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.: Mr Cliff Burton :.

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Born: 10th of February 1962
Died: 27th of September 1986

"When a man lies he murders some part of the world
These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives
All this i cannot bear to witness any longer
Cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home"

Cliff Burton: "To Live Is To Die"

Cliff Burton


Early years

Burton was born on February 10, 1962, in Alameda, California , to Jan and Ray Burton. He had two elder siblings, Scott and Connie. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Burton's interest in music began when his father introduced him to classical music and he began taking piano lessons.

In his teenage years, Burton's interest in music switched from classical to jazz and eventually heavy metal. He began playing the bass at age 13, after the drowning death of his brother. He was taught by Steve Doherty. His parents quoted him as saying, "I'm going to be the best bassist for my brother. He practiced up to six hours per day. His early influences varied from classical music to southern rock to country, blues and jazz.

While still a student at Castro Valley High School, Burton formed his first band. Called "EZ-Street", the band took its name from a Bay Area topless bar. Other members of EZ Street included future Faith No More guitarist "Big" Jim Martin and future Faith No More and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Mike Bordin. Burton and Martin continued their musical collaboration after becoming students at Chabot College in Hayward, California. Their second band, "Agents of Misfortune", entered the Hayward Area Recreation Department's "Battle of the Bands" contest in 1981. Their audition was recorded on video and features some of the earliest footage of Burton's trademark playing style. The video also shows Burton playing some parts of what would soon be two Metallica songs: his signature bass solo, "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth," and the chromatic intro to "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Burton joined his first major band, Trauma, in 1982.


In 1982, Trauma traveled to Los Angeles to perform at the Whisky a Go Go. Among those in attendance were James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, both members of Metallica, which had formed the previous year. Upon hearing, as Hetfield described it, "this amazing shredding" (which happened to be "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth"), the two went in search of what they thought was an amazing guitar player. When they learned that what they had heard was, in fact, a bass solo by Burton they decided to recruit him for their own band. They asked him to replace departed bassist Ron McGovney, and since Burton thought that Trauma was "starting to get a little commercial," he agreed. The idea of having to move to Los Angeles did not sit well with him, and said he would join only if the band would relocate from Los Angeles to his native San Francisco Bay Area. Metallica, eager to have Cliff in the band left their origin of Los Angeles to make a home in San Francisco, California.

Burton's first recording with Metallica was the Megaforce Demo. A demo tape the band had made prior to Burton's joining, No Life 'Til Leather, managed to come into the hands of John Zazula, owner of Megaforce Records. The band relocated to Old Bridge, New Jersey - and quickly secured a record deal with Zazula's label. Their first album, Kill 'Em All, features Burton's famous solo piece, "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth," which showcased his use of effects, such as a wah pedal (until then the wah pedal had been the near-exclusive domain of six-string guitarists, with the exception of Geezer Butler on Black Sabbath's first album, and occasionally ultra-progressive bassists such as Chris Squire).

The band's second album, Ride the Lightning, showcased the band's increasing musical growth. Burton's songwriting abilities were growing, and he received credit on six of the album's eight songs. Burton's playing style and use of effects is showcased on two tracks: the chromatic intro to "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and the "lead bass" on "The Call of Ktulu." Burton's backing vocals are heard in "Trapped Under Ice".

The increase of musicianship on Ride the Lightning caught the attention of major record labels. Metallica was signed to Elektra, and began working on their third album, Master of Puppets, which is considered by most critics to be a landmark album in both thrash and the whole of metal. Burton is featured heavily on several tracks, most notably the instrumental "Orion," which again featured Burton's lead bass playing style. The album also contained Burton's favorite Metallica song, "Master of Puppets." Master of Puppets was the band's commercial breakthrough, but it would be Burton's final album with Metallica.

Burton's final performance was in Stockholm, Sweden on September 26, 1986. One of Burton's final performances with the band is available for free to download from Metallica's website.


