First Metallica Bassist Recalls Being Replaced by Cliff Burton

Original Metallica Bassist Recalls Moment He Knew Cliff Burton Would Replace Him

Original Metallica bassist Ron McGovney still remembers the look on James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich's faces the first time they saw Cliff Burton perform.

"It was me and James and Lars," McGovney recently told the Talk Is Jericho podcast with Chris Jericho of the first time he saw Burton perform at a club in San Francisco. "And all of the sudden Cliff starts going into this solo. And they're just like looking at him and their eyes are wide open."

McGovney knew his tenure in the band was reaching its expiration date anyway — he was only in Metallica in the first place as a favor to his childhood friend Hetfield. He recalls feeling a sense of relief at his bandmates' admiration of Burton's abilities. 

"I'm looking at [James and Lars], and they're looking at [Cliff]," he said. "So I kind of knew right at that point. Like, 'Yeah, this is the guy that they're gonna go after. I can feel it.'"

McGovney admitted to Jericho that his heart wasn't all-in on Metallica's style of thrash metal. Being in a great band was exciting, but there was an understanding that he just was a temporary fix until James and Lars could find someone who was a better fit. That bass player was Burton.

"I thought he was awesome, too," McGovney clarified. "He's doing stuff [on the bass] that I could never do."

And it didn't hurt that Burton was also a great guy. McGovney elaborated on his relationship to Burton over the ensuing years. 

"He was really respectful of me for my tenure in the band, which was really nice" McGovney said. "I remember at that Palladium show in '84, I had a pass but it was just like a sticker pass. And I wanted to go in the back and talk to them but [security] wouldn't let me in. Cliff saw me, he gave me his laminate. I walked back there and their tour manager said, 'Why did you give him that?' And Cliff said, 'He was the first bass player for Metallica!'"

McGovney describes himself as being more interested in having a regular life than being a hard-touring musician. He recalled the stress of being the only member of Metallica with a full-time job in the early days. He said it was up to him to "borrow" trucks from work so the band could travel to play gigs.

"I wanted to be a motorcycle mechanic," McGovney said of his ambition at the time. "I wanted to ride dirt bikes in the desert all the time. That's what I wanted to do. I'd be out...on the sand dunes, and I'd be riding and I'd be like, 'Man, it's so good to be away from those guys. I don't want the fighting. I don't want the arguing.'"

Eventually tension between McGovney and then-Metallica lead guitarist Dave Mustaine led to McGovney quitting the band. Metallica soon hired Burton and headed to New York to begin recording its debut album, Kill 'Em All

McGovney says he's been a fan ever since, and Metallica has been good to him over the years. He even reconciled with Mustaine eventually.

Photo: Getty Images

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