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Cliff Burton

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Cliff Lee Burton
Burton performing live with Metallica in 1986
Burton performing live with Metallica in 1986
Background information
Birth nameClifford Lee Burton
Born(1962-02-10)February 10, 1962
Castro Valley, California, U.S.
DiedSeptember 27, 1986(1986-09-27) (aged 24)
Dörarp, Sweden
GenresThrash metal
  • Musician
  • songwriter
Years active1974–1986
Associated acts

Clifford Lee Burton (February 10, 1962 – September 27, 1986) was an American musician and songwriter who was the bassist for American heavy metal band Metallica from 1982 until his death in 1986. He performed on Kill 'Em All (1983), Ride the Lightning (1984), and Master of Puppets (1986), the band's first three studio albums. Burton also received posthumous writing credit on ...And Justice for All (1988) for the song "To Live Is to Die".

While touring in 1986 to support Master of Puppets, Burton died following a bus crash in Sweden. Recognized as an influential musician during his lifetime, Burton remains a prominent musical influence and placed ninth in a 2011 reader poll from Rolling Stone recognizing the greatest bassists of all time.[1] He was posthumously inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Metallica in 2009.


Early life[edit]

Clifford Lee Burton was born in Castro Valley, California, to Ray and Jan Burton. He had two elder siblings, Scott and Connie. 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 had an interest in rock, classical, country and eventually heavy metal. He began playing the bass at age 13, after the death of his brother. His parents quoted him as saying, "I'm going to be the best bassist for my brother."[2] He practiced up to six hours per day (even after he joined Metallica). Along with classical and jazz, Burton's other early influences varied from Southern rock and country to the blues.[3]

Burton cited Geddy Lee, Geezer Butler, Stanley Clarke, Lemmy Kilmister, and Phil Lynott as major influences on his style of bass playing.[4]


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 as well as Faith No More and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Mike Bordin. Burton and Martin continued their musical collaboration after becoming students at Chabot 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 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".[3] Burton joined his first major band, Trauma, in 1982. Burton recorded the track "Such a Shame" with the band on the second Metal Massacre compilation.

In 1982, Trauma traveled to Los Angeles to perform at the Whisky a Go Go.[3] 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 later became "(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 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",[5] 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.[3] Metallica, eager to have Burton in the band, left their origin of Los Angeles to make a home in El Cerrito,[6] a town located across the bay from 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 Jon Zazula, owner of Megaforce Records.[7] The band relocated to Old Bridge, New Jersey, and quickly secured a recording contract with Zazula's label.[7] Their debut album, Kill 'Em All, features Burton's famous solo piece, "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth", which showcased his use of effects, such as a wah-wah pedal, not commonly used by bass guitarists.

Metallica's debut album, Kill 'Em All, was originally intended to inherit the name of one of their earlier demo releases (predating Burton's participation), which was Metal Up Your Ass,[8] but the record company did not like the title and insisted on changing it. After the band learned of the change, Burton 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, showcased the band's increasing musical growth.[9] Burton's songwriting abilities were growing, and he received credit on six of the album's eight songs.[10] 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.[7] 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.[11] Among the tracks featured in the album are the instrumental "Orion" (which features a prominent lead bass section) and the title track, which was Burton's favorite Metallica song.[12] Master of Puppets is the band's commercial breakthrough release,[13] and Burton's final album with Metallica.

Burton's final performance was in Stockholm, Sweden, at the Solnahallen Arena on September 26, 1986, one day before his death.[14] The final song he performed was "Fight Fire With Fire".[15]


In Sweden, on the Damage Inc. tour in support of Master of Puppets, the band members complained that the sleeping cubicles on their tour bus were unsatisfactory and uncomfortable. To decide who received pick of the bunks, Kirk Hammett and Burton drew playing cards.[16] On the evening of September 26, 1986, Burton won the game with an ace of spades, thereby getting the first choice of bunk. Burton turned to Hammett and said "I want your bunk"; Hammett then responded, "Fine, take my bunk, I'll sleep up front, it's probably better up there anyway." Burton was sleeping shortly before 7:00 a.m. on September 27 when, according to the driver, the bus skidded off the road (the E4, 12 miles (19 km) north of Ljungby),[17] and flipped onto the grass in Kronoberg County.[18] Burton was thrown through the window of the bus, which fell on top of him and killed him.

