Head Joins the Body
- Monday, August 13, 2007
It was 2004 and Korn's lead guitarist Brian "Head" Welch had hit rock bottom. As a member of the controversial nü-metal band that became the voice for youth worldwide with lyrics about alienation and abuse, the pressures of the rock star life had torn his marriage apart.
Addicted to methamphetamines and alcohol and left to raise his daughter by himself, the childhood dream of stardom had become a nightmare for the longhaired, bearded, and heavily tattooed musician. The wealth and fame he once thought would bring him happiness and fulfillment had left him miserable and empty, mired in a dark depression.
At the end of his rope, Welch prayed … and God answered in a big way.
Brian Welch grew up in Bakersfield, a central California city nicknamed "Bako" for its scorching desert heat. In 1980, while listening to a drum solo on an 8-track Queen tape, the ten-year-old boy decided he wanted to play drums. But his dad talked him out of it, recommending the guitar instead. He started taking lessons.
"I instantly got good," Welch said. "I had an ear for music. I was figuring out heavy metal songs by Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, and Queen really quick the first couple of years."
While his talents as a guitar player progressed and he played in various bands, Welch said he also developed a "paralyzing fear" that haunted him even as he gained riches and fame—a condition he attributes to his father's angry outbursts, as well as bullies who picked on him and nicknamed him "Head."
By high school, Welch had met most of the members of what later would become Korn. It was here near Death Valley where Welch and fellow guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer developed the groundbreaking band's heavy, growling metal-influenced sound using 7-string guitars, a phenomenon that ultimately helped Korn sell more than 30 million records and spawned a host of imitators.
According to J.R. Goldman—an Upland, California guitar instructor at Jam It Music who gave Shaffer and Welch guitar lessons during their early days in Bakersfield—youth worldwide connected with the band's angry lyrics, raging against the social ills their generation had inherited.
"They sang about what it was like to suffer alienation as a kid," Goldman said. "[Lead singer Jonathan Davis, a former coroner's office employee] said he was picked on a lot at school and he wrote about what it felt like and his thoughts of suicide. He wound up connecting with millions of kids suffering the same thing—abuse, molestation, shame, and embarrassment. But he was blatantly singing about what had happened to him, venting on his records about his anger and pain."
In 1992, the band started playing clubs throughout the Los Angeles area and eventually landed a record deal. During this time, Welch began using drugs and became addicted to speed—and also met his future wife, Rebekah.
"When we got the record deal, it just took off quick," Welch said. "By our Ozzy Osbourne tour, we had a Gold record. And then boom, we started selling 150,000 records a week. That's when the partying started and the egos came. That's when the girls came, the schedule got harder, and the demands got bigger. It was crazy."
As the band's popularity grew, the partying and mayhem intensified during the Ozzfest and Korn's own Family Values tours. Sometimes when Welch and Rebekah were together, they were physically abusive toward each other. The couple nevertheless bought a home in Redondo Beach together. When she became pregnant, they married shortly after in March 1998.
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