This article was original published in Hot Metal Issue #7 (August 1989). Phew! A lot has happened in the world of Motörhead since then… this re-post is dedicated in memoriam to Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor and ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke… R.I.P.
By IAN McFARLANE
MOTORHEAD has been hailed as the meanest, dirtiest, loudest rock’n’roll band in the world. In a career spanning 14 years, Motörhead has created much timeless music and made a lot of people deaf along the way… this article traces the band’s history up to 1989.
Rock’n’roll has boasted many headline grabbing bad boys but few as notorious and nefarious as Lemmy Kilmister. As the driving force behind Motörhead this savagely charismatic, gravel-voiced and – by his own admission – arrogant bassist has created some of the most awesome and lethal music known to man.
Throughout the band’s lengthy career, the raucous, loud, vicious sound of Motörhead has always exuded a direct, honest appeal. Indeed, ’Head music simply mirrors the personality of its instigator. You can’t actually distinguish one from the other – Lemmy is Motörhead and Motörhead is Lemmy.
There are many facets to the Lemmy persona; the man actually revels in the ‘bad boy’ image created around him.
“I’m very good at it now,” he cackles in that distinctive bourbon-and-Marlboro shredded voice across the telephone line from London. “If someone has to be the bad boy it may as well be me. I look like one, don’t I? I’m never gonna be on the bedroom walls of a million teenage girls, know wot I mean? Leave that to Michael Jackson – I’ll be the other side. The human race deserves me. You earned me, and here I am. Who would you point to if it wasn’t me?”
Lemmy has a right to be happy with his lot in life. He’s worked at it and Motörhead is now one of the biggest heavy metal bands in the world. Or as Lemmy would say, “We are Motörhead. We play rock’n’roll!”.
Of course, Motörhead didn’t start at the top; more like the bottom. When Lemmy put the band together in England in 1975, they were immediately dubbed the ‘World’s Worst Band’. No-one was prepared for the dirty passion and distortion this lot delivered. No-one was prepared to even give them a chance.
Yet Lemmy came out fighting and the band started to gain a cult following, drawing support from disillusioned Hawkwind fans, HM freaks and even the early punks. It wasn’t long before the metal maniacs who comprised Motörhead would become heroes.
“Yeah, it was frustrating in the early days, but I didn’t give up,” reflects Lemmy. “I mean, you don’t just give up because nobody listens immediately. You gotta carry on. That’s what I say to bands now – don’t give up after a year.”
Lemmy career didn’t begin with Motörhead; he’s been playing since the mid-’60s. While growing up in Wales, Lemmy’s earliest influences were rock’n’roll pioneers such as Little Richard, Larry Williams, Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly before he was smitten with the sounds of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Creation and The Birds (featuring a pre-Faces/Rolling Stones Ronnie Wood). Lemmy cut his musical teeth in such bands as The Rockin’ Vicars (1965-67), Sam Gopal (1968-69) and Opal Butterfly (1970).
In those days he played rhythm guitar. He also acquired his nickname around the same time, reputedly through his habit of asking anyone who would listen “lemme a fiver”. At one stage, after moving to London, he also got a job loading equipment for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “I was able to see Jimi twice a night for months,” says a delighted Lemmy, still marvelling at the memory all these years later. “He was the greatest guitarist that I’ve ever seen.”
Lemmy received his first break when he was invited to join hirsute psychedelic freaks Hawkwind as bass player in August 1971. “The guy I replaced had left his bass in the van, silly bugger, so I got to play that instead with the band.” He sang on their 1972 UK number three hit single, the space boogie riff-a-rama classic ‘Silver Machine’. He also went on to play on the albums Space Ritual Live, Doremi Farsol Latido, Hall of the Mountain Grill and Warrior on the Edge of Time. Lemmy added greatly to the band’s appeal and personality, as well as contributing ‘The Watcher’, ‘Lost Johnny’ and the epochal ‘Motorhead’ to their repertoire.
