“Baby, that’s the way I like it, I don’t want to live forever” – Lemmy Kilmister
The actor, Billy Bob Thorton, once described Lemmy Kilmister as one part biker, and another part rocker, and a bit of that guy who may work at the local car shop. Lemmy was a rocker who believed very much in the rock n’ roll lifestyle, as many musicians from his era did. He was in ways, an enigma: clad in cowboy boots engraved with flowers and often seen with and around various German WWII memorabilia, while also sporting very short shorts during hot weather; he was simultaneously a tough son of a gun and a war poet.
These old school rockers came from a time when rock n’ roll music reigned supreme, and it held some serious weight; this kind of music was not meant for the light-hearted; the lifestyle was hard and fast, and not many survived. It was within this tough space that serial survivors like Lemmy thrived.
Lemmy, and his band of renegades, Motörhead, were a big precursor to the heavy metal explosion; is it strange that Lemmy’s first real musical influences, were Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and of the course The Beatles? After all, before these cool cats and other select few, there was no real rock n’ roll. In fact, in the 2010 documentary, Lemmy, the outlaw rocker recalls the time he heard of four Liverpool lads on the up-and-coming circuit, and decided to hitchhike his way up to Liverpool, where he would see them at the historic Cavern venue.
As The Beatles did for so many, even today’s generation, the Liverpool lads instilled a gift as well as a curse upon anyone willing to listen and watch with youthful eagerness. This was the moment for Lemmy when he decided that his fate was set; he would become a rock n’ roll musician, and he would do his duty to lead rock n’ roll down a newer and heavier path.
Before Lemmy became the real hard-drinking rocker that we know him as today, he was in a small-time R&B band, known as The Rockin Vickers, as a guitar player. By ‘68, when that band had run its course, Lemmy would go on play with Hawkwind, one of the earliest bands to introduce science fiction themes to their music. Another unexpected detour for Lemmy, despite his staunch get-out-of-my-way attitude, is that he had a diverse background and paid his dues early on. He would also find himself as Jimi Hendrix’s roadie at one point.
When the band’s LP, Ace of Spades hit the world in October of 1980. The album’s eponymous single solidified Lemmy and Motörhead as true rock n’ roll legends.
What many remember about Lemmy, among a few things, including his head tilted upwards to his microphone as he sang, was his Rickenbacker bass guitar, strapped onto him like a machine gun. What was truly the turning point for Motörhead, would be the signature sound that Lemmy created with his bass. Previously he played guitar, so naturally, when he started Motörhead as the bass player he would play it like a guitar.
According to bestbassgear.com, Lemmy would only use the rear treble pickup, with all the dials turned to ten. For 30 years, Lemmy used a model 1992 Marshall Super Head. Novices of rock n’ roll may wonder how he got that gritty sound of his bass; these days, guitar players may decide to use distortion pedals. Lemmy, however, simply let the tubes of his analog amp heat up.
This day, five years ago, contrary to everyone’s prediction that he himself somehow cheated death, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, passed away. There’s only one way to truly remember such an icon; turning it up to eleven.
Listen to his signature bass sound, as perfectly captured in the isolated track on Motorhead’s daredevil of a song, ‘Ace of Spades’.