designs, weapons and tactics used by the Wehrmacht.
Hanneman's lyrics for the song "Angel of Death" led to accusations of Slayer being Nazi sympathizers. Hanneman defended himself with "I know why people misinterpret it -- it’s because they get this knee-jerk reaction to it. When they read the lyrics, there’s nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily he (Josef Mengele) was a bad man, because to me – well, isn't that obvious? I shouldn't have to tell you that." The band has stated numerous times that they are not Nazis and do not condone Nazism.
Hanneman's major influences included hard rock and heavy metal bands like Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and hardcore punk acts such as Wasted Youth, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and T.S.O.L., which led to Slayer's 1996 album Undisputed Attitude. Hanneman's and King's dual guitar solos have been called "wildly chaotic," and "twisted genius". South of Heaven featured "more technical" guitar riffs, utilizing the aforementioned tremolo picking and down-picked notes, improving musicianship while retaining a melodic sense. Both Hanneman and King were ranked #10 in Guitar World's "100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists of All Time."
Hanneman's guitar work had a notable influence on heavy metal music and culture. Musicians such as Robb Flynn (Machine Head), Dino Cazares (Fear Factory, Divine Heresy), Mille Petrozza (Kreator), Andreas Kisser (Sepultura), Dan Lilker (Anthrax, Nuclear Assault), Eric Hoffman (Amon/Deicide), Trevor Peres (Obituary), Mark Morton (Lamb of God) and Kelly Shaefer (Atheist) cited him as an influence on their playing and songwriting. Jeff Walker said that "Hanneman's playing and riff writing and attitude has had a big impact on Carcass". Shavo Odadjian declared that "without Jeff Hanneman, there would be no System of a Down".
John Consterdine of Terrorizer magazine noted: "without Jeff Hanneman, Slayer certainly would not have created some of the most famous riffs in metal, which undoubtedly changed the entire genre". According to Jeff Kitts of Guitar World, he "influenced a generation and changed the course of metal forever". Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse, who considers Hanneman his major influence as a composer, regarded him as "one of the greatest musicians and songwriters in metal" and Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom described him as "one of the fathers of metal".
Alex Skolnick of Testament asserted that he "wrote some of the best riffs of all time" and "he impacted music in such a way that an entire genre will never be the same". According to Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour, Hanneman is "one of the most underrated writers and underrated players that ever was" while Slash of Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver defined him "the king of thrash/speed metal guitar".
Hanneman wrote the music for most of the band's fan favorites, songs such as "Angel of Death", "Raining Blood", "Die by the Sword", "South of Heaven", "War Ensemble", "Postmortem", "Dead Skin Mask" and "Seasons in the Abyss", which have all become staples for live performance at Slayer shows. Hanneman's favorite album was Reign in Blood, and he enjoyed performing the songs "Raining Blood" and "Angel of Death." He contributed lyrics and music to every Slayer album, having formed a music and lyric writing partnership with Araya, which sometimes overshadowed King's creative input.
When writing new material, the band writes the music before the lyrics. Hanneman often composed riffs at his house, using a 24-track and a drum machine and then by gathering opinions from the other band members; King and Lombardo made suggestions of alterations. The band will play the riff to get the basic song structure, and then figure out where the lyrics and solos go. Hanneman stated that writing lyrics and music is a "free for all"; "It's all just whoever comes up with what. Sometimes I'll be more on a roll and I'll have more stuff, same with Kerry – it's whoever's hot, really. Anybody can write anything; if it's good we use it, if not we don't."
Hanneman used a black Gibson Les Paul modified with a Kahler Pro tremolo and a Joe Barden Two/Tone Humbucker bridge pickup in Slayer's early days and through the Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits eras. There are also photos and videos of him playing a natural stain-finished Gibson Explorer during the band's early days. In mid 1985 he began playing B.C. Rich guitars, notably a Rich Bich model he bought off his bandmate Kerry King and subsequently applied various graphics to. His first Bich had a 3x3 headstock, chrome hardware (including the Kahler Pro bridge) and two DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups. He and King can both also be seen with a second set of B.C. Rich's around 1986–1987, which had 6-in-line headstocks, black hardware and DiMarzio pickups. He also used a B.C. Rich Ironbird model more rarely. From 1987, he was seen using a custom made B.C. Rich Gunslinger with similar specs as his '86-'87 era Bich, shortly after he had the pickups replaced with two active EMG 81 humbuckers. In 1988 he began playing the famous Jackson Soloist that he would use constantly as his main guitar for songs played in E-flat tuning until 2001. It was originally shipped to him with passive Jackson pickups (probably a J-50 and J-80) and a JE-1200 mid-boost circuit, but the pickups were soon changed for EMG 81 pickups and the mid-boost circuit was removed as well. Around 1990-1991 Hanneman began using ESP guitars, he mostly used as backup for this Jackson Soloist and other tunings. He had his own signature model made, based on the specs of his original Jackson Soloist. In 2000, Hanneman switched to ESP guitars, which he used exclusively until he stopped touring in early 2011. ESP also gave Hanneman his own signature model (see below), which is still available for purchase. When touring, Hanneman carried six guitars due to the different tunings he utilized. Most albums such as Haunting the Chapel – Divine Intervention and World Painted Blood have E-flat tuning. However, albums such as Diabolus in Musica – Christ Illusion feature alternate tunings such as Drop B and utilizing seven string guitars. The first album, Show No Mercy, was recorded in standard tuning, while live performances of those songs were played in E-flat since about 1984.
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