Lemmy says that before virtually every show and people still don’t believe him. In a time where music is evermore obsessed with labels and genres, Motorhead is viewed as a grandfather to both punk and metal, yet they are neither a punk band nor a metal band. The truth is hiding in plain sight and if we’d just listen to Lemmy we’d learn the answers to most of life’s important questions.
Lemmy is Motorhead. Motorhead plays rock and roll. Lemmy is rock and roll.
Ian Kilmister was born in England today in 1945. He acquired the name Lemmy as a kid because he was constantly bumming a quid or a pence, or whatever English folk call money, from his friends; as in “Lemmy (let me) get a quid” or “Lemmy (lend me) a pence until next Thursday”. He picked up a guitar because he noticed that when a schoolmate brought a guitar to school the girls flocked around him. Lemmy was originally a rhythm guitar player and was heavily influenced by the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran.
Lemmy joined a band called The Rockin’ Vickers in 1965 and had some minor success with them. He left the band in 1967 and moved to London where he was a roommate with Noel Redding from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Lemmy was a roadie for the Experience for a year. He then joined a band called Sam Gopal in 1968 then joined Opal Butterfly in 1969.
In 1971, Lemmy caught his biggest break yet and joined the band Hawkwind as a bassist. During his three years with Hawkwind, Lemmy started developing his talents as a singer and songwriter. In 1975 he was kicked out of Hawkwind for, in Lemmy’s words, “doing the wrong sorts of drugs.” He had gotten busted in Windsor, Canada and was charged with cocaine possession. Lemmy ultimately beat the rap because when the drugs were tested it turned out that it was amphetamines and not cocaine. Under Canadian law at the time that resulted in the charges being dropped.
Lemmy had enough of playing in other people’s bands and decided to start his own. He named it after the last song he had written for Hawkwind called “Motorhead”. Lemmy had big plans for the band right from the beginning and he promised, “They’ll be the dirtiest rock and roll band in the world. If we moved in next door your lawn would die.”
Motorhead immediately delivered on Lemmy’s lofty goals with their debut album “Motorhead” in 1977. The eponymous lead track was a stripped down re-working of the Hawkwind song and announced the band a straight ahead, heavy and hard charging rock and roll force. The template Lemmy laid down on the first album would remain virtually unchanged over five different decades. Motorhead lineups would change, musical trends would come and go, but Lemmy would continue to produce no-frills rock and roll played as loudly as possible.
That consistency may be viewed by some as a detriment but fans find a certain solace in it. Motorhead fans are sure of three things in life – death, taxes and the next Motorhead album is going to be good. Sure, there have been peaks and valleys but, for the past 40 years one Motorhead album has been as solid as the next.
The same consistent, steady effort has also helped to fuel the cult of personality that is Lemmy. Lemmy always looks the same. Lemmy always sounds the same. Lemmy always drinks Jack and Coke (he’s switched to vodka and orange juice since he developed diabetes). When he’s not on tour, Lemmy is always sitting on the same barstool playing the Megatouch machine at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in Los Angeles. Even starting a rockabilly band called The Head Cat with former Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom was predictable if you’ve been following Lemmy.
What has been unpredictable is the impact that Lemmy has had on rock and roll music. He’s played with the Sex Pistols and Ramones as well as with Metallica and Dave Grohl . Lemmy’s influence on metal music is rivaled only by Black Sabbath and he’s equally revered by fans of early punk. His songwriting and lyrical ability is often dismissed due to song titles like “Killed by Death” and “Orgasmatron”, but he is the only songwriter to work the word “parallelogram” into a popular song (suck it, Bob Dylan).
Lemmy is one of rock’s last living legends. Keith Richards or Dylan might outlive him but they’ve had a much easier go of it. While Richards could afford full-body blood transfusions to detox himself, Lemmy had to rely on grandma’s cough medicine – Jack Daniels and speed. Lemmy released over 20 albums with Motorhead alone and he earned more money in royalties off a song he wrote for Ozzy Osbourne, “Mama, I’m Coming Home”, than he did for all of those albums combined.
While the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inexplicably failed to induct Lemmy and Motorhead, that is more an indictment of the Rock Hall than it is of Lemmy. If you want a more in-depth look at Lemmy’s impact then watch the Lemmy movie. You’ll see dozens of big names from big bands – Alice Cooper, Nikki Sixx, Dee Snider, Slash, Nikki Sixx, Steve Vai, Lars Ulrich, Scott Ian, Mike Inez, Dave Grohl, Joan Jett, Peter Hook, Ice-T, Dave Ellefson, Jason Newsted, Marky Ramone and Pepper Kennan among others – testify to Lemmy’s legacy.
Nothing says Christmas Eve like Motorhead so my early gift to you is one Motorhead song per decade along with a bonus cut from Lemmy’s work with Dave Grohl in Probot. (There will be one more present delivered next year when the movie Gutterdammerung premieres. Keep an eye out for it.)
Probot – “Shake Your Blood” off the album “Probot” 2004:
“Damage Case” off the album “Overkill” 1979:
“Rock n Roll” off the album “Rock n Roll” 1987:
“Going to Brazil” off the album “1916” 1995:
“English Rose” off the album “Motorizer” 2008:
“Shoot Out All of Your Lights” off the album “Bad Magic” 2015: