INTERVIEW: Motörhead’s Lemmy Recalls Life Before Rock N’ Roll On Eve Of Concert Cruise

The idea is almost too perfect to be true; rock n’ roll brigand Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead and a rogues gallery of hard rock heavies take to the high seas for a four-day high-decibal concert cruise dubbed Motörhead’s Motörboat. Embarking from Miami, Fl. this Monday and making its way to Cozumel, Mexico, the floating fiesta grande will feature performances from Motörhead, Anthrax, and Down among others and promises to bring chaos to the Caribbean, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Blackbeard flew the Jolly Roger. On the eve of his departure, the consummate hard rock outlaw was kind enough to take our call and talk to us about a lifetime of rock n’ roll memories, and some that even precede rock n’ roll itself.

Lemmy does not suffer fools or foolish questions. Ask him about something he is interested in, say  music or history,  and he is elequent and insightful. Ask him something stupid and he will quickly put you in your place. Though he has played some of the most intense music of the past 40 years and has recently suffered health setbacks from a lifetime of hard living, he shows no signs of stopping. His influence may exceed his record sales but he has finally been given his due by the legions of artists he has influenced and the fans of his music and the genres he has forever changed. 

VH1: Can you remember what the world was like before rock n’ roll existed?

LEMMY: Yeah, I can. It was miserable. It was terrible, you know. It was all novelty records who got to the tip top. Things like “How much is that f***king doggie in the window?” It was really awful. Things with stupid names and I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it to you. It was even worse in England then it was here.

What was the first rock n’ roll record you heard? It must have been hard to get things in the UK.   

Well, it all happened here and the radio wouldn’t play it in England. The TV wouldn’t put it on for ages. The first one I heard was English rock n’ roll. It was Tommy Steele. He was being pushed as a big star but he wasn’t really rock n’ roll, you know. Probably Bill Haley before him. But you knew he wasn’t really the one cause he was fat and he had a kiss curl on his forehead. (laughter)  So we knew that wasn’t really it and then Elvis came along and that was it. He’s still a tremendous influence.

I remember my father saying the first rock n’ roll music he heard was (Haley’s) “Rock Around The Clock” in the movie Blackboard Jungle and how electric it sounded.

Yeah, it did sound like that. It was sort of a rhythm that made you forget your problems and jump about to it. I don’t know, I didn’t have many problems really, I was 12.(laughter) But it really made a big impact and all the authorities were terrified of it because they had a grip on the people and rock n’ roll threatened to loosen that grip. Rock n’ roll made you think “What the f***do I have to do this for?” and demand an answer. It was funny how that happened but it did, ‘cause the songs were about nothing really but people would try and stop you from listening to it all the time. My parents did.

Motorhead’s current lineup: (L – R) drummer Mikkey Dee, guitarist Phil “Wizzö” Campbell and Lemmy on bass and lead vocals.

Motorhead’s classic ’70s lineup with drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor Taylor (L) and guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke.

What are some of the misconceptions people have about the history of rock n’ roll?

Well they always think of it as hoodlums and, like, juvenile delinquents. You must have seen those old clips of like what teenagers should be wearing. No makeup, frumpy old skirts. It was really bad news.  So we wanted our own stuff. We wanted to dress like we wanted to. They were always trying to change you. They were always trying to make you be like them, basically, and we said “F*** you.” (laughter)  Not directly but through our actions.  And it was like punk, it was all gone in two years. Elvis was in the army. Chuck Berry was in jail. Little Richard became a minister…

That must have been a good church, Little Richard’s church.

He used to show up in a yellow Cadillac at the seminary. (laughter)

There was a huge blues fan base in England as well.

Oh, I listened to a lot of the blues. I love the blues. You know, Slim Harpo, people like that and Sonny Boy Williamson.

A lot of those blues guys were coming over to England to tour in the early 1960s, right?