In May 1975, while on tour with the band in America, the bassist was unceremoniously sacked. At the Canadian border, customs officials found some amphetamine sulphate – aka speed, which they thought was cocaine – on him and tossed him in jail pending analysis. (Speed was a misdemeanour but coke a felony in Canada.) Hawkwind bailed Lemmy out but, fearing his drug record would endanger the tour, leader Dave Brock sent him home.
MOTÖRHEAD TUNES UP
Back in London, Lemmy began plotting his next venture. His old friend, singer/journalist Mick Farren introduced him to drummer Lucas Fox (ex-Be Bop Deluxe) and guitarist Larry Wallis (ex-UFO, Pink Fairies) and with these two decided to form a band called Bastard. On the advice of manager Doug Smith he agreed to change the name to Motörhead, which was US slang for a speed freak. It was the title of the last song he wrote for Hawkwind (which appeared as the B-side of their 1975 single ‘Kings of Speed’).
At the time, Lemmy outlined the new band’s policy thus: “We will concentrate on very basic music, loud, fast, urban, raucous, arrogant, paranoid, speed freak rock’n’roll… it will be so dirty that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die”.
Lemmy now reveals that the quote is not what it seems to be. “I stole that part about the lawn dying from Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. So you see, the classic quote was somebody else’s, hahaha! Just goes to show you can’t trust anybody, can ya?” Nevertheless, Lemmy has lived up to the policy to this very day.
Motörhead made its debut at London’s Roundhouse on 20 July 1975, supporting prog-rockers Greenslade. The gig attracted a lot of interest but the reviews were unfavourable. At the next prestige date, supporting US metal masters Blue Öyster Cult at the Hammersmith Odeon, they suffered from a poor sound system and lack of rehearsal. The music press, not yet bitten by the punk onslaught, was merciless and gave Motörhead a critical dive-bombing from which few groups would have recovered.
Undaunted, Lemmy took the band into Rockfield Studios in northern Wales to record an album for United Artists. Unfortunately, sessions with producer Dave Edmunds were aborted and Fritz Fryer took over the controls. In December Lucas Fox was given his marching orders and Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor took his place. Fox’s drum tracks were erased from the tapes and Taylor’s playing dubbed in. As 1976 dawned UA Records were non-committal about releasing the album, considering it unsuitable for release because it lacked commercial potential. They effectively shelved it for four years.
“UA didn’t release the album at first ’cause they thought the market wasn’t right for it,” explains Lemmy. “They were probably right. That album’s alright. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done. That’s how arrogant I am.”
At this point ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke came on the scene. He’d played guitar for Curtis Knight’s Zeus as well as with small-time bands Blue Goose and Continuous Performance. The idea was to make the band a four-piece with a much chunkier sound but after only one rehearsal Larry Wallis walked out, leaving the new Motörhead in place at last. As it was, Wallis had linked up with the reformed Pink Fairies and was ready to tour and record with his old band again.
Motörhead spent most of 1976 with no money, no record company support, no credibility, no tangible future and precious few gigs coming their way. Did they give up? No!
In December, music entrepreneur/manager Jake Riviera suggested to Lemmy that they do an informal one-off single for his new label Stiff Records. Accordingly, the band recorded ‘White Line Fever’ and ‘Leaving Here’ (a hotted up rendition of a Motown oldie by Eddie Holland). At the last minute, however, UA tried to block the release by invoking their contract. The single eventually surfaced in mid-1977 and was added to the Stiff compilation album Hits Greatest Stiffs but to Motörhead, still without a record deal, the frustration was becoming unbearable.
The band was actually on the verge of breaking up in early 1977 when Lemmy asked Ted Carroll, head of Chiswick Records – the other main UK independent record label – to record their last gig. Carroll persuaded them not to disband, and offered to put them in the studio for two days to record a single.
At this point, several factors remained in Motörhead’s favour. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal had yet to emerge and hard rock was still firmly in the hands of acts such as Bad Company, Thin Lizzy and Status Quo. There was a need for a speed freak, kick arse rock band like Motörhead to continue tearing up the scene. Also, the punk movement was in full swing in the UK and Motörhead’s combination of speed and volume endeared them to rock and punk fans alike. Secondly, UA had finally dropped them.
