Clive Burr – Iron Maiden’s Masterful And Highly Underrated Drummer Passes Away
Burr played on the first three Iron Maiden albums, Iron Maiden, Killers and The Number of the Beast. With Iron Maiden on the verge of worldwide stardom, Burr was replaced under circumstances which remain murky to this day by Nicko McBrain for 1983’s Piece of Mind album. The official reason given was personal problems and difficulties in dealing with the heavy touring schedule.
Burr played with a string of other bands for the next dozen years, but never achieved the success he had with Iron Maiden. In the early 1990’s Burr’s musical career came to an abrupt end when he noticed tingling in his hands. He received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1994.
His former band mates held several charity events during the last decade which they called “Clive-Aid” to raise money to help Burr with his medical expenses which had left him in debt.
Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood said in 2002 at the first benefit, “Maiden has always been a family and even after all these years, we still consider Clive to be part of the family and as such we feel we should help him in any way possible.”
There has been a long simmering debate among hardcore Maiden fans about who was the better drummer, Burr or McBrain?
They were so different in style that a comparison is very difficult, but I always preferred Burr’s lucid, free jazz-style drumming. Burr though, was not a jazz drummer. McBrain is the one who had learned through funk and groove. Burr’s drumming contains surprising fills, odd time signatures and a dose of the unexpected. There is a fluidity and subtlety in Burr’s playing that does not come across in post-Number of the Beast Maiden albums. And while I think McBrain is a great drummer in his own right and in all probability technically a better drummer, when Clive Burr was behind the drum kit, Maiden just sounded a little bit better to me.
Iron Maiden’s sound on the first three albums is in no small part comprised of what was done on the drums. And Clive Burr embodied Maiden’s sound with his signature beats. One thing that always appealed to fans of the band as they built up a big audience in those early years was their live performances. Burr’s exceptional drumming was a big part of that success. He always had a smile on his face while playing, and displayed amazing stamina without missing a beat. Burr’s unique style shined on certain songs, which featured distinct drumming, such as Run to the Hills, Children of the Damned, Phantom of the Opera, Another Life, Purgatory, Killers and the instrumental Genghis Khan.
Here is Clive Burr playing drums with Iron Maiden live at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1982, performing a b-side, Total Eclipse.
Slayer’s legendary drummer Dave Lombardo lamented Burr’s death saying, “His style was inspiring and the albums he recorded with Iron Maiden are touchstones of my music education. He played with a particular energy which brought edge and excitement to the Iron Maiden classics. I never got to meet him, but I wish did.”
Anthrax’s Charlie Benante recalled on his web fan page meeting Burr. “It was 1981 I was hanging with friends in the back of the Palladium in NYC. Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were playing. Two taxi’s pull up and Maiden get out, Steve and Clive hang and talk for a bit. Clive at the time was an up and coming drummer that I thought played with a style all his own. The drumming on ‘Killers’ inspired me to kick it up a notch and I did. I spoke with him and asked him for a pair of sticks. When he was done signing things he went into the venue and 10 minutes later came out with a pair of sticks for me … I still have those sticks. He was awesome, I was bummed when Maiden let him go. RIP Clive, You have influenced so many and to this day … Nobody plays like you.”
Clive Burr received only one song writing credit with Iron Maiden, Gangland, which is on The Number of the Beast album. Its bombastic drum opening sounds like something you would expect Burr to have come up with. Interestingly it is one of the songs Iron Maiden has never performed live. The opening song from that classic album, Invaders, with its snappy drum roll opening is another song that the band has also mysteriously never performed live.
Burr’s post-Maiden career never offered the opportunity to expose his skills to an audience as large as Maiden’s following. His status among great heavy metal drummers has been laid low. The exception would be among long-time Iron Maiden fans and other band’s drummers who recognized how great a musician Clive Burr was.