Scott Ian Recalls Watching Cliff Burton Practice with Metallica: “One of the Coolest Things I Had Ever Seen”


Back in the early 80s, there was a time when the Big Four of Thrash weren’t big at all — they were just a buncha dudes trying to write the fastest, loudest, most badass music they possibly could. And because of that common thread, they regularly hung out and toured together early on. As one of metal’s most ardent ambassadors, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian was there. He got to witness a lot of it and even back then he says he knew Metallica was something special.

Speaking during a recent Q&A session at Steel City Con (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs), Ian reminisced about getting to watch the Metallica rehearse in Queens very early on in both bands’ careers. In fact, it was early enough that Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine was still in the band.

“In their rehearsal room, they set up with everything in a circle facing in, and they stood inside the circle playing. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s weird. I’ve never seen anything like that.’

“And I’m sitting in the room in this little circle — me and Dan Lilker [ex-Anthrax bassist], we’re sitting there, and I think Charlie [Benante, Anthrax drummer] might have been there that night — and they start jamming.

“This is when Mustaine was still in the band, and they started playing the songs that were going to be on Kill ‘Em All. The energy was just insane, I had never heard songs like that and a band that tight.”

And while getting to witness that rehearsal up close and personal, Ian said it wasn’t Mustaine, James Hetfield, or Lars Ulrich that grabbed his attention, but rather it was Cliff Burton’s intense playing style that caught his eye.

“And there’s Cliff [Burton] banging his head like he’s playing for 10,000 people in an arena, and it’s just them and three of us sitting on the floor drinking beer. And he was going for it like it was the last show he was ever going to play or something.

“I was like, ‘God, this guy is a fucking maniac. It’s just a rehearsal, dude’, but he couldn’t help himself, it’s just who he was. He felt it that strong and that deep, and the music moved him that way that it didn’t matter. If he’s playing his bass, that’s what was going to happen. And I just thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.”

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