sort of historical musical document or some kind of 'Rolling Stone' clone. Frankly we can't write a blog entry about every single iconic figure that ever came out of rock or other genre of music and we don't have the staff or the inclination to handle something like that. Instead we choose lesser known artists to highlight, those that have been forgotten or barely remembered and perhaps some of those whose influence lives on in other forms. Let's face it, we lucked-out when we wrote a blog about Paul Williams one year before he went on to win a Grammy with Daft Punk and since then we have been wondering about who deserves a highlight. We have been choosing underrated guitarists, singers and generally lesser known stories to tell about philosophy, art, history and music because it all blends together in the end.
But with the sudden passing of Lemmy over the holiday season, we have decided that perhaps there is one person worth writing a blog about. There are numerous documentaries of Lemmy and Motorhead, both written and audio and video, but we Very Us Mumblings think that it may be time to make a more simple and more music-oriented recounting of the man who whether by design or accident has influenced so many.
The Rock n' Roll Basics
While most are aware of Lemmy's roots in the late 1970s era, many fans are not so aware that Lemmy's musical roots go back a little farther. In the sixties, the first recordings of Lemmy were as a guitar player for a band called the Rockin' Vickers. The Vickers were so named because two of members had a father who was a chaplain. Lemmy's dad served as chaplain for the British Air Force, though he would eventually seperate from Lemmy's mother and his mother remarried.
The Rockin' Vickers were a straight ahead rock and pop group very much in the british style laid down by the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers. It is unclear why Lemmy left the Vickers, but the band continued on without him for a while and were something of a local success.
It is well known by now that Lemmy's first success in music came in the form of a 'space-rock' band called Hawkwind, but before Hawkwind, Lemmy recorded an album called 'Escape' with a musician named Sam Gopal. Gopal was essentially a tabla-player and most of his songs were indian-influenced psychedelic songs, often in one key, with his tabla-playing taking the place of any kind of drummer or drum-kit.
It is interesting to hear Lemmy singing in entirely clear tone of voice, especially since his iconic sound is so profoundly associated with his own raspy-vocal style. But as displayed in Sam Gopal's Escape album, Lemmy is clearly capable of singing in such a style.
Both psychedelic music and psychedelic drugs had their effect on Lemmy and his music.And this was in full effect when the band Hawkwind took stage.
The stage show and antics of Hawkwind were legendary. They used bubble-machines, strange lighting and even strange instruments. Often songs featured a solo on violin or other non-typical rock instrument. Fans of Hawkwind viewed the band as true pioneers, delving into what is now termed Space-Rock. The members of the band were sometimes viewed as characters more than musicians. Many fans have suggested that the band was actually so stoned or high that they would suddenly stand still and stare, seemingly entranced by their own stage lights. But Hawkwind was surprisingly successful and vinyl collectors still seek out their albums to this day.
Lemmy has said numerous times in interviews that he wouldn't have left Hawkwind if he wasn't thrown out. And even Hawkwind was divided on whether to dump him, (supposedly the vote was 3 to 2). And this little piece of information often leads people to wonder if it wasn't Fate (with a capital F) or an intervention by the proverbial Gods of Rock n Roll that stepped in and got Lemmy booted from the inimitable psychedelic-based band and forced him to form his own band.
Lemmy was going to form a new band and call it the 'Bastards' but changed his mind when his manager suggested that a band named 'Bastards' was never going to get asked to perform on Britain's Top of the Pops. Lemmy agreed and decided to name his new band after the last song that he wrote for Hawkwind. A song called: "Motorhead"
The term 'Motorhead' was slang for speed-user or speed-freak. The reason Lemmy was kicked out of Hawkwind, he has stated, was because 'he was doing the wrong drugs'. Essentially, while the rest of Hawkwind was still using the so-called 'hippy drugs' such as marijuana and dropping Acid, Lemmy had switched to using the more 'chemical' variety of drugs, namely amphetamines and speed and had been keeping them awake all night.
The band Motorhead was formed with Lemmy on Bass & Vocals, Fast Eddie Clarke on Guitar and Phil 'Filthy Animal' Taylor on drums.
Motorhead had three albums before they really smashed through the proverbial fence of greatness. Their self-titled debut album, Overkill and the often under-rated Bomber album, and each did very well in sales. However The Ace of Spades album was the first to set this band into the realm of becoming a household name. With great, heavy and powerful tracks like Ace of Spades, We Are the Road Crew and the infamous Jailbait, the Ace of Spades album quickly became a must-have album for metal fans of the early 80s.
Motorhead's follow-up, the live album 'No Sleep til Hammersmith' debuted at #1 on British charts. These two albums are the pinnacle of Motorhead's sales success. And although metal fans would both enjoy and listen to Motorhead for years to come and many excellent albums and thousands of great concerts, the band would never achieve quite the same commercial success of these two albums.
