Rock and metal stars tell their favourite stories about Lemmy
So much of what made Motörhead a timeless musical force was the unique personality of their frontman, Lemmy Kilmister. In the rock and metal world, Lemmy was an avatar for all things outlaw, a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, rule-breaking, leather-clad force for sonic mayhem, whose speedy anthems spoke to the outsider in us all. Even more important, though, was his brutal honesty, sage wisdom, and big (if calloused) heart, which left everyone he met with the sense that they’d just encountered an old god on his day off. Everyone who met Lemmy has a story about it, even if it’s as simple as having stood in his presence.
With today being the anniversary of his death, we decided to ask stars of rock and metal to recount their own Lemmy stories. Initially, we asked them about where they were and what they felt when they heard Lemmy passed away – but the more we talked to people, the more we found they wanted to celebrate his life, not his death. Which, to paraphrase our own writer Mörat, is truly what Lemmy would have wanted.
Here are some of rock and metal’s biggest personalities sharing their stories about the great man himself. Live to win.
Frank Bello (Anthrax)
“I was a huge fan of Motörhead’s, and of Lemmy’s. Anthrax did many tours with them over the years, and at their soundchecks, I liked to stand on the side of the stage, right behind the monitor mixer, just watching what Lemmy did, staring at him like a kid. I was just such a fan and wanted to learn.
“One day, I was onstage during their soundcheck and at the end, Lemmy looks over at me, he says, ‘C’mere.’ I went over to him and he took his bass off and put it on me and said, ‘Go for it.’ I didn’t know it at the time, but he had turned the volume up, way up – I didn’t realise how loud he played onstage. When I played the first note, the force of power and air literally threw me back almost on my ass! Lemmy started laughing – he had set me up. And I loved every second of it.
“We ended up hanging out, talking about the bass, growing up, rock’n’roll, stuff like that. He was a good man, and it seemed that he lived every day the way he wanted to. He was Lemmy. I was so fortunate to be around him on so many tours that Anthrax and Motörhead did together, and he knew that I was a big fan.
“One day at their soundcheck, he was going through his gear. He looked over at me – standing behind the monitor mixer, as always – and waved me over to him. On top of his monitor, there was a line of ‘Lemmy’ picks. He motioned to them, then dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out a different pick and said, ‘This is the pick I play with.’ And then he gave it to me. I still have that pick. Lemmy was the real deal, and always will be.”
Eicca Toppinen (Apocalyptica)
”I remember the day like it was yesterday, when I met Lemmy the very first time. Motörhead and Apocalyptica were playing a double-headliner show in Lithuania at the end of ’90s. To meet Lemmy was a big thing for such young men as we were. Lemmy treated us with great respect and we played many shows together after that. Lemmy has been and will always be one of the most important influencers for me and rock’n’roll in general, in all its meanings.
”It was super-sad news when I heard that he had passed away. He had played just some days before that in my hometown, Helsinki, so it was unexpected even despite his lifestyle. But as with all great artists, their influence and spirit stays, no matter if they are dead or still alive. So no need to be really sad when someone has lived his life the way he wanted. And Lemmy lived his life in his own style, to the fullest.”
“In 2015, my dad died in August, and it opened my eyes up to mortality. I was in my 40s, and it made me think, ‘Holy shit, I’m not 20 anymore.’ So he died, then Philthy [Phil Taylor] died – then Lemmy dies. It gets me thinking more.
“These are people – my dad and Lemmy – who put me on this path I am now. It gets you thinking, we’re plants. We’ll die, we’ll soil the ground, we’ll help things grow. We’re important, but not really important. You have people who’ll point you in the right way in life, who influence what you want to do… but in the end, you’ll die too.
“When Lemmy died, it wasn’t like, ‘Aw, dude, have a shot for Lem!’ I don’t give a fuck. With Lemmy, with my dad, they taught me at an early age to do what the fuck you want to do. You should know the difference between right and wrong, and be honest. Their genuineness, their honesty, that’s something I have the most respect for in people.”
'Metal' Maria Ferrero (head of Adrenaline PR, founding publicist at Megaforce Records)
“It was James Hetfield’s 21st birthday. Metallica was on tour with Raven and Motörhead. We drove hours from Old Bridge, New Jersey to Syracuse for the show. We were backstage taking selfies with Lem, and as our friend James snapped the pic, Lemmy grabbed both mine and my friend’s chest area. We were 17 and mortified.
