Early musical interest led him to pursue a career in music. He was interested in the fledging thrash metal genre and hence tried to make a career out of the same.
In 1980, he formed a five-member band, Exodus, which had Paul Baloff as the vocalist, Gary Holt as the guitarist, Geoff Andrews as the bassist, and Tom Hunting as the drummer.
In 1982, he played on the Exodus’ Demo. The band went on to gain an influential status during the Bay Area Thrash movement.
In 1983, he was offered a position in the band Metallica after Dave Mustaine, the lead guitarist, left the band to form his own band, Megadeth. Immediately after him joining Metallica, the band released their debut album, ‘Kill ‘Em All’. At that time, he was taking private lessons from guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani.
For Metallica’s second album, ‘Ride the Lightning’ he wrote and contributed riffs. His riff was used in the track, ‘Enter Sandman’ which went on to become one of the most popular Metallica songs
The song was the first track and first single on Metallica’s self-titled Black album. The song became so popular that it ranked at the 399th position on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Following the success of the second album, the band concentrated their energy towards their third album which they released in 1986 titled, ‘Master of Puppets’. The album displayed his style of music and was considered by many as metal’s greatest all-time albums.
Year 1986 was a tragic one for the group as during the European tour, Cliff Burton died a tragic accidental death after the tour bus slid off the road and overturned. With the demise of Burton, Jason Newsted filled up for the vacant space of the bassist in the group.
In 1988, Metallica came up with its fourth album, ‘And Justice For All’ which was followed by the 1991 self-titled album, ‘Metallica’. Both the albums were mega hits and made the metal band one of the most popular.
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The success of the band led it to come up with several more albums and indulge in tours most of which were sold-out. They continued to release hit albums such as ‘Load’ in 1996, ‘reload’ in 1997, ‘Garage Inc’ in 1998 and ‘S&M’ in 1999.
In the 1990s, he changed his guitar playing style and shifted focus from early metal roots to more earthly Jimi Hendrix-esque style. In 2003, he desired to have a solo on Metallica’s next album ‘St Anger’ but later gave up on the same.
In 2005, other than contributing to the Metallica band, he played guitar on Carlos Santana track "Trinity" alongside steel-pedal guitarist, Robert Randolph.
In 2006, he voiced for himself in an episode of the show, ‘The Simpsons’ titled, ‘The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer’. He also provided voice on other shows such as ‘Adult Swim show Metalocalypse’, ‘The Queen of Denmark’ and ‘Space Ghost: Coast to Coast’.
Other than contributing for the Metallica band, he played for several other musicians and their bands.
Other than his musical pursuits, he wrote a foreword to British author Joel Mclver’s book, ‘To Live is to Die: The Life and Death of Metallica’s Cliff Burton’. In 2012, he released his first book, ‘Too Much Horror Business’, which was a collection of photos detailing Hammett's lifelong love of monster movies and horror memorabilia.