During a visit to Chris Jericho’s Talk is Jericho podcast, Ron McGovney, the original bassist for metal giants, remembered his first encounter with Cliff Burton. You can read an excerpt from the interview below. (transcribed by UG)
“That happened in… I wanna say sometime in the fall of 1982. His band Trauma came to play at the Troubadour [club]. Brian Slagel from Metal Blade had invited us to go watch them. So we were all sitting there watching them. And I’m like ‘Well, that kind of music’s not my kind of thing.’
“It was me and James and Lars, 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. And I’m looking at them and they’re looking at him. And I’m like ‘This is the guy, this is it.’ 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.’
“I could tell. I mean, he was just a thrashing headbanging crazy awesome bass player.”
What did you think of him?
“I thought he was awesome too. He’s doing stuff that I could never do.
“So as soon as I saw their reaction I kind of knew. I played several gigs after that with them. And they never actually pulled me ‘Hey, we wanna get this guy.’ I kind of heard through the grapevine. But I already knew who it was gonna be.
“And I remember one time playing in San Francisco and Cliff was there watching us. And he’s standing out there in the rain and I ask him ‘Hey man, do you wanna ride?’ Because he was soaking wet. And like ‘No, I’m cool.’ I was gonna give him a ride back to wherever he wanted to go. But I knew he was gonna be the guy.
“But that was never my role to be the long-term bass player.”
Did you know that at the time?
“I knew that but you kinda put it in the back of your mind because you keep playing shows, you’re learning new songs. You’re playing all these gigs, you’re going to San Francisco, and then you see him play and I’m like ‘That is not what I was gonna do.'”
And you say that because your skill level wasn’t at the same level as theirs? Or your desire, or passion, or…?
“Well, kind of both I guess. Because I wanted to be a motorcycle mechanic. I wanted to ride dirtbikes in the desert all the time. That’s what I wanted to do. I remember I’d be out at Glamis, out in the sand dunes. And I’d be riding and I’m like ‘It’s so good to get away from those guys. This is what I wanna do. I wanna be out on the road, I wanna be away from that. I don’t want the fighting, I don’t want the arguing, I don’t want the bickering.’ This is just like a relationship. It could be male-female. Same kind of thing, it’s like ‘I don’t need this. I don’t wanna be in that.’
“My whole thing was never to be a rock star. It was never my intention. I was just helping James out. All I wanted to do really was get in Leather Charm, play some backyard parties, drink some kegs… That’s it! That was all I wanted to do. But then when we got to play Hollywood clubs I’m like ‘Wow, I get to play places I’ve seen other bands.’ I’ve seen Motley Crue up there. I’m on the same stage where The Doors played and stuff like that.”
During the chat, Ron also remembered the moment he heard about Cliff Burton’s passing:
“I think I heard it on KNAC, the rock station. Somebody has said that somebody in Metallica had been killed, but they didn’t say who. And they left it for hours like that. It was like ‘Oh my god, who is it?’
“Then when they said Cliff and I heard the details… I couldn’t believe that because on their ’86 tour they played at Long Beach Arena and I’ve been back there backstage. And the other guys weren’t there but just Cliff. And Cliff and I were sitting there talking. And we’re eating Chinese food together and just talking. And I said ‘I’m gonna go watch you guys, see you guys after.’ And I remember after the show I went back and… I didn’t ever see Cliff again, never knowing that would be the last time I ever saw him.”
“He was down to Earth. He came over to my house down in LA and he was just an awesome guy. He was really respectful of me for my tenure in the band. Which was really nice.
“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 they wouldn’t let me in. But Cliff saw me, he gave me his laminate. And 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!'”
Asked whether he ever heard Cliff complain about other Metallica members, Ron answered:
“No, he never did. I heard some from Jason [Newsted]. I never heard anything from Cliff.
“Jason, he would tell me that James is pissed at me. And I’m like ‘What? Fuckin’ pissed at me? I don’t even see the guy.’ But he’d kinda tell me what’s going on with the band and stuff.
“Not too cool the way he was being treated at that point. I don’t know if he really knew he was kind of in that same position that I was in. But I knew that going in. I don’t know if he knew that going in. As far as his role in the band as… You know, ‘You’re just playing bass. We’re writing the music and you’re playing.'”
Later on, Ron was asked if he ever met Rob, to which he replied:
“Yeah. I met him for the first time at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Very nice. And I saw him at Atlanta again. And every time I’ve seen them with Rob, he’s very cordial, very nice. Very respectful. He calls me Metallica Mark 1.”