In the early 1980's, a 20 year-old bassist named Cliff Burton joined a Bay-area band called Trauma. In August 1982, he was spotted at a gig at LA's Troubadour by two guys called Lars and James, who described him as the most head banging bassist they had ever seen. This meeting went on to be life-changing for them all. Cliff Burton was born in 1962, in San Francisco. His parents were hippies, and from them he got his laid-back attitude and his own unique style. He studied piano from the age of 6, was incredibly bright, and studied music at junior college. At about the age of thirteen, Cliff picked up the bass guitar and fell in love with it, saying - When I started, I decided to devote my life to it and not get sidetracked by all the other bull**** life has to offer. His brother had just died from a brain aneurysm, and Cliff vowed to be the best bassist for my brother." He took lessons for two years, before outgrowing his teachers. His first band was called EZ Street, named after a strip club in San Mateo. The band slowly disintegrated, but his skill and dedication to the bass led to him joining a local band called Trauma. At around 21, Cliff told his parents he was utterly determined to become a professional bassist. His parents agreed to pay for his rent and food for four years - if he hadn't made some kind of progress by then, he would have to get a different job. Cliff's time with Trauma, whose one-song demo, 'Such A Shame' was transferred to vinyl on Metal Massacre II, led to his meeting with Lars and James. James' quote about that evening sums up Cliff's skill and attitude perfectly: "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 this mop of hair. He didn't care whether people were there. He was looking down at his bass playing." The band decided he had to be their bassist, and fired Ron Mcgovney, Metallica's original bassist. At first, Cliff declined their offer, but he was becoming increasingly unhappy in Trauma. Cliff's parents recall - Trauma wanted him to go plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk. He wanted to play lead bass and they said, 'No way'. Two years into the deal with his parents, Cliff agreed to join Metallica, but had two requests. One was that the band relocate to the Bay Area, the second that he could play lead bass. When they finally got together he'd say, "I wanna play lead bass. I want some spot in here where I can go off. And they said, "You can play anything you want, just come with us." They gave him a five-minute solo. Jan Burton Fans of Metallica who saw them during Cliff's years with the band will no doubt have been treated to one of these bass solos. Even after joining Metallica, Cliff still practiced between four and six hours a day. He showed great commitment to the band, especially on the first tour back east. At one point, all their equipment was stolen except three guitars. Cliff was completely committed to the band, even teaching James Hetfield music theory. Examples of his unique talent can be found in numerous Metallica songs. Cliff's solo, Anesthesia (Kill 'Em All), is considered by some to be the best bass solo ever, and was apparently improvised. He also played a melodic and haunting part in the Call Of Ktulu (Ride The Lightning), and used effects like wah and distortion in his music. Cliff was largely responsible for the hauntingly beautiful Orion, from the Master Of Puppets album. This song was played at his funeral. Cliff's life was cut drastically short by that now-infamous day in Sweden. That night, Cliff played Star Spangled Banner for his bass solo. That night the band drew cards to decide who would have which bunk on the tour bus. Cliff drew the Ace Of Spades, assigning him to Kirk Hammett's bunk. That night, the driver lost control of the bus and tried to correct the skid. Cliff was thrown from the bus and pinned underneath. A crane was brought to the scene to lift the bus from Cliff, but it slipped back down. It isn't known whether Cliff was still alive at this point. There is still speculation about the accident. The driver claims that he hit a patch of black ice, but James Hetfield has since said that the road searched the road for ice and none found. There were claims that the driver was drunk. To this day, nobody will ever know what caused the bus to skid and end the life of one of the most influential bassists ever. There is no doubt that Cliff's death was a tragedy, and although he died 18 years ago, Cliff is still a huge influence to bassists worldwide. Adverts were taken out by fans in magazines like Kerrang to pay tribute to him and his music. Metallica at first refused to carry on as a band, but later hired Jason Newstead, who unfortunately was regarded for most of his time in the band as 'Cliff's Replacement'. He later quit, and Rob Trujillo now plays bass for Metallica. Though he achieved worldwide fame with Metallica, Cliff always remained grounded, never considering himself a star. His parents said he was "an appreciative and thoughtful son, recalling: 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, Sister, Connie Cliff died on the 27th of September, 1986. His funeral was held on the 7th of October that year in his hometown of Castro Valley, California. Orion was played at the funeral. Cliff was cremated, and later his ashes were spread by his friends and family at Maxwell Ranch, a 'place he very much loved'.


Cliff used:

  • Basses: Rickenbacker 4001 Aria Pro II Alembic Spoiler
  • Amps: Mesa Boogie 4"x12" Cabinets & 1"x15" Cabinets Ampeg SVT-1540HE Classis Series Enclosure
  • Effects: Morley Power Wah Boost Electro Harmonix Big Muff

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