By now, the photographer had packed up his stuff and gone, and my first C-90 was in dire need of being flipped, but Lemmy seemed to have no other interview obligations, and no inclination to wind up our chat, either. In fact, he poured me yet another Jack and Coke, so I took that as a sign to settle in and got comfortable on the hotel room couch. Hey, it wasn't like I had any better place to be...
ME: What was the worst fight you’ve ever been in?
LEMMY: Probably when I was the only English kid in a school with seven hundred Welsh. Had a great time every lunch time... I couldn’t tell you an individual one…
So, not many rucks when you were in bands, then?
Well, the worst one was probably when we were in Munich with the Damned. Rat Scabies started it, of course; he’d always start something and then run off behind the shithouse doors. ‘Put the boot in!’ [laughs] He started it, somebody got a glass in the eye, and we fucked off. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of fights, and I don’t like ‘em. I’m not convinced that fighting is a great way to prove your virility; I just think it proves that you were lucky enough to get away with your life. He who runs away lives another day, you know. Because fighting’s just luck; I’ve seen the biggest people brought down by shrimps, and I’ve seen the other way around. I don’t see the fucking fun in going home with a thick ear and a broken nose. That’s why I think slam-dancing is so dumb; I haven’t seen anything as stupid as the mosh pit. It’s certainly playtime for morons, isn’t it? Because they’re certainly not listening to the music.
Which reminds me — I saw you guys in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1988, opening for Slayer…
Right! I had a go at them that night, yeah.
You remember it? There were a couple of guys on the floor about halfway back throwing lit cherry bombs at each other.
See, that’s really dumb. ‘Let’s go down to the concert and throw cherry bombs at each other!’ Good, yeah! You gonna give your girlfriends a couple of them? We were in Milwaukee one show, and there was a guy just watching the music with his girlfriend. This ‘two second hero’ jumped up onstage and then back into the crowd, and he booted her teeth all over the guy’s t-shirt. Big boots, manly boots, you know, and her teeth went all over her boyfriend’s t-shirt. I don’t need to see that shit; I’m not interested. I just don’t want to know about it. You can just take that and stick it in your fucking ear, you know. Rock and roll’s supposed to be about people enjoying themselves; and him enjoying himself at her expense ain’t nothing to me. I’d rather shoot him before the concert starts and get it over with, because he’s no good to me or anybody else. If it comes to him or the chick, I’ll keep the chick; throw him out! The people should police themselves. We went to New Orleans once, right? There were six hundred people in the hall, and there were four guys spittin’ on me, just gob all over me. I don’t like that, man; I think that’s a filthy fucking habit. Joe Strummer once was singing, and somebody spat right down his throat, and he got Hep C off it! I’m not interested in that, fuck you!
Doesn’t the way you sing upwards into the microphone make it harder for them to spit into your mouth?
No, it makes it easier, because I can’t see. It’s a disgusting fucking thing; fuckin’ Johnny Rotten. Thanks, John! So anyway, I said, ‘If they keep spittin’, I’m gonna walk; I’m not here to be a target for a few dickheads.’ They kept doing it, so we walked off stage; we were persuaded to go back, but they kept doing it. So I walked off again and there was a riot, firehoses and all kinds of shit outside, it was great.
Did you ever have problems with punks and metal kids squaring off at your shows?
Well, they didn’t fight at our shows; they were all there for the same band. There was one gig, the Damned, us, and the Adverts at the Roundhouse, and everybody got a bottle thrown at them by some section of the crowd. [laughs] I remember we did a show in Montreal, where there was one punk there, and everybody’s looking at him. I said, ‘This concert is dedicated to that guy, because he’s got so much guts to walk in here with all you cunts givin’ him the eye!’ I said, ‘Why don’t you slap him on the back and buy him a drink? He’s got more guts than you do!’ And they chummed up with him a bit. I mean, what the fuck’s the difference? If you listen to Motorhead and punk it sounds the same, anyway. It doesn’t sound like heavy metal to me. We’ve got a lot more in common with the Damned than with fuckin’ Judas Priest! I never believed in all that ethnic barrier, anyway. [laughs] Fuck it, it’s rock and roll! There’s two kinds of music — music you like, and music you don’t like; music that moves you, and music that doesn’t. That’s all there is. And life’s too short to fuck around with your peer group, worrying about what they like. Fuck them — what did they ever do for you? Did they ever cure you of an illness? Did they ever give you their girlfriend when you was hard up? What did they ever do for you, except to say, [sneers] ‘Oh, you have THAT record?’
