Motörhead are a part of my youth. At the time I was discovering music, promotional videos from 1916 were played in heavy rotation on Headbangers Ball. I soon purchased the album along with a copy of No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith. Yet another Motörhead fan was born.
Shortly thereafter, stories of Lemmy’s pre-Motörhead existence began to reach me. The rumors that he had been a roadie for Jimi Hendrix were indeed true. I can’t imagine anything that gives more street-cred to a musician than lugging around Hendrix’s Marshall stack.
Yet, there was even more to the legend of Lemmy Kilmister. Turns out that his thunderous bass sound was developed on stage as a member of acid-rock legends Hawkwind. Joining the band in 1971, Lemmy literally learned to play bass in front of a live audience.
The long-spacey trips of Hawkwind blew my mind. Lyrics of futuristic doom were made terrifying by an ominous bass pounding beneath otherworldly synths. Occasionally they’d let Lemmy sing. His tar-soaked voice stood out but so did his compositions. His time in Hawkwind proved that Lemmy was not merely an intimidating stage presence, but a competent songwriter. Simply listen to the first Motörhead album. It’s essentially a collection of songs written during his Hawkwind tenure.
Getting fired from Hawkwind proved to be a happy tragedy. Joined by “Fast” Eddie Clark and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, old Hawkwind songs were reborn. Stripped down and played with amphetamine-fueled energy, Lemmy and Motörhead sculpted a sound that would appeal to a new generation that wanted their music fast and loud.
It’s hard to recall, but there was once a time when punk and metal were diametrically opposed. If a guy with long hair went to a hardcore show, there was a very real threat of violence. Motörhead was one of the first bands that were embraced by both punks and metalheads. I’d like to think they played a part in uniting the two scenes. As for Lemmy himself, he never sided with either genre, frequently reminding us that, “We are Motörhead and we play rock and roll.”
Lemmy kept going until the very end. He had no choice. It was in his blood. Lemmy may be gone but his legacy is assured. The music world is in mourning. Put on a Motörhead record and play it LOUD.