Metal Storm logo
Clifford Lee Burton


1979-1982 EZ-Street - bass  
1981-1982 Trauma (USA) - bass  
1983-1986 Metallica - bass (as Cliff Burton)  
1986 Spastik Children - bass, vocals  

Personal information

Born on: 10.02.1962
Died on: 27.09.1986

Clifford Lee "Cliff" Burton (February 10, 1962 - September 27, 1986) was an American musician, best-known as the bass guitarist for the American heavy metal band Metallica.

Burton joined the band in 1982 and performed on its debut studio album, Kill 'Em All. He performed on two more Metallica albums, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, both of which met with major commercial and critical success. Burton was known for his "lead bass" approach, in which the bass played a melodic and soloist role, in addition to holding down the harmonic and rhythmic foundation of the band.

On September 27, 1986, Burton died when the band's tour bus over-turned in rural southern Sweden. Burton was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Metallica on April 4, 2009.

Early years

Burton was born on February 10, 1962, in Alameda County, California, to Jan and Ray Burton. He had two elder siblings, Scott and Connie. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Burton's interest in music began when his father introduced him to classical music and he began taking piano lessons. In his teenage years, Burton had an interest in rock, classical and eventually heavy metal. He began playing the bass at age 13, after the death of his brother. His parents quoted him as saying, "I'm going to be the best bassist for my brother." He practiced up to six hours per day (even after he joined Metallica). Along with classical and jazz, Burton's other early influences varied from southern rock, country and blues. Burton also cited Geezer Butler, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, Misfits, Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, and Geddy Lee of Rush as influences on his style of bass playing.

While still a student at Castro Valley High School, Burton formed his first band called EZ-Street. The band took its name from a Bay Area topless bar. Other members of EZ Street included future Faith No More guitarist "Big" Jim Martin and future Faith No More and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Mike Bordin. Burton and Martin continued their musical collaboration after becoming students at Chabot College in Hayward, California. Their second band, Agents of Misfortune, entered the Hayward Area Recreation Department's Battle of the Bands contest in 1981. Their audition was recorded on video and features some of the earliest footage of Burton's trademark playing style. The video also shows Burton playing parts of what would soon be two Metallica songs: his signature bass solo, "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth", and the chromatic intro to "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Burton joined his first major band, Trauma, in 1982. Burton recorded the track "Such a Shame" with the band on the second Metal Massacre compilation.


In 1982, Trauma traveled to Los Angeles to perform at the Whisky a Go Go. Among those in attendance were James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, both members of Metallica, which had formed the previous year. Upon hearing, as Hetfield described it, "this amazing shredding" (which later became "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth"), the two went in search of what they thought was an amazing guitar player. When they learned that what they had heard was a bass solo by Burton, they decided to recruit him for their own band. They asked him to replace departed bassist Ron McGovney, and since Burton thought that Trauma was "starting to get a little commercial", he agreed. The idea of having to move to Los Angeles did not sit well with him, and said he would join only if the band would relocate from Los Angeles to his native San Francisco Bay Area. Metallica, eager to have Burton in the band, left their origin of Los Angeles to make a home in El Cerrito, a town located across the bay from San Francisco.

Burton's first recording with Metallica was the Megaforce demo. A demo tape the band had made prior to Burton's joining, No Life 'til Leather, managed to come into the hands of John Zazula, owner of Megaforce Records. The band relocated to Old Bridge, New Jersey and quickly secured a recording contract with Zazula's label. Its debut album, Kill 'Em All, features Burton's famous solo piece, "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth", which showcased his use of effects, such as a wah-wah pedal (until then the wah-wah pedal had been the near-exclusive domain of six-string guitarists, with the exception of Geezer Butler on Black Sabbath's debut album, and occasionally ultra-progressive bassists such as Chris Squire).

The band's second studio album, Ride the Lightning, showcased the band's increasing musical growth. Burton's songwriting abilities were growing, and he received credit on six of the album's eight songs. Burton's playing style and use of effects is showcased on two tracks: the chromatic intro to "For Whom the Bell Tolls", and the "lead bass" on "The Call of Ktulu".

