Reminiscences from the Fire: Cliff Burton's First Show with Metallica, 30 Years on

As much as I swore I was never going to do a blog post about goddamn Metallica, when Bazillion Point Books contacted me about doing a spread celebrating the 30th anniversary of Cliff Burton's first show with Metallica (March 5, 1983, for those of you who aren't so good with math) – featuring actual photographs taken at said show – the opportunity was too good to pass up. So here you go, a tribute to one of the greatest bassists metal has ever known, with pictures taken by one of his friends and excerpts from that same friend's review of the show from Metal Mania #10. Plus a bonus exclusive interview with the aforementioned photographer/reviewer, Brian Lew. So hit the lights! METALLICA, THE STONE, MARCH 5, 1983 by Brian Lew, excerpt from Metal Mania #10, 1983

Six months have passed since METALLICA’s dubious San Francisco debut opening for BITCH in September of ‘82, but in those two hundred-odd days the group has built up a large, rabid following in the Bay Area. This particular show was dubbed “The Night Of The Banging Head” and was the debut of new bassist, Cliff Burton. As a crowd of three hundred or so filed into The Stone, the scene was set for what turned out to be the heaviest show in recent S.F. HM history!

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METALLICA, those Supreme Metal Gods, those Purveyers of Raging Sonic Decapitation, those Rabid Vodka-Powered Maniacs, blew our faces off as they stormed onstage through a flurry of smoke and blinding light and got things really banging with “Hit The Lights” and it was time to DIE!!!

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The moment many had been waiting for soon arrived. Bassist Cliff Burton’s solo spot!!! Cliff built his solo from a haunting classical guitar-sounding ballad up to a crescendo of some of the fastest, most apocalyptic bass raging ever performed! Step aside Steve Harris, Bill Sheehan and Joey DeMaio!

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Throughout his symphony, Cliff (a.k.a. God!) utilized his wah pedal to attain sunds that most would believe impossible; you could swear he was playing lead guitar, not bass. As his solo built up to its conclusion, drummer supreme Lars Ulrich (now playing double bass) and maestro of the six string Dave Mustaine leaped into an awesome jam session that had heads bobbing violently and hair flying in all directions. Then, in one swift action, they were rejoined by vocalist/rhythm guitarist/rager James Hetfield and sped into that ear bleeding anthem “Whiplash.”

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With the addition of Cliff Burton, METALLlCA now have the heaviest and fastest lineup ever assembled. With dates confirmed for them in New York in early April (including a headlining show on the 1st and a support slot with VANDENBERG on the 8th), and their debut album expected in late spring, things are definitely beginning to happen for this band!

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BONUS TRACK: Interview with Brian Lew

What do you think it was about Cliff's playing that elevated Metallica to the next level? I saw Cliff with his first band Trauma and he already had a local reputation for being an amazing bassist with a crazy unique style.  He played with his fingers like Geddy Lee and Geezer Butler but then he’d use a beer bottle as a slide during his bass solo.  He played bass like a lead instrument instead of a backing instrument.  He was also very confident onstage and I think his addition motivated and inspired James to be more aggressive and confident onstage too.   Also, obviously his eclectic musical taste and musicianship moved Metallica forward from writing a song like ‘Jump In The Fire’ to creating a composition like ‘Orion’.

Did you have any inkling at the time that Metallica were going to explode like they did? Of course not!    Most of us, including the band, were still teenagers in the beginning and we became friends because of our common fanaticism over NWOBHM.  When Cliff joined they definitely went to another level but there was no way to predict what was to come.  At the time mainstream Metal was Ratt and Motley Crue; you couldn’t even comprehend seeing a band like Metallica on MTV.  For me, I felt something big was happening when they went to Europe for the first time in 1984 and Sounds did a big article on them.  Sounds pre-dated Kerrang and it was THE hard rock / metal publication out of the U.K. in the 70’s and early 80’s; it was the publication that coined the phrase NWOBHM.  When I saw Metallica in Sounds it blew my mind they were in those pages.   However, that was minor compared to where they ended up; from underground metal cassette demo tape to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  I still don’t really have my head around it; it’s still weird for me to hear ‘Seek And Destroy’ on the local FM rock radio station.

What is your fondest personal memory of Cliff? Even when Metallica started getting big he’d still hang out at Ruthie’s Inn and go to local shows, as did all of the Metallica guys.  I guess my favorite personal memories are how he’d go out of his way to say “Hi” to me in those situations.  Even when surrounded by people vying for his attention he’d always take a moment to shoot the shit with me even if it was for only a handshake and a minute.  I was not one of his best or closest friends, but he always treated me like a friend.  One time I ran into him outside of a Dio concert in San Jose and he had a 12-pack with him.  Before I could even say “Hi” he had pulled a can out and handed it to me.  Then he said “What’s up?”  I think that’s Cliff in a nutshell.  He was the real deal.

What do you think his legacy was for future bassists?

I’m not a musician so I can’t say, but obviously the attitude he still projects via the old photos, videos, and recordings still inspires.  I had a conversation with Kirk (Hammett) last year about how Cliff has become such a huge icon and how amazing that is; he was in awe that his brother is remembered like that after all this time.   Cliff’s bell bottoms are like a symbol of individuality now.  The major rager on  the 4-string motherfucker still lives.

***If you want to see more pictures and read more reminiscences from the classic days of Bay Area thrash, check out Murder in the Front Row, available from Bazillion Point Books, HERE

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