Fourteen years ago the heavy Metal world endured the loss of a
truly gifted musician. On September 27th 1986, as many Metallica
fans know, Cliff Burton was killed in a tour bus accident. He
was 24. The band was enroute to Denmark for their next gig. It
is true he was Metallica's bass player for almost 4 years, but
little else is known about him. His personal life has remained
somewhat of a mystery to his fans.
9:38 pm, on February 10th 1962, Clifford Lee Burton was born to
Jan and Ray Burton in Castro Valley, California. Ray was a native
of Tennesse, and worked as an Assistant Highway Engineer in the
San Francisco Bay Area. Jan was a native of California. She worked
for the Castro Valley school district. There she taught students
with disabilities. Cliff had two older siblings, his brother Scott
and sister Connie.
May 19th 1975, tragedy struck the Burton family household when
Scott David Burton died as a result of a brain aneurysm. He passed
away at 11:50 am , while enroute to the hospital. He was just
16. Perhaps this may have given Cliff much of his zeal and excitement
for life. At Marshall Elementary school in Castro Valley, there
is a memorial plaque for Scott as well as one for Cliff, where
he also attended.
a youngster, Cliff played Little League baseball for the Castro
Valley Auto House team. He would go on to Earl Warren Junior High,
and then to Castro Valley High. During his school and junior college,
Cliff worked at an equipment rental yard in Castro Valley, called
Castro Valley Rentals. There, he earned the name "cowboy",
for frequeltly wearing a straw cowboy hat! One of Cliff's co-workers
at the time named Sonny, a tall black man, had this to say.
was youngest kid in the yard." He went on to say that Cliff
was routinely teased about his long hair. He would reply that
his hair would help make him money! "He would play his headbanger
music," and Sonny would say to him," I'm black , I'm
into soul." Cliff would just say, "Check it out."
Sonny also told me he never saw him angry, even when he would
get teased. He never got even for any of it.
and Hazel Banghart, Cliff's supervisor at the yard, had fond memories
of him also. Bill had this to say. "Cliff was very unique,
and a super employee. He was very well liked by all." He
told the following comical story to me with a chuckle. In the
morning it was a routine thing for the employees at the yard to
check the equipment and turn some of it on. One morning Cliff
started all the yard's lawnmowers at once. Someone found him facing
the lawnmowers and waving his arms like a conductor in an orchestra!
Imagine Cliff, a skinny kid with long red hair conducting those
lawn mowers! What a sight! By the time he finished, he said it
brought a tear as well as some laughter.
Doherty was Cliff's bass teacher from September 1978 to January
of 1980. Steve introduced Cliff to styles ranging from Classical
to Jazz. "He was a good student, very focused. He knew what
he wanted. He was a kind of student who always came in with the
lesson prepared, which is not all that common. We did a number
of different rhythm studies. I can hear some of the odd metered
rhythms we studied in his playings." He went on to describe
Cliff as a serious and quiet student. "I had many serious
students, but Cliff had that rare inner drive to get out and do
something about his music. I can't take credit for that; it was
already there even when I taught him".
graduated from Castro Valley High in 1980. After high school he
went on to Truama, a prominent L.A. band noted for its impressive
showmanship. Amidst the glam and the theatrics of his fellow band
members, CLiff was the one who stood out the most. Usually clad
in bell bottoms,
on-stage presence was marked by his constant headbanging and his
wild, free flying red hair. He did record some demos with Truama.
One of those songs,"Such A Shame", can be found on Metal
Massacre 2. While Cliff's bass was prominent throughout the song,
it fails to showcase his unique, trademark style.
wasn't long until a very young Metallica got wind of this upcoming
bass player. Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield sought after Cliff
at one of Truama's gigs. I think Dave Marrs, Metallica's first
roadie, described it best, "I could just see them go, 'Oh
my God! Look at that guy!' The thing that struck them most was
that while you see lead guitar-playing, here you had guy playing
lead bass! They thought that was great." After many pleads
and phone calls, Cliff agreed to join Metallica. However, Cliff
would only join if the band would relocate to the San Francisco
Bay Area. They agreed.
Ron McGovney on bass guitar, Cliff brought his own creative spark
to the band. If you were lucky enough to see Metallica back in
those days, you were probably treated to one of Cliff's brilliant
bass solos. Cliff played the bass guitar like no one ever had
before. His solos drew on many styles, with odd jazz timings and
psychedelic melodies. However, mere noise it was not. His solos
were superbly executed, with much feeling and finesse. A good
example can be found on Metallica's debut,"Kill Em All",
entitled, "(Anesthesia)-Pulling Teeth". More examples
can be found on numerous bootlegs releases.
also contributed largely in the song writing department. His first
contributions appeared in 1984 on "Ride The Lightning".
