WITH A NEW MOTÖRHEAD ALBUM AND A DOCUMENTARY FILM IN HIS HONOR, LEMMY IS PLAYING TO BRING THE WHOLE HOUSE DOWN.
By Rob “Blasko” Nicholson
In a world full of rock & roll poseurs, Lemmy is a true original. Born Ian Fraser Kilmister on Christmas Eve, 1945, Lemmy kicked off his 40-year career as a rhythm guitarist in the Rockin’ Vickers, a band that achieved moderate local success around its base in Blackpool, England. But Lemmy really carved his name into the tree of rock by working as a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1967. Following his credearning run with Hendrix, Kilmister parlayed his burgeoning rhythm guitar chops to create a signature style of bass playing in the space-rock outfit Hawkwind. While on tour with the band in 1975, Lemmy was pinched for drug possession charges while crossing the Canadian border. The charges were dropped, but the incident led to a falling out with the Hawkwind camp.
Spinning off to form a group of his own, Lemmy enlisted guitarist “Fast Eddie” Clark and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor to form Motörhead, a “power” trio in the truest sense of the word. The band released its self-titled debut in 1977, and codified its take-no-prisoners approach to rock with the classic 1980 album Ace of Spades. Now with guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee, Motörhead’s rock recipe remains the same: Everything Louder Than Everyone Else. It’s an approach that set the standard in the early days of heavy metal, and it’s one that sends a clear message today: Even though much of it may be diluted with over-produced schlock, true rock & roll is alive and well.
Motörhead is one of the world’s most consistent and reliable rock bands. You’ve never changed direction to fit in with current trends. What’s the secret to the neversay- die ethic?
That’s just it—never say die. And you have to realize one thing: I’m not qualified to do anything else. I am not going to suddenly quit and become an eye surgeon. When we started as a band, some people said that we wouldn’t last. I can’t let those bastards be right. I would rather die. So here we still are, and they’re all gone.
After so many years of constant touring, do you ever get to the point where you think, God, do I have to play “Ace of Spades” again?
I used to have that thought occasionally, but I killed it. “Ace of Spades” has been really good to us, and it’s one of the best songs that I ever wrote. So I suppose you have to put up with it, because everybody wants to hear it, every night. And you have to realize that just because you have played it every night, they haven’t heard it in this place every night. In a small town it may be the first time that someone has ever seen us, and they have to hear “Ace of Spades,” because it’s part of our fabric. It wouldn’t be fair not to play it.
Motörhead made the Guinness Book of Records for being the world’s loudest band. What are your thoughts on volume?
By its very nature, rock & roll is supposed to be loud. Quiet rock & roll is nonsense.
Your hard-hitting pickstyle playing and midrange drive and gives you a unique bass tone.
My idol on bass was always John Entwistle from the Who. If you remember, he had the same tone—maybe a little deeper. The Who was one of the best bands I’ve ever heard in my life. I don’t like to be mumbling away in the background; like a guitar player, I want to be heard. After all, I am a front man—I didn’t get into this thing to not be noticed.
You have played Rickenbacker basses and Marshall amps for ages. What first drew you to that gear?
I saw the Who using Marshalls, and they sounded wonderful. When I was working for Hendrix, he was using them as well. I got my first stack when I was with Hawkwind, and it sounded fantastic.
I first got the Rickenbacker just for its wild shape. Plus, the neck was really skinny; I’m a guitarist turned bass player, so it was easier for me to play that thin neck. When I first started playing Rickenbackers, I had to change the pickups because they sounded to trebly. First I went with a Gibson Thunderbird pickup. That was a great sound, but I wore it out—I killed it. Now Rickenbacker is using much better pickups, so I don’t have to switch them out anymore.
What about the history, death, and eventual resurrection of your “Murder One” Marshall amp?
The Marshall JMP Super Bass II head is quite an exotic animal nowadays—they are like antiques. But now Marshall has started to make the Lemmy signature stack, so they copied the Murder One. We actually had to do without Murder One for a while so Marshall could copy it; they had lost the blueprints to the original. For the cabs, I use a 4x15 cab and a 4x12 in each stack. I have two stacks onstage.
That’s some serious power.
Yeah, it is. That’s what I was after.
Was there a defining moment when you decided you wanted to play rock & roll for a living?
Yeah, when I saw how many chicks you could get! I loved rock & roll from the first day I heard it—Little Richard, Elvis, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, and the Beatles. I used to watch Oh Boy!, a show on English TV in the late ’50s that always had visiting singers, and they had Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent on one night. They were both great, and they were surrounded by screaming women who appeared to be tearing their clothes off. That was the moment I realized rock & roll was the job for me. It was like an invocation, being called to the priesthood.
As a songwriter, who are the musicians— living or dead—that you’d most want to collaborate with?
Kurt Cobain, for one. Lennon and McCartney of course, although you really couldn’t write with them, could you? I mean, you would end up being beaten to death by the awe of it all. I would like to collaborate with that girl from Evanescence [Amy Lee]. I bet she is a really good writer.
Whether it’s the logo, song titles, or record covers, Motörhead is one of the most significant brands in rock. How much thought went into the band’s branding?
Back in the ’60s, almost every band had a distinctive way of writing their band name. You know, the Yardbirds, the Beatles, and the Who all had their logos on their kick drums and record covers. That’s where I come from. As a band, you’ve got to stand out.
You have one of the most recognizable images in rock. How important do you think it’s been to your career?
Very! It was essential. You see that every night with Ozzy, don’t you? You would recognize that guy from 30 miles away.
What continues to inspire you?
Not enough people have heard us yet. We aren’t selling a ton of records, but I will keep on making ’em until people do buy them. If people want us to stop making records, all they need to do is give us a No. 1 hit [laughs].
What wisdom can you share about your career to a young player looking to move up?
I’ll tell you what wisdom I can offer— nothing. Because nobody’s ever going to experience the problems I encountered on my way up this ladder. They will have their own problems. So they are going to have to make their own mistakes and figure out a way to cope with them. There is no real advice you can give to anyone about anything. If you want to do something enough, you will just cope with it you know? Stop waiting on a bailout clause from someone else’s advice, because that won’t help. It won’t be a cushion, and it certainly won’t help you avoid anything in the future.
What is the future of rock & roll?
I have no idea. I hope it cures up a bit, though, because it’s been pretty miserable for a long time.