“Motörhead, remember me now, Motörhead, alright!”
Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers is the first book to celebrate the classic-era Motörhead lineup of Lemmy Kilmister, “Fast” Eddie Clarke, and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. Through interviews with all of the principal troublemakers, Martin Popoff celebrates the formation of the band and the records that made them legends: Motörhead, Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, No Sleep ’til Hammersmith, and Iron Fist. An in-depth coda brings the story up to date with the shocking recent deaths of Taylor and Kilmister.
Motörhead comes to life in this book as bad-luck bad boys doused in drink and drugs, most notably speed incapable of running their lives right, save for Fast Eddie, who is charged with holding things together. Popoff also examines the heady climate of music through the band’s rise to prominence during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, with detailed reflection on Motörhead’s unique position in the scene as both originators and embattled survivors who carried on the renegade spirit of those times.
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About the Author
With 54 books on heavy metal, hard rock, and record collecting, and with more than 7,900 record reviews, Martin Popoff has been called “heavy metal’s most widely recognized journalist.” In addition to writing for Goldmine, BraveWords.com, and record companies, Martin works for Banger Productions, having conducted research and consulted on Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, Metal Evolution, Rock Icons, and the in-progress official documentary on ZZ Top. Martin lives in Toronto, Ontario; find him online at MartinPopoff.com.
Read an Excerpt
Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers
The Rise of Motörhead
By Martin Popoff
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2017 Martin Popoff
All rights reserved.
"Hang on, what drugs were we doing that day?"
Born on the dole, born in the land of misfit rockers and always — always — born to lose, Motörhead was also born of a burn, its rank figurehead, Lemmy Kilmister, on fire to avenge his firing from the ranks of Hawkwind through the assemblage of a sonic force that would deafen all naysayers. Its name would be Motörhead, and the classic lineup this book celebrates — Fast Eddie Clarke, Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor and lynchpin Lemmy his bad self — would grind up seven years' worth of posers and pretenders. Motörhead would create a contrast against the industry, one that will live forever as the potent realization of punk ethics applied to original rock 'n' roll and a bastard format called heavy metal, a genre nomenclature curiously dismissed by all three soldiers as mirage, but ultimately so much a part of their legacy, their home and hearth, their final resting place against a pop culture that rarely cared.
One mustn't forget or diminish the accomplishments of lineups after the classic trio — most notably the band as it existed for the near quarter-century with Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee — but one also mustn't forget that the classic lineup was not the original, and that the original ... well, this is one of those happenstances where technically the original, or most salient, "lineup" just might consist of an army of one, namely Lemmy Kilmister.
Born on Christmas Eve in 1945 (and dead three days after Christmas 70 years later) in Stoke-on-Trent, England, Ian Fraser Kilmister, an only child, seemed destined for a life of independence and defiance. His father, an ex–Royal Air Force chaplain, left his mother when Lemmy was but three months old, and his mother, after nine years of single motherhood, took up with a footballer and washing machine factory worker who arrived with a couple of kids of his own, neither of whom Lemmy cooperated with. Stridently resentful of his father, conversely of his mother, Lemmy says, "She was a good mum. She was fair enough. She had a lot of good ideas."
Later, living on a farm in north Wales, Lemmy says he "used to breed horses when I was younger, before I got into rock 'n' roll." He also was an enthusiastic reader, having been encouraged by his English teacher, and he worked the carnival when it was in town. But he soon discovered girls and rock 'n' roll, at its birth in the '50s. The only English kid among seven hundred Welsh children, Lemmy needed an edge against the inherent territorial resentment he suffered there. Always strategizing, Lemmy took his mother's Hawaiian guitar to school to impress the girls. "It worked like a charm too," recalled Kilmister to Classic Rock Revisited. "I saw this other kid with a guitar at school. He was immediately surrounded by chicks and I thought, 'Oh, I see.' Luckily, my mother had one laying around the house, so I grabbed it and took it to school. I couldn't play it. Eventually, they expected me to play so I had to learn a couple of chords. It turned out all right."