One of the highlights of R.T.L. is the last track, "The call
Of Ktulu". An instrumental that displays Cliff's "lead
bass" approach. Another highlight is the crowd pleaser, "For
Whom The Bell Tolls". A great example of Cliff's melodic
lead playing and use of distortion, can be heard in the song's
ushered in the release of the groundbreaking, "Master Of
Puppets" album. Abounding in classical influences, it was
their most solid effort to date. Cliff's bass lines, as if holding
it all together, were even more intricate and prominent. As is
the case in "Orion", the album's 7th track, where Cliff's
solos in "Orion" is hauntingly beautiful. But the most
complex song was the title track, "Master Of Puppets".
Which, as Cliff stated in a 1986 interview, was his favorite Metallica
song to date. M.O.P. pushed the band over the top. Even with the
huge success of the album, Cliff never lost his personable on
and off stage presence. Metallica's on-stage presence grew well.
was also a very eventful year for Metallica. It saw the release
of their 3rd album, they did a US tour with Ozzy Osbourne, James
broke his arm and they lost a good friend. After touring the U.S.,
they headed over to Europe. On September 26th, Metallica played
in Stockholm, Sweden. It was specially great night for the band.
It was the first time James resumed his rythm guitar duties in
months. It seemed nothing could stop the mighty Metallica machine.
was en route on a road between Stockholm and Copenhagan, to their
next gig that was scheduled for September 27th, 1986. Earlier
that night the band draws cards for the assignment of the bunks
on the tour bus. As fate would have it, Cliff drew the ace of
spades and chose Kirk Hammett's bunk. Around dawn, the bus driver
loses control of the bus and overcorrects with the steering wheel
to get back on the road. The bus begins to skid out of control
and rolls several times before coming to a halt. Cliff was ejected
and pinned underneath. The band disembarks to find Cliff motionless.
Later a crane was brought to the scene to lift up the bus, the
band hoped Cliff could be saved. However, after lifting the bus
up, it slipped back down. According to Mick Hughes, Metallica's
sound engineer, no one was sure if Cliff was still alive at that
"Report Of The Death Of An American Citizen Abroad"
lists the cause of death as "compressio thoracis cum contusio
pulm", attested by Dr. Anders Ottoson, licensed phsycian.
The bus driver claimed that he hit a "patch of black ice".
James Hetfield has since stated several times since that the infamous
black ice was never found. The police report stated the air temperature
at the scene was 37 degress. However, there was no mention of
ice the road. Cliff's passport, E 159240, was cancelled and returned
to his parents Ray and Jan Burton.
body was flown back to the United States. His funeral was held
on October 7th, 1986 at Chapel Of The Valley in his hometown of
Castro Valley, CA. He was cremated, and his ashes were spread
at a place where he spent a lot of time at, the Maxwell Ranch.
One of those in attendance was his friend, Dave DiDonato. This
is his account of the scene. "We (several people and family)
stood in a large circle with Cliff's ashes in the center. Each
of us walked into the center and took a handfull of him and said
what we had to say... Then he was cast onto the Earth, in a place
he loved very much."
spent a lot of time with Cliff. We would go out pier fishing.
We'd come back to Cliff's house at like 3 or 4 o' clock in the
morning, and Cliff would start cooking huge food in the kitchen
of their aprtment. I have a loud voice, and the first thing that
usually happened was Jan would say, "Cliff, come here."
Cliff would look at me and say, Your a dick!" He'd walk down
the hall, and I'd hear it. The second time she just came right
out and said, "David! I don't want to have to ask you to
leave! But your voice!" There was a lot of times like that.
She used to laugh about it."
three of them kept a log book of the goings on at the Maxwell
Ranch. On 6/10/83 it red, "Jim, Cliff, Dave and Rick...came
up in my truck...made volume 4, Maxwell tapes..tried to play D
& D, but for the most part were unable to...Jim's character
(Ktulu) went to the 7th level...Cliff brought up a lot of recreational
tools...recorded volumes 5 and 6.. a marathon trip..P.S..you neve
bring too much beer." This was Cliff's entry on 6/30/85.
