RARE INTERVIEW WITH CLIFF BURTON
heavy metal world was shaken by the tragic loss of Metallica bassist
Cliff Burton when their tour bus skidded on "black ice"
while the band was on tour in Scandinavia, and Cliff was thrown
out the window and the bus landed on him . He had been an important
element in Metallica's success by contributing his virtuoso musicianship,
streetwise attitude and totally over-the-top stage presence. He
helped bring the bass guitar out of the closet with his unique
lead bass playing, which incorporated harmonics, classical fills,
heavy distortion and thick wahwah effects: "Anesthesia"
"The Call Of Ktulu" and "Orion" are a couple
of the best examples of his incredible technique. Thank God that
James, Kirk and Lars were open minded enough to let him go off
totally on stuff he wanted to play. Unlike most metal mavens,
Cliff had come up with his own bass lines rather than just follow
along with the rhythm.
awesome musical ability is well known, but his great personality
was what made him such a uniquely genuine individual. His easy-going,
laid-back offstage demeanor contrasted greatly with his wild onstage
persona. Cliff was also very modest and fiercely loyal to his
pals, fans and family.
you never met Cliff, the following hopefully will give you an
insight into the kind of person he was. Cliff rarely did interviews,
preferring to let James and Lars handle them. This interview was
conducted in February of '86 in James and Lars' old pad, the "Metallimansion,"
preceding a typically drunken night at the tiny Ruthie's Inn in
Berkeley, California, and was later transcribed by Cliff's girlfriend,
When did you start playing?
I started playing in 1976. I used to jam around with some local
friends, then I got together with these guys who called themselves
EZ Street, named after a strip joint in San Mateo.
What kind of music?
Oh, it was all kinds of weird shit. It was pretty silly, actually.
We did a lot of covers, just wimpy shit. But I was with them for
a while, for a few years. And that slowly but surely disintegrated.
Then I saw Trauma and I thought, "Well, I might as well do
that." Didn't have anything better to do.
What are some of your influences?
My influences would be... well, first off, with bass playing it
would be Geddy Lee, Geezer Butler, Stanley Clarke....
The gods. What about Steve Harris?
Um, no, I never really heard him until it was like....
Till you'd already developed your own style?
Yeah. Lemmy [of Motorhead] also had an influence in the way he
uses distortion. That was different, new, and exciting. Also,
certain guitar players had an influence. People like... well,
everything Thin Lizzy did has had an influence.
Phil was great.
Jimi Hendrix, Ulrich Roth, Schenker to a degree, Tony Iommi--they
also had an influence.
How about your top five albums? This is kind of lame....
Uhhh... top five albums... Well, let's just say top five bands.
Everything by Glen Danzig, which is The Misfits or Samhain, all
of his shit. All of Thin Lizzy's stuff. What else? Jesus, what
else....? Awww, shit!
English Dogs? Credence?
Nah, nah. The old Black Sabbath stuff.... What else? There's a
band called R.E.M. that I like a lot, strangely enough. There's
also.... A lot of the old Aerosmith, the new Aerosmith shit, too.
I like Aerosmith a lot.
So how did you first get in contact with Metallica?
Trauma went down to LA and did some stuff. While in L.A., Lars
and James saw us and decided that they would like to have me in
their band. And so they started getting ahold of me and calling
me, and I came to their shows here when they played Frisco. And
eventually Trauma started to... annoy me... a couple of different
ways, so I said, "Later."
Musically? Yeah, yeah, it was musical. They were starting to adopt
these attitudes about... well, it was starting to get a little
commercial in different ways, just different general musical attitudes
that I found annoying.
You wanted to get heavier?
So you told them--Metallica--that they would have to move up here
to San Francisco if you were going to join
Yeah, yeah. I told them that they would have to move up here because
I wasn't about to move down to LA, because I like it up here.
So they said, "Yeah, well, we were thinking about doing that
anyway." So that worked out just right. So, they came up
and we got together in this room that we're sitting in now, set
up the gear and blasted it out for a couple of days. It was pretty
obvious straight away that it was a good thing to do, so we did
What do you have to say about the early days? You guys have obviously
progressed a lot since then.
It was fun back then; it's fun now.
You seemed to have a more "fuck it all" attitude back
Well, I think you could safely say we've matured musically, if
not any other way, a bit over the past three years. And there's
a lot more at stake now.
Yeah, a major label and major management, right? Management's
taking real good care of you guys, eh?
Yeah. Everyone who we've signed with is doing a great job for
us. It's all going well.
All right. Where do you think you guys will be a couple of years
from now? You're obviously on the way up, but do you think you're
gonna be up there with the Maidens and the Priests? It looks that
Well, I don't know. I try not to, uh I try not to speculate about
those sort of things, you know; that way, I can't be wrong if
I don't make a guess about it. It's just we try our best and we'll
take it as far as we can, do what we can and see where it takes
What was your most memorable show, do you think?
