RIP Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister (1945 – 2015) – A Rock & Roll Legend
Yesterday the world of rock and roll received some incredibly depressing news as one of its true greats, Lemmy, the lead singer and bassist of Motrhead, had passed away.
The craggy yet badass rockstar that personified what it meant to be rock and roll and live life on the edge, lost his battle with cancer, an illness he had only just been diagnosed with two days earlier on December 26. He died at 70 yet leaves a legacy that won’t ever be forgotten.
His bandmates said of the tragic news,
“We will say more in the coming days, but for now, please … play Motrhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD. Have a drink or few. Share stories. Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself. HE WOULD WANT EXACTLY THAT.”
To celebrate his incredible life, lets take a look back at Lemmy’s achievements across his career and how he impacted rock and metal music.
Rock & Roll Origins
Born in 1945 in Stoke-on-trent, Ian Kilmister (formerly Willis), who would later become affectionately known as Lemmy, grew up in North Wales and from a young age had a fascination with gambling and rock and roll. The nickname was apparently inspired by the phrase “lemmy (lend me) a quid” because he would often ask for money so he could play slot machines.
Lemmy’s first step to rock and roll greatness came when he was inspired by The Beatles, who he saw play in the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool in the early 60’s at age 16. Fascinated with John Lennon’s sarcastic attitude, he quickly learned to play Beatles songs on guitar and soon joined a band called The Rockin’ Vickers in 1965 so he too could become a rock and roll star.
After a couple of years touring, Lemmy met Noel Redding, the bassist of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, whom he shared a flat with. This gave him the opportunity to become roadie for the band in 1967, one of the biggest and most influential of the sixties, and quickly Lemmy’s love for rock and roll grew and grew.
After a short stint in psychedelic rock band Sam Gopal, Lemmy’s big break in music came when he joined the space rock group Hawkwind in 1972. The psychedelic group achieved great success with Lemmy on bass, providing vocals and writing songs. Their biggest hit was “Silver Machine”, which reached no. 3 in the UK charts in 72.
The rock and roll lifestyle the man is now famous for came to the fore in 1975 when Lemmy was fired from Hawkwind. The reason he was fired? Lemmy had been arrested by the authorities bringing illegal drugs across the border of the USA and Canada. However, the bassist was not charged and he returned to the UK to form a whole new band called Bastard. When told by their manager the group would achieve little success with the sweary name, the band then became the infamous Motrhead – this name was taken from they very last song Lemmy wrote for Hawkwind.
The Motrhead Years
Motrhead were a whole new prospect in comparison to all the previous bands Lemmy had been in. Certainly not psychedelic, Motrhead’s tunes were heavy and raw rock and roll music. With Lemmy’s grouchy, guttural vocals about sex, drugs and gambling and the fast style of the music, they were considered pioneers of not just heavy metal (particularly thrash metal) but also punk. They were also later considered a part of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal”, a group of bands that also included Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
In the early days of Motrhead the band maintained a low profile and would not achieve their big break until 1979 when their album “Overkill” broke into the top 40 of the album charts. From there the band’s success snowballed as their following album “Bomber” also made a big impression in the charts. In 1980, the band released one of their most famous songs, “Ace Of Spades” and the album of the same title to huge success. At the peak of their powers, during this period the group also released live recording “No Sleep ’til Hammersmith”, which went straight to no.1 on the album chart.
Motrhead maintained a presence throughout the rest of the 80’s, with a couple of lineup changes, plenty more successful albums (such as 1986’s Orgasmatron) and successful tours all around the world. Their popularity didn’t dwindle either with the coming of the 90’s. With alternative rock and metal fully embraced by the mainstream, Motrhead continued to sell out tours and rock festivals as the younger generation embraced their genre defining music.
All throughout his career too he never slowed down his appetite for alcohol, drugs, gambling and loose women too. Band manager Todd Singerman said of him, “I still always remember a great quote: Lemmy from Motorhead makes Keith Richards from the Stones look like a Golden Girl.”
Despite many members leaving the band over the years, the one constant in Motrhead remained Lemmy. His iconic appearance (warts and all) and continual presence was enough to ensure Motrhead remained continually popular with fans, both young and old, well into 2015 and up until Lemmy’s passing. Motrhead were an ugly band, in both senses of the word, but therein lied their rock and roll charm.
Lemmy Kilmister, Killed by Death, as their famous song goes, leaves behind him a huge impact on music that can be both seen and heard. Were it not for Motrhead, thrash metal bands like Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth might not have made the same impact. The hard, heavy and fast style of music, which to Lemmy himself admitted was just rock and roll and not metal, nevertheless was a massive influence on heavy metal, musically and in style.
Lemmy and Motrhead proved you could make music that was loud, ugly and dirty, but still somehow sexy in its own special way. They proved that looks didn’t matter and that you could embrace the rough side of rock and own it – which metal has been doin for decades in the wake of artists like Motrhead.
Here’s what those who were influenced by Lemmy had to say about the man after he passed away:
Lemmy was a true rock and roll legend, and one the world will sorely miss. One of the last of the old rockers that never slowed down or lost their fast lifestyle, he and his music will continue to inspire generations to come to play rock and roll and not give a f**k about looks, trending styles or even their personal wellbeing!
We end this tribute with one of Lemmy’s best songs, and one we’re sure you all know the words to. Don’t forget to also show your respects with one of our Motrhead tees.
RIP Lemmy, we will never forget.