In a recent sit-down interview in honor of Father's Day (June 16th), Gibson's Director of Brand Experience Mark Agnesi asked Ray Burton to reminisce about his late son Cliff's formative years before he achieved worldwide fame with thrash titans Metallica and recorded with them three of the greatest heavy-metal albums of all time.
After briefly covering the death of Cliff's older brother Scott, and the lack of musical talent on either side of the family, Ray recalls the younger Burton approaching him about picking up the bass: "He was 13, and probably three or four months after [his brother] Scott died, Cliff came to Jan and me and said, 'Mom and Dad, I want to learn to play the bass.'"
By that time, Cliff was already into Black Sabbath, according to his father. In an early audio clip, Cliff can be heard citing Geezer Butler, Geddy Lee, Stanely Clarke, Jimi Hendrix, and more as influences on his playing style. In addition to these musicians, Ray recalls his son was also becoming enamored with classical and baroque music and saying "Bach is God."
Ray also talks about how Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich pursued Cliff for the band. "So Lars was the main guy that kept calling Cliff," he recalls. "I mean kept calling him — almost seemed like it was three and four times a day." Metallica were insistent at first that Cliff move to Los Angeles to join them, but his refusal eventually led to the band moving north to the Bay Area instead.
When asked if he remembers the first time he saw Metallica, Ray enthuses, "Oh yeah, it was there at the Stone in San Francisco ... My thoughts there: They were just above the other two bands that were on there." Their tightness as a unit was a standout attribute to him, and while thrash was still a brand new musical concept, the kind and open-minded Ray remembers thinking, "If they wanna play it, that's fine with me."
"Cliff knew what he wanted to do and went out and did it," Ray says of his son. "How could you not support a child who has that initiative already in their system and wanting to learn an occupation like that? The way he pursued music and the enthusiasm he showed toward the playing, we thought, 'Well, let's see what happens.' Then when he came and said, 'Can you support me for five years?' Not long after that, it was absolute history."
He also offers his advice to other parents of artists. "It's a love affair with my child because he wasn't just a good musician, he was an exceptionable human being," Ray concludes. "There's so much great music out there, and it's to be enjoyed. … Support them. Look at your kids as a treasure that you treat with love. Encourage them as much as you can and help them. Encourage them without being demanding. Allow them to be themselves and be kind to them."