On this day, September 27, in 1986; heavy metal lost one of its pioneers of the genre. Born on February 10, 1962, Cliff Burton played bass in Metalica. He played on their first three studio albums: Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. He also received a posthumous writing credit for the song “To Live Is to Die” from the band’s fourth studio album, …And Justice for All.
Burton joined the band in 1982. Their 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, not commonly used by bass guitarists.
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, I’ll sleep up front, it’s probably better up there anyway.” Burton was sleeping shortly before 7 am on September 27 when, according to the driver, the bus skidded off the road. Burton was thrown through the window of the bus, which fell on top of him, resulting in his death.
Here’s Metalica speaking about the night burton died.
Burton’s body was cremated and the 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. Shortly after Burton’s death, Jason Newsted from Flotsam and Jetsam became Metallica’s new bassist, a position he held until his resignation in 2001. The role has since been filled by producer and studio musician Bob Rock and by the former bassist of Suicidal Tendencies and Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Trujillo.
On April 4, 2009, Burton was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with fellow Metallica bandmates James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett. 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.
Here’s Ray Burton’s speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards.
An article from the time of his death.