It’s been more than 30 years since the world lost Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. His innovative style flipped the script for bassists and as he is still one of metal’s most vaunted four-stringers. Never shy to discuss what made Burton so great, drummer Lars Ulrich offered some words about the bass player’s musical upbringing and his contrasting taste in music when it was his turn to play an album while traveling on the tour bus back in the day.
“He studied classical music and he could sit down and talk with you about Bach and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky,” Ulrich said “In 1981, James Hetfield and I didn’t sit there and talk a lot about classical endeavors, you know? [Laughs] We had a little more narrow-minded outlook.”
Speaking about what Burton adored about this music, Ulrich continued, “So Cliff—he loved the energy, he loved the aggression, but I don’t think he was a big fan of like, Iron Maiden. I remember early on when we started traveling on the tour bus, I’d put on some Maiden or something — he didn’t get out of his seat to start banging up and down.”
“I’d play some Maiden, some Diamond Head,” the drummer said before revealing what Burton’s choices were. “And then he’d put on [ZZ Top‘s] Rio Grande Mud or Degüello or some Yes album I’d never heard of, and I was like, ‘Huh?’ He’d sit there and fly the flag for Jethro Tull or… one band he loved was the Police, he’d always play the Police.”
While metal certainly had seemingly defined parameters, Ulrich stated that Burton did not see it this way, adding, “His whole net was just really wide and really unencumbered by how it was supposed to be if you were in a metal band, which obviously James and I hadn’t quite graduated to at that time.”
A report of the highest-selling hard rock and metal albums of 2016 was recently issued and staggeringly included five different Metallica albums in the top 10. Among those were the three records Burton played on, Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, in addition to ‘The Black Album’ and the band’s newest, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, which topped the list.