When Cliff Burton met Geddy Lee: “He started pacing, he started smoking pot, and he was like, ‘Oh my God!’”

Bass guitarist Cliff Burton (1962-1986) and guitarist Kirk Hammett pose for a studio portrait during the Damage, Inc. Tour on April 4, 1986. Geddy Lee of Rush attends the 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Barclays Center on April 7, 2017.
(Image credit: Photo by Ross Marino/Getty Images & Theo Wargo/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

A steady five-decades long stream of ambitious bass-driven songs has made Geddy Lee perhaps the most admired bassist in the land – he was Bass Player’s first ever Bassist of the Year back in 1991. Maybe that’s why, when Geddy was spotted at a Metallica show during the group's Ride the Lightning tour, Metallica’s first bassist Cliff Burton, was humbled, to say the least. 

“We played Toronto and all of a sudden we got a message backstage that Geddy Lee was in the audience,” guitarist Kirk Hammett revealed during a Q&A for the band's longtime photographer, Ross Halfin. “Cliff Burton just freaked out. He started pacing, he started smoking pot, and he was like, ‘Oh my God! Geddy! Geddy Lee!’ He could not settle down; he was so nervous and just happy at the same time that Geddy Lee was there.

“And then Ross tells him that Geezer Butler is out there one night,” Kirk continues. “Same thing – he starts pacing around, super nervous, grabs a beer.”

Kirk picks up the story at 31:50 in the video below.

Speaking to vice.com in 2015, Geddy Lee also remembered attending the show, claiming that he nearly worked with the band. “I remember going to see them here in Toronto,” said Geddy.

"That’s when the original bass player was still happening. There was some discussion with Lars about working with them. And, you know, we talked about it and I liked their band a lot at that time, but it just never came together. I’ve got great respect for them, but you won’t hear too much speed metal or death metal in my house.”

Listen to Metallica play Whiplash from their 1985 Toronto show below.

Influenced by bass players as diverse as Stanley Clarke and Lemmy, Cliff Burton, who was tragically killed in a bus accident in September 1986, pioneered a unique ‘lead bass guitar’ approach that left an indelible mark on the first three Metallica albums, Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets

In an interview with Thrash Metal back in 1986, Cliff listed his bass influences in full. “Well, first off, with bass playing it would be Geddy Lee, Geezer Butler, Stanley Clarke," said Burton. "Everything Thin Lizzy did has also had an influence.” Asked if Steve Harris was on his radar Burton replied: “No, I never really heard him until I’d already developed my own style. Lemmy also had an influence in the way he uses distortion. That was different, new and exciting.”

Burton was also a fan of Peter Gabriel, Yes and The Police. He loved classical music, especially Bach, which came to the fore in his riff workout on Master of Puppets. "This was the guy who would sit around and listen to the Eagles and the Velvet Underground," Kirk later told Metallica biographer, Mick Wall. "He turned us on to R.E.M. he turned us on to Creedence Clearwater Revival. And he also loved Lynyrd Skynyrd too. Cliff was so far ahead of his time."

Ross Halfin’s book Metallica: The Black Album In Black & White is available now.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.