Clifford Lee Burton was a legendary bass player for the most commercially successful thrash band ever, Metallica. Burton died tragically at the age of 24 when the band's tour bus went off the road in a rural area of Southern Sweden, sending him out the window before rolling on top of him. The band and crew tried to save Burton, and were actually able to lift the bus a little, but succumbed to the weight and dropped it before they could get him out. Burton was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Metallica on April 4th, 2009.
Burton was born February 10, 1962 in Castro Valley, California. His interest in music was sparked at a young age when his father introduced him to classical music and he began taking piano lessons. As a teen, Burton developed an interest in rock, classical, and eventually heavy metal music. He began playing the bass at age 13, often practicing as much as six hours a day (this diligence continue throughout his life, even as an established musician with Metallica.)
Burton claimed to draw great influence from classical and jazz music, as well as southern rock, country and blues. He also cited musicians such as the Misfits, Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris, Rush bassist Geddy Lee, and Thin Lizzy bassist and frontman Phil Lynott as major influences on his playing style. In high school, Burton formed his first band, names EZ-Street after a Bay Area topless bar. Other members of this band included future Faith No More guitarist "Big" Jim Martin and future Faith No More and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Mike Bordin, with whom Burton formed his second band, Agents of Misfortune.
In 1982, Burton joined his first major band called Trauma. He recorded the bass tracks for the band's single, "Such a Shame," which appeared on the second Metal Massacre compilation. In 1982, Trauma traveled to LA to perform at the famous Whisky a Go Go club, where Metallica's
James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich were in attendance. During the show, Burton played his signature bass
solo, which would later become "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth" on Metallica's first album. Hetfield and Ulrich
were so impressed that they asked him to take the place of their original bassist, Ron McGovney, who had quit the band. Burton
was open to the idea because he felt that Trauma was becoming a little too commercial, but didn't want to
move to LA so he said he would join if the band relocated to the Bay Area. Eager to play with this amazing bass
player, Ulrich and Hetfield agreed and the Bay Area music scene would never be the same again.
Shortly after Burton joined the band, Megaforce Records owner John Zazula heard a demo recorded before Burton joined and
signed the band, who relocated to Brunswick, New Jersey to record their first album. The result was the classic 1983 set
"Kill 'Em All," which featured Burton's stunning solo, "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth." The song showcased Burton's use of
effects, including a wah-wah pedal, which before then had mostly been used by six-string guitarists, with the exception of
Geezer Butler on the first Black Sabbath album and a few ultra-progressive bassists. "Kill 'Em All" wouldn't attain
significant commercial success right away, but definitely put the band on the map in the emerging thrash metal world.
Metallica's second album, 1984's "Ride the Lightning", was a big jump for the band both technically and melodically. Burton's songwriting abilities were maturing, and he received songwriting credits on six of the album's eight tracks. His unique style and use of effects were showcased on the intro to "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and the "lead bass" on "The Call of Ktulu." The album was critically acclaimed and caught the attention of major record labels. The band was signed to Elektra Records and began working on its third album.
On March 3, 1986, Metallica released "Master of Puppets," which is widely considered the best thrash album of all time, even to this day. Burton's playing is heavily featured throughout the album, particularly on the instrumental "Orion," on which he once again showcased his singular lead bass playing style. The album was a commercial breakthrough for the band, climbing to #29 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, a feat unheard of for a thrash album. The album would eventually sell more than 6 million copies and is considered one of the most important albums in heavy metal history.
This commercial success led to a tour as the opening act for original Black Sabbath frontman
Ozzy Osbourne. The tour furthered Metallica's popularity before ending tragically with Burton's
death on September 27, 1986 when the tour bus went off the road. His final performance was in
Stockholm, Sweden the night before. The driver of the tour bus claimed that black ice on the
road had caused him to lose control. Despite Hetfield's claims that his breath smelled of
alcohol, and the fact that the temperature at the time of the crash was above freezing, no charges
were ever filed against the driver.
Burton was cremated and his ashes scattered at the Maxwell Ranch. In October 2006, a memorial
stone was place at the site of the bus crash. Fellow Bay Area thrashers Anthrax dedicated
their album "Among the Living" to Burton, as did Metal Church with "The Dark." A biography
entitled "To Live Is to Die: The Life and Times of Metallica's Cliff Burton" was written by
Joel McIver and published by Jawbone Press in 2009. Kirk Hammett wrote the foreword.
Cliff Burton Gear
Bass Guitars & Pickups
Rickenbacker 4001 w/ Gibson EB humbucker and Dimarzio Jazz Bass pickup
Alembic Spoiler bass
Aria Pro II SB-1000
Aria Pro SB Black 'n Gold I
Mesa Boogie 4"x12" Cabinets & 1"x15" Cabinets
Ampeg SVT-1540HE Classis Series Enclosure
Mesa Boogie Bass 400 head
Sunn Colliseum Lead head
Morley Power Wah fuzz
Chrome Tel-Ray Morley Power Wah Boost
Electro Harmonix Big Muff
Rotosound bass strings
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