You had a good time at all of them, I'm sure. You always look
like you're having a good time.
Most of them, yeah. Sometimes, it, you know, gets to you a bit,
but all in all the percentages are real good for the good shows.
It's hard to tell when you're onstage you know. You don't really
know what's going on; you just do it and find out what happens
What about the Donnington bottles? Tell us about Donnington [Festival,
Donnington was a day of targets and projectiles. [Stuff] was piling
high on the stage all throughout the day, and freaks were flipping.
And it wasn't because they didn't like you.
No, they just do that because they like to do that. I think they
liked us, though.
Yeah, I heard good reviews. What about the new album, Master of
Puppets? Tell us about it. What's your favorite song?
My favorite song is "Master." "Master," I
think, is the best Metallica song yet. The lyrics are getting
a lot better.
Sounds like your music's getting more technical too, eh?
Yeah, everything's kind of growing a bit. It's progressing.
What about the thrashier ones? The heavier, faster ones--"Battery"
They're uh... they're uh... very fast. You know, typical kinda
Metallica [stuff]. Fast. Then there's, you know, a bunch of other
How did it go in the studio, as smooth as anticipated?
It took too long. We didn't manage our time all that well, but
the songs were all real good and what we came out with was very
good. Like I said, we could've managed our time a bit better,
but all in all it was, I think, quite a success.
It's a good follow-up to Ride The Lightening, then?
OK. What about your equipment? What do you use for amplification?
I'm using Mesa Boogie amps, Mesa Boogie cabinets. I got some 4x12
cabs for them and some custom-built 115 cabs.
What, to your specifications?
Well, they're basically a 115 stuffed inside a 412 box. So, you
know, you uniform the fit with the backline. I'm playing Aria
basses. Aria Black & Gold is the one I prefer.
What happened to the Ricky [Rickenbacker]?
The Ricky needs some work. I had an Alembic for a while, which
I was very happy with until it was STOLEN!! If anyone out there
comes across a black spoiler bass with a fair-sized chip in the
back finish, up around the side of the peg head, it very well
might be mine, so... just send it to me.
On the new album I heard some short bass solo type thing where
you're using volume pedals. What's that about?
On this album it's the intro to a song called "Damage,"
done all on bass. It's about eight or 12 tracks of bass, a lot
of harmonies and volume swells and effects and stuff. I would
hesitate to call it a bass solo, it's more just an intro, but
it is all bass. There's also a little bass solo in "Orion,"
it's right next to a little guitar solo. No one will probably
be able to tell that it's bass, but it is.
That's cool. Is it in the first break?
Nah. It's, uh, probably about two-thirds of the way into the song.
I noticed, in some of the older songs, you've added a lot of fills
that you weren't doing before.
Yeah, well, you get so you know the song like the back of your
hand and you can just flip off and do different stuff. It's funner
that way, it keeps me entertained. You know, something to do.
What are your favorite songs from the first album?
Uh, I don't really consider that a song.
But that's your showcase there.
Well, yeah, but a song is a song, you know? That's a solo.
That's true. Well, what are the ones you like playing live, out
of the older stuff?
I like playing "Seek" live. It's easy, you know, I don't
have to pay attention to what I'm doing. "Four Horsemen"
Yeah, I noticed Dave [Mustaine of Megadeth, ex-Metallica guitarist]
didn't play that on New Year's Eve.
Dave left "The Mechanics" out of the set.
I didn't get a chance to see Dave that night.
Not very many people did; they started before eight o'clock. I
just though it was kind of strange. They definitely made a point
not to play that in the set, and they always used to close with
Hmmm, that's interesting.
Tell us about the Spastic scene [Spastic Children, Metallica's
Spastic Children. That's an excuse to bash a few and drink a few.
You know, Spastic Children are a bunch of FUCKIN' ASSHOLES!
OK. So, that's made up of you on bass... give me some details
You want details on this, huh, Harald?
If it's cool. Unless it's something you don't want massively publicized.
It's probably best not. Then everyone else is gonna ask me about
it, right? Every time I go into an interview it'll be, "Oh,
what's this?" Forget about it!
It's just going out and thrashing, having a good time and not
worrying about what it sounds like too much, eh?
We're not worried about much of anything. It's just something
to do on a, you know, Tuesday night, when you don't have anything
else to do. No big deal.
Do you have anything to say to aspiring musicians? Let's say in
your past, what did you do to stick it out? What's your advice?
Well, when I first started I decided that I would devote my life
That's probably the only way you can go anywhere, right?
Well, it works for me. I imagine there's a lot of people that
devote their lives to it and don't achieve the success they want.
I mean, there's many factors involved here, but that would be
the main one, to absolutely devote yourself to that, to virtually
marry yourself to that--what you're going to do--and not get sidetracked
by all the other bullshit that life has to offer.