They worked so fast in the studio with producer Speedy Keene that they managed to crank out 11 roughly completed tracks in the two days allotted by Chiswick. On hearing them, Ted Carroll authorised the band to complete the album, which was released in August 1977 as Motörhead. The album contained new versions of ‘Motörhead’, ‘Lost Johnny’, ‘The Watcher’, and ‘Iron Horse-Born to Lose’ (from the still-unreleased first album) as well as new songs such as ‘Keep Us on the Road’ and a full-throttled version of ‘The Train Kept a-Rollin’’. It was given a boost with the release of the single ‘Motörhead’ b/w ‘City Kids’, which snared them an unlikely appearance on TV show Top of the Pops. The announcement of the band’s first headlining tour followed. Four dates in, however, Phil broke his hand (on someone’s face) and the rest of the excursion was cancelled.
Motörhead’s liaison with Chiswick was soon terminated, although the label continued to reissue and repackage their first official album for many years. Nevertheless, Motörhead were finally up and running with a minor hit record.
Manager Doug Smith then procured a deal with Bronze Records (home to Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) with the first release being an armour plated version of the old garage band standard ‘Louie Louie’ b/w ‘Tear Ya Down’. It made No. 68 on the UK chart with their second Top of the Pops appearance. With the release of the band’s first Bronze album, Overkill (produced by Rolling Stones and Traffic veteran Jimmy Miller) in March 1978, Motörhead embarked on a routine of recording and touring that continued uninterrupted for three years.
Overkill was a landmark album. The band’s furious, raw energy had been captured perfectly in songs such as the iron clad title cut ‘Overkill’, ‘Damage Case’, ‘No Class’, ‘Stay Clean’ and ‘Metropolis’. It reached No. 24 on the UK chart. The album spawned Motörhead’s first Top 40 single (No. 39) in ‘Overkill’ b/w ‘Too Late Too Late’. In July, scarcely catching their breath, the guys went back into the studio to record a new album, Bomber, once again with Jimmy Miller.
Bomber was another step in the right direction and on its release in October 1979, reached No. 12 on the UK chart. On the subsequent tour Motörhead debuted a new lighting rig, a giant tubular steel representation of a World War II German Heinkel bomber. The sight of this monster winging low over the band thrilled the fans. Motörhead had well and truly arrived. UA finally, and predictably, released their old Motörhead tapes as the album On Parole.
At this time the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was starting to burgeon, with the likes of Iron Maiden, Saxon, Girlschool, Diamond Head and Def Leppard touring and recording. And so, the one-time whipping boys of the mid-’70s suddenly became the inspiration for the novice metallurgists who went on to conquer the world’s HM stages. Lemmy’s not so sure about Motörhead’s role in the emergence of the movement.
“All those bands say we influenced them, but I didn’t hear our influence in them at all,” he explains. “We didn’t start the movement. We started our own band and they all started their own bands. You can’t categorise everything. Every band should be judged on their own merits or demands. I’m responsible for one thing and that’s Motörhead.”
The year 1980 saw the release of the live EP The Golden Years (number eight in the UK) and the extraordinary Ace of Spades album which became the band’s biggest seller to date (number four on the chart). The album had been produced by Vic ‘Chairman’ Maile and contained monstrous, cut-throat tunes like ‘Ace of Spades’ (a No. 15 hit single), ‘Love Me Like a Reptile’, ‘(We Are) The Road Crew’ and ‘The Chase is Better Than the Catch’. The band’s popularity was proven when they headlined the Heavy Metal Brain Damage Party in July (with support from Saxon, Girlschool, Angel Witch, Vardis, White Spirit and Mythra).
In addition they undertook a sold-out UK tour in early 1981, which resulted in the recording of the now legendary album No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith, once again produced by Vic Maile. With Lemmy’s rasping vocals backed by his monstrous bass lines, Phil’s serious drum battery and the fluid screech of Eddie at his fastest, the album stands as the pinnacle of that line-up’s electrifying career. The album made its debut at number one on release in June 1981. The single lifted from the set, ‘Motörhead’ (Live) b/w ‘Over the Top’, also did well, peaking at number six.
