'Fast' Eddie Clarke, Motörhead's guitar

By Sergio Ariza

To talk about 'Fast' Eddie Clarke is to talk about Motörhead… yes, we know that he had already been playing for more than 10 years when he met Lemmy, including his time with Zeus, Curtis Knight's progressive blues band, and also that when he left the mythical band he formed Fastway, another more than acceptable band. But it was his six years with Ian Kilmister and Phil 'Philthy Animal' Taylor that shook the foundations of rock & roll; his were the dizzying punk rhythms and those cascading riffs that influenced every subsequent metal band, in addition to those solos of pure rock & roll, at which he threw himself like a tightrope walker without a net.     


Clarke was born on October 5, 1950 and by the age of 15 he was already in his first band. Although, like all kids his age, his first influence was the Beatles, Clarke developed a style in which everything flowed from the great guitarists of the 50's, from the original rock & roll. His life changed when Lemmy was fired from Hawkwind in May 1975, after being arrested for drug possession. The bassist had just recorded with his old band a song called Motorhead, which was released as the B-side of Kings Of Speed, and that was the path he wanted to follow now, playing fast and aggressive like his beloved MC5, the proto punk band of
Wayne Kramer and Fred 'Sonic' Smith. To that end he formed a trio, which he named after his song by adding the umlaut, along with guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox.

But when the band was signed by United Artists, the label of his former band Hawkwind, it was discovered that Fox wasn't suitable for the job, so Phil Taylor entered the equation and they ended up completing the demo, which was still rejected by the label. Lemmy decided that a new guitarist was needed and Taylor told them about his partner in rehabilitation on a houseboat, Eddie Clarke. The thing is that our protagonist had had to hang up his beloved guitars; among them a white 65/66 Gibson SG junior and his favorite, a 1972 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, modified with DiMarzio pickups; to dedicate himself to tinkering. In the rock & roll world, if you didn't make it by 25 you were seen as a fogey. But Clarke was presented with a new opportunity and he didn't let it slip away.    


Soon after his arrival, Wallis left, but Lemmy realized that he didn't need another new guitarist, the classic Motörhead line-up had been formed and everyone was excited; it was March 1976. But as AC/DC sang "it's a long way to the top, if you wanna rock & roll". In December 1976 they recorded a cover of the Motown classic Leaving Here for Stiff Records, it said a lot about the kind of band Lemmy was looking for, their inspiration being a version by the Birds,
Ronnie Wood's band before the Faces and the Stones. The thing is, it didn't make much noise because United Artists had them under contract, despite not having released their album, and by April 1977 morale was at an all-time low with Clarke and Taylor thinking of leaving the band.

In the end it was decided that it was for the best and a farewell concert was organized at the London Marquee. Lemmy asked his friend Ted Carroll of Chiswick Records to record such an important date but he couldn't do it, so, as compensation, he offered them two free studio days to record a single; the band decided to take this opportunity and record eleven songs in those two days. In the end Carroll let them record an entire album in a few more days.


Motörhead sounded furious and suicidal, if you compared those songs with the first demos without Clarke and Taylor you can notice the difference. The new version of Motörhead, now with the umlaut, was much faster and more direct than Hawkwind's; Clarke and Taylor had had to adapt to Lemmy and they had done it to perfection. The fact is that as Clarke himself would explain later: "Lemmy was just Lemmy. Phil and I had to adapt to what we had to play, which was Lemmy's bass. We had to adapt to that kind of sound because it's a very difficult sound to play, as a guitar player. Playing a Rickenbacker bass through a Marshall amp with all the treble at maximum and all the bass at minimum. So you can imagine there's not a lot of bass. As a lead guitarist going into a solo, it was like there was no net underneath me."

In order to sound sharper Clarke forgot about his beloved Les Paul and got a Fender Stratocaster with a Dimarzio SDS-1 in the neck, a DiMarzio X2N humbucker in the bridge and the original Fender in the mid position. The Motörhead sound was already there, in the punk and vertiginous Vibrator but also in the heavy riff of Iron Horse/Born To Lose. And beyond all the labels, Motörhead were nothing more and nothing less than a rock & roll band, exemplified in the powerful bellowing of their singer but also in Clarke's licks that sounded like a dirty and pornographic version of
Chuck Berry and James Burton.


