Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister is no longer with us, a fact that puts paid to his claim of apparent indestructibility. The lead vocalist, bassist, and only consistent member of Motörhead will be remembered for many things—his utterly badass microphone placement, his lead guitar-like approach to the bass, his sand-blasted vocal growl, his unwillingness to give a damn—but think of him most of all as a guide through six decades of rock and roll. Because, labels of punk and metal and psychedelia notwithstanding, “rock and roll” was the only way Lemmy described his music.
Here then is a compendium of videos, most of them featuring the dearly departed himself, to give an overview of the man’s life and times.
In 1966, Lemmy (then named Ian Willis) appears on this single by the Rockin’ Vickers. “It’s All Right” is mostly a dreadful Who cover, but Lemmy’s guitar solo is wonderfully percussive and atonal. The man takes this rock and roll thing very seriously.
In the late 1960s, Lemmy is working as a roadie, most famously for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He also schleps gear for the Nice, a proto-prog trio featuring Keith Emerson, later of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, on Hammond organ. The Nice cover, of all things, “America” from West Side Story. In this live clip from 1968, Emerson assaults his instrument during the solo. The knife that he jabs into the keys at 2:11? That’s Lemmy’s blade.
By 1968, Lemmy has added lead vocals to his repertoire. Here he is with Sam Gopal, singing and playing lead on “Escalator.” The band was named after Malaysian-born Gopal, who played Indian tabla in lieu of drums. “If you like me living, baby,” Lemmy sings, “you’re gonna love me when I’m dead.”
Lemmy is asked to join London-based Hawkwind on bass—an instrument he doesn’t play—in 1972. The group scores a hit with “Silver Machine.” Here is the promotional film for that single. Everyone clearly seems to be enjoying their refreshments.
Hawkwind achieves great success with Lemmy, but his behavior becomes increasingly erratic. He’s arrested at the Canadian border with what the Mounties believe is cocaine. Instead, Lemmy is carrying speed; though he’s released from jail, Hawkwind fires him, according to our hero, for “doing the wrong drugs.” The last song Lemmy writes for the band is called “Motorhead.”
Motörhead forms in 1975. The band’s most iconic song: “Ace of Spades.” There’s very little to say except that it’s perfect. The lyrics, the tempo, the dive-bomber riff. Lemmy’s voice has now achieved a slightly strangled quality, making things all the more immediate. This live version from 1984 is peerless.
Take a moment to gasp at the grandeur of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Lemmy Kilmister performing “Eve Of Destruction.”
To finish? A lovely rock and roll moment, when Lemmy sits in with the Ramones in the late ‘90s as they perform the song he wrote in their honor, “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” The performance is 1:17 long, and the roadie doesn’t even get Lemmy’s bass plugged in for almost 20 seconds. “It was,” Joey Ramone once said, “like John Lennon writing a song for you.”
Join every metalhead, musician, and fan of American weirdos I know in playing these videos at the loudest possible volume. Farewell to one of the greats.