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   Metallica The Band Cliff Burton Some Facts


Almost 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.

At 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.

On 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.

As 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.

"Cliff 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.

Bill 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.

Steve 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".

Cliff 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,

Cliff's 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.

It 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.

Replacing 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.

He 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 introduction.

1986 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.

1986 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.

Metallica 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 point.

The "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.

His 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."

"I 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."

The 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 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."

"I 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."

"Jim 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."

We 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 about it."

Dave 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.

After 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."

An 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.

"I 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.

Tony 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."

"If 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 or something."

"His 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."

Many 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.

"Jan 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 things.

"She 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 involved."

On 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.

"She 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.

"After 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.

Faith No More's Guitarist Jim Martin (Cliffs Best Friend) Had This Stuff To Say About Cliff.

Q:How long did you know Cliff?

JM:We 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.

Q:What kind of music would you play?

JM:We 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.

Q:Any memories come to mind

JM: 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.

Q:Did you meet Cliff in School ?

JM:Nah, 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.

Q: Was that at the infamous "Ranch?"

JM:Yeah, His mom heard some of the tapes and she goes, " You guys sound like fucked up weirdos!"(mutual laughter).

At the end he says "I think it's great that people remember him."




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