When Motorhead first got off the ground, you fell in with the punk bands pretty quickly.
We were doing odd gigs; the first gig we ever played, we suported Greenslade!
Weren't they a folk band?
No, no; Greenslade were one of them power organ bands.
What, like Procol Harum?
Oh, no, worse than that. Procol Harum actually did a couple of good songs. Greenslade were kind of like Yes — a lot of fiddling about, Rush, all that bollocks. Mikkey [Dee, Motorhead drummer] likes all that. He’s a great Rush fan. Rush supported Hawkwind on one of our American tours. So did Aerosmith! And Frank Marino — when he found out I'd worked for Hendrix, my god, you should have seen him! He had me pinned against the wall for about 45 minutes, like, ‘How did he comb his hair?’ I said, ‘You’re supposed to know — you’re the reincarnation, aren’t you? You’re supposed to know this stuff!’ [laughs] He didn’t know shit! I tell you what he did know — he did play like he was one step on from Hendrix when he stopped. He did play like that, I’ve gotta give him that.
Robin Trower was also doing a similarly Hendrix-y sort of thing at that time.
Yeah, he was very similar, that’s right. The first time I saw Marino, we had a day off in Toledo, and I went to see him play at the same place we were playing the next day. He was really like fucking Hendrix; nobody else was then — a lot of people were trying, but nobody else was coming close. Because Hendrix was the best guitarist you’re ever gonna see. And I’m so sorry for you that you’ll never see him onstage, because onstage is where he lived.
Obviously, all I’ve been able to see are his various filmed performances.
Yeah, well, Monterey’s the best one; Monterey’s, like, insane. And the one in Berkeley, with the headband, where he plays ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ that’s not bad. There’s a lot of filler in that, but 'Johnny B. Goode'’s pretty good, you know. But Monterey’s the one, yeah. But he used to fuck up such a lot, you know. I mean, some days, he’d go onstage, play three songs, and go, ‘Uhhh, don’t sound right.’ He’d walk off, and that was it! He used to stomp his fuzzbox, and it’d be all over the stage, springs and little bits. We’d be there backstage, trying to put one back together out of three of them that he’d stomped. And we used to have to hold the amps up while he fucked them with his guitar. He was the best! He was THE BEST!!! The way he understood feedback, and the way he understood his guitar as a living thing — he would become the guitar — I’ve never seen anybody else do that, not to the extent that he did. He would just ease into it, and the guitar would just do shit that you never HEARD before! And this is in 1967! And doing somersaults while he did it?
And it wasn't just tricks — there was so much soul in his playing, too.
Yeah. You should have seen him backstage, man. He had this old twelve-string Epiphone Jumbo, you know? And he used to play country blues, slide guitar, ‘Hear My Train A-Comin’’ and all that kind of stuff. I used to sit backstage and listen to him for hours, feeling privileged to be there. He was a sensation for me. When I was still in Blackpool with the Rockin’ Vickers, he came through on the tour with the Walker Brothers, who were the biggest thing since the Beatles.
Yeah, Scott Walker. [Raises hand, Scott Walker-style, and croons] ‘Loneliness is the cloak you wear/ A deep shade of blue…’ All that Jacques Brel…
'About the time they called me Jacky!’
Yeah, I know! Fuck! [laughs] And second on the bill was Englebert Humperdink; it was his first tour, and he had big sleeves like PJ Proby. It was before ‘Release Me’; he was doing up-tempo stuff then. He wasn’t that great. And then, third on the bill was Hendrix, and fourth was Cat Stevens. Very odd tour, you know? But I saw Hendrix for the first time then, and I thought, ‘Jesus Christ!’ Because I was a guitar player then, right? I just wanted to run out and cut my fingers off, I felt so horrible. Forget it!
Is that what part of what made you give up guitar?
No. I never thought I was a lead guitarist. I was a good rhythm guitarist; that’s the only thing I ever thought I was — a good rhythm guitarist. I never aspired to be a lead guitarist.
