Metallica's Kirk Hammett: 'Cliff Burton Was a Total Anomaly'

Guitarist also discussed the impact of Joe Satriani during "Ride the Lightning" sessions.

Ultimate Guitar

Marking the 30th anniversary of classic Metallica effort "Ride the Lightning," guitarist Kirk Hammett took a walk down the memory isle, remembering his state of mind way back in the day.

In the upcoming August 2014 edition of Guitar World magazine, Kirk kicked off the chat by explaining how he had recently played the record's title track to his kids, having little recollection of laying down certain instrumental passages.

"When I recorded that in 1984, I was 21 years old," he said. "That's crazy. In 1984, a guitar solo like that was something. If you put it into context of what was going on back then, it was very modern-sounding. Of course, if you put it into today's context, it sounds like classic rock.

"It's not like today's norm, with sweeping arpeggios and 32nd notes everywhere. I also have to say that when I listened to it this morning, I realized that the actual sound of the album is still good. After all these f--king years, it still holds up sonically," the axeman added.

As the interviewer brought up the quantum sonic leap Metallica had made between their first two albums, Hammett was asked about the impact of Joe Satriani's guitar lessons he took at the time.

"All the stuff I learned from Joe impacted my playing a lot on 'Ride the Lightning,'" he admitted. "He taught me stuff like figuring out what scale was most appropriate for what chord progressions. We were doing all sorts of crazy things, like modes, three-octave major and minor scales, three-octave modes, major, minor and diminished arpeggios, and tons of exercises.

"He taught me how to pick the notes I wanted for guitar solos as opposed to just going for a scale that covered it all. He taught me how to hone in on certain sounds and when to go major or minor. He also helped me map out that whole chromatic-arpeggio thing and taught me the importance of positioning and minimizing finger movement. That was a really important lesson," Kirk pointed out.

But it wasn't just Satriani that had a role in the band's more progressive direction, but one of the four guys themselves, the late great bassist Cliff Burton. Asked about Cliff's importance in Metallica's progression, Kirk commented:

"Cliff was a total anomaly. To this day, I'm still trying to figure out everything I experienced with him. He was a bass player and played like a bassist. But, f--king hell, a lot of guitar sounds came out of it. He wrote a lot of guitar-centric runs. He always carried around a small acoustic guitar that was down tuned.

"I remember one time I picked it up and was like, 'What is this thing even tuned to, like C?' He explained that he liked it like that because he could really bend the strings. He would always come up with harmonies on that acoustic guitar.

"I would be sitting there playing my guitar and he'd pick up his bass and immediately start playing a harmony part. And he would also sing harmonies. I remember the Eagles would come on the radio and he would sing all the harmony parts, never the root," the guitarist concluded.