Burton cited bass players like Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, Phil Lynott, John Deacon, Geddy Lee, Lemmy, and Stanley Clarke as influences. He has also cited guitar players such as Ritchie Blackmore, Ulrich Roth, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Rhoads, and Tony Iommi as influences. Surprisingly to many fans, Burton did not cite Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris as an influence, which is strange since the band has often cited Iron Maiden as a major influence on a bulk of their work.

James Hetfield has admitted that Burton's influence was highly responsible for much of Metallica's early music and image. A classically trained pianist, Burton used his large knowledge of theory to add to the band's sound, both through his bass work and teaching Hetfield and Hammett how to theorize and harmonize. Hetfield said that: "without Cliff, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Burton's interest in the works of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft resulted in two Metallica songs, "The Call of Ktulu" and "The Thing That Should Not Be." The band has also noted that their love of The Misfits, Samhain, and all things involving Glenn Danzig came directly from Burton. This influence has persisted ever since, and when Metallica toured the USA in the summer of 1994, Danzig was one of the opening bands. On a few occasions, he came out on stage with Metallica, providing vocals when they performed Misfits' songs.


After Burton's death, Metallica released the tribute documentary Cliff 'em All, a video retrospective of Burton's time in the band. It is a collection of live performance footage shot by fans, some professional filming and TV shots that were never used, and some personal photos. Metallica's first album of original material after Burton's death, …And Justice for All, contained Burton's last writing credit, the mostly instrumental track "To Live Is to Die". Metallica sometimes plays the middle part of "To Live Is To Die" at a slower tempo as a tribute for Cliff Burton. Burton wrote the single stanza of lyrics for the song, which Hetfield ended up reciting:

"When a man lies, he murders some part of the world
These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives
All this I cannot bear to witness any longer
Cannot The Kingdom of Salvation take me home?"

"Cannot The Kingdom of Salvation take me home" is written on Cliff Burton's memorial stone.

A memorial for Burton in Ljungby, Sweden

The most well known non-Metallica tribute to Burton is the song "In My Darkest Hour" by contemporary thrash metal band Megadeth. According to Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine, after hearing of Burton's death, he sat down and wrote the music for the song in one sitting. The lyrics, however, are unrelated to Burton's death. The band's frontman Dave Mustaine was Metallica's lead guitarist in the early days and knew Burton very well, and they maintained good relations after Mustaine parted with the band in 1983, just before the release of "Kill Em All". Mustaine was quoted as saying the song was inspired by Burton's passing. He claimed that neither Hetfield nor Ulrich had informed him of Burton's death and he only found out when Metallica's manager called him.

On October 3, 2006 a memorial stone was unveiled in Sweden near the scene of the fatal crash.

Contemporary thrash metal band Anthrax dedicated their Among the Living album to him, as did Metal Church with The Dark.

On April 4, 2009, Cliff Burton was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with the rest of Metallica. During the ceremony, the induction was accepted by Cliff's father, Ray Burton, who shared the stage with the band and mentioned that Cliff's mother was actually Metallica's biggest fan.

In February 2009 author Joel McIver announced that his biography To Live Is To Die: The Life And Death Of Metallica's Cliff Burton would be published worldwide by Jawbone Press in June. Burton's former Metallica bandmate Kirk Hammett provided the foreword.

11 years ago, Cliff Burton was killed in a tragic, freak bus accident.

The Metallica of today has many new fans who did not even get to know Cliff or get to see him play live in concert. Often referred to as the "soul of Metallica", he was an integral part of their innovative sound and approach during a particularly important period in their development.

He was more than just the second bass player in the band. He was about an attitude. He was such a special person, that even today, his name comes up repeatedly... and his name always will. He is unforgettable. His untimely death remains one of the most regrettable tragedies in rock. Even today, 12 years after Cliff's death, Jason Newsted is considered "Cliff's replacement". Sadly for him, he will never truly be accepted by those who knew the band when Cliff was around.

