was going to be a largely forgettable year but at the last minute decided to
leave us all with a bitter memory by taking away another rock legend from us.
At 70 years old, Lemmy was a walking
miracle, many of us believing that he would have booked himself in to rock's Olympus years ago. Having become
used to the man's apparent immortality, his sudden death came as a shock to
both fans and media alike. The whole world only had words of praise for one of
the patriarchs of his genre. His image, and that of his Rickenbacker, was on the front page of newspapers all around the
world and takes the place of honour in our Jukebox.
Ian Fraiser Kilmister (born in Staffordshire county in 1945) had just enough time to celebrate Christmas and his birthday (although probably not in that order) before a particularly aggressive form of cancer swiftly did what we all feared his rock and roll lifestyle would have done years ago. So ended a life which was the very epitome of 'sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll', steeped in alcohol and a brutal honesty that was reflected in his music –which may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but earned the respect of us all. The death of Motörhead's lead singer and bass player was treated with the same importance as that of B.B. King months previously, his excesses described with the same matter-of-fact nonchalance as would a National Geographic documentary. A lifestyle that we had learned to take in ours strides almost as well as he had.
At Guitars Exchange we are a lot more interested in Lemmy's other life, the one which for bass lovers made him a rock legend, showing that it can be used for something other than simply toeing the line dictated by the almighty guitar. Together with Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott and Iron Maiden's Steve Harris (keeping within the rock genre), the moustachioed frontman of Motörhead was one of the leading lights in the world of the four strings. Not everyone can be like the impassive Bill Wyman… luckily.
Even for those of us who think that Ace of Spades sounds as if he was electrocuting his dog, the command that Lemmy had of his instrument was absolute, comparable to the best double bass players from the world of jazz. If you're not convinced, you should check out some of the amazing intros to many of his songs in which the bass is without doubt playing the leading role. His machine-gun riffs have become a trademark of the band and served as masterclasses to anyone who wishes to do more than just thump out a song's bassline.
Of course, even Lemmy had been young once, and it is there where we can find his beginnings: as a roadie for the one and only Jimi Hendrix during one of his UK tours – what better way than to start a life of rock 'n' roll? After gaining experience playing the guitar in various forgettable bands, he joined the English and 'spaced-out' group, Hawkwind. This was early in the '70s, in which they recorded three of four records with him always on the bass and every now and then on lead vocals – their one and only big hit, Silver Machine, being a fine example. All was going well until he was busted on the Canada/USA border for drugs possession. Being kicked out of the country, and the band, didn't seem to bother him all that much. He had other plans.
Hawkwind served as the perfect vehicle in which he developed his unique musical style, mastering the bass like no other. Now technically proficient on his 'new instrument', he was ready to do his own thing. After years out in 'space', it was time to come back down to earth. Motörhead, by the way, was the name of the last song that he wrote for the English group.
Rock got a lot tougher with the arrival of punk, but just when many were resigned to hiding behind their amplifiers, Lemmy went against the flow by creating Motörhead together with guitarist Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil Taylor. A threesome that gave 'heavy' a whole new look, so much so that in time it was referred to only by its surname: metal. His creativity unleashed, right up until his death nobody came close to dethroning him as lord of the beasts.
Motörhead's heyday was without doubt the '80s. Ace of Spades was the first of many great hits and No sleep 'til Hammersmith became the war cry of a new generation that revered the big man as virtually a prophet. Bomber, Overkill… the homage that Metallica paid to him on his 50th birthday was akin to an act of worship in gratitude for showing them the rock they were looking for. The steam locomotive that was Black Sabbath was knocked aside by this high-speed juggernaut, Lemmy with his pedal firmly on the metal.
Motörhead were never out to make a name for themselves as rock virtuosos, more as rock monsters. That said, they are considered the precursors to other branches of heavy metal that surfaced in the '80s: the New Wave of British Heavy Metal: Judas, Iron Maiden, and also thrash metal. More than anything else, what Lemmy and Co. gave to rock was attitude, keeping the rock flag flying proudly high in the face of the punk revolution. The jackhammer went right on drilling.
After his death, his San Francisco friends posted a message on social media heaping praise on the already rock legend, with Metallica saying, "Lemmy, you are one of the primary reasons this band exists". Alice Cooper went straight to the point, underlining his importance: "He was innovative, true to his art and continually relevant even though he never cared about being relevant... always creating and redefining hard rock and the role of bass within it".
Further tribute was paid by his forever faithful Phil Campbell, a guitarist born to play by his side, and Micky Dee, his alter ego on drums. At the same time they announced his death, the broadcasting of his funeral was arranged over Motörhead's YouTube channel from the Rainbow Bar & Grill, his real home in Los Angeles and according to his friends, where he had his very last party just four days before his demise.
A star guest at this last knees-up was almost certainly his great friend and companion, the Rickenbacker bass that helped make him the giant he most certainly was. Since 2000, the guitar company has produced a signature model in his name, the 4004LK – a real work of art capable of bringing a sigh from the most hardened guitarist. In fact, Lemmy played the bass as if it were a guitar, which was the instrument he played before Hawkwind. This style gave him his unmistakable sound, setting him apart from all the other bass players. Giving his trusty four strings voice was Murder One, the name he gave to the Marshall amplifiers towering behind him.
As we have already said, Lemmy was a living legend, with hundreds of studio and live recordings to his name. To boot, his talents can be found in the work of many other artists and he was also prone to appear as a guest musician in the tours of many great bands. Add to that cameo roles in various films (the hilarious Eat the Rich, perhaps the most famous) and being eternalized in a video game, and it is clear that he lived his life to the full.
Faithful to his famous quote, "born to lose, live to win", Lemmy couldn't carry on punishing his body the way he did forever. Towards the end, his unhealthy lifestyle started to take its toll, although he never complained and was determined to get up on stage and rock out right to the very end, despite sometimes having to give up tours halfway through because his body just couldn't take the beating.
In 2016, after having taken part in music festivals all around the US, he had planned to play a few concerts in Spain. For his fans, his sporadic visits were an obligatory date. As Lemmy himself would say, No sleep 'til…
All pictures: © Cordon Press