Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cliff Burton: 50 years of Cliff!

Yesterday (February 10) would have been Cliff Burton's 50th birthday.  Imagine that!  Cliff's tragic death happened at age 24.  He has been gone longer than he was around.

I bought Metallica's album Ride The Lightning shortly after it came out solely based on the cover being mostly of my favorite color back then (dark blue).  I was also intrigued by the picture of the bass player, who was playing an old-school Rickenbacker and bending the strings!  I was blown away by the album.  I had never heard anything so heavy and fast.  I dubbed the album onto a cassette and listened to it a lot over the next few weeks.  As I listened to it more, I was very blown away by the bass playing.  Although low in the mix, I could still tell this was no ordinary bassist.  Some time later I managed to get Metallica's debut album, Kill 'Em All, and I was blown away even more particularly after listening to his bass solo!  Playing like a lead guitarist, with distortion and a wah-wah pedal?  Wow!

I became a devoted fan.  I didn't have a bass yet, so I learned to play Cliff's bass lines on the top four strings of my acoustic guitar!

With a lot of anticipation, I got Master Of Puppets once it became available.  I was a bit disappointed that the bass still seemed to be low on the mix, but was again blown away by the whole thing, particularly by the track "Orion".  I managed to catch the band at one of those "Day on the Green" concerts, but honestly I couldn't really see or hear them very well.

Now, when all of this happened, I was between the ages of 14 and 17.  There were no personal computers or internet, and the only information I got was from Circus or Hit Parader magazine whenever I could go to the record store or bookstore to read them.  I didn't find out about Cliff's death until about a month after it happened.  When I learned about it, I was pretty devastated.  By now I had a very cheap bass and (due to Cliff's influence), a distortion pedal.  To mourn, I guess I played a lot.  A few weeks later I taped myself playing Anesthesia, The Four Horsemen and Jump in the fire, and sent my tape to the address in the back of one of the albums.  I can't imagine it ever got to anyone's hands!  :D

So, as a bassist, Cliff was one of my main influences.  His style cemented my decision to remain a finger player and to not play over the song, but try and do amazing things in the background instead.  Can't say I became an awesome player, but I think I'm OK, even though I haven't played in a very loooong time!

I've read up about Cliff and apparently he was a guy who was very dedicated to his music.  He studied theory and composition at Chabot College (just down the road from where I live), and was very influential in Metallica's development as a band.  There isn't a lot out there in the way of all things Cliff, but the DVD Cliff 'Em All is just right.  It's a must have in any collection!  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened with Metallica had Cliff lived, but they did just fine.  Still those first three albums still get heavy rotation in my portable player.  My go-to versions are the early 90's release of Kill 'Em All with the two bonus tracks, and the DCC versions of Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets (yes, I finally got both!)

All Hail Cliif!!


As I write this, the death of Whitney Houston at age 48 is being reported.  I always appreciated her huge singing talent.  48 is way too young.  Rest in peace Whitney.

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