Motörhead's Lemmy: 1945-2015

IN AN INDUSTRY built on artifice and transience, Lemmy proved to be an exceptional constant for close on six decades, carving out a singular career based on his deep-rooted love of rock’n’roll. Born on December 24, 1945, in Burslem, Staffordshire, the young Ian Fraser Kilmister found himself gripped by rock’s first flush when it hit Britain 12 years later. Initially in thrall to Elvis Presley and Little Richard, he traveled from his teenage home in North Wales to see The Beatles at The Cavern Club, Liverpool, at the age of 16. From there on his unsettled home life led to an itinerant outlook that saw him join a number of beat groups as a guitarist, the most successful of which were The Rockin’ Vickers whom he joined in 1965.

“Lemmy's appetites outstripped Hawkwind, leading to his ejection in 1975.”

After a stint roadying for Jimi Hendrix – something which he remained hugely proud of – Lemmy joined psychedelic outfit Sam Gopal, playing on their 1969 album, Escalator. Falling in with London’s febrile Ladbroke Grove scene, Lemmy arrived in Hawkwind in 1972, finally switching to bass in order to secure his place in the band.

In Hawkwind he developed his famed propulsive bass style, and contributed significantly to the band’s public persona. Despite the band’s own reputation for excess, Lemmy's own appetites – especially his predilection for amphetamine sulphate – outstripped that of his cohorts, leading to his ejection in 1975 following a stint in jail for possession during a Canadian tour.

The formation of Motörhead followed – the original band name of ‘Bastard’ being abandoned and Lemmy electing to use the name of the last tune he’d penned for Hawkwind. As the band’s classic line-up of Lemmy, guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor came into its own, so too did the band’s sound. The latter defined a string of increasingly successful albums – Overkill (1979), Bomber (1979), Ace Of Spades (1980) and the live No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith, the latter earning its place as a UK Number 1 album.

The three-piece splintered in 1982 following the release of the Iron Fist album, when Clarke left the band in the wake of a disagreement over the recording of a cover of Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man with Plasmatics singer Wendy O Williams. Lemmy would continue to lead Motörhead in his own unrepentant manner, the band’s 22nd studio album, the acclaimed Bad Magic, being issued in August 2015.

Lemmy was generally a man who felt at ease with his past. And yet, there were moments when he felt that Motörhead’s new music went underappreciated. Nevertheless, he never stopped recording and making music that he felt embodied that original rock’n’roll spirit which had seduced him as a teenager. In many respects, it was the thrill of that sound which he continued to seek.

“Lemmy proved to be an exceptional constant for close on six decades.”

Despite the external bluster and rapier wit, Lemmy tended to use his own reputation as a shield. Away from the spotlight, and for all his reputation as a bon viveur, he was a thoughtful, caring man who also embodied an at times almost old-fashioned sense of gentlemanliness.

Following a series of health problems over the last few years, Lemmy insisted that Motörhead should continue to tour, with a set of UK and European shows booked for January. Sadly, however, he succumbed to cancer on December 28 at his Los Angeles home. The news itself was confirmed by Motörhead on their Facebook page with the following statement:

“There is no easy way to say this… our mighty, noble friend Lemmy passed away today after a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer. He had learnt of the disease on December 26, and was at home, sitting in front of his favorite video game from The Rainbow, which had recently made its way down the street, with his family.

We cannot begin to express our shock and sadness, there aren’t words. We will say more in the coming days, but for now, please play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music loud.

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MOJO would like to send our condolences to Lemmy’s nearest and dearest, Phil Campbell, Mikkey Dee and the entire the Motörhead family. As instructed, we will undoubtedly raise a glass (or, indeed, several) to a man who was a true original and whose inspiration will never fade. And, above all, we would also like to thank him for all the good times…”

Photo: Lemmy in 1972 by Victor de Schwanberg / Alamy