Yeah they were. There’s a lot more to it than just the stars. You know, Elvis never came to Britain but Eddie Cochran died in Britain. Buddy Holly came to Britain once.

Did you see him?

Apparently I did but I don’t remember. My father took me which was a bit of a killer.(laughter)

How’s your health? How are you feeling these days?

Alright. I’m getting back there. We’ve just done two tours.  It doesn’t really matter what you do, it’s how you do it and how you feel. I gave up smoking more or less. I have one now and again but that’s about it. And I more or less gave up drinking or I switched to vodka instead of Jack Daniels, which is better for you apparently. If you’re going to drink, that’s the least harmful.

Are you surprised that you’re healthier then Dave Mustaine (who cancelled Megadeth’s appearance on the Motörboat cruise due to “complications arising from a cervical spine surgery”)?

Well, I don’t know if I’m healthier than him. He says he’s wrecked his neck. I don’t know about that though. That wouldn’t keep me from doing a tour, you know. (laughter)

What’s the worst injury you ever suffered on tour?

Well, let’s see. I once fell through a hole in the stage. I used to wear a bullet belt, right? It was chrome, you know, and I crushed two of the f***king bullets flat with my hip bone. That was an interesting half hour. Once we got on stage by like the third song I couldn’t move at all from the waist down. But you know, you have to go on ‘cause there’s three to four thousand people who have paid good money. You can’t leave them just lying there if you can help it. Any time we’ve ever canceled anything it was because we couldn’t actually physically do it.

Motorhead circa 1985, which introduced dual guitarists Wizzo and Würzel.

Besides his work with Motorhead, Lemmy has helped pen hit songs for Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford.

What are you going to be packing for the Motörhead’s Motörboat cruise?

Clothes. What would you pack for it? That’s a dumb question. Maybe an inflatable life jacket.

Who are you looking forward to seeing?

Well, we always liked Anthrax, you know. They’ve been on tour with us several times. So I like them. And I’d like to see Down. Our old friend Danko Jones, you know. He’s been on tour with us about four times.

Lemmy (far right) with early ’70s space rock pioneers Hawkwind.

There’s been a resurgence of interest in your old band Hawkwind over the past few years, especially in America where they were largely unknown.

Well, when Hawkwind first came over, we started off with a big push and it was going very well. Then they made the terrible mistake of firing me ‘cause I was the driver. I drove that f***ing band. And when they hired the replacement they really hired the wrong guy. This guy would put his foot up on the drum riser and do a bass solo, you know, like a jazz bass solo. So it was not what people were looking for.

As an Englishman what do you think of the Scottish push for independence?

Well it’s up to them, you know, but I think it’s a mistake. ‘Cause I don’t think they’re ready for it really as far as industry. And then, they’ll have to import everything from England and export stuff to England. So I don’t see what the point is.

Do you have any regrets about leaving England and moving to Los Angeles?

No. The music business operates out of Los Angeles, you know, that’s it. Even if you live in New York, you’re fooling yourself. You got to be out here. And it was time for a change anyway because the band it was failing badly in England. We couldn’t get arrested. But you know, coming over here seemed to make us acceptable in Britain again. It’s weird. We’re like a foreign band now. It’s exciting to see us because we don’t live there.

You’ve won Grammys and written hit songs, and explored rockabilly with The Head Cat. Is there anything you haven’t done musically that you’d like to?

No, I’m pretty well off. All my dreams came true. There’s not many people that can say that. I mean most people have to work in a job they hate all their lives and I can’t imagine that. It must be fucking awful. I’m really grateful for the chances we got and the chances we took.

What do people get wrong about the Motörhead story?

I don’t know really. You get various permutations of it. The main thing is that people think we’re fucking idiots, you know, morons, dummies in leather jackets. And they keep referring to my leather trousers which I’ve never worn in my life. I don’t get how they can get things like that wrong and still have a job.

The Lord High Bishop of Hard Rock, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister.