Melody Maker once described the British band Motörhead as “the genuine pared-down, no-frills bare bones of skull-smashing music.” The group’s sound has been streamlined somewhat since its formation in 1975, but despite personnel changes and an existence mostly at the margins of commercial hard rock, Motörhead has survived to earn a degree of respect from critics and even some non-metal fans. Merging the anarchic roar and speed of punk rock with the musical and thematic concerns of metal, the group helped to pioneer what has become known as “speed metal” and “thrash,” influencing countless bands in the ensuing years but outlasting most of its competition. The distinctive rasp of bassist-leader Lemmy Kilmister remains one of the rawest sounds in rock. According to Jon Blackmore of Melody Maker, when Lemmy set his sights on ’70s rock, “[he] almost single-handedly kicked it off its platform boots, ripped away its indulgent preening, and invested it with a punk ethic and raucous venom that’s seen it chug happily into the ’80s [and beyond], along with a list of Motörhead imitators too long to contemplate.”
Members include Phil Campbell Goined band 1986), guitar;“Fast” Eddie Clarke (bandmember 1978-84), guitar; Mikkey Dee (joined band 1992), drums; Lucas Fox (bandmember 1975-78), drums; Pete Gill (bandmember 1984-87), drums; Lemmy (born Ian Kilmister December 24, 1945, in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, England), bass, vocals; Brian Robertson (bandmember 1984-1986), guitar; Philip “Philthy Animal” Taylor (born September 21, 1954, in Chesterfield, Derbys, England; bandmember 1978-84, 1987-92), drums; Larry Wallis (bandmember 1975-78), guitar; and Wurzel (born October 23, 1949; joined band 1986), guitar.
Group formed as Bastard in London, 1975; released debut LP, Motorhead, Chiswick, 1977; released single ’’Louie Louie” and album Bomber, Bronze, 1978; signed with WTG Records and released 1916, 1991; contributed songs to Helîraiser III soundtrack, 1992. Lemmy appeared in film Hardware, HBO, 1990.
Awards: Grammy nomination for best hard rock/heavy metal performance, 1991.
Addresses: Record company —WTG Records, P.O. Box 4450, New York, NY 10101; 1801 Century Park West, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Publicity— Hot Shot Public Relations, 6124 62nd St., Middle Village, NY 11379-1007.
Kilmister, who has since become simply Lemmy, had played for the group Hawkwind but left to form his own outfit—originally called Bastard—in 1975. With guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox, the trio signed a deal with United Artists Records. Unfortunately, the album they recorded was not released for five years. The band floated for a while, pursuing a project with Stiff Records impresario Jake Riviera that also stalled. “Everyone was against us. We couldn’t even get a gig at one time,” Lemmy told Melody Maker. “Ina way, the music business made us what we are: It forced us into being something that didn’t give a shit. It tried to push us out, and very nearly succeeded. It stopped us working.”
Wallis and Fox departed in 1978 and were replaced by “Fast” Eddie Clarke on guitar and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor on drums, with whom the band would make its early reputation. The group then recorded a self-titled LP for Chiswick Records in the U.K. The album fared well, making it into the British Top Fifty. Thanks in part to Howard Thompson, a record executive and Motorhead fan, the band then moved on to Bronze Records, a bigger label, and in 1978 released a version of the rock standard “Louie Louie”—which resulted in a chart hit— and their sophomore effort, Bomber; this was followed by Overkill, in 1979. On Parole, the earlier effort recorded with Wallis and Fox, was finally released on the United Artists label in 1980.
It was Ace of Spades, however, Motörhead’s other 1980 release, that made the band an international contender in the world of hard rock. American fans were taken by the group’s blazing approach; the title track was particularly popular. Motörhead’s logo—a ferocious-looking fanged skull—became the t-shirt design of choice for many young headbangers. The 1981 follow-up, No Sleep Til Hammersmith, made it to the top of the British album charts. Rolling Stone identified the band in a review of the 1982 album Iron Fist as an example of the trend in metal “toward a visceral directness that prefers punch over flash.” Indeed, wrote J. D. Considine, “The British trio plays with a brutish intensity that makes [Australian hard rockers] AC/DC seem like [the easy-listening pop group] Air Supply. Granted, rock & roll as sonic shrapnel is a rather limited perspective, but Motorhead offsets the music’s relent-lessness with surprisingly astute lyrics and exhilarating bursts of manic guitar. This is music for the thinking headbanger.”
1982 also saw the departure of Eddie Clarke. He was replaced by axeman Brian Robertson, formerly of the influential British group Thin Lizzy. In 1983 Motorhead released the records What’s Words Worth and Another Perfect Day. Of the latter, Melody Maker’s Adam Sweeting commented, “Where records like ’Ace of Spades’ or ’Iron Fist’ were a bit like being struck by one of those things they use to knock down buildings, ’Day’ is sort of spacier, kinda wider-ranging. Much of this must be attributed to Robinson, a one-man guitar army who loves nothing better than to hole up in a studio and pile on layer after layer of guitars.” As drummer Taylor observed in the same article, “Before, our records were like being punched in the teeth. Now it’s like being punched in the teeth with an apology afterwards.”
Apologies notwithstanding, more personnel changes ensued. In 1984 Taylor took what the band, in a Melody Maker notice, called “a long overdue rest.” He was replaced by Pete Gill, late of the band Saxon. Robertson also departed, leaving Lemmy to choose between two possible replacements: Welsh guitarist Phil “Zoom” Campbell and another player known only as Wurzel. Instead of wrestling with this important decision, Lemmy hired both. Quotes from the two in Melody Maker suggested that they were undaunted by their new assignment: “It’s great to be back on the folk circuit,” quipped Campbell, while Wurzel claimed, “[Motörhead is] my granny’s favorite band.”
Meanwhile, 1984 saw the release of the compilation No Remorse; it featured 22 songs culled from the group’s previous records. The new lineup’s first LP together was 1986’s Orgasmatron; Blackmore of Melody Maker called it “a raging orgy of noise with lyrics that would make the flesh crawl off your back.” In 1987 Taylor returned to the drumkit, and the group recorded the album Rock ’N’Roll. The following year saw the release of the live collection No Sleep At All.
Having signed with Epic Records label WTG, Motörhead toured regularly but seemed destined to remain on the fringe of the metal scene they had done so much to shape. Their first album for WTG, 1916, garnered rave reviews, however. “Its fast songs serve as textbook examples of how to rock,” wrote Stereo Review’s Parke Puterbaugh, adding that the 1991 album’s more conceptual pieces “plunge into the heart of darkness with unnerving power.” Jim Farber of Rolling Stone affirmed, “On 1916 Motörhead manages to mingle ruthlessness and listenability like never before.” And Janiss Garza, writing for Rip, called the album “a creative triumph.” The record sold an impressive 500,000 units, and the band—which spent part of the year with Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, and Metal Church on the Operation Rock & Roll Tour—earned a Grammy nomination for best hard rock/heavy metal performance.
Working with producer Pete Solley, who oversaw 1916, Motörhead returned to the studio the following year. But while the band was recording, Taylor again proffered his resignation—this time apparently for good—and the remaining members recruited former Dokken drummer Mikkey Dee to replace him. The result was 1992’s March or Die. Featuring metal megastar Ozzy Osbourne singing with Lemmy on the ballad “I Ain’t No Nice Guy,” guest guitar work by Slash of Guns N’ Roses, and a furious cover of Motor City Madman Ted Nugent’s raunch-rock classic “Cat Scratch Fever,” March or Die represented a further streamlining of the Motörhead sound.
Reviews were once again generally favorable, though Lorraine Ali of Spin sniffed that the effort was merely the group’s “most inoffensive.” Garza, writing this time for Entertainment Weekly, awarded March or Die an “A” and insisted that it “surges way beyond the confines of ordinary heavy metal.” 1992 also saw Motörhead take part in the massive Guns N’ Roses/Metallica tour, contribute two songs to the Hellraiser III movie soundtrack, and become the first band of its kind to appear on The Tonight Show. Lemmy branched out, writing the smash hit “Mama I’m Coming Home” for Osboume and some songs for metal chanteuse Lita Ford. Jailbait, a live “authorized bootleg” from Motörhead’s Iron Fist tour, appeared on Receiver Records that year as well.
Toiling on the periphery for so many years while younger bands reaped fame and fortune may have galled Lemmy and the rest of Motörhead, but they have proved that sticking to one’s vision can pay off. Their admirers nonetheless remain indignant: “Out of all the bands that have influenced the history of hard rock,” lamented Garza in her Rip profile, “these guys probably have the least to show for their efforts. When they should be headlining packed arenas, they’re still struggling for a good middle slot.” As if to underscore Garza’s contention, Epic dropped the band in 1993.
Still, despite the understandable “bitterness” that some have attributed to Lemmy, he and his mates have soldiered on, convinced that performing is its own reward. Asked by Pulse! to define his favorite audience, Lemmy referred glowingly to “the feedback, hands punching only the air, people knowing the words and singing along, girls showing off at the front, people at the side of the stage jumping up and down and smiling.” For the Motörhead faithful, the “kick in the teeth” provided by the band’s relentless energy requires no apology.
Motörhead, Chiswick, 1977.
“Louie Louie,” Bronze, 1978.
Bomber, Bronze (U.K.)/Roadrunner (U.S.), 1978.
Overkill, Bronze/Roadrunner, 1979.
On Parole, United Artists, 1980.
Ace of Spades (includes “Ace of Spades”), Bronze/Roadrunner, 1980.
No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith, Bronze/Roadrunner, 1981.
(With Girlschool) The St Valentine’s Day Massacre, Bronze, 1981.
Iron Fist, Bronze/Roadrunner, 1982.
What’s Words Worth, Bronze/Roadrunner, 1983.
Another Perfect Day, Bronze/Roadrunner, 1983.
No Remorse, Bronze/Roadrunner, 1984.
Orgasmatron, Bronze/Roadrunner, 1986.
Rock ’N’ Roll, GWR, 1987.
No Sleep at All, Bronze/Roadrunner, 1988.
1916, WTG/Epic, 1991.
Jailbait, Receiver, 1992.
March or Die (includes “I Ain’t No Nice Guy” and “Cat Scratch Fever”), WTG/Epic, 1992.
(Contributors) “Hellraiser” and “Hell on Earth,” Hellraiser III (soundtrack), Victory Music Co., 1992.
Singles Collection (Japan), 1993.
The Best of Motörhead, Roadrunner, 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, August 14, 1992.
Melody Maker, February 17, 1979; May 14, 1983; September 29, 1984; July 12, 1986.
Pulse!, September 1992; September 1993.
Raw, May 13, 1992.
Rip, November 1992.
Rock Power, May 21, 1992.
Rolling Stone, June 24, 1982; March 21, 1991.
Spin, September 1992.
Stereo Review, June 1991.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Hot Shot Public Relations and WTG Records, 1992.
"Motörhead." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/motorhead
"Motörhead." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/motorhead
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