"Ears took a beating due to loud music, guns and Dave's mouth...beers
grow on trees in Maxwell...Jim has sick wild hair."
didn't ever saw music move Cliff the way The Misfit's did. When
Cliff drove to the pier, he would play The Misfits. He would headbang
and drum on his steering wheel, to the point of breaking the steering
wheel. There was pieces of it to drive with. He has it all ducked
taped together. Whenever Cliff played his Misfits tapes, he just
went wild. Just like fuckin yelling, screaming, spitting and headbanging.
The Misfits were a great moments in his life. I think he enjoyed
The Misfits more than anything else, period."
and Cliff were so alike in being late. I remember the first time
Metallica ever played at the Oakland Coliseum, for the Day on
The Green Festival. Me and Cliff are fucking around and he says
"Fuck! what time is it? I say Its 1:00." He says "No
way?" No way?!" He says " I got soundcheck at 2:00!
We gotta go now! So Cliff grabed his guitar, and his other shit
and we left. So we get on the freeway, we 're driving along and
all of sudden its bumber to bumper traffic. Cliff is really worked
up at this point, as the traffic is edging along."
were almost at our exit when all of sudden we get rear ended.
Cliff goes "Ah Fuck!" He jumps out of the car. He's
got his black Misfits shirt on, with the skull on the front of
it. He walks over to the car that hit us, and all these kids are
wearing Metallica shirts! They don't even know who he is. They
were saying things like 'Oh fuck' Ah man I'm sorry!' Cliff looks
at his car and say 'Fuck it! it was piece of shit anyway! SEE
YA!' He gets back in the car, he whips over out of the right lane,
and starts driving on the shoulder of the freeway! He was driving
right through ice plant, the car is on a slight angle, and he's
cutting off all these people! They are screaming at him, and he's
like 'Fuck you!' We drove like that half a mile. Cliff was laughing
told me that Cliff eventually wanted to start his own band where
he could play lead bass. He said that Metallica would have been
his platform to do that. He said, " I don't think he would
have been caged in Metallica forever." Dave played me some
of Cliff's private compositions. Upon hearing them, I was pleasantly
surprised to hear the familiar bass line of "Orion".
It started at the break in the middle of the song. I knew this
version was diffrent. The bassline was the same, but Cliff was
playing lead part on his bass! I had never heard it before. It
sounded incredible. It was very powerful hearing it all played
by Cliff. I was very moved. Cliff could have easily started band
as the lead bass player. I have no doubt.
his death, a local newspaper article described Cliff as a "world
class local boy" with love for Johann Sebastian Bach, Mexican
food and his hometown. In the article was a quote from his parents.
They said this; "Cliff was an apperciative and thoughtful
son. Because of his performing, he'd sleep all day and stay up
all night and never wake us up. Once a little boy came to the
door, early in the morning and wanted Cliff to sign his shirt.
So Cliff staggered to the door- he could hardly see - and said
"Sure , of course I'll sign it." His sister Connie said
this in the article, " 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 him that way again."
enjoyable person to talk to about Cliff is Audrey Kimball. Audrey
plays bass in the bay area band, Elysium. She described herself
to me as a very close friend of his. She was very eager happy
to talk about him, but sensed touch of sadness in her voice.
first met Cliff through mutual friends when I was fifteen. We
did lots together. Hanging' out mostly and going to parties. There
wasn't much you could do back then. None of us had much money,
we could were teenagers. I've never met anyone like him, nor do
I expect to. He was a very deep person, very real, very honest
and very dignified. Different from most people. He was very secure
and sure of himself, which was very rare in kids. He just seemed
to always to know his path, and his reasons for being here. He
had a good sense of humor. Very sincere and honest. Brutually
honest! Very Intelligent, and very commited. He loved his music.
He was religious in his practicing. I always knew that he would
make it somehow with band or solo. He was very determined."
She also said that after Cliff passed away, there was huge outpouring
of letters offering condolences. Cliff's mother Jan answered many
of the letters personally, which were up in the thousands.
Aldridge knew Cliff also, since elementary school and through
high school. He spoke with much enthusiasm. " I first met
Cliff at Marshall School. He was a year ahead of me. I talked
to him one time before the show at the Kabuki in San Fransisco,
after "Kill Em All" came out. People would walk up to
him and say, "You are God! Your number one! He would just
laugh and say 'Nah'. He thought it was funny. If you approached
him, he never blew you off or nothin."
I saw him playing' up on stage somewhere, he'd always say, 'Whats
up Tony? How ya doin'? He never forgot me man, thats cool. I saw
him a lot of times in the backyard of somebody's house, or in
garages. He was awesome back then. People in school kinda hassled
him and stuff for having long hair and being kinda hippies-like.