“Flash ahead to Lemmy’s 70th birthday party – the week he passed away – and I blew up the pic and made it into a birthday card and gave it to Lemmy. He gave me a wink.”
Jon Davis (Conan)
“When Lemmy died, it felt a bit like when Kurt Cobain died, but with an added sense of acceptance. Lemmy had lived a life worthy of 200 ‘normal’ people, and what he achieved through his music was extraordinary, so it was a kind of bittersweet feeling. I’m gutted we lost him, but I think Lemmy was ready to go. He inspired me when I first heard Motörhead and I think the music industry still misses him now.”
Alan Robert (Life Of Agony)
“On Ozzfest ’98, it was always great seeing Lemmy first thing in the morning. Our bus parked up next to Motörhead’s every day, and usually we’d find Lemmy laying out sunbathing in front of the buses, wearing nothing but a green speedo and boots. Always super friendly and down to earth. He was a total class act.”
Beefcake The Mighty (GWAR)
“Lemmy is my hero, my John Wayne. I had the good fortune of meeting him several times, and even though I was geeking out inside each time like a fanboy, I never got a photo with him. One of my biggest regrets in life, that. The first time I met him, a bunch of us were hanging around the back door of the Bronco Bowl in Dallas waiting to meet him. He came out with a full bottle of Jack Daniels tucked under his arm, and signed stuff and chatted with us all. He noticed a button on my drummer’s jacket that said, ‘Come near me and I’ll kill you,’ and he said, ‘I need that!’ Harden, my drummer, said he’d trade for a pick. Lemmy checked his pockets, but didn’t have a pick, so he gave us the bottle of Jack!
“But my best Lemmy story is the time my friend Tom Rainone brought him to a GWAR show in LA. Backstage after the show was a mob scene with label people and the typical LA hangers-on. Lemmy was understandably feeling claustrophobic and was ready to bail, so I suggested we go down to the bus and have a drink. Lemmy, Tom, and I sat in the back lounge, shooting the shit and drinking Newcastles. Lemmy said how much fun he had at my show. At my show! Absolutely still one of the greatest moments in my life!
“Lemmy was the coolest. They will never make another one like him.”
Blöthar The Berserker (GWAR)
“I was on the road with GWAR. I read about Lemmy passing online. We had played with Motörhead at a festival in Canada just a month before. I remember looking at his shows in pointing them out to our guitar player: ‘You see, he wears fucking creepers. He was a rock and roller, a Teddy Boy!’ He was the king of metal, but an old fashioned rock and roller to the end.
“Another story is this: I learned some humility from Lemmy when I was a young guy. We had just played the New Music Seminar in New York in the late ’80s. Lemmy was on a panel about censorship, and I stood up to ask a question and announced myself as being in GWAR. I was around 18 or so. I talked about the band facing censorship when we played out, and Lemmy quickly pointed out to me, with some irritation, that it wasn’t just my band, it was a universal problem. I felt castigated, but later I talked with him while he was playing pinball at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in the Lower East Side. He said he knew about GWAR: ‘The wild ones,’ he said.
“I always think of that as a lesson, directly from this legendary guy: to look outside myself. It’s about all of us. Don’t be a self-centered dick. It really impacted me.”
Mörat (author and journalist)
“Having been lucky enough to be friends with Lemmy for over 30 years, it’s difficult just to pick one memory from so many, especially when so many of them involved booze and are slightly fuzzy around the edges. There were a lot of crazy nights and a lot of days just spent hanging out at his apartment. So I’m going to go with the night he showed up for my 40th birthday party in a sketchy neighbourhood of LA.
“There was some fancy awards ceremony going on in Hollywood that night, but it said a lot of Lem that he chose to go to a house party instead. The look on the girl’s face who answered the door was priceless, and there was a queue of people wanting to go to the liquor store and get Lemmy a bottle of Jack, since it was running low. Lemmy just hung out all night like a regular person, because, despite being a legend, that’s what he was at heart, a regular person. Although, that didn’t stop people from constantly going, ‘Dude! Lemmy’s in the kitchen!’
“Admittedly, there were wilder nights, crazier stories, but it meant a lot that he’d miss an awards ceremony for my birthday. I miss him every day.”
Read this next:
New York metallers Anthrax will celebrate four decades of thrashing madness in autumn 2022…
Biffy Clyro’s new single A Hunger In Your Haunt is described by Simon Neil as “an expression of pure frustration” and “a self-motivating mantra”.