The Sunday Supplement / Scott Pingel talks Cliff Burton, Ray Burton and that solo

The Sunday Supplement. 6 September 2020

On 27 September 1986, Metallica was an up and coming heavy metal band touring behind their landmark third album Master Of Puppets. In the early morning however, their personal mission for world domination nearly ended before it was realized.

The band got into a tour bus accident and bassist Cliff Burton was tragically dead at just 24 years old.

The Sunday Supplement: 6 September 2020

Words: Brandon Oberkrieser / Metallicast

The band would go on to eventually accomplish their goal of world domination, but not without making sure that the legacy of Cliff Burton would never be forgotten along the way. As a result, every year that has passed since his death, old school Metallica fans fondly remember him, while new generations discover his musical genius for the first time.

Cliff Burton, from Metallica, who tragically died 27 September 1986

In September 2019, 33 years after his untimely passing, Scott Pingel, a Cliff Burton fan who also is the Principal Bassist of the San Francisco Symphony, would pay the ultimate tribute to the genius of Cliff with his own interpretation of his groundbreaking solo, ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’ at S&M2.

Metallica supplied multiple songs that Scott Pingel learned and jammed on when he first picked up the bass.

As Scott told MetalTalk: “Down the street these guys were starting a garage band when I was 15 and was like, ‘we need a bass player’, I was like ‘alright man… cool…. alright, I will figure it out’.

“So I got my first electric bass when I was 15 and I was doing Metallica covers.”

It was also around this same time, thanks to his brother Greg, Scott first learned about Cliff Burton. “So it was my brother… who turned me onto Cliff actually… he was a big Metallica fan and he played me ‘Anesthesia’ for the first time. ‘Dude you got to check out this solo, this is so awesome’!

“And I remember when I first heard it, I was just so blown away by the raw energy and the creative things he was doing with the effects at that time.”

While Scott would discover funk, jazz and ultimately classical, Metallica was the starting point for his bass playing, and that influence would stay with him through the years as he worked his way to becoming a member of the orchestra.

SF Symphony Principal Bassist Scott Pingel
Scott Pingel. Photo Rachel Watkins

The origins of the S&M2 solo occurred while the San Francisco Symphony was on tour. Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas let Scott know that they wanted to make S&M2 different from the original 1999 concert and were contemplating highlighting individual players.

Scott had the idea, but needed to make sure he could pull it off before presenting it. “So the rest of the tour, I was starting to stew with it and marinate in it and I started downloading different versions of ‘Anesthesia’.

“Ok… listen to this one, listen to this one… and then when we got back from tour I really started working in earnest and playing on my upright bass… ok can I pull this off? And as I started fiddling around with it, I was, like this can totally work!”

Scott then put himself through a lengthy process of studying different effects and basses. Although his set up would continue to change slightly up until the first day of the two night S&M2 concert, he ultimately found the right pedals and settled on the proper electric bass.

Scott even took lessons to help with the effects and worked with long time Metallica live audio engineer Big Mick to perfect the sound of his pedal rig.

All of this was important not only to properly capture the musical voice of Cliff Burton, but also to best tell the emotional story that his own musical voice wanted to tell in his arrangement of ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’.

Before his story could be told on the public stage however, he first had to tell it to the band members themselves at their own HQ.

After a brief introduction to the band and about a half hour of waiting at Metallica HQ, Scott found himself with a large audience that included Metallica, their crew, producer Greg Fidelman and S&M2 conductor Edwin Outwater.

Metallica. © Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
James Hetfield. © Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

As Scott tells it: “They set me up right where James [Hetfield, vocals/guitar] normally stands when they rehearse.

“So I get my rig set up. I brought my own little amplifier… I set up my stuff and then they all come in… I said a little prayer in my head and then I just unleashed it.

“I mean, I gave it everything and after I was done, everybody was just cheering and the first person to say anything was Kirk [Hammett, guitarist]. And Kirk was like ‘Man… Cliff would have loved that!’

“And he seemed sort of emotional a little bit, he was just so moved… because I didn’t know what they were going to think…I mean I loved doing it and I was excited about it, but you just never know how they are going to react to it.

“They were just so appreciative and so grateful.”

San Francisco Symphony Principal Bassist Scott Pingel, on S&M2

The emotional moment was not lost on the longtime Metallica fan prior to the performances, but on the second night of S&M2, the magnitude of what he was doing truly sunk in.

According to Scott, “When we played it together, that was only the second time Lars [Ulrich, drummer] had played it with somebody since Cliff died… Before the second night… a couple hours before the show, I am just sort of warming up and noodling.”

It is here that Scott grants an interview, where this news is broken to him for the first time.

“I was like… whoa. I had no idea and the weight of that was suddenly intense. And actually I got kind of a little unhinged by that I have to say, I was a little shaken by that.

