Motörhead frontman Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister left this world on December 28, 2015 after a short battle with an aggressive cancer. The 70-year-old rocker had numerous health issues over the last two years, including a hematoma which led to a defibrillator fitting to correct his heart problems. Lemmy joked that he was indestructible and let everyone know that he wasn’t afraid of death.
Born on Christmas Eve in 1945 in Straffordshire, England, Lemmy was abandoned by his father as a baby and raised by a strict stepfather – surefire ammunition for a budding rocker. At 16, he went to see the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and soon after he was teaching himself guitar. In the mid 60’s he was playing with the Rainmakers, Motown Sect, and the Rockin’ Vickers. He was Jimi Hendrix’s roadie for a short while until he joined psychedelic rockers Sam Gopal in 1969. Ian was comically dubbed “Lemmy” as his most common uttered phrase at the time was, “Lemmy a fiver.”
Lemmy (on the left) with his band Motörhead.
By 1972, Lemmy was the bassist for Hawkwind, singing on their hit “Silver Machine.” Thrown out of the band after a drug possession arrest, Lemmy got his revenge by starting a band called Bastard with Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox, which later became Motörhead. Two years after the United Artists label rejected On Parole, Motörhead’s debut LP, Lemmy teamed up with new guitarist, “Fast” Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor and released updated versions as Motörhead’s eponymous heavy metal debut in 1977.
Famous for saying that he started a band to get with girls, Lemmy was one of the most honest characters you could meet. Jack Daniels with Coke was his regular drink and a cigarette was always close by. At the Rainbow Room in Hollywood where he would hang out on non-amateur nights in the middle of the week, he would always graciously take photos with any fan that asked him.
I called up my British pal Nigel Mogg who lives in L.A. and knew Lemmy intimately to get some details:
Nigel Mogg with Lemmy.
Nigel: “I was a young kid at St. Moritz Club in Soho and Lemmy was always there. My uncle Phil, the singer of the band UFO knew Lemmy and that was my in.”
Lemmy: “I hear you’re in a good band finally. How are the Quireboys doing?”
Nigel: “I said good, but that I needed a spare bass. So the next day in St. Moritz behind the bar was a shitty pink bass that he left for me.”
Lemmy: “Just bring it back!”
Later in life, they reconnected in L.A. and became good pals. “Wanna go to the Rainbow?” was Lemmy’s usual question. ” I would hang at his house and he would make me listen to his new album in its entirety with multiple versions of the same song and not let you talk. If you tried to speak, he’d say, “SHHHH!!” “That can get really tedious after awile, even though I loved his music, but it was funny at the same time.”
Lemmy bought a lot of military memorabilia and I had a shotty dagger for sale so he offered me $300 for it. He asked me if I was broke and I denied it. So he had me come over and pick up cash that was scattered all over the floor in all denominations. When I was leaving he said, “You forgot something…. your dagger.”
So that was the kind of big heart he had. He never forgot his friends and was always there to lend a hand. He would always pick up his phone and never cared that I wasn’t famous. I called the day of one of his shows and he answered, “Plus one or two?” He was smart as a whip and would remember the little details of my life, like a girlfriend I had from 30 years ago, “Have you spoke to Sarah lately?”
“I’ve been to Russia, if I was around, I would have told Hitler not to go there, it’s horrible,” Lemmy would say as I gazed at his wall of daggers and medals. As a fellow Englishman of a certain age, he was very interested in World War II as well. I don’t know you that well but he was one of us, ya know? And he wanted to take care of his people.
-Nigel Mogg, guitarist
Generous, kind, and incredibly intelligent wrapped up in a street wise, hard partying, tough, biker shell. Lemmy sounds like one hell of a guy. Many of my friends knew him and loved him. Thank god I have the late sixties psych of my Sam Gopal record to listen to and Wes Orshoski’s brilliant documentary of his life simply titled, “Lemmy,” to remember the honest biker who saved our lives (and his own) with rock ‘n’ roll.
“People don’t read any more. It’s a sad state of affairs. Reading’s the only thing that allows you to use your imagination. When you watch films it’s someone else’s vision, isn’t it?” -Lemmy
“I don’t see why there should be a point where everyone decides you’re too old. I’m not too old, and until I decide I’m too old I’ll never be too fucking old.” -Lemmy