As a tribute to Cliff, I've put together a collection of interviews, articles and quotes that some of you might find interesting. I didn't write most of this... I just put it together...

"Cliff was so completely honest to himself and the people around him. He hated all this being-put-on-a-pedestal bullshit". Lars Ulrich, 1986

"To this day, I think of him every day". Kirk Hammett, 1988

"He was a great and very special talent.....Cliff's solos were absolutely brilliant". Jason Newsted, 1988

"He was a wild, hippie-ish, acid-taking, bell-bottom-wearing guy. He meant business, and you couldn't fuck around with him. I wanted to get that respect that he had. We gave him shit about his bell-bottoms everyday. He didn't care. "This is what I wear. Fuck you". He loved music. He was really intellectual but very to the point. He taught me allot about attitude". James Hetfield, 1993

"He was always against looking too posey, he was always into just looking natural". Kirk Hammett

"I remember this guy lit my couch on a fire a couple of times". James Hetfield

"This guy with wild, wild red hair flying all over the place and a Rickenbacker and a real distinct bass style and I thought to myself. 'this guy is fuckin' wild". Kirk Hammett

Back in late 1982, it was decided that bassist Ron McGovney wasn't really pulling his weight in Metallica. One of Metallica's peer bands up north making the rounds about this time was Trauma. In addition to being a favorite Bay-area club circuit draw, the band was gaining recognition through their one-song demo, featuring "Such a Shame", that eventually was transferred to vinyl on Metal Massacre II. More noteworthy, however, Trauma possessed within its ranks "the most head banging bassist" Lars and James had ever seen - Cliff Burton. They initially spotted him during a live Trauma show at LA's Troubadour.

"We heard this wild solo going on and thought, 'I don't see any guitar player up there.' It turned out it was the bass player, Cliff, with a wah wah pedal and his mop of hair. He didn't care whether people were there. He was looking down at his bass playing". James Hetfield

Burton, who grew up with Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin near San Francisco, was a cross between Clint Eastwood and E.F. Hutton: Didn't say much, but when he did, people listened. Especially Hetfield and Ulrich, who were puppies with peach fuzz and acne when they relocated Metallica to the Bay Area in 1983 to be closer to Cliff. Cliff Burton had flavor: he wore bell-bottoms, read H.P. Lovecraft, studied piano, and even went to junior college. He drove a 1972 VW stationwagon. He was the son of Jan. and Ray Burton, two San Francisco hippies and he still had those hippie ideals; he liked his beer, liked his pot or whatever, liked to chill out, and he was really laid-back, relaxed and happy.

He lived with his family in San Francisco, and for three and a half years he worked hard to take Metallica to the top. After replacing Ron McGovney in late 1982, Cliff instantly made a name for himself with his classic "wind-mill" style of of thrashing on stage, with his hair flying out in all directions, and with his outdated, completely "unfashionable" image. With his hair hanging straight down from him head, he seemed eternally clad in a pair of bell-bottom jeans and a faded denim jacket. If it was cold, he wore a flannel shirt underneath.

Offstage, he was the ultimate laid-back Californian, a total opposite from his wild, aggressive onstage attack. His sense of humor was great, as were his bass solos and everything about his stage presence. He was the most visual of all the band onstage, he would just go wild. The best example of how cool and unflappable Cliff was happened in the summer of 1985 at their Castle Donnington Festival appearance (August 17, 1985). Having ducked beneath a flying pear which ended up embedding itself in his bass bin, Burton coolly sauntered over to his stack, picked up the pear, took two bites out of it and hurled it back into the crowd.

For a while there it really looked as if 1986 was gonna be Metallica's year. After all, their third LP, Master of Puppets, had literally taken the music world by storm and, in doing so, had made the band virtual mega-stars in the eyes of the metal-doting public. Metallica had finally "made it", and it seemed that nothing could halt their inexorable rise to even greater glory. Then, during the European leg of the group's phenomenally successful Master of Puppets world tour, something went wrong - catastrophically wrong.

