Skip to main content

Video: "After all these years I can still feel that pain"– Kirk Hammett goes in-depth on the loss of Cliff Burton and Metallica's early days

Kirk Hammett sat down with Gibson TV for its Icons series, and though the Metallica guitarist has a longer history with Gibson than even ESP, this isn't the interview you might expect. 

In his 120-minute chat with Gibson TV, Hammett goes in-depth on Metallica's early era; the Ride The Lightning sessions, nearly getting kicked off their tour supporting Ozzy Osbourne and the influence of late bassist Cliff Burton. And his death in a tour bus accident 1986 is something Kirk and the band still struggle with – as well as being comforted by so many positive memories too.

"The last show that we played with Cliff was a spectacular show," Kirk recalls in the interview. "It was the first show after maybe six or seven weeks when James was back on guitar because he had broken his arm during the Ozzy tour. His arms was healed enough so he was able to play guitar and it was the first show where we had James back… and it was the night that Cliff died.

"Everyone was just so happy James was back and to have James's guitar fuelling everything again, rather than me and John Marshall [tech and stand-in guitarist] sharing that duty. We played really, really well and felt like we were back 100%… so that last show was one of the best shows we'd played all fucking year and in retrospect I'm glad Cliff's last show was special in that regard. It really was, in all respects, one of the best shows we'd played and Cliff was very, very happy. So knowing that is a good thing.


(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Images)

"We were like brothers"

"Cliff and I used to room together, so we were super close – we were like brothers," Hammett continues. "We'd hang out, arms around each other and then ten minutes later we could be arguing and wrestling on the ground. That's the kind of relationship we had – total, 100% honest. Emotions just out there all the time. 

Cliff would say this so much; 'There's power in the truth – you've got to be honest all the time and if you have problems with me I want you to tell me' and I would tell him, then he would tell me. Then he'd suggest ridiculous things like, 'Let's wrestle' or fisticuffs, a drinking contest or 'You've got to show me this lick!'

Following Cliff's death, the band continued on at the insistence of Cliff's parents, Jan and Ray Burton. 

"It' didn't really, truly sink in until about three weeks or so [afterwards]," Hammett remembers. "As a tribute to Cliff's memory it was important for us to go on [but for] those first two weeks it was up and down, we had no idea what we were going to do. I was taking guitar lessons, the old standby for musicians who can't find any gigs or band. That's what I was actually thinking.

"Then when Jason [Newsted] came into the band, it was only like four or five weeks after the accident. We were still grieving and we were all pretty young two, in our mid twenties. We, at least I, didn't have a lot of experience with grieving and knowing how to deal with that, knowing how to heal and move on. So, I hate to say it, Jason became the scapegoat for all those feelings that we just did not know how to process. To this day I regret behaving like that and taking that attitude but I didn't really know better. 

"I think we're all still kind of grieving"

The wounds of the loss run deep for Metallica and Hammett is visibly emotional when he opens up about how he and the band feel now. 

As far as the grieving period is concerned, I think we're all still kind of grieving, you know? I get emotional when I think about Cliff and when we're together we think about Cliff. I know that James and I, we get really, really emotional. I would say for me, there's still some grief. after all these years I can still feel that pain.


Hammett goes on to detail the …And Justice For All era and the Black album sessions – including the influence of producer Bob Rock on his guitar sounds.  

Rob Laing

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before that I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar.