Lemmy’s death this week has spawned more hurried articles in more unlikely places (even porn sites were changing their front web pages to give tribute to him…) But there is a reason for this-Lemmy was a force in rock n roll rarely seen: part of the rock scene since before the Beatles caught the nation’s fancy, and one of the loudest and hardest partying motherfuckers ever spawned from the growling belly of the six string hell-beast had touched many lives in the five decade swath he cut through polite society.
In short, Lemmy was unique in rock, an eye blinkingly difficult feat to achieve in a field of fairly unique personalities. His dedication to ‘heavy’ single handedly spawned most of the current metal bands dating over the past three decades-thrash metal, speed metal, death metal, black metal? All of these genres can be traced directly to the humble Motörhead origins. A simple power trio, unapologetic and single minded in approach to the end, Lemmy and company pushed the limits of volume to unimagined heights of “huh? what?” as folks tried to assess what the hell had just happened at the end of a show and where the hell had their hearing gotten off to.
Many sites have chronicled his curriculum vitae, but in short: Ian Kilminster started his career proper in roughly 1965 in the Rockin’ Vicars, his third or so band of his career, but one who released a few singles that made no dent in the charts or hearts of the grim Manchester surroundings. His involvement in the late sixties as a roadie for the Nice and Jimi Hendrix showed him what the road could really be like, from pulling birds and loads of equipment while out of his mind with Hendrix (“That’s how I learned to function on five hits of acid”) to giving Keith Emerson some of his Hitler Youth knives as a present (some of which were used to stab keys down to hold notes as an early pre-ELP band the Nice stage trick), Lemmy was fine tuning his act.
It was with the space rock band Hawkwind that the legend began to form. Hawkwind was a collection of furry freaks from Ladbroke Grove who took the Pink Floyd blueprint from Interstellar Overdrive and ran with it. Lemmy’s legendary 1971 debut gig introduction to the band was being told by Nik Turner, “make some noises in E” and he was off. His Motörhead style of bass playing was honed here: two note chords strummed to give a helluva bottom to the sound– simultaneously functioning as bassist and a second guitarist in a one guitar band. The drug taking? Legendary. Hawkwind’s only hit, Silver Machine, was one of the rare tunes sung by Lemmy and became a huge hit across Europe. It was recorded live at the Greasy Truckers Party.
After three days spent taking Dexedrine with Dik Mik, Lemmy and his bandmate took Mandrax, a depressant, to lessen the intensity of the high. But Lemmy got bored, so he dropped acid and mescaline, then took more Mandrax. Dik Mik drove to the venue, where they pair partook in cocaine and eight Black Beauties (uppers) each. “Fuckin’ hell, Mik, I can’t move,” Lemmy said. “Can you?” As he explained in his book, the band’s roadies helped them onstage for the show, which was taped for the Greasy Truckers Party live album “That was one of the best gigs we ever taped,” Lemmy enthused. “The jamming between me and [leader Dave] Brock was great. We got ‘Silver Machine,’ our only hit – and Number Two at that – from that gig!”
This wasn’t his first trip to the edge, nor his last:
In 1969, before Lemmy joined Hawkwind, a friend convinced his nurse girlfriend to sneak them some amphetamine sulfate from the dispensary where she worked. She accidentally brought home a jar of atropine sulfate. Lemmy did a teaspoon full, which he said was “200 times the overdose,” and then everyone “went berserk.” In his memoir White Line Fever he recalled talking to a TV held under his arm, then passing out and waking up in the hospital. “If we got you in another hour you would have been dead,” the doctor told him. Even after being treated, he had sporadic hallucinations for two weeks and recalled, “sitting, reading a book, and I’d turn to page 42 – but there was no book.”
Seemingly not possible, yet…
…on another night in the early 70’s, the band was coming from a show and were pulled over by the police. Already aware of the unfriendly attitude that the constabulary had towards them, Lemmy and Bob Calvert split up the bottle of speed and Mandrax, eating the lion’s share himself. Later in his hotel room he shared with Stacia, Hawkwind’s statuesque naked dancer, Lemmy passed out cold. She phoned the band in other rooms and said Lemmy was unresponsive on top of her, she was trapped and couldn’t move at all, and he was apparently dead. The band came, dragged him into his bed, and let him sleep it off. “‘Tis but a scratch”
Motörhead mk1-Larry Wallis, Lucas Fox, Lemmy
Motörhead proper began shortly after Lemmy had been sacked in 1975 from Hawkwind. His playing and integration into the band had given Hawkwind the sound and the success that had been eluding them for so long. Success in America beckoned. But getting caught crossing the US/Canada border mid tour with an inordinate amount of amphetamines led to a muddle headed decision to sack him immediately.
“If I was busted for acid, everything would have been fine,” he said. “But they were all about the psychedelic experience. The most cosmic band in the world fired me for getting busted with the wrong kinds of drugs!”
Lemmy joined forces with Larry Wallis of the Pink Fairies, who had laid down a rough blueprint for Motörhead with the Fairies recent “Kings of Oblivion” lp-a dash of Hawkwind stirred into an uncomplicated pot of pub rock and heavy rock. Lemmy brought up the volume, scaled back the psychedelia, used his last tune written for Hawkwind as the sign out front, and hit the throttle and popped the clutch on the motorcycle.