Lemmy recalls how, as a young boy, he used to have to go to the "electrical appliance" store and order records, after which they would arrive in three weeks' time. Early favorites included Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Tommy Steele, Eddie Cochran, Elvis and Little Richard, who he always called the greatest rock 'n' roll singer of all time.
But it was the Beatles that really lit the fire — Lemmy, all of 16, hitchhiked to Liverpool to see what the fuss was about and watched them live at the Cavern Club before they even had a record out. Our hero soon would play guitar in bands like the Sundowners, the Rainmakers, the Motown Sect and the mildly legendary Rocking Vickers (sometimes spelled Rockin' and sometimes spelled Vicars), who managed to tour Europe and distinguish themselves as the first western band ever to play Yugoslavia.
"The Beatles had an influence on everybody," Lemmy told Goldmine magazine. He admired the Beatles as hard men from Liverpool against the Stones, suburban Londoners in his estimation. "You have to realize what an incredible explosion the Beatles were. They were the first band to not have a lead singer in the band. They were the first band to write their own songs in Britain because we always just covered American songs before that. Everybody was singing at the same time and the harmonies were great. Daily papers in England used to have an entire page of the paper dedicated to what the Beatles had done the day before. When George died, the guards at Buckingham Palace played a medley of George's songs during the changing of the guard; that sort of thing never happens."
Lemmy says that his Rocking Vickers were as famed and respected in Northern England, north of Birmingham, as the Who and the Kinks were down in London, but that the other guys in the band seemed to content themselves with playing a predictable circuit, while he had grander plans. But even though the money was good, at £200 a week each, they couldn't get a foothold in London themselves. And so, dispensing with the Rocking Vickers — which Lemmy ultimately describes as less of a garage band, more of a show band — he left the band house in Manchester empty-handed. "When I left the Vickers, the guitar stayed," noted Lemmy to Classic Rock Revisited. "It was a band guitar. When people left that band then the instruments stayed and I think that really made a lot of sense. If you need a guitar player but he hasn't got a guitar then you have one for him to use. When he leaves, you have one for the next guy so you don't have to run around." Traveling light not for the last time in his life, Lemmy found his way to London where his mind was about to get expanded through his apocryphal internship as a Jimi Hendrix roadie, living for a brief spell with bassist Noel Redding and road manager Neville Chesters.
"Lemmy has been my friend since 1963," explains Chesters, who also worked with both the Who and Cream. "The story goes, and I can tell you, we have a different one on how the story goes but it ends up the same. I actually took Lemmy to London. He came to see us at the Odeon in Liverpool. He wanted to go to London; he asked me if I could give him a ride to London and I said yes. He slept on the floor of my room and then the next day I took him down to London via his house, which was inconvenient. He grabbed a few things. Gone to London, I said, 'Where do you want to go?' And he said, 'Well I don't really have anywhere; I was wondering if I could stay with you?' His band then had been the Rocking Vickers, and I'd known him since then. So I happened to have a basement hovel that had three beds. One of them was given over to Noel when he was supposed to share the rent. And I had a spare bed, so Lemmy was in there. And then the next day it was ... he couldn't get a job at all. He couldn't get anything, so I got him a job as my assistant to roadie for Jimi. And that was, at the time, his big claim to fame. In fact for years it was his claim to fame. It was a story that used to come out in many of his radio and TV interviews. But we have a different way of describing how he got to London."
"I mean, I used to say he did his work," says Chesters, unwittingly helping to establish Lemmy's reputation as unsuitable for any gainful employment other than the haphazard helming of his own shambolic show. "I did an interview for a documentary, and they say to him, 'Didn't you roadie with Hendrix at one time?' And he goes, 'Speak to Neville about that.' So I get a phone call. So, 'Yes, he came in supposedly to help me' and they said, 'Did he work? Did he do anything?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And they said, 'Are you sure?' And I said, 'Well what do you mean?' 'Because most people said he just hung out with the band.' And I said, 'Actually, come to think of it, yeah, that's what he did.'"
