Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister
Died 27 December 2016
Born near Stoke-on-Trent, England, on Christmas Eve 1945, vocalist and bassist Lemmy is best known for fronting Motorhead for 40 years, his rock’n’roll lifestyle and as the vocalist on the 1972 Hawkwind hit Silver Machine. His renowned lifestyle has often been a focus, his playing, innovative playing style and songwriting becoming overlooked.
His father, a Chaplin, left when Ian Kilmister was a few months old and with his mother moved around; she later remarried and he spent some time growing up in Wales. Moving to Stockport he joined several local bands, playing the guitar. In 1965 he joined The Rockin’ Vicars, with whom he recorded several singles on CBS.
Lemmy, reputedly taking a nickname from his frequent “Lemme a fiver” (although this isn’t confirmed), would record with psychedelic rock band Sam Gopal and the more progressive Opal Butterfly, as well as being a roadie for The Nice (Keith Emerson) and Jimi Hendrix.
In 1971 Lemmy joined Hawkwind, playing bass for the first time, his style was influenced by his rhythm guitar experience and incorporated double stops and chords.
The albums Doremi Fasol Latido Space Ritual, Hall Of The Mountain Grill, Warrior On The Edge Of Time all featured Lemmy, as well as a number of singles (including the hit Silver Machine), along with a plethora posthumous compilations and live albums. He also played in Robert Calvert’s band.
Busted for drug possession on the Canadian border, he was fired from Hawkwind (Lemmy likened this to being pushed off a building for having vertigo, given the band’s medical intake), and on his return to England he formed Bastard, with guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox. On marketing advice, the name became Motorhead (a US slang for a speed freak, the drug not velocity), after the last song Lemmy wrote for Hawkwind which was also a single b-side.
The band’s first album, for United Artists, remained unreleased for 3 years as the label didn’t know how to market it, and much of Fox’s drums were overdubbed by the incoming Phil Animal Taylor during recording.
With guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke coming in, the band rerecorded much of the album for the eponymous debut proper, released on Chiswick. Later signing to Bronze Motorhead (under Lemmy’s guidance) released a string of excellent metal albums, Overkill, Bomber, Ace Of Spades, No Sleep Till Hammersmith and Iron Fist. The track Ace Of Spades is now synonymous with the band. A rough punk tinge to the music embraced metal and punk audiences as well has Hawkwind fans.
During this time the band formed a relationship with Girlschool, released the joint St Valentines Massacre EP, while Lemmy also played with The Damned and recorded the track Don’t Do That with The Young & Moody Band, featuring Micky Moody, Bob Young, Cozy Powell and The Nolan Sisters.
Lemmy kept Motorhead going when Clarke was replaced by Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson (for Another Perfect Day) and then Taylor by Saxon’s Pete Gill. The No Remorse compilation (with a couple of new tracks, including Killed By Death) and an appearance on The Young Ones followed, the band expanded to a four piece by guitarists Phil Campbell and Wurzel.
Orgasmatron and Rock’n’Roll finished out the 80s, and 1916 and March Or Die kicked off the 90, and the band had returned to a 3 piece when Wurzel left, and drummer Philthy Animal Taylor made a brief return too. By 1996 and Overnight Sensation, the band consisted of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and drummer Micky Dee, a line-up that would last until Lemmy’s death.
The band continued to tour hard, party harder and release albums, including 2015’s well received Bad Magic.
Along the way, Lemmy also appeared in the Comic Strip’s Eat The Rich, for which Motorhead provided the soundtrack, and other collaborations included with Wendy O’Williams, Lemmy & The Upsetters, and guesting on tracks by Girlschool, Michael Monroe, Doro, Slash and The Ramones.
Since 1990 Lemmy had lived in California, close to the Rainbow Bar & Grill. In later years diabetes and hypertension forced him to cut back on the drugs and alcohol, and more recently he had had to pull out of a number of shows (or cut them short) due to ill health.
Two days after his 70s birthday Lemmy was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and he died 2 days after that. Lemmy’s life, his lifestyle, his music, his legacy, epitomised rock’n’roll. A genuine icon.