Clifford Lee Burton was the talented bass guitarist of the American heavy metal band ‘Metallica’ whose tragic death was a great loss to the world of western music and to music lovers all over the world. Even during his childhood days, he showed signs of becoming a great musician. Initially he learnt to play classical piano but later got attracted to rock music and started playing bass guitar both out of his passion and as a tribute to his brother who died very young. Even as a boy, he had a good taste for music and he listened to all kinds of music irrespective of the genre. The influence of rock stars like Phil Lynott, Geddy Lee, and Geezer Butler can be felt in his performances for Metallica where he made an indelible impression as a bassist. He was daring and unconventional in his stage performances and made them lively both by his attire and by his musical rendering; dressed in bell bottoms combined with his mannerism of head-banging and his blond hair waving in the air, he kept the audiences spellbound. As an individual, he was friendly, honest, practical, and someone who freely expressed his opinions. It was tragic that the music prodigy lost his life at the prime of his youth.
Childhood & Early Life
Clifford Lee "Cliff" Burton was born in Castro Valley, California to Ray Burton and Jan Burton. His father was an Assistant Highway Engineer in San Francisco and his mother was a teacher for disabled children.
His siblings include Scott and Connie who were elders to him. He started learning classical piano while he was six years old.
When his brother died of brain aneurysm, he swore to become the best bassist as a token of homage to him. He took bass lessons for two years and even outwitted his teachers.
He was educated at Earl Warren Junior High School and at Castro Valley High School. In 1980, he graduated from Castro Valley High School with deep knowledge in music theory.
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Along with Martin, he formed his second band, "Agents of Misfortune", while they were students at Chabot Community College. In 1981 their band was successful to enter the "Battle of the Bands" contest.
In 1982, he joined “Trauma” a local band and recorded the song “Such a Shame.” The tune became a hit and was included in Metal Blade’s “Metal Massacre II” album.
His performance at the Whiskey A-Go-Go a nightclub in Los Angeles impressed James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich who were about to form a heavy metal band. They invited him to join their band as a bass player.
Burton was not convinced at first but expressed his willingness to join them if they could move their band to San Francisco. His wish was accepted and “Metallica” was formed.
The band moved to Old Bridge, New Jersey and signed with John Zazula of Megaforce Records. In 1983, the band released their first album “Kill ‘Em All” that featured Burton’s solo single, “Pulling Teeth.”
In 1984, Metallica released their second album, "Ride The Lightning," where Burton wrote six songs. He made his stamp through the songs "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Call of Ktulu."
The growing popularity of Metallica won offers for contract from major record labels. Metallica signed with Elektra and released their third album, “Master of Puppets” in 1986.
The album became a huge hit and was acclaimed as one of the greatest albums. Burton was at his best in “Orion” and “Master of Puppets,” his favorite song.
In 1986, the Metallica band toured around Europe to promote their third album, “Master of Puppets.” On September 26 of that year they played in Stockholm, Sweden.
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Burton was incredibly great in that performance. He played classical guitar in place of the bass and rendered an excellent performance of the Star Spangled Banner.
That night when the group was on their way from Stockholm to Copenhagen, the bus slid off crushing Burton underneath. Burton’s mortal remains were burnt and his ashes were strewn around Maxwell Ranch.
His first Metallica album “Kill ‘Em All” was accredited with 3x platinum certification by the RIAA with 3 million copies sold in the United States. Main credit goes to Burton’s solo “Pulling Teeth.”
Awards & Achievements
In 2009, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with other members of the Metallica band. The induction ceremony was attended by his father Ray Burton.
In 2011, a poll conducted by Rolling Stone elected him as the ninth greatest bassist. This posthumous recognition of him proves him as a maestro bassist even after two decades of his demise.
Personal Life & Legacy
He died on September 27, 1986 in a bus accident in Sweden while he was on a Europe tour with his band.
He inherited the spirit of easy going attitude from his parents who were hippies. He was unconventional as a person and as a musician.
He was extremely smart and was found to outgrow even his teachers who taught him music. Even after his achievement as a bassist in Metallica, he practised nearly four to six hours per day.
As a tribute to this bass maestro, a memorial is erected at the place of his death. It is inscribed with his portrait and with words, “Cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home.”
As a homage to him Metallica released a documentary “Cliff ‘Em All,” a compilation of videos featuring Burton’s moments with the band and other video shots made by fans and by media professionals.
This leading bassist of Metallica was a fan of “The Misfits.” He influenced his band to include the Misfits songs, “Die, Die My Darling" and "Last Caress/Green Hell" in their album “Master of Puppets.”
This American rock hero, fatally killed in a bus accident in Sweden, played bass only with his fingers and not with pick. Though became a famous bassist, initially he learned to play classical piano.