“And it really kind of messed with my head… I just disappeared for a little bit. There were these huge boxes and things stacked backstage, or in the back area of the Chase Center and I got a chair and I found my way behind that, where it was quiet.

“Where I could just be by myself for a while, because I was just like… I couldn’t… I didn’t want to be around anybody. I just wanted to be alone for a little bit to just sort of pray and focus my mind because yeah, it really affected me when he said that.”

The arrangement by Scott Pingel reflects all of this emotion and certainly comes through in the performance itself.

The performance that appears on album and film is from the second night, after Scott learns of this fact.

He channels all of this to tell his story, which is in fact the story of Cliff. “I didn’t want to go right into it. I wanted there to be a kind of story of how I got into it… so I start with this really low note. And it’s funny, I toyed with so many different ideas of how this was going to work and before I even knew how much Cliff was into Bach, I would hear Bach in his playing.

“And so I had kind of worked out this whole kind of Bachian intro and it was only later when talking to Kirk that he told me ‘Oh Cliff was crazy about Bach!’… I knew it, I could tell. So I had… a lot of different things for the intro planned, and then… something wasn’t right, so I was just like ok, forget it.

“So I just turned on my phone, and videoed myself, and I just started improvising. And just see where things took me. And that’s how part of that first part of that intro came about.

“This needed to be something inferial… and I started low and inferial because I wanted it to be that Cliff was sort of emerging out. And if you listen to it, I am doing these intervals and they are sort of reaching up and that is kind of the image I am trying to get… And there is a motif… that Cliff would always play this lick at the end of the solo to cue Lars that the end of the solo was coming.

“And because that was often one of the last things he would often play in the solo, I decided to take that and make it one of the first things I would play. And I sort of reimagined it into sort of an almost lamentation.

San Francisco Symphony Principal Bassist Scott Pingel, on S&M2

“So if you listen in my intro, I actually play it, but kind of slowly and just sort of mournfully. And it’s sort of hidden in there and I play around with some of the intervals he used in the solo… these fifths and these seconds… so I just wanted to tell this story, this sort of emotional thing of trying to reach out to his buddies and his fans.

“And just say ‘hey remember me, remember guys when I used to play this lick?’”

From there Scott goes into the familiar introduction made famous on their 1983 debut album Kill Em All.

“And I do that and it’s like it gives you a glimpse back into his sort of….as if he is sort of becoming real again.

“But then I go out of it again and I play these kind of moving chords… to express a kind of frustration almost, like it’s him, like ‘no i have to get through it’.

“And I work my way down and that’s when I change and I click on the fuzz and I hit that big chord.”

It is at this moment where Cliff has truly broken through according to Scott, with both middle fingers in the air.

Borrowing a lick from an alternate live version he did, Scott then works his way into the main part of the solo from the album.

“So it’s sort of like Cliff is coming alive, but I am sort of partnering with him.”

To add to the emotion, Ray Burton and Casey, the father and step sister of Cliff, were in attendance for both nights.

This was, at the very least, just as emotional a moment for his family as it was for the members of Metallica.

“Ray Burton was just so great. He was just such a sweetheart”, Scott says.

He knew before night one that they would be in attendance.

In fact, Casey wrote to Scott personally.

As Scott explains, she said: “‘I want you to know we are going to be at the shows and we are so excited and it would be great to meet you. We are so grateful for you doing this’, they were so sweet.

“So that was very meaningful to me, to know that he was in the audience. And it was really fun to meet him at the after party after the first show… Rob Trujillo introduced me… and so Ray and I ended up sitting and talking. I think it was like until 4:00 in the morning.”

“You know it was interesting, chatting with Ray after the Sunday show, God rest his soul, he… he said to me, ‘you know the first night was all just pure excitement, to get to hear… and then the second night, I was able to sit back and listen to it and appreciate it in another way.’ And he says ‘I wept. I just wept.’ And that brought me to tears actually.”

This was an emotional moment for all Metallica fans.

Metallica. © Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Kirk Hammett. © Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

The arrangement and performance of ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’ at S&M2 is described by countless fans as a “goosebumps moment” and judging by many fan accounts, the Burton Family were not the only ones who shed tears.

Not just anybody could have executed this however.

It took a man who is both a super fan with great respect for the music and legacy of Cliff Burton and who is also virtuosic at the bass.

It also took the willingness for Metallica to want to share this moment with their fans and their longing to make sure nobody will ever forget the genius of Cliff.

With moments like this however, it is impossible to forget.

Now thanks to the band, and of course to Scott, Metallica fans have the opportunity to celebrate the music and genius of Cliff Burton in a whole new way.

Cliff Burton has always been one of the most loved figures in Metallica history.

Now, because of his S&M2 arrangement and performance, Scott Pingel is as well.


Watch the full talk with Scott Pingel, Principal Bassist with the San Francisco Symphony and Brandon Oberkrieser, here:

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