Exclusive Q&A feature from the FBPO archives
By Gary Graff
January 6, 2015
A few years ago, Lemmy Kilmister was asked how long he expected to be actively playing music. “It’ll go on ’til I can’t do it anymore, then I’ll stop,” he replied. “I think it’s one of those ‘die with your boots on things,’ I hope.”
On December 28 that proved sadly prophetic when the iconic rock ‘n’ roll bad boy, singer and bassist for Motörhead, passed away shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. He’s one of precious few musicians – entertainers, really – whose first name (actually nickname) alone conjures up an image as well as a sound. In Lemmy’s case, a denim-and-leather lothario cross between a Hell’s Angel and a World War II storm trooper who looked hard, lived hard, played hard and amassed a legend behind him. He wasn’t the prettiest or prettiest-sounding guy around, but he was a hell of a lot of fun – and funny, to boot. To pay homage upon his passing, we revisited the archive of interviews for a few of our choicest moments with the man…
FBPO: How did music become it for you in the first place?
Lemmy: Probably Little Richard and a show in the U.K. called “Oh Boy,” which had all the visiting American singers on. It was the only thing of its kind in Britain; you watched that, and that was it for the week. England didn’t catch on to rock ‘n’ roll for a long time. There wasn’t anybody heavier than Little Richard, really. He was the best for me. That voice, it was incredible, that voice. It was like an electric shock, man. Before that, before rock ‘n’ roll, we had shit. We had Rosemary fucking Clooney and Frank Sinatra and all them people. So it was pretty arid. And then rock ‘n’ roll came along and there was no looking back – for me, at least.
FBPO: Was that the first rock ‘n’ roll song you heard?
Lemmy: No. It was Tommy Steele, an English rock ‘n’ roll guy. He did a couple of covers of Guy Mitchell songs, “Singing the Blues” and “Knee Deep in the Blues,” old stuff. And he was surrounded by these screaming women who were tearing his clothes off and tearing their clothes off. That looked like a decent job, you know? Beats the shit out of being a plumber. And I was right.
FBPO: Were you trying to be a “bad boy” from the get-go?
Lemmy: More or less. I saw Cliff Richard – he used to be good once, believe it or not – when he first started. He was our Elvis, kind of. His gimmick was he never smiled. That inspired me. And he was always surrounded by screaming women, throwing their clothes off. I saw that and thought, “Right. That’s for me.”
FBPO: I detect a pattern here.
Lemmy: You’re a bright one, lad…
FBPO: How did you wind up playing bass?
Lemmy: (dryly) Well, I was so good on guitar I thought I’d switch to bass to give everyone else a chance. No, what really happened was I went for a job with Hawkwind as a guitar player. Then they decided they were not gonna get a new guitar player and just have Dave Brock play lead. The bass player didn’t show up ’cause it was a free gig and he wouldn’t do those. But like (an idiot) he left his bass in the van, and I stole his gig. Someone was gonna do it sooner or later; if you don’t show up for the bad (gigs) as well as the good ones, you’re clearly not serious [about] the job. I was the spare guy for awhile, about seven months, just lifting and carrying the equipment, mainly. There were only two of us doing all the gear, which seems ridiculous nowadays.
FBPO: You played with Jimi Hendrix, too.
Lemmy: Yeah, I played with him once for about 20 minutes, because Noel never showed up for rehearsal on time. So I’d fool around on his bass; I didn’t know anything about bass back then, just enough to sort of jam, which was fun. (Hendrix) was great, as far as I’m concerned. I never saw him do anything bad at all – well, the drugs, but that depends on whether you think that’s bad or not. I’ve heard lately that he used to hate women, but I never saw it. He was always very romantic to women, old fashioned. When a chick would come in the room, he’d shoot to his feet, pull her chair out, just good manners.
FBPO: You’ve become iconic – and very much loved – as an icon and a personality as well as a musician. Is the bad boy in you OK with that?
Lemmy: You don’t think about that really, do you? I’m just glad to hear it, but you can’t believe that stuff, you know? Then you go nuts. There’s a lot of people who believed everything other people say about them, and they’re not around anymore. You can’t believe what people say about you either way. What you see is what you get with me – it’s just that not a lot of people know you. A lot of people know what other people write about you, but they don’t know you.
FBPO: Your music is a mixture of a lot of rock ‘n’ roll elements. If you had to describe it, what would you say?
Lemmy: Hard rock, I call it. We’re pretty simplistic, really. It’s hard rock, very loud and obnoxious, a cross between punk and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll. We’re not a metal band, although there’s metal that comes from Mickey?? We just do Motörhead music, and we do Motörhead music the best you’ll ever hear it. Nobody does it as good as us, so we just try to do that.
FBPO: And people still seem to like it just that way.
Lemmy: We’ve been lucky. We’ve been around so long people realize they can’t get us to go away, so they’ve just decided to join us. You might not like what we do, but we do what we do very well. We’re not killing ourselves. We don’t get into the studio and say, ‘Let’s write a hit single!’ We’ve never been one of those bands. We really don’t care if everybody likes it; if people like it, to us it’s a bonus.
FBPO: This is the longest-lived lineup of Motörhead to date. What accounts for that?
Lemmy: Every time we’ve come to the point where one of us might have left, we’ve hung back and stopped and gone, “No, wait a minute…,” which is different from lineups we’ve had before. Everyone else just went ahead and left. So that’s very encouraging; it means we’ve stepped beyond that petty squabble stage. And we know each other pretty well now, so we just instinctively back off subjects or certain things we know will piss each other off.
FBPO: One thing that’s raised eyebrows more than others is your Nazi World War II memorabilia collection. What should we know about why you have it?
Lemmy: Y’know, it’s history. Let’s face it, it isn’t skinheads and neo Nazis and shit collecting this stuff. It’s too expensive. This is doctors and lawyers collecting it, people who are interested in the pomp and circumstance of it all. And I didn’t collect any of the ideology, believe me. I’ve got friends of all colors and religious persuasions. I ain’t got a racist bone in my body.
FBPO: How long do you think it will last?
Lemmy: It’ll go on ’til I can’t do it anymore, then I’ll stop, obviously. I think it’s one of those die with your boots on things, I hope. I had a dream when I was a child, and my dream came true, so why stop it?
Gary Graff is an award-winning music journalist and author based in Detroit. In addition to FBPO, Gary writes regularly for Billboard, the New York Times Features Syndicate, Digital First Media, Revolver, Classic Rock, United Stations Radio Networks and Greater Media Interactive, and he reports on music news for WCSX-FM in Detroit and WHQG-FM in Milwaukee. Graff has authored, co-authored and edited books on Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and others and was the founding editor of the MusicHound Essential Album Guide series. Graff is also the co-founder and co-producer of the annual Detroit Music Awards.
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