Metallica fans around the world mourned the loss of Cliff’s dad, who many of them came to know through his lively and charismatic interviews, such as his appearance in the Metallica: Behind the Music episode.
“The next day after a performance, he’d get up and [say], ‘Oh, God, my neck, I can’t understand,’” he recalled in the episode, which first aired on VH1 in 1998. “Cliff! What do you mean your neck? You’re bouncing your head up and down all night long and you wonder why your neck hurts?” he said with a huge grin. “Anyway, he’d kind of smile…”
Metallica famously relocated from Los Angeles to the Bay Area of California in order to secure Cliff, formerly of the band Trauma, as their new bassist. Burton, “The Major Rager,” appeared on each of the band’s first three albums, the massively influential Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets.
His stage presence, unique look, melodic sensibility, and overall attitude helped define the band. His Misfits tattoo arguably did as much or more to promote Glenn Danzig’s first outfit than anything the group themselves had done in their initial run. Cliff was killed in a tragic tour bus accident in the early morning of Sept. 27, 1986, in Dörarp, Sweden.
Ray Burton went out of his way to lend his blessing to each of his son’s successors, beginning with Jason Newsted, who joined Metallica in October 1986 and continued with the band until January 2001. James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Newsted, and current bassist Robert Trujillo were joined by Ray on stage at Metallica’s 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.
“My name is Ray Burton. I am Cliff Burton’s dad,” he said, to much applause. “The thing I’ve always liked about [Metallica] is that you see them play in person and you just immediately get a big smile on your face. There’s something about them that just brings a smile on.”
The worldwide Metallica family felt the same way about the elder Burton, who in recent years lent his support to events honoring his son, like Cliff Burton Day, declared in California’s Alameda County. He appeared at the 2017 NAMM convention in Anaheim, California to salute Cliff alongside the supergroup Metal Allegiance.
The same year, Ray revealed that he’d been quietly donating his son’s share of Metallica royalties to music scholarships for students at Cliff’s alma matter, Castro Valley High School. “I think Cliff probably would have done that with his money because he was not against education by any means,” he told Ultimate Guitar. “He liked it very much.”
Ray was in attendance at Metallica’s S&M2 concert last September, where he met Scott Pingel following the San Francisco Symphony bassist’s performance of Cliff’s “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth).” He was very active on social media, posting on Instagram as @cliffburtonfamily. His most recent Instagram post, less than a month ago, wished a happy birthday to Ulrich.
The late Metallica bassist was the youngest of three children for Ray and his wife, Jan Burton. Scott, their firstborn, died in 1975 of a brain aneurysm at just 16 years old. Connie Burton was the subject of a documentary about her brother called The Salvation Kingdom, which was released in 2018. She spoke about her little brother and his childhood at length on the Speak N’ Destroy podcast.
A cause of death has yet to be revealed.