How Dave Mustaine’s First Show Ended in Death and Tragedy

Edvill, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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Bad luck might be an inevitable part of everyone’s life, but some of us are hit with these experiences more frequently than others.

Heavy metal is a refuge for some people to process these feelings of mourning and alienation, and it shouldn’t come as a shock to hear that many musicians endured great loss in their early years.

Dave Mustaine knows a thing or two about grief. The life of the legendary guitarist and Megadeth mastermind was touched by alcoholism at a young age when his problem-drinking father permanently disconnected from his life at the age of four.

Upon starting his first band, Panic, at the age of 17, the specter of loss immediately reared its head. When their regular drummer, Dave Harmon, was unable to perform their first show, Panic called upon the services of friend Mike Leftwych to fill in.

Mustaine spoke of the events that transpired that evening to Guitar World (as reported by Ultimate Guitar): “Well, there was a talent show where they told us we were too loud and kicked us out, but my first gig was with Panic at Huntington Beach.

“Although the sex, the girls and the drugs were rampant, it was marred by the death of two friends: the guy who did our sound and our drummer at the time.

“We were all partying, and I decided to spend the night.”

“I stayed behind and these two guys went home,” he said. “They were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, south of the pier, by the Jack in the Box, and crashed.”

Mustaine continued, “The driver was able to get out of the car, but he died because he’d broken his neck. The drummer was asleep in the back, and he, unfortunately, died in the fire.

“Yeah, Panic had a very painful beginning; our other guitar player also died in a car crash. It was kind of a very painful, dark period when I started playing.”

Although they soldiered on for a few years within the local party and biker scenes, the death of Leftwych cast a pall over the band.

Responding to an ad from a young drummer named Lars Ulrich who wanted to put together a group inspired by Iron Maiden, Motörhead and Budgie, Mustaine quickly transitioned away from Panic and into Metallica

An early Metallica fan-favorite, “Jump In The Fire” was the first song Mustaine ever wrote for Panic. The Megadeth tracks “Hangar 18”, “Rust In Peace… Polaris” and “Mechanix” all came from Mustaine’s earliest band.