But then when you joined Hawkwind, they handed you a bass…
Well, see, that was problematical. Huw [Lloyd-Langton], the guitar player, had left the band; so Del Dettmar said, ‘Come after the job,’ you know? I thought, ‘Alright.’ They were doing a free show on the back of a truck in Paris Square, and they decided that they weren’t gonna repace Huw; Dave Brock was gonna play lead. And then the bass player didn’t show up, because he didn’t do free shows — he only did the shows where he got paid. And, like a cunt, he left his bass in the vehicle! It was like, ‘Steal my gig!’ Dave said, ‘Who plays bass?’ And Dettmar points at me and says, ‘He does!’ I thought, ‘Aw, fuck you!’ I’d never picked one up in my life! And I go on the truck, and Nicky Turner walked over and said, ‘Make some noises in E. This is called ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’.’ None of this shit about two verses and a chorus — ‘Make some noises in E!’ I must have done all right; I was with them four and a half years. But bass was immediately easy for me. I was cheating on it, playing chords, and things, and them strings were all the same. I felt like I made a difference on bass, to the world of music, whereas I was never gonna make any difference at all on guitar.
Your whole style of playing bass is —
It’s like rhythm guitar on bass.
Yeah! I think I play very good bass; I flatter myself with that. Because there’s nobody else like me, and nobody else can apparently do it. Alan Davey tried very hard in Hawkwind; he got a Rickenbacker and everything, but it was blue!
Ugh! Red or black is okay…
White, even! Natural wood! But not blue! Not pink, not blue!
Did the Motorhead sound come together fairly quickly?
No! It went through a terrible gestation period — Larry [Wallis] and Lucas [Fox], you know. Larry was all right — Larry knew what he was doing, but Lucas really didn’t. It was the first band he’d ever been in. He was just hanging around all the time, saying, ‘I’m a drummer!’ We had no bread, no bread at all. I was living at this female photographer’s house, Motorcycle Irene, and she was living with the President of the Hell’s Angels, West Coast Tramp, so it was pretty hectic in there. And this cunt just kept hangin’ around, sayin’ ‘I’m a drummer.’ And nobody else was saying ‘I’m a drummer,’ so… [laughs] But he was pretty bad. His father taught him, and he was a dance band drummer, but you can’t really use that as an excuse. He was all right, and he was a nice guy, but he didn’t have the fire, and he didn’t have the balls on him.
Also, he was trying to keep up with my habit on speed! [laughs] Which I’d been doing for a long time, you know, but he would take the same amount as me. The veins would stand out in his forehead… I remember listening to a playback in Rockfield, when we were doing the first album, and he was so fucking rigid! He was wound up like a spring! And at the end of the playback, he said, [gritted teeth] ‘I thought that was quite good!’ There’s all these glasses and ashtrays on top of the mixing desk; he leaned on it, and everything fell onto the desk – there were all these sparks, and smoke and shit! He ran out the door right there, and that was pretty much the end of him right there.
Dave Edmunds was producing you at this point, right?
But that didn't work out too well, did it?
It worked out very well, but he had to quit, because he had his own career to look after. People from Swan Song would arrive in limos at two o’clock in the morning, and walk him ‘round the farm going, ‘Listen, Dave…’ Cancers, you know…
I'm glad to hear that, because I think there’s a misconception out there that Dave couldn’t deal with how loudly Motorhead played in the studio…
No, no — there’s only four tracks produced by him, but that’s our best stuff from that time. Fritz Freyer who replaced him had no clue. He was from the Four Pennies. I mean, Fritz tried, but he just didn’t have it. Edmunds is one of the best producers you’ll ever see in your life. One of the best singers, one of the best guitarists — he’s unbelievable!
I saw him about six years ago at the House of Blues…
He's the BEST, yeah!
It probably the loudest show I’ve ever seen — louder than you guys, even! He was playing a Telecaster, and it was just like this full-on treble assault…
Yeah, he’s very ‘toppy,’ Dave. You’re best off listening to Dave from outside the hall! [laughs] He’s great, though, man. I’d seen him with Love Sculpture in ’67 at the Roundhouse, doing ‘Sabre Dance’ and ‘You Can’t Catch Me.’ And he was SO fast — I mean, Motorhead have never been that fast. And what he was playing at that speed was just incredible; on ‘Sabre Dance,’ he was twice as fast as the record, and the record was already insane! He used to do another classical instrumental, as well…
‘Farandole,’ yeah. That was even faster! He was a nutter!
You’d break your fingers trying to do that.
I never even bothered, forget it. I can’t do that! [laughs] Know your limitations! [laughs]
So "Philthy Animal" Taylor came in on drums right after Lucas left?