38 comments sorted by best / new / date

    In my opinion Metallica and all of the members get too much criticism these days. This article highlights Kirk's intelligence and humility. There's a mini theory lesson in there as well with what he talks about in terms of his experience with the brilliant Joe Satriani- oh, to go back in time and be a fly on the wall during those lessons!!
    Im sure its near impossible to even get in touch with him, but i wonder what a personal lesson from satriani would run you nowadays.
    He toured here in Australia a couple of years back doing Master Classes. Cost was around $100, I think. They were pretty much group lessons.
    I'm glad that Metallica went ahead and made The Black Album through St Anger. The Black Album is groundbreaking, Load/Reload are incredibly under rated and St Anger is the most raw, angry, honest album they ever made, those albums don't get nearly enough credit they deserve and I'm probably the only one who prefers to listen to those four albums over Kill Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets and AJFA.
    I wouldn't say I prefer to listen to any of them over the other it just depends what mood I'm in, sometimes I want to listen to Metallica but not the hard thrash sound so I put Load or Reload on and that's the great thing about them, they have an album for any mood you're in really.
    I read one interview with Kirk where he said if Cliff was still alive, he would be the first to record Black Album and go in poppy directions.
    Looking at the songwriting credits on Lightning and Puppets, Burton's name is on most of the songs I regard as the best. Kill 'Em All and Justice, although both are brilliant, have always felt to me like they have a missing element compared to Lightning's and Puppets' greatness. It's hard to describe in words, but the missing element is like 'groovy grandeur'. I got Justice the day it was released and felt that something wasn't there anymore. And I don't think it would have been fixed by turning up Jason's bass.
    kirk must've gotten really talking about the bus crash incident.they were fighting for a seat then they agreed that they would play a hand of cards, whosoever would win would have that seat.had cliff not won that hand ,kirk would've died
    If Cliff Burton hadn't been killed, the black album thru st. anger would have never happened because he wouldn't have allowed that pussy Bob Rock into the studio.
    Trust me, I share your distaste for those albums. But I do believe that they would of been made, regardless. Cliff was a force and an inspiration within the band but he wasn't the last word, that would be James.
    BUT, alot of the decisions made after his death, were very much influenced by his absence. the actual music to ALL of justice, was written by james, minus solos, and the actual drum parts, and the black album had ONE kirk riff(enter sandman), and ONE bass riff (my friend of misery). all that wouldve happened with Cliff's input, which as we know, would have been of the utmost quality
    Cliff loved punk, classic rock,even R.E.M. He was very open minded, so IMHO, Black Album, Load and Reload would happen anyway, but with Cliff it might be much better.
    I don't know, Cliff was always about pushing boundaries musically. Remember, he was the one that would bring classical records to practice. S&M would have been far more amazing than it already was. Sure the 90's stuff may not have happened in the way they did, but I think such experimentation would have still occurred. We forget how ground breaking Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning were for their time and would not have happened if it wasn't for Cliff's enthusiasm for classical music and seeking grander sounds.
    Do you know what I personally ****ing hate? People who adore a person in a completely skewed way that goes directly against what the person was actually like. Here's a newsflash - Cliff was a very open minded musician, enjoying music across many genres, though his main interrest was punk and classic rock (he was a ridicoulusly huge fan of The Eagles). Cliff wasn't this "metal till I die" type of person that he's portrayed as, he was actually a pioneer within metal-bas, because he took in various influences and ideas, a considerable amount of them originating outside metal, and used them to create his own unique style. But under this, it's important to understand that he would have had no problem with neither the Black album, nor Load, nor Reload. The guy was not only accostumed to a more "hard rock" orientated sound, he enjoyed it just as much, if not more than the other members. It's much more likely that (just as another guy wrote) he would simply set the bar higher, and have made it a more interresting listen.
    This. Cliff probably would have quit and started playing jazz after a while. I think that the 90's stuff was great, but Newstead was very much against that stuff so i think if Cliff was still around Load and ReLoad would have been even better.
    If Cliff hadn't been killed, we never would have gotten ...And Justice for All either. So there's no telling where the musical direction would have been going.
    I agree. And it's hard for me to imagine Cliff and Lars being agreeable in later years...even more so than what's already happened between James and Lars. I might be completely wrong, but I think Cliff wouldn't have cared if Metallica sold 100 million albums.
    yes, cliff was the only talent metallica ever had. at least he died a legend instead of getting dragged down with the rest of these losers.
    You don't get to become the biggest band in the world without talent, baring in mind they did this when you actually had to have talent to get anywhere in the music industry and that was without Cliff.
    Not one Metallica album sounds good in terms of audio quality kirk
    I look forward to hearing your 30 year back catalogue!
    Mr Winters
    Not like I agree with JBroek but the "let's see you do better!" argument is retarded.
    On UG you can only criticize something if you've already done it better and for longer, rule number 1
    Are you kidding me? The Black Album is one of the best produced albums I've ever heard.
    The Black Album is an exception, I'll admit that. But Death Magnetic and and justice for all? Compare that to any Dire Straits or Steely Dan album...
    Disagree, as someone with a bit of an engineering background I'd say most if not all of their albums sound pretty solid
    There'll never be another bassist like that he died so soon. For all we know we could have ended up with even greater albums than ...And Justice For All or "The Black Album". But we'll never know.....