If a band had to be known for one album, Ace of Spades would be a great one. And many metal fans and bands alike would probably be very proud to be part of such a groundbreaking album, putting together everything that the band had learned and created in previous albums, but without losing a step or a stride and only increasing the timing and focus of their style to create a powerful testament that could be referred to as a kind of metal signpost between the 1970s-style of metal and what would become the backbone of the 1980s and future styles of heavy rock and metal.
Through the 90s and 2000s
It could safely be said that Motorhead's success in the later 1980s was not what it was in the early part of the 80s. The Iron Fist album was produced by the then guitar-player Eddie Clarke and he was blamed when the album did not sound quite as good as previous Motorhead releases and also when sales did not meet the expectations of the success of Ace of Spades. After the Iron Fist album, many fans were disappointed by the leaving of Eddie Clarke. His replacement, the headband-wearing Brian Robertson, was not accepted by some fans, while others still contend that Robertson was actually the best guitar player that was ever in the band. Motorhead succeeded for a while as a four-piece band, but eventually even Phil 'Filthy' Animal would leave Motorhead, apparently taking Lemmy's girlfriend with him.
However, when the band 'stabilized' in 1996 as a three-piece with Mikkey Dee on drums and Phil Campbell on guitar, the band seemed to enjoy a bit of a resurgence of interest by fans both young and old and was able to record albums and tour successfully right up until Lemmy's passing. Some have accused this line-up of repeating many of the sounds and rhythms of old Motorhead songs in a new package, and many songs sound very similar to older Motorhead songs, but this so-called 'Mark IV' line-up of Motorhead produced several of the most memorable and powerful songs of the bands history, including 'Don't Believe a Word' and 'God was Never on Your Side'
Lemmy on Bass
Lemmy is not known for extensive and long bass solos and doesn't attempt to 'keep up' with speedsters and complex showman-styles of bass playing. Instead, he's probably much better known for creating what is essentially his own style, largely copied and adapted by most heavy rock bass players that follow in his footsteps to this day.
Lemmy's bass-playing style is a mixture of old and new. In some ways, Lemmy holds true to the way a person might play bass if he or she learned the basics from a music teacher or taking classes in school. He uses the root note and the fifth and hits the open string for a bit of flavour. However, in more modern metal fashion, he also employs overdrive, uses bass chords including drops thirds and employs aggressive picking to belt out bass-notes with style that resembles an aggressive rhythm guitar player. It's this over-driven sound and aggressive style of bass playing that allows a three-piece band (more often than not) like Motorhead to still sound full and powerful in live shows without the help of a rhythm guitar player holding down the back-beat.
In England in the late seventies, punks and metal-heads didn't get along so well. At least for a while they seemed at odds. Punks had short hair, Metal fans had long hair. Punks had short fast songs, metal bands had long songs with extended solos. Punks were back-to-basics straight and simple aggressive rock, while metal came out of experimental ideas derived from blues, psychedelic and progressive music. And for a while, at least, the two types of fans didn't seem to get along... except at a Motorhead concert.
For some reason, the two fans of either music seemed to have Motorhead in common. Despite having long hair, the songs were relatively short and fast. Despite having a background in psychedelic music, Lemmy had gone back to the basics of rock. And Despite being from nearly a whole generation earlier, Lemmy seemed to appeal to young punks that felt like outsiders from the rest of musical society.
The truth was that Lemmy felt a kinship with the punk movement, and the birth of his band Motorhead more or less co-incided with that of the Ramones who were from New York, but played their first gigs in England at roughly the same time that Motorhead were starting to build their original fanbase. There are several pictures of Lemmy hanging out with Sid Vicious, and supposedly Sid used to crash at Lemmy's apartment and even take bass lessons from Lemmy. Moreover, Lemmy would go on and write one of the best tributes to another band that has ever been written. The song R.A.M.O.N.E.S. spelled out the name of the greatest punk band while imitating their style of music so exactly that it sounded like it was one of the Ramones own songs.
In numerous concerts and interviews, Lemmy has referred to what he does as simply Rock n' Roll. Perhaps not so obvious to the rest of us, but there is something of a direct link that lines up all of his music and much of the rock music of the 90s and 2000s that goes back to the Beatles and even before that, Little Richard and Elvis and the original rockers of the 1950s.
As if to prove this point, Lemmy joined up with some former members of the Stray Cats and formed a band called The Head Cat. This trio focused mostly on rockabilly and included performing covers of songs by Carl Perkins and Buddy Holly with some occasional tunes by Johnny Kid & the Pirates.
Rather than try to provide Motorhead fans with some sort of rock documentary. (There already is a pretty good one out there for people to see). Rather than focus on his character, eccentricities and fondness for gambling, this blog simply wanted to provide a little context to Lemmy's music and musicianship. This is only to give those only modestly familiar with him an overview of a man who actually delved into several different types of music and also did not simply go from start to finish as a straight-ahead thrash metal rocker. Instead, he shaped and developed much of the music that came from him, and though his inherent spirit and style was part of this sound, some of his music was truly invention and innovation. He developed and created the heavy rocker image, music and style into what we hear from many bands today. He was a true leader and one that many other musicians learned from.