Cliff Burton

1962 - 1986

The Biography

Cliff Burton was born on February 10, 1962. An icy stretch of highway in the god for saken mountains between Stolkholmn, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark, claimed the life of the great Cliff Burton.

Cliff was the best heavy metal bassist then and now. By combining the styles of blues, jazz, and classical, he single-handedly transformed a then noisy, not-very-good Metallica into a very listenable group of musicians that they be came in the ensuing years. I'm not saying that the "No Life 'til Leather" and "Kill 'em All" tapes aren't cool, they just show a much lower level of musicianship than "Ride the Lightning" and "Master of Puppets." Let's speculate for a moment. Where would Metallica be today if it weren't for Cliff joining the band. Metallica would have probably gained some popularity, they had quite a few fans even before they had Cliff. Who knows, they might have even become famous. We all know that you don't need to be talented or be a good musician to make it on the scene today. I won't mention any names, that would just get people pissed off. The point I'm trying to make is that although Metallica might have become famous without Cliff, he instituted an element of musicianship and repectability that gained them fans that were also musicians, in addition to non- musician fans. In all likelihood, they would have spent their careers playing out in San Francisco.

From an early age, it was evident that Cliff had a love of music. At the young age of six, he began playing the cello, his first instrument. I heard from different people it was piano. If anyone knows for sure, let me know. Although he played in a band commonly termed "thrash metal," his love always rested in the finer genres of music. He was educated in music theory, after taking college courses on the subject. He loved classical, blues, jazz and country, not the typical likes of the thrash player, but definitely those of a good musician.

Cliff picked up the bass in his teenage years, taking bass lessons from September 1978 to January 1980. Before he was in Metallica, he was in several other bands. Supposedly, everyone in the area wanted Cliff in their band. I know of four previous bands; A.D. 2 million, Agents of Misfortune, EZ Street, and Trauma. Easy Street was Jim Martin's band, and Cliff wasn't very into it. From what he said, they were sort of a bar band, doing basically 70's rock covers (we've all been in one of those). Bottom line was that he wasn't very interested in doing that kind of music. Agents of Misfortune was a band put together for a "battle of the bands," with Cliff, Jim Martin again, and a friend, Dave, on drums. Obviously they got their name from the legendary Blue Oyster Cult album (I hope that's obvious.) Incidentally, Cliff was a really big Blue Oyster Cult fan. Can you blame him? Cult rules!! Trauma was another band that Cliff didn't appear to be very into. If you've never heard Trauma, they do sort of commercialized seventies rock. Don't get me wrong commercial rock is still cool and I happen to like it... Cliff said he joined the band "for the experience."

Enter a bunch of kids doing really fast metal. This is late 1982. Said band are growing frustrated with their bassist, who lacks creativity and skill. This band is looking for a bassist with more creativity and who will contribute to the band more. They see Cliff, playing at the Whiskey, flailing away at his bass. So the love affair begins. Metallica knew they must have Cliff in their band. Cliff wouldn't go easily. After a few jams, Metallica finally agreed to leave their native L.A., to get Cliff. Not that leaving meant much to them, anyway. Metallica had never cared much for L.A. and the fans for the glam/poser scene had never cared much for their ripped jeans and fast music. The fans thought Metallica was a punk band because of their fast play ing and their look. So Metallica became a so-called "SanFrancisco" band. Many people don't even know the were from L.A. originally. That's how much they adopted the "SanFrancisco" image.

How Metallica fired Ron McGoveny is a story in and of itself, and a funny one at that. Obviously they were pretty fed up with Ron. I don't understand, he seemed to be a nice guy, kind of mellow. Ron was always the straight man in the band. He would have to drive the van, while Lars, James and Dave got smashed in the back of the van. Ron says that one of the final straws for him in the band was one time when he was driving and the others were drunk. The others told him to pull over so they could take a piss. Minutes later, Ron found them all passed out, with Lars lying in the middle of a major road. That would sure make me mad. They never actually did fire Ron. They did a number of things like what I just mentioned to him to make him want to quit . A really dirty trick, indeed. The final straw was one time when they were drinking again. Dave Mustaine poured a beer into Ron's bass, all in the electronics and everything. Ron didn't know, for whatever reason, until he started playing it and it was shocking him. That was it for Ron, he quit. Now they had room for the major rajor

CLIFF AND METALLICA...who could ask for anything more!

Cliff played his first show with Metallica, in SanFrancisco, on March 3, 1983. Little did anyone know that this band, with its wild bassist, Cliff Burton, would go on to produce three of the most influential albums in heavy metal history. His second gig with Metallica was on March 19, 1983. Most of you have probably seen his solo from this show on the video "Cliff 'em All." Dave Mustaine dubbed him the "major rajor and the four string mother fucker". Well put, as only Dave could put it.

