|Photo: Ross Halfin|
"Bass solo. Take one."Thirty years ago today, the music world lost one its greatest talents. Cliff Burton, bass player for Metallica and, by all accounts, all-around good dude, was tragically killed in a bus accident while the band was on tour in Sweden during the early morning hours of 9/27/86. Those who knew him and fans who had loved him on Metallica's then three releases -- Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, and the breakthrough Master of Puppets -- were devastated. The world hasn't been the same since.
Cliff Burton was truly a unique and towering figure of mythic proportions; in just three short years (and at only 24yrs old!), he became a legend not only in the Metal scene, but he also garnered respect from music fans in general. Sure, there are jaded Metal "experts" who yell the same tired insults like "Metallica died with Cliff" when it comes to the band's 90s output; however the fact of the matter was, Cliff was very eclectic in his musical tastes and, by all accounts, did not care what anyone else thought about image -- especially his own -- or musical style in general. One wonders if Metallica would recorded something like 1996's Load sooner...
The impact that Cliff had on Metallica is crystal clear in the musical and technical leaps and bounds made from Kill 'Em All to Ride The Lightning -- in just under a year, no less! No one could have predicted that the same, pimply-faced teenagers pictured on the back cover of the Kill 'Em All LP would go on to write such masterpieces as "For Whom The Bell Tolls", "Fade To Black", "Creeping Death", and "The Call of Ktulu". Of course, this growth and musical maturity would ultimately reach its nadir with 1986's Master of Puppets.
Being only 4yrs old when Cliff was taken and not getting into Metallica until 1991's self-titled "The Black Album", the legend of Cliff already had an aura about it. As my friends and I discovered the early records, pre-"Enter Sandman", I remember a sort of haze of confusion surrounding Burton's legacy. At that point, none of us really had the full story of just what happened to him -- after all, we were all just pre-teens as we were discovering the band and learning their history. We'd stare at the folding cassette booklets for those first three albums, recognizing younger versions of Hetfield, Ulrich, and Hammett...and staring with a sense of wonder at the photos of Cliff. Through word of mouth from older classmates and through reading various bits in magazines, we started to get a better picture of Cliff.
|Photo: Ross Halfin|
Around this same time, my family and I (along with my best friend, Chris, also the kid who introduced me to Metallica) were vacationing in upstate Pennsylvania when my dad decided to take us on a surprise trip to nearby Binghamton, NY. We were actually going to see a famous carousel, but Chris and I spotted a record store called Music City and begged Dad to pull over. This place was a mecca for the burgeoning Metallica fans that we were -- let along MUSIC fans, as we had tons of "import" CDs (bootlegs), shirts, and bootleg cassette tapes at our disposable. In the video section, there was a copy of The $19.98 Home Vid: Cliff 'Em All. At this point in my Metallica fandom, anything with Cliff was a welcomed treasure/history lesson, as I'd missed the 1992 edition of MTV's Metallica Rockumentary.
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"We do what we wanna do, ya know? If they consider that sellin' out, then . . . whatever."
Of course, the standout clip from Cliff 'Em All is, hands down, "For Whom The Bell Tolls" from Oakland, CA's Day On The Green festival 8/31/85. Cliff's wailing bass intro is truly the stuff of legend and, from the moment I first saw it, I knew why he was so well-respected and missed by fans older than me!
From that moment on, Cliff was pretty much the coolest dude in the room for me. The first live recording featuring Cliff that I got my hands must have been the Puppets In El Paso bootleg, which was a show from El Paso, TX 5/12/86. Hearing Cliff's bass work on "For Whom The Bell Tolls" (as well as the rest of the show) was truly something else . . .
Every year on the anniversary of his death, I find myself listening to either the first three records exclusively or live shows from his tenure with the band. I've always thought it as a great way to honor the man, ya know? On this morning's commute, the first three tracks were, of course, "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth", "The Call of Ktulu", and "Orion".
As a Metallica collector, I cherish every new live recording (audio or video) that I come across and the deluxe remastered box sets of both Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning were no different. Each set contains a wealth of great quality live audio, as well as exclusive DVDs; in particular the Lightning set's DVD features the complete Metal Hammer Festival 9/15/85 gig (as glimpsed in Cliff 'Em All), including one of Cliff's best bass solos! For any fan, this was truly like finding the Holy Grail of Metallica live DVDs -- a pro-shot show with Cliff!! As it stands now, I look forward to what is in store for the eventual Master of Puppets deluxe remastered box set...
Today, it seems that Cliff's memory is alive and well in the Metallica world; in 2005, the band finally started playing "Orion" live (albeit just the first half, as they opened for The Rolling Stones) -- they finally played the whole song the following year when they celebrated the 20th anniversary of Master of Puppets by playing the entire album. As a matter of fact, every time they play "Orion", James dedicates it to Cliff. These days, they've been known to play "Whiskey In The Jar" as an encore and, again, dedicate it to Cliff as well. I think it's safe to say that he's become the band's guardian angel, leading them when he was in the band and now guiding and protecting them from beyond.
Clifford Lee Burton 2/10/62 - 9/27/86
Rest In Peace.
|Photo Credit: Ross Halfin|