Fresh from their triumphant UK tour, Metallica had headed once more for Scandinavia where they'd played three shows at the Olympen in Lund (September 24, 1986), the Skedsmohallen (September 25,1986) in Oslo and at the Sonahallen in Stockholm (September 26, 1986).

It was approaching dawn on Saturday, the 27th of September 1986, and Metallica's two tour buses were making their way along a godforsaken road that lies somewhere between the Scandinavian cities of Stockholm and Copenhagen. Apart from these vehicles, the route was deserted there was no one else traveling at that unearthly hour of the morning. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, just before 6:15 a. m., one of the coaches swerved violently to its right and started careening wildly down the wrong side of the road. It was out of control, and a crash was inevitable.

The bus's brief but horrific excursion came to a halt some 60 feet further up the tarmac. By this time, though, the vehicle was on its side and lying in a ditch by the side of the road near the small Swedish town of Ljungby.

During the unavoidable confusion that followed, the vast majority of the overturned bus's passengers managed to scramble free of the wreckage. Those that emerged included three of the four members of the band. In truth, the survivors had been extremely lucky, as they'd all somehow managed to escape with little more than minor injuries and shock.

Swedish police arriving on the scene of the crash immediately arrested the driver as a matter of routine, but later released him without charging him after further investigation revealed that the cause of the crash was black ice on a nasty bend in the road.

Unfortunately, however, there had been one fatality in the accident ... what is more, the deceased individual turned out to be one of the group. So, tragically, in the short space of those few dreadful seconds on that lonely Swedish road, Metallica's dreamlike existence was suddenly transformed into a hellish nightmare..their 24 year-old bass player, Cliff Burton, was dead.

"I saw the bus lying right on him. I saw his legs sticking out. I freaked. The bus driver, I recall, was trying to yank the blanket out from under him to use for other people. I just went, 'Don't fucking do that!' I already wanted to kill the guy. I don't know if he was drunk or if he hit some ice. All I knew was, he was driving and Cliff wasn't alive anymore". James Hetfield - 1993

The dazed group dealt with their anxiety in the manner they were most familiar with: drinking. James broke two hotel windows and screamed, venting his rage. Kirk and his guitar tech, John Marshall, were so shaken that they left the light on in their room that night.

On September 29th, James, Lars and Kirk returned to the United States.

"I wasn't too angry in the beginning. I was obviously grieving, but the anger started setting in when I realized that it's not new that people in rock-n-roll die, but usually it's self-inflicted in terms of excessive drink or drug abuse. He had nothing to do with it. It's so useless. Completely useless". Lars Ulrich

The gap left by Cliff's death yawned across the pages of tributes run by the music press the week after the tragedy. In Kerrang!, for example, advertisements were taken by friends and fans alike; a bleak, black double-page spread ran messages from the Zazulas ("The Ultimate Musician, The Ultimate Headbanger, The Ultimate Loss, A Friend Forever"), and Anthrax ("Bell-Bottoms Rule!! Laugh it up, We Miss You"), while Music For Nations also took out a page ad which simply read: "Cliff Burton 1962 - 1986". The pain ran deep.

His family and friends remembered him as a "world class local boy" with a love for Johann Sebastian.

Bach, Mexican food and his hometown. His parents said he was an appreciative and thoughtful son.

Because of his performing, he'd sleep all day and stay up all night and never wake us up. Once, a little boy came up to the door, early in the morning and wanted Cliff to sign his shirt. So Cliff staggered to the door - and said "Sure, of course I'll sign it".

"I once called him up and said "How do you like being a rock star?", and he was furious. He asked me never to refer to him that way again," said his sister. Connie

At the conclusion of his memorial service (October 7, 1986), "Orion", from the band's Master of Puppets album, was played. The elaborate instrumental made a fitting tribute for the young bassist, since, as James Hetfield recalled, Burton was Metallica's most educated musician and "Orion" was largely his composition.