Cliff Burton memorial stone October 15, 2018
Cliff Burton memorial stone October 15, 2018

The bus driver said that the crash was caused by the bus hitting a patch of black ice on the road, but James Hetfield later stated that he first believed the bus flipped because the driver was drunk. Hetfield also stated that he walked long distances down the road looking for black ice and found none. When local freelance photographer Lennart Wennberg (who attended the crash scene the following morning) was asked in a later interview about the likelihood that black ice caused the accident, he said it was "out of the question" because the road was dry and the temperature around 2 °C (36 °F), above the freezing point of 0 °C (32 °F). This was confirmed by police who – like Hetfield – also found no ice on the road. Ljungby detective Arne Pettersson was reported in a local newspaper to have said the tracks at the accident site were exactly like ones seen when drivers fall 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 a second tour bus that was carrying the band's crew and equipment.[17] The driver was determined not at fault for the accident and no charges were brought against him.[19]


Burton's body was cremated and the ashes were scattered at the Maxwell Ranch.[16] At the ceremony, the song "Orion" was played. Shortly after Burton's death, Jason Newsted from Flotsam and Jetsam became Metallica's new bassist.

Metallica wrote a tribute to Burton titled "To Live Is to Die" for ...And Justice for All. Burton also received a writing credit for the lyrics in the middle of the song.[20] A non-Metallica tribute to Burton is the song "In My Darkest Hour" by thrash metal band Megadeth. According to Dave Mustaine, after hearing of Burton's death, he sat down and wrote the music for the song in one sitting.[21] The lyrics, however, are unrelated to Burton's death. Mustaine was Metallica's lead guitarist in the early days and was a close friend of Burton at the time.[22]

On October 3, 2006, a memorial stone was unveiled in Sweden near the scene of the fatal crash. The lyrics "...cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home" from "To Live Is to Die" are written on Burton's memorial stone.[citation needed]

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

On April 4, 2009, Burton was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with fellow Metallica bandmates James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Kirk Hammett. Subsequent bassists Jason Newsted and Robert Trujillo were inducted as well. During the ceremony, the induction was accepted by his father Ray Burton, who shared the stage with the band and said that Cliff's mother was Metallica's biggest fan.[citation needed]

A biography, To Live Is to Die: The Life and Death of Metallica's Cliff Burton, written by Joel McIver, was published by Jawbone Press in June 2009. Hammett provided the book's foreword.[23]

In November 2016, Metallica released the album Hardwired... to Self-Destruct. The deluxe version of the album features a series of live recordings at Berkeley, California's legendary record store Rasputin Music in celebration of Record Store Day on April 16, 2016. The song "Fade to Black" was played with lead singer Hetfield dedicating the song to Burton. During the song Hetfield yells, "Can you hear us Cliff?"[24]

In 2017, it was revealed that Burton's parents had been donating his posthumous royalty payments to a scholarship fund for music students at his alma mater Castro Valley High School.[25]

In 2018, the Alameda County, California, Board of Supervisors issued a proclamation declaring February 10, 2018, which would have been Burton's 56th birthday, as "Cliff Burton Day" after a fan petition successfully passed.[26]

The S&M2 concert in 2019 featured San Francisco Symphony bassist Scott Pingel paying tribute to Burton by playing his signature bass solo, "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)", using an electric double bass with pedal effects.[27]


The first ‍bass ‍he was publicly seen playing, in Agents of Misfortune, was a heavily modified Rickenbacker 4001 painted in a "Burgundyglo" colour. After joining Metallica, Burton removed the stock pickups and had the neck humbucker from a Gibson EB-0 installed in the neck position, a Seymour Duncan stacked Jazz ‍pickup in the bridge position and a Seymour Duncan stacked Stratocaster pickup fitted within the bridge cavern of the bass, replacing the existing foam string mute. At some point after recording Kill 'Em All, Burton retired this bass from public use due to malfunction, and instead used a variety of high-end basses including a black Alembic Spoiler (which was later stolen) and an Aria Pro II SB Elite 1 “Black 'n' Gold” and Aria Pro II SB-1000. Burton used a large array of amplifiers and effects pedals as well.

  • Rotosound ‍66LB stainless steel bass strings (35, 55, 75, 90)
  • Morley Power Fuzz Wah
  • Electro Harmonix Bass Balls (In Early days)
  • Morley Power Wah Boost
  • MXR Limiter 143
  • Boss CS-1 Compressor
  • Boss CS-2 Compressor
  • Electro Harmonix Big Muff PI
  • Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer/Ibanez TS9
  • Ibanez HD1000/1500

Cliff Burton Signature Bass[edit]

In January 2013, the guitar manufacturer Aria revealed through Metallica's official website that it would be releasing a replica of Burton's bass, called the Aria Pro II Cliff Burton Signature Bass. The company had received permission from Burton's family and from ‍Metallica ‍to produce the instrument. The bass ‍was officially unveiled at Winter ‍NAMM in Anaheim, California. On January 25, 2013, Burton's father Ray ‍attended the press conference where he signed autographs and talked about Burton's life and the instrument.[28] Current Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo was also present and was the first to try out the bass, playing parts of "Anesthesia - Pulling Teeth". It is unknown whether any other members of Metallica attended the event. Ray Burton said, "What a beautiful instrument and a wonderful tribute to Cliff."[29]