"It was very confusing because we were tripping all the time," reminisced Lemmy in October 2006. "[Hendrix] came over to England from America and there was this guy named Owsley Stanley the Third. He was one of those guys who had a laboratory and he gave Hendrix about ten thousand tabs of acid. It was even legal back then. Hendrix put it in his suitcase and gave it out to the crew — there were only two of us. We had the best acid in the world in 1967 and most of 1968. After a while it doesn't affect your work because you learn to function. I drove the van from London to Bletchley, which is about 150 miles, on acid with a pair of those strobe sunglasses on. They had the vision of a fly, where you would see eight times around. I drove the van with those on for 150 miles on acid, and we got there."
Lemmy's also been known to say that he would score drugs for Mitch Mitchell as well, but when obtaining acid for Jimi, he said his pay came in the three tabs of ten that he would have to take on the spot, while Jimi took seven.
But working for a genius must have been a trip of its own. "Oh yeah, everybody knew it as soon as he came to England," continued Lemmy. "When he came to the States, you had Monterey and everybody knew about it. It was like that in England. He played one show and everyone knew. It went around like a wildfire. Pete Townshend came out of a club where Hendrix was playing and Eric Clapton was going in. Eric asked Pete, 'What is he like?' and Pete replied, 'We are in a lot of trouble.' We used to get Clapton sitting in a chair behind the stack with his ear pressed up against it trying to figure out what he was doing. But I was just hired part time while he was in England. When he went abroad, I was not invited. I was living at Noel Redding's house and he needed an extra pair of hands. I have been really lucky. I have been in a few of the right places at the right time. My street credibility is incredible. I saw the Beatles at the Cavern, too. It ends up that I was on hallowed ground but it was actually a filthy hole."
* * *
"Lemmy was there about three months maximum," laughs Chesters. "Somewhere between two and three months. After that I really only saw him intermittently. After the Hendrix thing, we always had the same women, one way or another. Sometimes I got there before he did and got one over, but only infrequently. In the early days he wasn't the most outstanding musician I'd seen, but he did pull himself together and managed to be ... he's almost an icon, Lemmy, and it's funny. It's not necessarily because of his music. There was a period in the mid- or the late '70s where he was known to hang out with debutantes in London. Now you know Lemmy, you know what he looks like, we all know the features. And none of us could understand why there was constantly, almost weekly, photographs of him in the leading London newspapers hanging out with debutantes. But that's what he did. And he became an icon."
"I lived with him for some time," muses Hawkwind saxophonist Nik Turner, answering Lemmy's drug question. "I thought Lemmy was a lovely guy, actually. We got on very well. He was a bit difficult to live with in some ways, because he would be sort of on a different time scale to other people in the band. He went his own way very much. I mean, the band were leaning towards a psychedelic sort of influence, really, and Lemmy wasn't particularly into psychedelics. He was more into speed, you might say."
Plus, he wasn't much of a hippie. More like a biker, says Dave Brock. "Yeah, we used to know a lot of the Hells Angels in the early days and all that. But Lemmy was always more so buddies with them. I mean Motörhead had more of a problem with them than we did. Lemmy used to always put down on his guest list, 'Hells Angels England.' And sometimes you wouldn't know who the fuck was turning up there. You'd go to his dressing room, and all the food and drink would be gone and you'd walk in, 'What the fuck?! We don't know anybody here.' A bit problematic sometimes, you know. But we still do the odd bikers thing. We get along well with them actually. I mean, a lot of them are our age now. Their festivals are always well organized, well together. You very rarely get any trouble."
With respect to Lemmy's burgeoning recording career, following up his three singles with the Rocking Vickers, in 1969 Lemmy appeared on his first full-length record, Escalator, by Malaysian percussionist Sam Gopal. Lemmy is credited as Ian Willis, as he had been considering changing his last name to that of his stepfather, George Willis. Already long known informally as Lemmy, for years it was assumed the nickname came from young Ian's frequent attempts to borrow money, as in "Lemme a fiver." However, Lemmy later confessed that he made up the story and had been paying for it ever since.
"It was very convoluted, because we had no songs," recalls Lemmy, when asked about those Sam Gopal days. "And then I stayed up all night on methamphetamine and wrote all the songs on the fucking album in one night. I was playing guitar then. But we never really could play live shows too well back then because they didn't have contact mics for the tablas and things, which are very odd to amplify, because they rely on boom inside to get the sound; you can't really record that. I mean you couldn't microphone that; you couldn't then anyway. That was 1968."
