Metallica's Kirk Hammett shares tender memories of the late, great Cliff Burton: "When he left us, Cliff was as powerful as he could be as a person"

Metallica, February 1, 1985
(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Images)

Metallica are the cover stars of the new issue of Classic Rock magazine. Alongside everything you could possibly need to know about the San Franciscan metal titans' forthcoming 72 Seasons album, the expansive cover story sees guitarist Kirk Hammett share warm memories of his former room-mate and bandmate, the late Cliff Burton.

Recruited from Exodus after Metallica fired lead guitarist Dave Mustaine ahead of the recording of their debut album, Kill 'Em All, Hammett flew to New York while Mustaine was en route back to California on a Greyhound bus, and found himself sharing floor space in The Music Building in Queens beside Burton, who Hammett first saw performing at the International Cafe in Berkeley, California alongside future Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin in Bay Area covers band EZ Street.

In a 2020 podcast interview with comedian Dean Delray, Hammett recalls that, upon being asked to come out to NYC to audition for the band in 1983, part of the reason he was "so stoked" was that he would finally get to meet the "red-haired freak" who'd so impressed him with his playing in first EZ Street, then Trauma. 

“We were up on the fifth floor of the building," Hammett recalls to Classic Rock's Paul Rees. "I had a piece of foam on the floor for a mattress, with my sleeping bag laid out on top of it and my leather jacket for a pillow. I was set up right next to Cliff and he was reading a dungeons and dragons book, The Call Of Cthulhu.”

In the early years of the new-look Hetfield/Hammett/Burton/Ulrich Metallica era, Hammett used to share a room with Burton on the quartet's tours.

"We were in each other’s back pockets," Hammett recalls fondly in Classic Rock. "We were brothers for three years. Before the term ‘foodie’ was even around, Cliff was a foodie. He was so into Mexican food, sushi, and breakfast, his favourite meal of the day. He was always talking about food. The guy ate tons of food. He’d drink copious amounts of beer as well. I don’t know where it went. We used to call him Pencil Legs.

"Cliff loved life, and he lived it to the full," Hammett continues. "He didn’t waste any of his time. If he wasn’t playing music, he was finding other things to do that made him happy. He spent very little time complaining. When he left us he was just as powerful as he could be as a person. He never waned."

Hammett previously told Metallica biographer, and Classic Rock writer, Mick Wall, "on an emotional level, we all tended to look up to him cos he was the guy with the most life experience.

"He was always the one who exuded the most confidence – the guy who had the best sense of ethics and morals. Whereas we were like slash and burn, seek and destroy, he would take a step back first and think about things and then slash and burn, seek and destroy.

"This was the guy who would sit around and listen to the Eagles and the Velvet Underground. 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."

Famously, on the night of Cliff Burton'd death, he and Hammett cut cards to decide who would get the more comfortable bunk on the group's tour bus, and Hammett lost. Burton's win, tragically, would prove fatal when the bus crashed that night, September 27, 1986. throwing Burton from the bunk, and under the bus.

"When I first joined the band there was a huge infusion of new energy, and up until Cliff died we were just so psyched about everything and life in general," Hammett admitted to Wall. "But that kind of ended when Cliff left.”

Hammett added: "I still think about him every day… Something he said, something he did, just… something."

For the full interview with Hammett, pick up the new issue of Classic Rock, which also features exclusive interviews with Def Leppard, Jethro Tull, Europe's Joey Tempest and more. Metallica also appear on the cover of the new issue of Metal Hammer.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.