Yeah. Well, Phil gave me a ride back to Rockfield. I’d been up to London to score, you know, and I knew Phil had a car; what I didn’t know is that he’d just bashed the windshield out of it. So I got this chick who had a large fur coat to sit on my knee all the way down to Rockfield. But the car broke down on the motorway, and Rockfield had to send a van out for us…
Did the Motorhead sound come together once Phil joined?
No, not really! We still had Larry, then. We completed that first album; Phil overdubbed the drums on all of Lucas’s tracks. Larry was also with the Pink Fairies at that time; I think he was hedging his bets, seeing who was gonna do something. He said, ‘Why don’t we hire another guitar player, man?’ Phil knew this guy Eddie [Clarke], so we brought him in. And that’s when we really gelled, because we were rehearsing without Larry; he was out for a week with the Fairies, and we started rehearsing on our own. I think I knew then, really, that there was no more room for Larry; and when Larry came up to rehearsal, I think he knew it, too. He came in and turned his guitar way up over everybody, played for a half hour, and then legged it. He wouldn’t even speak to Eddie! Eddie had learned all the tunes in about two days, and we were playing really fucking well, really hot, you know. Larry was a mediocre guitar player, same as I was, and Eddie was so good… Larry’s a great songwriter, and not a bad singer, but his guitar’s all right, nothing to write home about. It’s not going to create any new niches in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! That’s a dump — have you ever been there?
No, I kind of don’t want to go…
Kind of DON’T go. It sucks, big time!
Frankly, I think the whole idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is kind of bogus…
Yeah. I had trouble with the Hard Rock Café for a start, never mind the Hall of Fame! ‘Here’s John Lennon’s pyjamas!’ So what? What can I glean from this? Nothing! It’s dead people’s gear, you know? Somebody should be playing those guitars…
A lot of people refer to the lineup of you, Philthy and Fast Eddie as the ‘classic’ Motorhead lineup.
Well, these days, there’s a lot of kids who’ve never seen that or heard of it. A lot of kids these days that we get at our shows started off with [1995's] Sacrifice; some kids thought that was our first album! So that’s okay with me, because at least you’re getting new faces and new ears. We’re getting a lot of kids, really. Some of them, their dads bring them, but some of them come on their own. Especially that Nashville Pussy tour, because a lot of chicks came to that one. Thank you! [laughs] They were a great support band for us, perfect.
Speaking of Nashville Pussy, you always seem to make a concerted effort to lend female musicians a helping hand.
Sure! It’s harder for them, you know. Somebody’s gotta turn around and say, ‘Hey, these girls are better than you guys!’ Because a lot of the time they are, you know. People pissed me off; they’d say, ‘Kelly Johnson [of Girlschool] is a really good guitarist FOR A GIRL.’ I’d say, ‘She’s better than you are, motherfucker!’ [laughs] ‘She plays rings around you! Fuck you!’ Kelly Johnson on a good night was like Jeff Beck. Although I guess she’s hung it up; she never wants to play again, apparently. I saw her in her best days, you know, and she was really great. I really like to hear a good guitar player; [Motorhead guitarist] Phil Campbell’s really good. He does some classic stuff on the new album. Kelly was great. I never saw Jeff Beck with the Yardbirds, but to see him now really pisses me off. All twiddly…
When Eddie left the band, you got Brain Robertson from Thin Lizzy to fill in for 1983's Another Perfect Day, which is one of my favorites. How did that come about?
Phil [Taylor] and I were great Thin Lizzy fans, and I thought Robbo would be like he was in Lizzy. And he wasn’t; that’s about all I can say. For two tours, he was great — we did a tour of Japan, and we did a tour of the States, and he was fucking great. I’ve got no complaints about that at all. And then we got off the road for a while and did the album, and he was a pain in the ass on the album; it took twice as long, twice as much money to do the album than usual. It’s a good enough album — I’ve always liked it — but everybody in the world seemed to knock it. I knew it was okay. I come from Eddie Cochran, Little Richard and the Beatles anyway; I knew it was a good album. Just because it’s not the same as the last album… [growls] Well, I’m not the same mother fucker! [laughs]
Just because it doesn’t sound like Ace of Spades…
Yeah, I know. There’s still that syndrome going on, you know…
Are you sick of playing ‘Ace of Spades’ in concert?
