Machine Head’s Robb Flynn Reflects on the Death of Metallica’s Cliff Burton
Metallica‘s Cliff Burton is one of the most beloved figures in the history of hard rock and metal and his memory lives on with the legacy of the band’s early albums. One of the future rockers who was influenced by the work of Burton and his Metallica bandmates was Machine Head‘s Robb Flynn, who posted a new journal entry reflecting on what Burton meant to him in honor of the celebration of the bassist’s birthday.
“It’s amazing to think how the music world may (or may not) have been different had the tragic bus accident not taken his life,” says Flynn, who has been reflecting on the times he actually got to see Burton perform in his youth. He recalls hanging out with his friend Jim Pittman as a kid and the first time he heard ‘Kill ‘Em All.’ The frontman says, “We’d never heard anything like it. We gleefully stumbled around the running track behind American High School for hours and probably played ‘Whiplash’ fifty times in a row, headbanging wildly the whole time. What a great memory! Still blasting the bootleg, we stumbled back to my house where my parents were gone, we vowed to jam more and to get better at our own band … and to see Metallica the next time they played.”
After catching a ride from his dad, Flynn says he had the time of his life. He recalls, “When Metallica took the stage, the world came alive … When it came time for Cliff’s ‘(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth’ bass solo, I just remember being mesmerized. I’d had so many metal debates with Jim and other friends that there’s no way that was a ‘bass’ solo. It was a ‘guitar’ solo. Fact. End-of-story. My mind was blown.”
Flynn says Metallica’s works with Burton have resonated with him to this day. He explains, “The bass lines were hypnotizing me ever-so-subtly to the point where even now, I know every bass line on those albums like it’s part of my DNA. Go and listen to our song ‘Now I Lay Thee Down’; the triad bass line in the chorus? That’s just one of my tributes to Cliff. The three-part lead section in the middle … I wrote that with Cliff looking over me. Hell, I called it ‘the Cliff part.’”
When Burton died in a tragic bus crash, Flynn said it was one of those occasions he’ll always remember exactly where he was when he heard the news. “I was at a kegger party in Cliff’s hometown, Castro Valley, wired and drunk when ‘the news’ came on. 10PM, someone I didn’t know came running into the backyard and yelled, ‘Cliff’s dead, Cliff from Metallica is dead!,’” Flynn recalls. “It was unreal. A stunned silence took over the party. They were ‘our’ band. This didn’t happen to ‘us.’”
In the years since Burton’s death, Flynn says he’s read the Joel McIver biography on Burton and learned about how some diehard Metallica fans had made a memorial to the bassist at the site of the bus crash in Sweden. To pay homage, Flynn says he too made the pilgrimage during a tour of Sweden and stopped to leave a guitar pick with the mementos that many fans had left.
He concludes, “As this Sunday (Feb. 10) comes to pass, I’m sure in our own way, some of us will pay tribute to a man whose attitude, demeanor, vibe, genuine love of music and unequaled talent affected us. I know I will. Happy birthday Cliff Burton, rest in peace.”
To read Flynn’s full posting on Burton, click here.