R.I.P. Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister. I can only listen to Motorhead for so long and then I have to hear something else, but that does not mean I don’t appreciate the house that Lemmy built. Lemmy had just celebrated his 70th birthday in December of 2015 and it was well known that he was having trouble summoning the stamina to finish some shows on their last tour. It was still a shock to everyone who knew him that he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, given a prognosis of six months to live, and only a couple of days later died peacefully at home playing his favorite video game.
Kilmister saw the Beatles at the Cavern Club when he was 16 and his future was cast. He played guitar in numerous bands and as a roomie of Noel Redding, ended up doing a stint as a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Those skills and the ability to tune guitars lead to a similar engagement with the band Hawkwind. He eventually became their bassist but was fired after four years for ‘chemical problems’. His revenge was to start his own band (with a less than press friendly name which can not be printed here) that eventually would be called Motorhead. Perhaps I relate to Lemmy more today because he kept Motorhead going through 40 years of ups and downs which matches my current career in Ontonagon. Lemmy was the only constant in the whole Motorhead story.
The March 2016 Classic Rock Magazine collected a lot of stories and quotes from those who knew Lemmy best so I am going to let them tell the story in their own words. I would truly like to include more from Lemmy himself, but the plain speaking, take-no-prisoners Lemmy was also fond of certain words that would not be appropriate for this column. Suffice to say, with Lemmy and Motorhead, what you saw and heard was direct and to the point. Why else would they open every show with Lemmy’s simple introduction: “We are Motorhead – we play rock and roll.” The quotes given here will not necessarily be in any chronological order, but they will give you a good idea of what the people in the music business thought of Lemmy.
First, let’s hear from some of his heavy weight peers: Ozzy Osbourne: “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today. He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. I will see you on the other side.” Alice Cooper: “I can’t think of anyone who didn’t adore Lemmy. We did many shows together, and looked forward to it every time. Rock ‘n’ roll heaven just got heavier.” Tommi Iommi: “The legend will never die. His life was all about the music, being on stage and giving pleasure to others.” Glenn Hughes: “In the 1980s I failed miserably to keep up with him at the bar. He set the bar. He was the bar.” Judas Priest: “The shows, the tours we did and the laughs and stories we shared – all of these and more will be cherished.” Iron Maiden: “Rest In Peace . . . loudly! The world has lost a unique character. They don’t build them like you any more. But you played a great set.” Brian May: Sitting here, re-tweeting, distracted, and wondering what I can possibly say about our utterly unique friend Lemmy’s passing. Ouch.” Gene Simmons: Rest in peace. Shake the heavens, my friend.”
The following comments come from his old band and tour mates and tell the tale from their vantage point: Mikkey Dee (drummer in the final Motorhead lineup – about Lemmy asking him to join the band): “Lem kept in contact with me, sending postcards from all over the world and calling me once and awhile. And in the end, in ‘92, I joined the band. It was the best decision I ever made.” Enid Williams (of the band Girlschool): “He certainly championed women. He stood up for Girlschool and said, “Look, if the girls can do it, then they’re in there. And they’re as good as the guys.” Not many people were saying that at that time.” Danny B.Harvey (from the band Headcat): “Backstage at Headcat shows, we’d be talking and listening to records – he told us stories and did impressions of comedians, He’d do Derek and Clive and the Peter Sellers stuff… all word for word, It was a lot of fun.” Ade Edmonsdson (from the band Bad News): “Lemmy had an aura of being a hard-nosed rock god, but he could talk very cogently about anything in the news in a very thoughtful and un-rock-like way. He could see things from a different perspective and it made the world much more interesting.”
Lemmy indeed had some interesting perspectives on the music business. Some was flat out hyperbole like his promise about the ferocity of Motorhead’s music: “If we move in next door to you, your lawn will die.” He also kept the music business at an arm’s length: “The so-called business demonstrates year in, year out that it knows nothing about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not even interested in finding out. But I didn’t join the business, I joined the band.” He recognized early on that he was going to be the connecting thread in the life of Motorhead as he commented after the departure of guitarist Brian Robertson: “At one point,just for one day, Motorhead was myself and Phil Taylor. And then Phil left and it was just me.”
Lemmy kept Motorhead going straight ahead while musical fads came and went for 40 years. After deciding to not open for the band Slipknot, he commented: “They’re not a rock band; they’ve got no tunes, no chords, or choruses, I just don’t see any redeeming features. Well, maybe one – they’re pretty good at disguises. I came from The Beatles and Little Richard, they come from the circus. Maybe I’m just too old to get it.” As for the state of rock in the early 2000s, Lemmy pointedly said, “Today’s rock stars are boring. Most of today’s bands would’ve had rocks thrown at them in the 1970s; They’d have been booed off.”
As his health began to fail him, he told a writer from Classic Rock Magazine, “It’s when you get to sixty that things start to go pear-shaped.” Certainly the world is now a little quieter with Lemmy’s passing, but we shall never forget that in the world of corporate rock, there has to be a Lemmy to balance things out. R.I.P. Lemmy!
Top Piece video – the classic Motorhead line up and their classice Ace of Spades