Even so the album only lasted a week in the charts and the band was again on the verge of breaking up, but this time they were saved by their manager getting a contract with Bronze Records to release a single. Lemmy didn't think much about it and chose the greatest garage rock classic Louie, Louie, which crept into the singles chart, in a modest 68th place, but the band managed to be invited on to the well-known Top Of The Pops of the BBC, which led to the label inviting them to record a new album. Bronze let them choose from a list of producers but the only one that sounded right to them was Jimmy Miller, for his work with the Stones, so he was the chosen one.

The record was once again an all or nothing for a band that had been on the brink of destruction since these three rock animals got together three years earlier. But this time they weren't going to let the opportunity pass them by, their sound had been honed and honed, Lemmy and Clarke had the best collection of songs of their career and Taylor had added a double bass drum to their sound. It was precisely while rehearsing with his double bass drum that the drummer found the rhythm of the first of the band's trio of winning aces, it was Overkill, the song that would give its name to Motörhead's first great classic.


was a breakthrough for the band, a fierce and dangerous album, the clear forerunner of thrash metal, a kind of heavy metal with punk influences, a dirty, raw, forceful and direct sound. Among the most outstanding songs, besides the title track are Stay Clean, (I Won't) Pay Your Price, Capricorn, No Class (with that riff taken from ZZ Top's Tush), Tear Ya Down and Metropolis, with Clarke's solo recorded while fooling around on the first take. That's how things were done in Motörhead, fast and without looking back. The album was an unexpected success, climbing to 24 in the charts, and proved that the collaboration with Miller was right.

But the relationship with the producer was not so good on the next album; Miller had been fired by the Stones for his heroin addiction and during the recording of Bomber he went back to his old ways. Lemmy found him asleep at the table and, despite his infinite tolerance for drugs, he became fed up with him. Maybe those problems made the album a little bit below the level of Overkill but, even so, it is pure Motörhead at its best, with two absolute classics in its title track (the second of its mythical trio of winning aces), with a solo in which Clarke lives up to his nickname of 'Fast', and the spectacular Stone Dead Forever, possibly the best moment on the six strings of our protagonist, bringing the song to its boiling point with his Stratocaster in a moment so spectacular that remembering it years later would make him exclaim: "Fuck! Did I really play that guitar?".


The fact is that Bomber was an even bigger hit than Overkill and confirmed Motörhead as one of the UK's top bands, something that was further confirmed with the release of the top ten greatest hits The Golden Years. But the best was yet to come and at the end of 1980 they released their ace in the hole, the best song of their career, and the song with which they demonstrated that it was possible to reach the top without having to give up a minimum of energy and rawness. It was Ace Of Spades, with an opening riff played at breakneck speed, which could announce the end of the world.

The album in which it was included, which was called the same, was not far behind and was the best so far of the band, Love Me Like A Reptile was wild and explosive, like the rest of the album. And the fact is that this album was the closest thing to driving along a cliff, full of sharp curves, without ever taking the foot off your accelerator. There was no song that went below the mark, no moment of pause.


The absolute zenith of the band would come in their presentation tour in which they recorded the mythical No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, one of the best live shows in history, at this time the trio was already unstoppable, after several years without stopping to play together, the songs follow one another like bursts played with maximum speed and precision.

The only negative related to No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith is that it was almost the swan song of the band's classic lineup, if we discount the disappointing Iron Fist, released the following year. Of course, anything they would have released after No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith would have sounded like a letdown. In the end, the disagreements between the three of them and Clarke's refusal to record the cover version of the country song Stand By Your Man, ended with the guitarist leaving the band and forming Fastway on his own, with which he was able to recover his Les Paul.


But nothing was the same, neither for Clarke, nor for Motörhead, the formula had reached the peak with No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith and it was all over. Although Lemmy and Motörhead continued releasing good albums for several more decades, they never again reached the power, the noise, the fury and the vertiginousness they reached with the "three amigos" line-up, which is written in gold letters in the history of rock & roll.

In the end it was Clarke who was the first to leave the band and the last to leave this world of that mythical formation, on January 10, 2018, Lemmy had left in December 2015 and Taylor a month earlier. So if there is a rock & roll heaven, a place with rivers of Jack Daniels and trees bearing speed pills as fruit, the classic Motörhead lineup can reunite to play the dirtiest, and fastest, rock & roll ever made.