Today marks the 25th anniversary of METALLICA bassist Cliff Burton‘s death. In remembrance of him, the band’s drummer Lars Ulrich gave a personal and emotional account of him in Revolver magazine’s January/February “Fallen Heroes” issue. He had so many great stories about Burton, Revolver couldn’t fit them in the magazine. So, in reverence, here is more of what Ulrichhad to say about Burton.
Revolver: What do you remember about the first time you saw him?
Lars: I had just never really seen anything quite like it. It was just unique and so original. And there was just this incredible stage presence and this uniqueness to the whole vibe. I had just never seen anything like it. It was new, it was different. And obviously you could tell there was an incredible ability, and there was a stage presence, and all this type of stuff wrapped up in this incredible type of personality. And I think we were a little intimidated by him in the beginning because he was just so unique. But then as we got to know him a little bit, and I sort of started courting him to try and jump ship [from his band TRAUMA], then I started realizing he was a pretty chill dude. But he was also pretty firm on the fact that L.A. was not for him. ‘Cause me and James [Hetfield] were trying to get him to come down to L.A., and he just wasn’t into that. He was really rooted up here [near San Francisco], he really was a kind of a Northern California… almost a hillbilly like. I mean, there’s a lot of different vibes up here, and there’s definitely a kind of unique vibe in Castro Valley and Hayward and stuff. And he was a real, really rooted where it came from. And he was probably, certainly speaking for myself, I was much more of a gypsy. When we traveled and stuff like that, he was the first guy to want to go home. And he was the one who was probably at the strongest of roots of all of us. He had family and kind of a history. Me and James were more loners.
Revolver: He seems like he was laidback.
Lars: He didn’t hurt people. He didn’t cross the line, but he was certainly always up for being part of stirring some shit up. But more like a rascal point of view then someone who was out to hurt people. So it was more fun and games. He would fake fight or whatever, throw some kind of fake punches, but he would never throw any real punches. I don’t think I ever saw Cliff in a fight. I don’t think I ever saw Cliff get into heated exchanges or anything. I mean, he was a pretty chill guy. And it never got nasty or unpleasant.
Revolver: What are your fondest memories of him?
Lars: My fondest memories of Cliff are his total disregard for convention and his total disregard for playing things out the way you expected them. He was up to challenge the normalcy, to challenge the status quo, to just fuck with things musically, attitude-wise — the way he dressed, the way he carried himself, his sense of humor, his relationship with the music that inspired him, the music that he played. It was always very unconventional, and it was very unusual. You could certainly argue that me and James at that time were more kind of the squarer guys, ’cause we were more like, “MOTÖRHEAD, IRON MAIDEN!” Heavy metal T-shirts, and long hair and bang our heads into the wall. Cliff was just so fast in his palette of things that he was into and things that were inspiring him and the things that he was doing. So it was definitely his music, and his attitude, and his approach towards life that really inspired me and James to broaden our horizons, broaden METALLICA‘s horizons musically. So when I think of Cliff, that’s what I think…that’s just kind of variety and unpredictability, you know.
Revolver: What do you think of him when you look back at it all now?
Lars: He was really cool. It was, obviously other than losing a brother, it would’ve been the more… I would’ve been interested to see what else he could’ve contributed, because it felt like we were just getting started. We just started playing “Orion” again on the last run, in the last two weeks [when METALLICA were preparing for the “Big Four” concert in April]. So playing “Orion”, I think we played it like three times in the last two weeks. You sit there and all of a sudden go, Fuck! What a, just, incredible piece of music. And just so unique. And it would’ve been interesting to see what else would’ve been in that vast well of stuff that he could’ve shared with the rest of us. That will forever be the curiosity element. But I’m so glad that I got a chance to play with him for a couple, three years. And got a chance to know him, and got a chance to drink with him, and all the shenanigans that probably shouldn’t be printed in a nice, family publication like Revolver. But it definitely was a pretty nutty time, and at the time we certainly embraced what life was offering us. And accelerated it to a “mach 10,” as James used to say on stage.
Read more from Revolver magazine.
Cliff Burton died on September 27, 1986 at the age of 24 in a coach crash near Ljungby, Sweden.
An Italian-language documentary on Burton can be seen in two parts below. According to Overkill.pl, the film was produced by the Italian METALLICA chapter ZonaMetallica and was shown for the first time last year at Rock’n’Roll Arena in Romagnano Sesia (near Novara) at a ZonaMetallica party.
Burton‘s huge talent and achievements were chronicled in book form with the 2009 global publication of “To Live Is To Die: The Life And Death Of Metallica’s Cliff Burton”, written by U.K.-based author Joel McIver and published by Jawbone Press. The foreword has been provided by Cliff‘s close friend in METALLICA, Kirk Hammett. Other interviewees who spoke to McIver for this book, many for the first time on the public record, include Cliff‘s bass teacher Steve Doherty; legendary reporter and photographer Brian Lew; Bay Area headbanger Harald Oimoen, the subject of “The Ballad Of Harald O” by the infamous SPASTIK CHILDREN, in which Cliff played; that band’s frontman Fred Cotton; EXODUS founder Gary Holt; the Metal Blade label founder Brian Slagel; photographer Ross Halfin; Cliff‘s first guitar tech Chuck Martin; METALLICA‘s first fanclub manager KJ Doughton; “Ride The Lightning” and “Master Of Puppets” producer Flemming Rasmussen; the last reporter to interview Cliff, Jörgen Holmstedt; roadie and ex-METAL CHURCH guitarist John Marshall, who was also in the bus crash which killed Burton; Lennart Wennberg, the photographer at the scene of the crash; and Cliff‘s girlfriend for the last year of his life, Corinne Lynn.
After Kirk Hammett‘s foreword, separate introductions are provided by a range of musicians influenced by Burton, including Mikael Åkerfeldt (OPETH), Alex Webster (CANNIBAL CORPSE), Alex Skolnick (TESTAMENT), Dave Ellefson (F5/ex-MEGADETH) and a host of other musicians and writers.