Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister: 1945 – 2015
Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister: 1945 – 2015
There are many things Lemmy will be remembered for. The life-affirming rock’n’roll Motörhead served loud and proud over 22 albums and four decades. His unfathomably gruff vocals, coupled with one of the most earth-rumbling bass sounds known to man. The way he laid the foundations for thrash metal and helped guide music into altogether heavier pastures. He will also be remembered for being more than just a man, a seemingly indestructible tower of rock’n’roll resilience – that legendary moment in ’90s cult comedy Airheads when Brendan Fraser asks an undercover cop, “Who’d win in a wrestling match, Lemmy or God?” (answer: “Wrong, dickhead. Trick question – Lemmy is God!”).
Perhaps most of all – despite all of the myths and legends associated with his name – Lemmy will be remembered as being one of the most genuine rockstars to ever walk the earth. A musician that remained uncompromisingly real about the world around him and his place within it. The kind of man that – when not blaring out rock’n’roll to loyal legions around the world – could be found in his usual spot in the local, playing fruit machines and drinking Jack Daniel’s. He was incredibly human, in every sense. The Motörhead founder passed away on December 28, just days after his 70th birthday, but his infectious music will ring on for eternities…
Born Ian Fraser Kilmister on December 24, 1945, in Burslem, Staffordshire, his life was changed after witnessing The Beatles perform in Liverpool’s Cavern Club at the age of 16. And so began his quest for pure, unadulterated rock’n’roll, leading to various stints in whatever local bands each town had to offer, and even working for Jimi Hendrix as a roadie.
His first taste of stardom came playing bass in psychedelic late-’60s rockers Hawkwind (“It was like Star Trek with long hair… and drugs,” he once noted), joining in 1972 and singing their biggest hit, Silver Machine, after the band realised the original vocal recordings sounded too weak, and singer Robert Calvert was unable to re-track them due to being sectioned. “They tried everybody singing it except me,” said Lemmy, some years later. “Then, as a last shot… I did it in one take or two.”
The space rockers were no strangers to excess, but, after Lemmy’s arrest crossing the Canadian border in possession of amphetamines, his days of debauchery – at least, within their ranks – were over. And so Bastard were formed later in 1975, only to change their name to Motörhead – sharing their name with the last song Lemmy penned for Hawkwind. The debut album arrived two years later, after a brief spell of doubt which saw the new trio contemplate a farewell gig at London’s Marquee Club, with all the raw ingredients of their proto-metal sound to come.
By the time the classic line-up of Lemmy, guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor had solidified, they were quite simply unstoppable – releasing not one, but two of 1979’s heaviest albums in Overkill and Bomber. The following year’s fourth full-length, Ace Of Spades, was even bigger, with loud buzzsaw guitars, pulverising rhythms and odes to living life to the very fullest. The world hadn’t heard anything quite like it before – sleazy punk and thunderous heavy metal melted down into a thick, oily tar that erupted out of crackling speakers.
And they were only just getting started. From chart-topping 1981 live album No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith and 1982’s Iron Fist, all the way through to this year’s 22nd full-length, Bad Magic, Motörhead have been an institution for heavy music fans worldwide.
What’s more, Lemmy’s endless collaborations were the mark of someone truly born to raise hell, from cowriting four songs on Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears, to working with Dave Grohl on his Probot side-project, and plenty more in between. He was very much your hero’s hero. In Motörhead, Lemmy had created his very own cult and, unlike many others, they practiced what they preached.
They never sold out, they never changed; they just endured through the decades and through the line-ups. If anything, recent endeavours proved this was a band more than capable of still releasing some of their best work. All the while Lemmy stood as their commander-in-chief – a man who was defiantly onstage on Motörhead’s 40th Anniversary tour, just over two weeks before his passing, despite growing health concerns over the year.
“I’m sure I’ll die on the road, one way or another,” he said in his final Kerrang! interview (cover story K!1582, August 19) and, in many ways, he was right. Lemmy learned he had been fighting an extremely aggressive cancer on December 26 and passed away two days later in the comfort of his LA home. The band have stated they “will say more in the coming days, but for now, please… play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD. Have a drink or few. Share stories. Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself. HE WOULD WANT EXACTLY THAT.”
Kerrang! would like to send our condolences to Lemmy’s nearest and dearest, Phil Campbell, Mikkey Dee and the entire Motörhead family.
Words: Amit Sharma
Pick up the new issue of Kerrang!, out January 6, to read our touching tribute to the legend that is Lemmy Kilmister:
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