I never did that. I always thought, if thats who he wants to be,
thats fine. He was an all around good guy. I never saw him throw
fits or anything like that, or get pissed off. Maybe at his bass
death blew me away. It was a sad point in my life, I wish it never
happened. I felt real bad for him mom. She was the nicest lady.
She was really into the School Stuff, like after school activities,
and yard duty teacher. She was super. I used to see her years
after, from the time I left Marshall. She always remembered me.
They were good people."
people can trace thier success in life to a supportive person
in their past. It may have been a friend, teacher, or a mother
or father. Such was the case of Jan Burton, who empowered those
around her to stive and achieve. If Cliff were alive today, I
wonder how much of his success he would attribute to the support
of his parents. Andrea Magnuson, a colleague of Jan's, shared
her memories with me.
Burton and I started together in September of 1974, and usually
after school we'd spend a couple of hours together. Normally after
hours were to recuperate from a day of stress. It was mainly because
about half of the class had just been released from state hospitals.
The then governor Regan had started closing them. There was a
big upheaval of their moving out and into board and care homes.
The other half of our population came form T.M.R.(the mentally
retarded) group that were graduating from a local high school
that year. We devised different types of activities, more on the
recreational line first. Eventually we worked into job related
loved the students, she really did. There wasn't anything that
she really wouldn't fight tooth and nail to get them if they were
in need. She even managed to get some of them on social security
supplement that is given to our students. Because somehow either
they hadn't been in a program or they somehow slipped through
a loophole and nobody had caught up on it. Of course with social
security they try and deny as many as possible. She was a great
one for fighting that. Also fightning to have her students be
their own conservtors, rather than parents or guardians being
Scott Burton. "I had only met Scott maybe once or twice because
Scott died the first year Jan and I were working together. I think
Scott's death pushed her ad Cliff together more. I think Cliff
was more the studious determined type, and maybe he followed after
his mom. We sure miss her here and I know there wasn't a day after
Scott died that she didn't miss him.
was always proud when the band sent her the new albums. They even
had her go to New York to watch one of the videos they did. She
used to teach a class that consited of sorting different sizes
screws into different size pans, according to shapes and sizes.
She found that putting some of Metllica's albums on, for background
music, tended to produce better results from her students. I think
she even tried to use different types of music to see which simulated
them the most. She ended up playing Metallica a lot. The students
supposedly did have a higher output with Metallica.
Cliff's funeral, I can't recall if it was at Jan's house or outside
the church. I went up to give her a hug and the rest of us were
crying. She was just her usual solid self. All of us were thinking,
how in the world can you stand this and keep going on, with Cliff
being the second son she lost? She said words to the effect of,
' Well I think I can still be of use to Metallica', but that was
Jan. She faced an awful lot of heartaches in her lifetime, and
managed to fight through them. There wasn't anything Jan wouldn't
do if she believed in something. She fought for it. She wouldn't
let you back off either. She'd be right there pushing from behind
' You've got to do this. You're capable of it. Just go ahead and
go out and do it." Sadly, Jan Burton passed away on June
7th, 1993. She was 67.
No More's Guitarist Jim Martin (Cliffs Best Friend) Had This Stuff
To Say About Cliff.
long did you know Cliff?
played in a band togther called Easy Street, in the 70's. We played
together for about five years. We would play at a place in Berkeley,
called the International Cafe. It was run by these two Greek guys.
We were all like 15-16 years old, and all our friends were too.
They served us all beer.
kind of music would you play?
played copy songs and some original stuff. We played a couple
Rolling Stones songs, Zepplin shit, some Black Sabbath stuff.
We wrote our own stuff as well.
memories come to mind
Well, we did spend a fair amount time together. Even after he
left that band he moved on to Truama, and then on to Metallica.
But he still spent quite a bit if his free time with some of his
buddies. We did a lot of stuff.
you meet Cliff in School ?
in the band. The bass player we had before wanted to quit, but
he goes , " I know some guys who might be a pretty good for
you," He said his name is Cliff. We jammed together a lot
too. We'd go out in the hills and fire up the generator. Me and
him and another fella named Dave. We were the only guys around
for miles. We'd play this really weird shit and record it.
Was that at the infamous "Ranch?"
His mom heard some of the tapes and she goes, " You guys
sound like fucked up weirdos!"(mutual laughter).
the end he says "I think it's great that people remember
lot's of Metallica fans come here and write their opinions about
Cliff Burton. It's your turn now. Would you like to write something
about Cliff Burton? You can also read what other fans wrote about