Last year, former Megadeth drummer Nick Menza passed away at the age of 51 due to heart failure. It came as a blow to the metal community and Megadeth fans alike, not least because it came at such a young age. Menza was a part of Megadeth for nine years, with slight returns in 2004 and 2014, and drummed on the iconic thrash-defining record Rust In Peace.
There were rumours in 2014 that the Rust In Peace line-up was going to reunite, but it failed to materialise, and Menza never played with Megadeth again.
Later this year, Nick Menza’s memoirs Megalife: Nick Menza - The Book will be released, in which he reveals the shock of being let go from Megadeth in 1998. We sat down with Megadeth bassist and co-founder David Ellefson to get his side of the story of what happened on that day, and Megadeth’s relationship with the Menza family.
From your point of view, what went on when Nick left? What went down from where you were standing?
“It’s funny, Nick has been and still is the most hailed and beloved member of the Megadeth legacy. Playing drums is hard, playing drums in Megadeth is even harder, and it beats the shit out of ya. Nick put in a lot of good years with us, but by 1998 he was struggling to do the gig. There was a defining moment in Mesa, Arizona, where I looked at him during some breaks in Darkest Hour and it was like he was not present. He was beat up, you know? The transition of bringing Jimmy DeGrasso in, suddenly we turned new corners. Look, I’m a Kiss fan, so believe me we dearly tried to keep a line-up together, but sometimes things have to happen.”
In his upcoming book it says it was a shock to him. Is it fair to say that?
“People have lifestyles, they do what they do on the road. I was sober then, I’m sober now; I beat to my own drum and live my own sober, healthy lifestyle. I’m not here to be the police and see what everybody else is doing, as long as you’re on that stage and kicking ass, that’s all that matters. If you’re not kicking ass, that’s a problem, and we got to that point on the Cryptic Writings tour, right as we were getting ready to head into Ozzfest which was a huge upswing for us, so that transition had to happen.”
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You and Nick were cool at the end?
“Without a doubt. I called the Menza’s the day Nick passed, I know them, I consider them family friends, and offered my condolences. I hadn’t spoken to them in a year or so, so I pick up the phone and said I’m hearing that there’s issues and if there’s anything I can do to help. It seemed there might be some money issues, so I did some checking into that with Dave. Nick, god rest his soul, has sailed on and we consider him a family friend of ours, on the family tree of Megadeth, it’s not something we’d want disrupted now.
“Dave said let’s do a jam to celebrate Nick’s life and maybe raise some money for his kids, which we tried to do, but people were not available, we were unavailable because we were on a big tour, we even talked to Universal and Capitol Records about doing something, and we got some pushback from them because we’re in the middle of Dystopia. We’re on a new album, they’re putting a lot of money and attention behind it, and they don’t want another bunch of product and stuff out there. As much as we wanted to do things, there’s just a reality that it’s not going to happen.
“I explained to Nick’s mother that I come in peace and if there’s anything on the Megadeth side that we can help with. It turns out that finances are taken care of, money’s being paid, everything seems to be fine. My request to their side was ‘Hey, it looks like things are in order, we’d appreciate that you don’t go to war with Megadeth, that would be very bad for the legacy, for everybody.’
“I think Nick died happy onstage playing his drums. He used to say ‘When I die, I hope I die onstage playing drums.’ He used to joke about that, that’s so Nick Menza, and he did. When I heard it, as sad and shocking as it was, I went ‘That son-of-a-bitch got to go out the way he wanted.’”