Cliff was also responsible for expanding the scope of Metallica's lyrical themes. Along with Kirk, he admired the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Now, I know that it has been ten years since Cliff's death and I know that there's an old aphorism that is frequently uttered following such tragic bereavements, and it is this: time heals. Simple, but in most cases true. It goes without saying that time should never be allowed to diminish or erase the happy memories we share of someone who is no longer with us. Unfortunately, though, we are often guilty of letting this happen. For this reason, I'm sure that you won't mind joining me in a brief moment of remembrance for one of the rock world's most tragic losses ever.

I'm going to kick off by stating a simple but startlingly chilling truth... Cliff Burton died young... much too young. There is nothing that we can do or say that will ever alter this totally wretched fact. I guess I could resort to the old saying: "Only the good die young", but I won't, because it's such a stupid, empty and totally faceless adage. It says, and means, absolutely nothing, and certainly doesn't make it any easier to accept the dreadful fact that a life has been cut unneccessarily short. Cliff was in his prime, a fine bassist in one of the world's most popular heavy metal bands. Cliff possessed a truly great talent, and there is no doubt in my mind that he was the foremost bassist in his particular genre of music. Musically, his presence was felt in his aggressive playing, either doubling the guitar lines or adding syncopated counterlines.

Maintaining a heavy, relentless bottom-end pulse as a component of the rhythm section as well as a strong intuitive sense of embellishment in melodic fills, Cliff represented the ultimate thrash bassist. He was the perfect foil for the energetic and propulsive drum bombast of Lars and the pulverizing crunch-chording of James and Kirk.

"The only person who was able to figure out a time and write it on a piece of paper was Cliff. He had an immense knowledge of timing, musical harmonies and music theory in general". Kirk 1987

"Cliff's taken classes in school on music theory, things like mixing harmonies together. I think he took a junior college course". James 1986

"He is the Hendrix of bass for his ground breaking style". Jason Newsted

"Knowing Cliff's attitude, he'd kick our butts if we quit". James Hetfield

"I know Cliff, more than anyone else in the band, would have been the first guy to give us a kick in the ass, and wouldn't want us to sit around. It's what he would have wanted us to do". Lars Ulrich

"If we had hung it up, Cliff would've been so pissed off". Kirk Hammett

"People probably thought, 'Oh, they're not going to do the heavy lyrics now because of what happened.' Man, those lyrics mean a lot more to me now". James Hetfield

"There was a huge shadow there. I'd always looked up him so much". Jason Newsted, upon replacing Cliff

"In Denmark while recording Master Of Puppets, we hung out a lot. We'd go out and play poker for 8 hours straight after being up for 24 hours, We'd find a seafood restaurant that was open, eat raw oysters and drink beer, scream at the natives while we were drunk ... that's some of my best memories of him". Kirk Hammett

"We always miss Cliff, but he is kind of on the record. (...And Justice For All) The song 'To Live Is To Die' is really based on a number of riffs that Cliff wrote acouple of years ago. It's kind of cool to have something writeen by Cliff in the new album". Lars Ulrich

"He definitely deserves all that we've got". James Hetfield

Cliff was also a fine and inventive soloist, and his clever use of distortion and wah-wah in his "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth" showpiece made it one of the highlights of the band's live set. More importantly, Cliff was one hell of a nice guy and a much-loved figure in the Metallica camp. He always went out of his way to talk to the band's fans no matter how tired he was. He was certainly the most unanimously appreciated by the band members as well as by the public.

Although he is no longer with us, his memory and his music will live on forever. As a personal tribute, I always listen to his music on this day and think about what happened and I just wonder why it had to happen.

"You don't burn out from going too fast. You burn out from going too slow and getting bored".

"We do what we want...We don't care what anyone else thinks".

"Control your life through insanity".

"When I started, I decided to devote my life to it and no get sidetracked by all the other bullshit life has to offer".

"Personally, I would say the 'master' of this whole thing is fate...Whatever is on the playing field is fair game, and it's up to them to avoid being used".

The late Cliff Burton

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