  • Headstock: Original SB Design
  • Neck Shape: Standard, Medium
  • Neck: 7 Ply Maple/Walnut
  • Neck Joint: Neck-through, Heel-less Cutaway
  • Tuners: Handmade Solid Brass Tuner Buttons, 24 K Gold Plated
  • Nut: 40mm Width Solid Brass
  • Truss rod Cover: Solid Brass
  • Headstock Front Inlays: Patent Statement
  • Headstock Back Inlay: Cliff Burton Authorized Signature
  • Fretboard Scale: 34" or 864mm
  • Frets: 24 Frets
  • Fretboard: Rosewood
  • Fretboard Inlays: Cat Eye, Mother of Pearl Inlays
  • Body Shape: Original SB Shape, Super Balanced Body
  • Body Material: Alder
  • Pickup: Aria MB-V Passive Pickup
  • Controls: 1xVolume, 1xTone, 1-Dual Sound Mini-Toggle Switch
  • Knobs: Black SB Knobs
  • Tailpiece: Solid Brass With 24K Gold Plated Saddles and Black Plated Body
  • Strap Pins: 18K Gold Plated Solid Brass
  • Strings: Rotosound RS66LB (35, 55, 70, 90)
  • Certificate: Certificate of Authenticity Signed by Ray Burton and Toshi Matsumura
  • Case: Deluxe Ostrich Hardshell Case With Gold Hardware[29]


Studio albums



  • No Life 'til Leather (1982) (credited but does not play)
  • Megaforce (1983)
  • Ride the Lightning (1983)
  • Master of Puppets (1985)



  1. ^ "Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top Ten Bassists of All Time". Rolling Stone. March 31, 2011. Retrieved June 8, 2013.
  2. ^ O., Harald. "Interview link". Archived from the original on October 23, 2007. Retrieved December 9, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d Ellefson, David (February 2005). "The King of Metal Bass". Bass Player Magazine. Retrieved April 26, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "A rare interview with Metallica's legendary bassist".
  5. ^ "Cliff Burton R.I.P. Interview". Archived from the original on August 29, 2016. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  6. ^ "JoyZine — Interview with Metallica by Ron Quintana". Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved October 9, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c "Metallica History Part 1". Metallica. Archived from the original on April 18, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  8. ^ "Metallica – Metal Up Your Ass". Archived from the original on November 23, 2010. Retrieved May 30, 2013.
  9. ^ "Ride the Lightning". AllMusic. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  10. ^ Allmusic Guide, Ride the Lightning review. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  11. ^ Dimery, Robert. 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, p.548.
  12. ^ Cliff Burton R.I.P. Interview Archived August 29, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  13. ^ Metallica > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums.. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  14. ^ metal-george's Cliff Burton Page Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  15. ^ "Metallica Setlist at Solnahallen, Stockholm". Retrieved 2020-09-27.
  16. ^ a b "Cliff in Our Minds Biography". Cliff in Our Minds. Archived from the original on March 5, 2010. Retrieved December 9, 2007.
  17. ^ a b McIver, Joel (2004). Justice for All: The Truth about Metallica. Omnibus Press. pp. 159–165. ISBN 978-0-7119-9600-7.
  18. ^ "Metallica History Part 2". Metallica. Archived from the original on August 3, 2011. Retrieved December 23, 2006.
  19. ^ Behind the Music: Metallica (Television production). November 22, 1998.
  20. ^ McIver, Joel (2009). To Live Is to Die: The Life and Death of Metallica's Cliff Burton. Jawbone Publishing. p. 230. ISBN 978-1-906002-24-4.
  21. ^ Herzog, Kenny (July 18, 2011). "Setlist - Dave Mustaine". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 6, 2013.
  22. ^ "Dave Mustaine: Countdown to Extinction". Guitar World. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  23. ^ "BLABBERMOUTH.NET – METALLICA Guitarist Provides Foreword To First-Ever CLIFF BURTON Biography". Archived from the original on May 30, 2012. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  24. ^ Blabbermouth (April 16, 2016). "Watch METALLICA Perform Live At Berkeley's Rasputin Music". BLABBERMOUTH.NET.
  25. ^ "Cliff Burton's Father Donates Metallica Royalties To Music Scholarships". August 11, 2017.
  26. ^ Young, Alex (February 6, 2018). "Alameda County, California declares February 10th as "Cliff Burton Day" in honor of the late Metallica bassist". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  27. ^ Grow, Kory (September 27, 2019). "San Francisco Symphony Bassist on Show-Stopping Tribute to Metallica's Cliff Burton". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  28. ^ Childers, Chad (January 21, 2013). "Cliff Burton Aria Pro II Signature Bass to Debut at 2013 NAMM Convention". Loudwire. Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  29. ^ a b "Cliff Burton Signature Bass". January 16, 2013. Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2013.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Ron McGovney
Metallica bassist
Succeeded by
Jason Newsted