“Yeah, glory days,” reflects Lemmy. “Straight in at number one; you only get a chance like that once in a lifetime, I think. I don’t know if it will ever happen again but if it does I’ll be happy. You can’t go higher than number one.”
Another highlight of the year was the HeadGirl collaboration, in which Motörhead and Girlschool joined forces to record the EP St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which contained an update of the old Johnny Kidd and the Pirates chestnut ‘Please Don’t Touch’. The track displayed all the band’s in-built humour, being a good, fun party number. The EP hit number five on the singles chart.
Motörhead started 1982 by winning every category in the Sounds ’82 Readers’ Poll. This was followed by a gruelling 40-date tour of the US (where the ’Head had never risen above cult status) supporting Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz before the band returned to Britain to headline the Heavy Metal Holocaust Festival. The strain was beginning to show and their next album, Iron Fist, lacked the sharpness and power of previous releases, despite the presence of another ’Head exemplar in the power drive title track ‘Iron Fist’. Then in May, while in the US to promote the album, Fast Eddie suddenly quit.
Disagreements with his fellow band members over their musical direction had been brought to a head when Lemmy interrupted the tour to record a spoof record of country music star Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ with Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics. Clarke subsequently formed Fastway with Pete Way (ex-UFO).
“Eddie was a difficult character at times, that’s for sure, but he was a great rock’n’roll guitarist,” Lemmy chuckles. “He was really good. He was a blues guitarist and we like a bit of blues in Motörhead. All our albums have got a bit of blues in them. It’s not just this thrash shit that’s around now. That’s why I resent people saying we started thrash metal, just ’cause we play fast. I fuckin’ hate thrash metal, it’s garbage, hahaha. Metallica are alright but I wouldn’t play it myself. I like their attitude though.”
Lemmy wasted no time in finding a replacement for Eddie. He brought in – much to many people’s surprise – former Thin Lizzy/Wild Horses virtuoso Brian Robertson. The volatile Scot didn’t last long. After one album, Another Perfect Day (produced by Tony Platt) and one tour Robbo departed. It was a great pity because Robbo was a brilliant guitarist and his playing added a richer, more melodic edge to the traditional Motörhead barrage of sound. The album remains their most underrated effort, with standout tracks including ‘Dancing on Your Grave’ and the singles ‘Shine’ and ‘I Got Mine’.
“Yeah, I think that line-up was damn good. People didn’t cotton to it; I can’t help that. I take full responsibility and I thought the band was great with Brian in it. It was just that he didn’t go down too well with our fans… he was a bit unreliable. We gave him a chance and he failed, y’know.”
10TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
January 1984 and the search for a new guitarist was on again. Lemmy then played his ace by unveiling a new four-piece Motörhead featuring not one but two guitarists in Phil Campbell (ex-Persian Risk) and ex-army corporal Michael ‘Würzel’ Burston. This line-up didn’t last very long… Phil Taylor, unhappy with the band’s fresh direction, departed in February to work briefly with Robertson and former SAHB/MSG bassist Chris Glen.
Pete Gill (ex-Saxon) came in as Phil’s replacement and the new Motörhead line-up immediately proved their tremendous power at a sell-out date at the Hammersmith in May. This was followed in June by a headlining slot at the Heavy Sounds Festival in Belgium over the likes of Twisted Sister, Metallica, Baron Rojo, Merciful Fate, Lita Ford and Faithful Breath. Motörhead then undertook a tour of Australia (where they command a rabid cult following) and on return to the UK laid down four new tracks.
The new numbers (‘Killed by Death’, ‘Snaggletooth’ – named for the band’s iconic fanged mascot – ‘Steal Your Face’ and ‘Locomotive’) appeared on the essential double compilation No Remorse put out by Bronze Records at the end of 1984. Rather than being an obituary to a band that had seen better days, the album contained a staggering selection of Motörhead’s finest moments from the previous six years. As the new tracks revealed, the 1984 model Motörhead was not content to rest on past glories and was looking to the future.
