Cliff Burton, born as Clifford Lee Burton (February 10, 1962 – September 27, 1986), was the bass player for the American thrash metal band Metallica.
Cliff was born in Castro Valley, California, to Ray and Jan Burton, youngest of three children. It was his father who engaged him into the classical music, Cliff also began taking piano lessons. He got interested in rock and heavy metal and started playing the bass at age 13. It was his way to cope with the death of his brother Scott and, according to his parents, he wanted to become the best bassist for his brother. He was so determined that he practiced up to six hours per day (even after he joined Metallica). His early musical influences were classical music, jazz, southern rock, country and blues. The biggest inspiration for him as a muscian were Geddy Lee (Rush), Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath), Stanley Clarke, Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead) and Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy).
He formed his first band, EZ-Street, while still being a student at Castro Valley High School, it included a guitarist “Big” Jim Martin and a drummer Mike Bordin, both musicians later joined Faith No More. Burton and Martin’s second band, Agents of Misfortune, entered the Hayward Area Recreation Department’s Battle of the Bands contest in 1981. Their audition tape features some of the earliest footage of Cliff’s trademark playing style. The video also shows Burton playing 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’. Cliff joined his first major band, Trauma, in 1982 and recorded ‘Such a Shame’ with the band on the second Metal Massacre compilation.
During one of Trauma’s shows James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, both members of Metallica, noticed Cliff and were impressed by his technique. They asked him to replace the bassist Ron McGovney who had just left the band, and since Burton thought that Trauma was ‘starting to get a little commercial’, he agreed. However, the condition was that Metallica would have to relocate from Los Angeles to his native San Francisco Bay Area because he did not intend to move to LA. Hetfield and Ullrich agreed and made a home in El Cerrito, a town located across the bay from San Francisco.
Their debut album, Kill ‘Em All, features Burton’s famous solo piece, “(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth”, which presented his use of effects, such as a wah-wah pedal, not commonly used by the bassists. Metallica’s debut album, was originally be named Metal Up Your Ass, like their earlier demo releases, but the record company did not like the title and insisted on changing it. Hearing this, Cliff said, ‘We should just kill ’em all, man,’ which gave the band members an idea for the new title. The album was released on July 25, 1983 through Megaforce Records.
The band’s second studio album, Ride the Lightning, showed the band’s increasing musical growth. Cliff participated in making not only as a player but also as a songwriter and received credit on six of the album’s eight songs. His playing style and use of effects can be heard especially on two tracks, the chromatic intro to ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, and the ‘lead bass’ on ‘The Call of Ktulu’.
Ride the Lightning caught the attention of major record labels, Metallica was signed to Elektra Records, and began working on its third album, Master of Puppets, which is considered by most critics to be a landmark album in heavy metal. Burton’s influence is mostly noticeable in the instrumental song ‘Orion’, which again featured Burton’s lead bass playing style. The album also contained Cliff’s favourite Metallica song ‘Master of Puppets’. Master of Puppets was the band’s commercial breakthrough, but turned out to be his final album with Metallica.
In Autumn 1986, the band was touring Europe. After the show in Stockholm, Sweden, at the Solnahallen Arena on September 26, 1986, they were travelling by bus when an accident happened. Shortly before 7 am on September 27, according to the driver, the bus skidded off the road, and flipped onto the grass in Kronoberg County. Cliff was thrown through the window of the bus, which fell on top of him, resulting in his death.
His body was cremated and the ashes scattered at the Maxwell Ranch. Near the place of an accident, a memorial stone was created in his memory with the lyrics ‘…cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home’ from ‘To Live Is to Die’.