Cliff Burton brought his own unique style of bass playing and stage craft to the world of heavy metal. Not content with the bass being consigned to a group’s ‘engine room’ he ensured that it was played, and seen, as a lead instrument in its own right.
Cliff started his musical career as the bass player with ‘Trauma’. Playing the San Francisco Bay Area, the band were well known for their live act that merged glamour and theatrics with the music. Amongst this Cliff stood out, wearing bell-bottom jeans, head banging, with his long hair whipping about and still managing to play a mean bass – still in his teens, he had already begun to develop his own style of playing and stage persona.
With the interest he was generating it wasn’t long before Cliff was sought by other bands. Eventually Cliff joined Metallica but only on the proviso that the band move to the San Francisco Bay Area – showing the importance that the group placed on Cliff’s playing they relocated to ensure that he was in the group.
Cliff brought an extra dimension to Metallica’s playing, he incorporated styles and techniques into his solos that took their music beyond standard “heavy metal” and placed it in a higher league. As well as playing, his song writing also added greatly to the Metallica repertoire. His first tracks appeared in 1984 and allowed him to highlight his style of bass playing to the full.
In 1986 Metallica released the seminal “Master of Puppets” album, containing some of Cliff’s best bass playing this was the album that truly marked their arrival. Releasing another album that year and touring heavily allowed Cliff to hone his skills and audiences were rewarded with outstanding performances that culminated in a bass solo incorporating the Star Spangled Banner in Stockholm, Sweden on September 26th. It was to be a haunting end to a brief, but brilliant, musical career - the following day the tour bus was involved in an accident and Cliff was killed.
- When the ‘powers that be’ decided that the title of Metallica’s first album wasn’t acceptable Cliff replied “Just kill ‘em all, man” – hence the debut album’s name was changed from “Metal Up Your Ass” to “Kill’ Em All”.
- Whilst he was a master of bass playing the first instrument he learnt to play was the piano.
- Cliff’s influences were wide ranging - from Lemmy and Geezer Butler to Johann Sebastian Bach.