MEGADETH's DAVID ELLEFSON Says CLIFF BURTON Didn't Influence His Bass Playing

April 2, 2019

MEGADETH's David Ellefson says that METALLICA's late bassist Cliff Burton was not an influence on his playing.

Ellefon and Dave Mustaine formed MEGADETH in 1983, after Mustaine got kicked out of METALLICA. METALLICA recruited Kirk Hammett and went on to record its debut album, "Kill 'Em All", later that year, while Ellefson and Mustaine began work on MEGADETH's first LP, "Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good!"

During a recent ALTITUDES & ATTITUDE conversation with moderator Ryan J. Downey at the MI Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Ellefson was asked if Burton was an inspiration on his bass playing during MEGADETH's formative years. Ellefson responded: " I met Dave [Mustaine] in June of 1983. He had just left METALLICA literally not more than eight weeks before that, in April. So I didn't know anything about METALLICA, didn't know who Dave was, heard nothing about Cliff Burton — knew nothing about it, coming from the Midwest. And I didn't know anything about Cliff. And because the only recording Dave had of METALLICA was 'No Life 'Til Leather', and that had another bass player on it named Ron McGovney. So when we did a cover of 'Mechanix', I played Ron McGovney's basslines."

He continued: "Really, quite honestly, my METALLICA bass player was Ron, believe it or not, and I kind of modeled what we did off of that 'No Life 'Til Leather' demo. And I remember the day when 'Kill 'Em All' and we sat… There was complete silence in the room, and we sat and we listened to the album. And the differences — tempos were pulled back. And obviously the bass solo, 'Anesthesia'. That was really my first experience hearing Cliff. And at that point, we were two months into… MEGADETH was well on its way.

"So, long answer to your short question is I didn't really have an influence [from Cliff]… That was not where my influence came from. And quite honestly, growing up in a rural area of Minnesota, bass players in rock and roll were cool, but when I started hearing some jazz players… Those guys were more of my influence, along with Steve Harris [IRON MAIDEN] and Geddy Lee [RUSH] and Ian Hill [JUDAS PRIEST] and the metal guys. But, for me, I went more into the jazz world… But those were the things that I brought in, and I think that made, me and Dave, our participation together with the MEGADETH sound something that was… And even then with Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland — they were jazz-fusion musicians. We really had a very different sound — different even from ANTHRAX, from METALLICA, from SLAYER — a very different sound. And I think that probably is what sort of set us apart as our own pillar of the 'Big Four.'"

Ellefson was in MEGADETH from the band's inception in 1983 to 2002, when the group briefly broke up because frontman Dave Mustaine suffered severe nerve damage that left him unable to play. After Mustaine reformed MEGADETH with an all-new lineup in 2004, Ellefson sued his former bandmate for $18.5 million, alleging that Mustaine still owed him substantial merchandise and publishing royalties. In January 2005, the case was dismissed in court, and five years later, Ellefson rejoined MEGADETH.

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