Relations between the band and Bronze had started to deteriorate and despite the success of No Remorse, Motörhead’s last record with the label was the single ‘Killed by Death’ b/w ‘Under the Knife’. The song clearly displayed the wicked sense of humour present in Motörhead music (which was enhanced by the outrageous video clip accompanying the single). Oddly, it was only a minor hit when issued in 1985.
With the band’s recording future up in the air due to the dispute with Bronze, Motörhead hit the road again to celebrate their 10th anniversary. The celebrations culminated in a series of sold out shows at the Hammersmith in June, the highlight of which occurred when all the group’s former members joined the guys on-stage in what must have been the ultimate version of Motörhead.
When the dispute with Bronze Records was resolved in January 1985, Motörhead signed with GWR Records and set about recording a new album, this time with producer Bill Laswell at the controls.
The resulting album, Orgasmatron (August 1986), proved to be Motörhead’s finest studio album to date. Fired by the full-throated production values, the savage roar of this uncompromising four-piece was in full swing with Lemmy’s ever present vocal snarl right over the top. ‘Built for Speed’, ‘Deaf Forever’, ‘Doctor Rock’ and the cataclysmic title track ‘Orgasmatron’ easily matched the power and speed of previous Motörhead classic like ‘Ace of Spades’, ‘Overkill’ and ‘(We Are) The Road Crew’.
“Yeah, I really like Orgasmatron,” Lemmy reveals. “The title track’s a wonderful song. I love that. It’s got the best lyrics that I’ve ever written. That’s why I put them on the back cover. Boasting again… arrogant to the last.”
On the back of the release of Orgasmatron, Motörhead’s appeared on the bill of 1986 Castle Donington Monsters of Rock Festival, fourth on the bill to Def Leppard, Scorpions and Ozzy Osbourne. Nineteen eighty-seven’s Rock and Roll album continued in the same vicious vein as Orgasmatron, although the songs maybe weren’t as consistently strong and the production was slightly off the mark. The album, however, did contain ‘Eat the Rich’ which featured some of Lemmy’s wittiest and sharpest lyrical twists and turns. He’d written the song for the satirical film of the same name directed by Peter Richardson. He also appeared in the film in the role of Spider, a subversive government ‘official’. He enjoyed the experience.
“Yeah, I thought I did very well in the film,” he says. “I was quite surprised. I was alright. I was just playing myself really, just walking through the part.”
The Rock and Roll album saw the return of the crazy drumming dervish Philthy Animal Taylor, and much of 1988 was taken up with touring. The year ended with the band headlining the Giants of Rock festival in Finland. The show was taped and released as the band’s next album, No Sleep at All, which concentrated on newer material with old classics like ‘Ace of Spades’ and ‘Overkill’ thrown in for good measure. It was on par with the No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith album in terms of power but only managed to grace the lower reaches of the UK Top 40.
AND NOW THE FUTURE…
That just about brings the Motörhead story up to date as of August 1989. Currently the band is writing and rehearsing new material for their next album, following another bout of touring across Europe (now the group’s largest market). The only significant recent drama occurred while Motörhead was playing a show in Yugoslavia during May.
“Someone threw a razor blade taped between two coins at me,” Lemmy explains. “Nice thing to do… I was in hospital for a week. It hit my hand and was lucky to have missed the tendons, y’know, but it cut down to the bone. We had to cancel some dates.”
What the future holds for Motörhead is anybody’s guess. World domination no doubt, if Lemmy had his way. The band has a long way to go.
“We’re hoping to move to America this year – we’re all agreed on that. We’ve done our thing in Britain and will never be as big again here. We’ve never been big in the States, so we still have a chance there and the booze is also cheaper!”
And if you’ve ever wondered why the name Motörhead is always signed with umlaut warts over the second letter ‘O’, Lemmy offers this little line by way of explanation… “’Cause it looks mean, hahaha. That’s why!”
Motörhead recorded a further 14 studio albums and remained at the pinnacle of the worldwide heavy music scene. They also did move to the States, in 1990, Lemmy settling in Los Angeles where he would command a regular barstool at the infamous Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset Boulevard, virtually until his dying day on 28 December 2015.