I don’t mind it, actually. I’m lucky; we got linked to one I don’t mind. I mean, god knows what it’s like for somebody like the Osmond Brothers… So anyway, with Robbo, we got off the road and did the album. And then we went back to Europe, and we made it as far as Hanover. We play ‘Another Perfect Day,’ and then he starts it again. I ran over and said, ‘We just played this!’ He said, ‘Oh, sorry!’ And then he started it a third time! So that was sort of the end for him. If you can’t differentiate between the same song three times, and you wrote it, it could be time to call it a fucking day! So Phil and I went down and fired him. And then about two weeks later, Phil left as well — right after we got the two guitar players [Wurzel and Phil Campbell]. So for about ten minutes there, I was the only person in Motorhead! [laughs]
Didn’t Motorhead fans give Robbo a hard time, too?
Well, he fucked himself, you know. He’d walk onstage with satin shorts, or baggy trousers tied up with just a towel, you know. He was trying to be the ‘guest star,’ not one of the band. And that don’t work for me; I’m not interested. We played this Hell’s Angels show in London that they put on; we were top of the bill. They stole generators from the freeway construction people to power it! [laughs] So Robbo comes onstage in his shorts, these green satin shorts and a pair of ballet pumps, and this Hell’s Angel says to Tramp, ‘Who’s that in the shorts, there?’ And Tramp said, ‘Motorhead’s new guitarist.’ And this guy said, ‘When he comes off, let’s kill him!’ [laughs] When you hear it, the music’s fine, but the visual just pissed people off all over the place. Pissed me off, too! And Phil was always on Robbo’s side. Robbo’d say, ‘I don’t want to play ‘Ace of Spades,’ and I don’t want to play ‘Overkill,’ and I don’t want to play ‘Motorhead’!’ And Phil’d go, ‘Yeah, he’s right, he’s right!’ and I’d go, ‘He’s right? He’s WRONG! That’s all people remember of us — you want to throw them out?’ And we did throw them out, for two tours. And that was dumb, just dumb shit. And then, of course, he was always drunk on top of it. One night, we were at the Embassy Club in London, and there were four commandos there getting ready to go out to the Falkland Islands. Robbo’s pissed as a rat, and he goes, ‘I’m a black belt in Tai Chi!’ And this big guy goes, ‘Oh yeah?’ Robbo goes, [raises hands] ‘Go on, get past that!’ And the guy pokes him right in the eye. And he went, ‘I wasn’t looking right then. Try it again!’ And poke, right in the eye. Fuckin’ helpless, man! [Laughs]
So the period with you and Phil and Eddie…
That was the first golden time, yeah. And then the second golden time started with Orgasmatron. And then the third golden time started with 1916.
1916 is my favorite Motorhead record.
Yeah? Even over We Are Motorhead?
Huh. I think We Are Motorhead is pretty good. Sacrifice, too!
Sure, but 1916 really took you guys to a whole other level...
See, every time we do something, people say, ‘Oh, you did a ballad!’ We’ve been doing them since 1990 — where’ve you been? ‘You’re my main man, Lemmy! I love Motorhead!’ Yeah? What records have you got? ‘Ace of Spades, man!’ So that’s the last one you’ve got? ‘Hell yeah! That’s a great record! My kid dances to it!’ [laughs]
But Ace of Spades IS a great record!
Well, yeah, but it’s not THAT great! No record is that great, where you can just forget the rest of the band’s career…
But it does contain a lot of your signature songs — 'Jailbait,' 'Love Me Like a Reptile,' 'We Are the Road Crew'...
Nobody remembers 'Jailbait,' really. People remember ‘Ace of Spades’; they don’t remember the rest of the album, mostly. A couple of them know ’We Are the Road Crew,’ and maybe from the early side, ‘No Class,’ ‘Bomber,’ ‘Overkill’ and that’s it. Oh yeah, and ‘Metropolis’ and ‘Stay Clean,’ because we’ve played them onstage so long. People don’t remember ‘Love Me Like a Reptile’ or ‘Stone Dead Forever,’ because they probably only heard the single [‘Ace of Spades’]. We were Number One in England, and we couldn’t get it released over here.
Yeah, I'd actually never even heard of Motorhead until I spent the summer of 1981 in Greece, and a friend of mine there turned me on to the Ace of Spades album.
See, those Greeks, man — they know! [laughs]