Lemmy's next gig, after a brief situation with Simon King as Opal Butterfly, was to provide a breeding ground for Lemmy's nasty sound, as it rumbled from both his bass and his face.
"After Hendrix, I became a dope dealer for a while and that was a natural apprenticeship for Hawkwind," laughs Lem. "The guy that played the audio generator in Hawkwind ran out of money and went back to the band. He took me with him because he wanted one of his mates in the band. I had never played bass in my life. The idiot that was there before me left his bass there. It was like he said, 'Please steal my gig' so I stole his gig. So me being a bass player was an accident. I went to get a job as a guitar player with Hawkwind, and they decided they weren't going to have another guitar player. The guy doing rhythm was going to do lead, so they said, 'Who plays bass?' And Dik Mik said, 'He does.' Bastard; I'd never even picked one up in my life. And I get up on stage with the fucking thing, because the bass player left his guitar in the gear truck. And Nik Turner was very helpful. He came over and said, 'Make some noises in E. This song is called 'You Shouldn't Do That.' And walked away from me."
The "audio generator" Lemmy refers to is in fact Dik Mik, and it is said that a mutual fondness for amphetamines cemented Lemmy's entry into the ranks of the notorious space rockers, through the recommendation of Dik Mik. Ironically, Lemmy's behavior on speed would also be the reason he'd be thumped from the band later on.
"You've got to remember, Lemmy was a guitarist to start with," notes Hawkwind guitarist and leader Dave Brock, spiritual twin to the original, pre-Motörhead Lemmy. "I mean, what happened was when Dik Mik brought Lemmy along, he didn't have a bass. We had to go and buy him a second-hand bass. And of course Lemmy's bass playing is very similar to guitar playing, in a sense, by playing block chords and stuff like that. So it was a different technique. Lemmy's fantastic, obviously, now, but you have to think that at the time, the way he played, it was just different. So consequently, that's why me and him used to play really well together, because I used to play similar lines to Lemmy. So that's why we were able to play together very well. And now when I do a solo album, my bass playing is a bit like Lemmy's. I play chords on the bass quite often. It's a style of playing, really. Instead of picking it and playing note by note, quite often ... it's hard to explain without playing the bass. But when you're playing, it's quite easy, and Lemmy and I used to be able to do that together."
"I don't use distortion," clarifies Lem. "I don't use any pedals. No effects, just plug it straight into the amp. Just a basic Marshall, but it's turned up very loud, and I hit the guitar very hard. That helps, too. But you've got to know how to hit it very hard. A lot of people hit it very hard and it don't happen. Yeah, I'm doing the old-school version, no mechanics for me. Actually I don't play bass. I play rhythm guitar and a bit of cockamamie lead guitar on a bass — that's what I do. It's a unique style but it's not one that people have copied, if you've noticed, so I don't think it's that popular, but it works for me. I always hated it when you get a band playing that was really good, and then the riff drops out because the guitar player has to do a solo, and it sounds wimpy as shit with just the bass player behind him. So I always swore I'd never let that happen."
Excerpted from Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers by Martin Popoff. Copyright © 2017 Martin Popoff. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 – “Hang on, what drugs were we doing that day?”
Chapter 2 – “A bullet belt in one hand and a leather jacket in the other.”
Chapter 3 – Motörhead: “Like a fucking train going through your head.”
Chapter 4 – Overkill: “He was a bit of a lad, old Jimmy.”
Chapter 5 – Bomber: “They saw us as noisy, scary people.”
Chapter 6 – Ace of Spades: “It wasn’t that it was the best we did; it was that it was the best they heard.”
Chapter 7 – No Sleep ’til Hammersmith: “The bomber, the sweat, the noiseit was an event.”
Chapter 8 – Iron Fist: “It was hard work getting Lemmy out of the pubs.”
Chapter 9 – Eddie’s Last Meal: “A bottle of vodka on the table, a glass, and a little pile of white powder.”
Chapter 10 – The Aftermath: “God bless him, little fella.”
Interviews with the Author
Design and Photo Credits
About the Author
Martin Popoff – A Complete Bibliography