Things did not go well. Fox couldn’t cut it, and was replaced by Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor on drums. (he is a story all by himself). Wallis had his fingers in other pies and as interest waxed and waned (Motörhead won NME’s poll for worst band of the year in 1976), the future was uncertain. Fast Eddie Clarke replaced Wallis, and the classic trio was in place. The only thing missing were two important parts: fans and a record label.
The band flew through a couple of labels, before Hawkwind’s management put them on to Bronze records to make a final go of it. They reworked their first unreleased album to no avail and things looked grim. But those in the know had noticed they had a crossover following lacking in all bands on the UK scene: Metal heads liked them, punk rock kids liked them, bikers liked them, and a few die hard Hawkwind fans (see: hippies) liked them- that covered most of the bases. The potential was there, and in 1979 they released their first tour de force, Overkill. These three albums: Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades were the trifecta of metal, creating a genre. This started a five year run of over the top metal-stuff that unscrewed your brain case, rewired the the hardware, and nailed the whole thing shut again. Microphone stand impossibly high, with microphone pointing straight back back down towards the floor (supposedly to stretch Lemmy’s vocal chords for maximum effect), Motörhead re-defined metal for the next decade.
The Big Three
Overkill Bomber Ace of Spades
All of this stuff was available in Europe only. In the States, punters had to find independent shops that carried imported vinyl- easy in cities, not so easy in the sticks. But America was in for a treat: Motörhead opening for Ozzy with Ozzy allowing them to bring their ‘Bomber’ rig-a lighting rig that simulated a somewhat life sized WW2 German dive bomber, complete with sound effects and an ability to dive into the stage (and first rows occasionally) The tour was accompanied by the first ever big US Motörhead release and most peoples introduction to the band -No Sleep til Hammersmith, an introduction if there ever was one-one of the heaviest live albums ever put to vinyl. (technically Ace of Spades was first, but this one got the push) I got this the week it came out, hurried home and dropped the needle down on this one while my roommate slept in the other room-it sounded like a car crash as they took the stage. I turned it up to aircraft landing volume, and as he staggered into the living room worried and confused he said “I honestly thought a truck had just come through the fucking front wall and smashed into the kitchen..” That’s what would make Lemmy smile.
The follow up, Iron Fist, seemed to have something wrong. Other than the title track, even this three chord outfit seemed to be running out of ideas. Nobody was surprised when Fast Eddie exited at the end of the 1982 US tour (supposedly pissed over Motörhead’s collaboration with the dreadful Plasmatics, who made Motörhead look like King Crimson in comparison)
Motörhead seemed dead in the water. The choice of Brian Robertson from Thin Lizzy was an odd one. Too melodic. Too..uhh…pretty. Motorhead prided themselves as being the ugliest band around, and were a band that- to quote them- “if we moved in next door, your lawn would die” Musos were excited though, could a guy who literally dripped melody from his fingers get anything out of Lemmy and Philthy, or was a multi car pile up imminent?
Early buzz had it that something really special was going on in rehearsals. Robertson had made Lemmy change to the other side of the stage (“he was so deaf in one ear, he needed to change and have his good ear pointed at me so he could follow what we were doing”) Sounds magazine in Britain chronicled their early days and pumped the hype with a weekly comic strip.
The results? Some would say the best Motörhead album ever. It certainly was the most daring. Robertson’s natural melodies swirled through the new tunes, and the cover was a pretty accurate depiction of what was happening inside-a swirling rainbow of color coming from the Motörhead skull. I Got Mine was the first single, and was likewise a pretty good representation of the change that Robertson brought to the band:
The next night in Providence, a club about twice the size of the Paradise, Robertson was down from four to two double stacks, and Lemmy down to a single from a double rig. Apparently they had learned their lesson. The volume was sane, but the music? The combination of Robertson, Taylor and Lemmy was one that had to be seen live to be believed. Musicality and Motörhead in one sentence? It didn’t make sense. (quick aside: in Sounds that month, Motörhead had done a stunning multi page interview by an open sewer pouring into a river. Within the interview, Lemmy semi-bragged about having anal warts. Not mad, not proud, just telling something nobody should ever tell. In another magazine interview the same month, Philthy Animal Taylor allowed that he had a case of warts on his dick. In the bathroom of the Providence venue, I noticed I was at the urinal next to Philthy. We chatted (while peeing) about the insane volume of the previous night, and then…the thought flickered for a second-putting two and two together–and asking if his dick warts came from the warts on Lemmy’s ass? Y’know, investigative reporting and such. I calculated the odds of getting punched out instantly as pretty high and kept that one inside)
Click below for a quick run through of Stone Dead Forever from Bomber:
The final show ever, December 11, 2015 below….gawdammm he died only 17 days later, probably thwarting his plans to die onstage.
So hats off to this one of a kind whiskey swilling, ear drum smashing, gun toting, Nazi memorabilia collecting brawling tripping speeding banging living biker legend. Summed up in the eponymous song, the last one he wrote while in Hawkwind in 1975, this both sums up and predicts the whole imbroglio perfectly:
Fourth day, five day marathon,
We’re moving like a parallelogram,
Don’t move, I’ll shut the door and kill the lights,
I guess I’ll see you all on the ice,
I should be tired,
And all I am is wired,
Ain’t felt this good for an hour,
Motörhead, remember me now, Motörhead alright
We’ll remember you, mate