Looking back at the life and career of legendary SLAYER guitarist Jeff Hanneman a decade after his passing
Born on January 31, 1964, in Oakland, California, Jeff Hanneman grew up in Long Beach, California. From a young age, he showed a keen interest in music and began playing guitar at the age of 14.
In a 2009 interview with Decibel magazine, Jeff stated his father was German, but fought for the Allied side in World War II.
Jeff Hanneman was heavily influenced by punk rock and heavy metal music pretty early on. He was particularly drawn to the raw energy and aggression of bands like the MISFITS, DEAD KENNEDYS and IRON MAIDEN. These influences would later come to define Jeff Hanneman‘s unique style of playing, which blended thrash metal and punk rock elements.
The Formation Of SLAYER
In 1981, Jeff Hanneman, who was working as a telemarketer at the time, met fellow guitarist Kerry King when King was auditioning for a southern rock band called “Ledger“. Kerry King recalls: “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 session, the two guitarists discussed their love of IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST. SLAYER would come to fruition when King would ask “Why don’t we start our own band?”, to which Hanneman replied “…Fuck yeah!”. After adding bassist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo to the fold, SLAYER was born.
SLAYER‘s debut album, “Show No Mercy,” was released in 1983 and helped to establish the band as one of the pioneers of thrash metal. Hanneman‘s guitar work on the album showcased his unique style of playing, which blended aggressive riffing and fast, technical solos.
In 1984, Hanneman, Lombardo and SUICIDAL TENDENCIES guitarist Rocky George formed the hardcore punk side project PAP SMEAR. That band was set to start recording when Hanneman was advised to avoid the side project by producer, Rick Rubin, who is quoted as saying “Aaaah, don’t do it, man – this is the kind of thing that breaks bands up!” A demo was recorded which featured Hanneman on vocals and bass, Lombardo on drums and George on guitar, but it never went any further than that, as two of the band’s songs were re-recorded for SLAYER‘s 1996 album “Undisputed Attitude“.
Over the next several years, SLAYER would release a string of highly influential and critically acclaimed albums, including “Hell Awaits,” “Reign in Blood,” and “South of Heaven.” Hanneman‘s guitar work on these albums continued to push the boundaries of thrash metal and helped to cement SLAYER‘s place as one of the most important bands in the genre.
Hanneman was also known for his contributions to SLAYER‘s lyrics as well. Many of the band’s songs explored dark themes like death, violence, and the occult, and Hanneman‘s lyrics often reflected his own interest in these subjects. Some of Hanneman‘s most iconic lyrics include the opening lines of “Angel of Death,” which describe the atrocities committed by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele during the Holocaust.
Hanneman‘s last appearance with SLAYER was in April 2011, when he played an encore with the band at the “Big Four” concert in Indio, California.
The Death Of Jeff Hanneman
Tragically, Jeff Hanneman‘s career was cut short when he passed away on May 2, 2013, at the age of 49. He had been battling necrotizing fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating disease, which he contracted from a spider bite which completely devastated his well-being.
Jeff and those close to him were also not aware of the extent of his liver condition until his final days. Contrary to reports, Jeff was not on a liver transplant list at the time of his passing, or at any time prior to that.
In a 2013 interview with Guitar World magazine, original SLAYER drummer Dave Lombardo stated about Hanneman‘s battle with the bottle: “Jeff was always a drinker. He always had a Coors Light tall can in his hand. Always.”
“Jeff and I always drank,” guitarist Kerry King added. “They called Steven Tyler and Joe Perry the Toxic Twins. We were the Drunk Brothers.” He laughed. “The difference being that I don’t wake up in the morning and need a beer. Jeff didn’t know how not to drink.”
Hanneman‘s death was a devastating loss for the music world, and his contributions to SLAYER and to thrash metal as a whole cannot be overstated. His unique style of playing and his willingness to push the boundaries of the genre helped to inspire countless other musicians and to shape the sound of heavy metal music for generations to come.
In the years since his passing, Jeff Hanneman‘s legacy has continued to live on through his music and through the countless fans and musicians who have been inspired by his work. SLAYER disbanded in 2019, but their influence on heavy metal music remains as strong as ever, and Hanneman’s contributions to the band will always be remembered as a key part of that legacy.
In conclusion, Jeff Hanneman was a legendary guitarist and songwriter whose contributions to SLAYER and to thrash metal music as a whole cannot be overstated. His unique style of playing, his powerful lyrics, and his willingness to push the boundaries of the genre helped to inspire countless other musicians and to shape the sound of heavy metal music for generations to come. Though his life was tragically cut short, his legacy will continue to live on through his music and through the countless fans and musicians who have been inspired by his work.