Cliff's Early Life
Cliff 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 13, after the 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, Ozzy Osbourne, drummer Mike Bordin. Burton and Martin continued their musical collaboration after becoming students at Chabot Community 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 and occasionally such ultra-progressive bassists 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."
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.
The Death of Cliff Burton
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. Guitarist Kirk Hammett had a friendly dispute with Burton about who was getting the pick of the bunks, so as a solution they drew cards. On the evening of September 26, 1986, Burton had won the game with an Ace of Spades. He was asleep when at several minutes before 7 am (on the 27th), according to the driver, the band's tour bus ran over a patch of black ice, skidded off of the road (the E4, 2 miles north of Ljungby), and flipped onto the grass in Ljungby Municipality, near Dörarp in rural southern Sweden. Burton was thrown through the window of the bus, which fell on top of him causing his death.
James Hetfield later stated that he first believed the bus flipped because the driver was drunk, claiming he had smelled alcohol on the driver's breath after the accident. Hetfield also stated that he himself had walked long distances down the road looking for black ice and had found none. Local freelance photographer, Lennart Wennberg, who had attended the scene of the crash the following morning, when later asked in an interview about the likelihood of black ice being the cause of the accident said that it was 'out of the question', stating that the road had been dry and the temperature around twenty degrees Celsius. This was also confirmed by the police who also found no ice on the road. Ljungby detective, Arne Pettersson was reported in a local newspaper to have said the pattern of the tracks at the accident site were exactly like ones seen at sites where drivers had fallen asleep at the wheel. However the driver stated under oath that he had slept during the day and was fully rested; his testimony was confirmed by the driver of the second tour bus. The driver was determined not to be at fault for the accident and no charges were brought against him.
After Death and Legacy
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 hadn't played the song live, and Metallica did not perform it until June 3, 2006 at Rock Am Ring Festival, Nurburgring, DEU (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.
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.
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.
Anthrax dedicated their Among the Living album to him, as did Metal Church with The Dark.
On January 14, 2009, it was announced that Cliff Burton will be 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. Kirk Hammett of Metallica provided the foreword.
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- Demo 1 (1982)