The increase of musicianship on Ride the Lightning caught the attention of major record labels. Metallica was signed to Elektra Records, and began working on its third album, Master of Puppets, which is considered by most critics to be a landmark album in both thrash and the whole of metal. Burton is featured heavily on a number of tracks, most notably the instrumental "Orion", which again featured Burton's lead bass playing style. The album also contained Burton's favorite Metallica song "Master of Puppets". Master of Puppets was the band's commercial breakthrough, but it would be Burton's final album with Metallica.

Burton's final performance was in Stockholm, Sweden on September 26, 1986. One of Burton's final performances with the band is available for free to download from Metallica's website.


During the European leg of the Damage Inc. tour in support of Master of Puppets, the band complained that the sleeping cubicles on their tour bus were unsatisfactory and uncomfortable. To decide who received pick of the bunks, Kirk Hammett and Burton drew cards. On the evening of September 26, 1986, Burton won the game with an Ace of Spades, thereby getting the first choice of bunk and pointed at Hammett and exclaimed "I want your bunk!" Hammett replied "Fine, take my bunk, it's probably better up there anyway". He was asleep when shortly before 7 am (on the 27th), according to the driver, the bus ran over a patch of black ice, skidded off the road (the E4, 2 miles north of Ljungby), and flipped onto the grass in Ljungby Municipality, near Dörarp in rural southern Sweden. Burton was thrown through the window of the bus, which fell on top of him, but this is not what killed him. They tried to save him and managed to lift the bus a little, but before they could retrieve him, the weight of the bus became to much and was dropped, which killed him. James Hetfield later stated that he first believed the bus flipped because the driver was drunk, claiming his breath smelled of alcohol after the accident. Hetfield also stated that he walked long distances down the road looking for black ice and found none. Local freelance photographer Lennart Wennberg, who attended the crash scene the following morning, later asked in an interview about the likelihood that black ice caused the accident, said it was 'out of the question' because the road was dry and the temperature around two degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit). This was confirmed by police who found no ice on the road. Ljungby detective Arne Pettersson was reported in a local newspaper to have said the tracks at the accident site were exactly like ones seen when drivers fall asleep at the wheel. However, the driver stated under oath that he had slept during the day and was fully rested; his testimony was confirmed by the driver of a second tour bus that was carrying the band's crew and equipment.[16] The driver was determined not at fault for the accident and no charges were brought against him.

Burton was cremated and his ashes scattered at the Maxwell Ranch. At the ceremony, the song "Orion" was played. The lyrics "...cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home?" from "To Live Is to Die" are written on Burton's memorial stone.

The best-known non-Metallica tribute to Burton is the song "In My Darkest Hour" by contemporary thrash metal band Megadeth. According to Dave Mustaine, after hearing of Burton's death, he sat down and wrote the music for the song in one sitting. The lyrics, however, are unrelated to Burton's death. Mustaine was Metallica's lead guitarist in the early days and was a close friend of Burton at the time. Mustaine said the song was inspired by Burton's death.

On October 3, 2006, a memorial stone was unveiled in Sweden near the scene of the fatal crash. It is located by the parking lot to Gyllene Rasten.

Contemporary thrash metal band Anthrax dedicated its album Among the Living to him, as did Metal Church with The Dark.

On April 4, 2009, Burton was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the rest of Metallica. During the ceremony, the induction was accepted by his father, Ray Burton, who shared the stage with the band and mentioned that Cliff's mother was actually Metallica's biggest fan.

A biography, To Live Is to Die: The Life and Death of Metallica's Cliff Burton, written by Joel McIver, was published by Jawbone Press in June 2009. Hammett provided the book's foreword.


Studio albums

Kill 'Em All (1983)
Ride the Lightning (1984)
Master of Puppets (1986)


No Life 'til Leather (1982) (credited but does not play)
Megaforce (1983)
Ride the Lightning (1983)
Master of Puppets (1985)

Metal Massacre Vol.II (with Trauma)