After gigging around the bay area with their wondrous new bassist they went to New York to record their legendary debut, "Kill 'em All", with Megaforce Records. On the way there, they did a number of gigs, electing to give Dave Mustaine one more chance in the band. His alcohol abuse had become quite a problem, and this was his last chance. As we all know, he failed that. The way they fired him was mean. It made what they did to Ron look nice. They had made the decision to fire Dave. So one day, in New York, they wake him up and tell him he's got to go back to SanFrancisco. Dave was drunk, so he really didn't know what was going on. Dave says,"So you've got a plane for me?" They hand Dave a bus ticket. They made him take a bus all the way back to SanFrancisco. I'll bet he had quite a bit to think about on that long ride. That firing was an event that caused tension between Metallica and Dave for a long time.

So now Metallica is sitting in New York City, 3,000 miles from home with no lead guitarist. In the end they called Kirk Hammett, then of Exodus, in to be their lead man. Kirk actually thought it was an April fools joke, but obviously, it wasn't. Kill 'em All, originally titled, "Metal Up Your Ass," was now recorded and Metallica headed home, but not before staging the now legendary "Kill 'em All for One" tour with Raven. I know someone who went to one of the shows on the tour and he said it was incredible. People were going nuts, including the band members. They threw out albums and t-shirts to the audience. From what I heard, it was a total riot.

The "Kill 'em All for One" tour bringing them home, Metallica now begins to prepare to record their next album. In the process, they sign with Electra records. Many people said they sold out when they signed with a major label. Many said they had sold out when they heard a ballad on the album. But unlike the "black album" and "load," "Ride the Lightning" showed a higher level of musicianship. If that's to be confused with selling out, then so be it. For those who don't realize it, there's a big difference. Ride the Lightning made the Billboard "top 200" despite not getting much radio airplay or critical acclaim. Ride the Lightning is, no doubt, a musical masterpiece. Metallica became much better musicians in that span of a few years, and Ride the Lightning reflects that. Ride the Lightning also reflects that change that Cliff started with Metallica, from an immature thrash band to a well-rounded group of musicians.

"Master of Puppets" was another album that was doomed to failure. No one in the industry seemed to want Metallica to succeed, so they didn't play their record. But, as Ride the Lightning did before it, Master of Puppets made the Billboard "top 200" with little radio airplay. It ended up going Gold. Metallica wanted to record "Puppets" in L.A., but after trying, and failing, to get the sound they wanted in studios in L.A., they went to Copenhagen, Denmark, to record in the same studio they had recorded Ride the Lightning, and used the same producer as before, Flemming Rasmussen. It ended up being quite a wise choice.

Metallica's natural progression continued when Ozzy Ozbourne invited them to open for him on his "Ultimate Sin" tour. This would prove to be Metallica's real break to a wider range of audiences. Ozzy was also breaking ground by hiring Metallica to fill the opening act slot. Traditionally, the opening act pales in comparison to the headliner. Traditionally, the opening act gets booed off the stage in favor of the opening act. In this case, however, Ozzy hired an opening act that HIS fans would enjoy, thereby getting them even more worked up for when he came out. It worked. All the OZZY fans loved Metallica.

Sadly,Metallica and Cliff were not to be. After touring with Ozzy, the band went on a tour of Europe, playing various dates. Their last show with Cliff was on September 26, 1986, in Stolkholm, Sweden. Metallica always liked Stolkholm, they seemed to get a good response from the fans. That show was incredible. It is personally one of my favorite Metallica shows. They played so tight and clear. Cliff was incredible. He didn't miss a note, even though they were playing at a much faster tempo that night. His solo was one of the best I've heard, too. He improvised more of it than usual. It was truly quite a last show. He really went out with style.

Later on that night, the band was in their bus, headed toward Copenhagen, Denmark, for a gig the next night. At about 3AM Stolkholm time September 27, or 9PM Eastern Time US September 26, the bus began to slide on icy roads in the mountains between Stolkholm and Copenhagen. It was a long slide, about 20 or 30 seconds. In the process, Cliff was trying to get out of the bus. It landed on the side he was trying to get out of, crushing him. Police arrested the driver as a matter of procedure. Despite early speculation, the driver was not drunk or asleep. He just lost control of the bus on black ice, something that could happen to anyone.

The rest of the band continued on to Copenhagen, where they stayed in a hotel with Anthrax, with whom they were touring. Lars injured his foot, Kirk and James suffered trivial injuries. That night, while Kirk and Lars slept, James paced around, saying that would never go on. He had just lost his best friend. Judging by what they've come up with in the 10+ years since Cliff died, they shouldn't have continued, but that's just my opinion. I'm sure a lot of you would agree with me, while a lot of you would like to kick my ass, but that's the way things go, I guess.

Cliff's death remains one of the greatest tragedies in rock. Unlike morons like Kurt Cobain, Cliff did not die of self abuse. If you can die an honorable death, Cliff did. He died in the name of music and bringing your music to the people. Don't ever forget that Cliff Burton did not die in vain.