Cliff Burton

Nombre Cliff Burton
Birth date 10 Febrero 1962
Death date 27 Septiembre 1986
Paîs USA
Ciudad Castro Valley

Trauma (USA)


1983 1986 The Band's Page

Clifford Lee Burton was a bass guitarist best known for his work with the thrash/heavy metal band Metallica from 1982 — 1986. As a bassist he was known for his unique style, which made heavy use of distortion and effects, best exemplified on his signature piece, "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth".

Burton's early influence was essential in creating the unique musical style for which Metallica became famous. Burton joined the band in 1982 and performed on their debut album, Kill 'Em All, which was composed of songs that had been written prior to his arrival. Burton's influence was heavier on the follow-up, Ride the Lightning, which showcased the band's evolving compositional technique. Burton's final album with Metallica, Master of Puppets, was a critical and commercial success. Burton died in 1986 when their tour bus overturned in Sweden while the band was on tour promoting Master of Puppets.


Burton was born on February 10, 1962, in Castro Valley, California, to Jan and Ray Burton. He had two elder siblings, Scott and Connie. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay area by his parents. 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 14, after the death of his brother. 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.

Upon graduating from Castro Valley High School in 1980, Burton studied music at Chabot Junior College in northern California. One of his fellow schoolmates was "Big" Jim Martin, former guitarist of Faith No More, with whom Burton played alongside in one of his first bands, Agents Of Misfortune. Agents Of Misfortune entered a Battle Of The Bands contest that 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. After hearing Burton play his famous solo "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth", they asked him to replace departed bassist Ron McGovney, and since he 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 the San Francisco Bay Area. Metallica, eager to have Cliff in the band left their origin of Los Angeles to make home in San Francisco.

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 New Jersey, and quickly secured a record deal. 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.

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 6 of the album's 8 tracks. 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".

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", of which Burton was the primary composer. 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.


Memorial stone near the crash site.During the European leg of the Damage Inc. tour in support of Master of Puppets, the band had complained that the sleeping cubicles on their tour bus were unsatisfactory and uncomfortable. As a minor solution the members would draw cards for the most comfortable bunk. On the evening of September 27, 1986, Burton had won the game with an ace of spades. He was asleep when, according to the driver, the band's tour bus ran over a patch of black ice, skidded off of the road, and flipped onto the grass in Ljungby Municipality, near Dörarp rural Sweden. Burton fell through the window of the bus and the bus fell on top of him killing him. A winch that was lifting the bus off him snapped, causing the bus to crush him a second time. James Hetfield later stated that he first believed the bus flipped because the driver was drunk, or at least negligent, and had walked long distances down the road demanding this "black ice" be shown to him.

Burton's body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered on the Maxwell Ranch. At the ceremony, the instrumental "Orion" from the album Master of Puppets was played. Burton had never played the song live, and Metallica did not perform it until June 6, 2006 (when they performed the album in its entirety to mark the 20th anniversary of its release). Until then, only sections of the song had been used as part of their performance. During the 1990s, Burton's successor, Jason Newsted, would often use the bass line as part of a medley.


Cliff cited bass players like Geezer Butler, Phil Lynott, Geddy Lee, Lemmy, and Stanley Clarke as influences. He has also cited guitar players such as Ritchie Blackmore, Ulrich Roth, Jimi Hendrix and Tony Iommi as influences.

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 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 first album after Burton's death, ...And Justice for All, contained Burton's last writing credit, the mostly instrumental track "To Live Is to Die".

The most well known non-Metallica tribute to Burton is the song "In My Darkest Hour" by Megadeth. The band's frontman Dave Mustaine was Metallica's lead guitarist in the early days and knew Burton quite well, and maintained good relations after Mustaine parted with the band in 1983. 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.

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

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