Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister (born 24 December 1945) is an English rock musician. He is best known as the lead vocalist, bassist, principal songwriter and the founding and sole constant member of the rock and roll band Motörhead as well as a former member of Hawkwind. He is also known for his appearance, including his friendly mutton chops, prominent facial moles, and gravelly voice.
Lemmy was born on Christmas Eve in the Burslem area of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. When Lemmy was three months old, his father, an ex-Royal Air Force chaplain, separated from his mother. His mother and grandmother settled in Newcastle-under-Lyme, then moved on to Madeley. When Lemmy was 10, his mother married former footballer George Willis, who already had two older children from a previous marriage, Patricia and Tony, with whom Lemmy did not get along.
The family moved to a farm in Benllech, Anglesey, North Wales, and it was during this time that Lemmy started to show an interest in rock and roll music, girls, and horses. He attended Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones school in Amlwch, where he was nicknamed Lemmy, although he is unsure why; it would later be claimed that the name originated from the phrase "lemmy lend me a quid 'til Friday" because of his habit of borrowing money from people to feed his addiction to slot machines.
Leaving school and with the family relocated in Conwy, he undertook menial jobs including working at the local Hotpoint factory while also playing guitar for local bands, such as The Sundowners, and spending time at a horse riding school. At the age of 17, he met a holidaying girl called Cathy and he followed her to Stockport where she had his son, Sean, who was put up for adoption.
Lemmy saw The Beatles perform at the Cavern Club when he was 16, and then played guitar along to their first album Please Please Me. He also admired the sarcastic attitude of the group, particularly that of John Lennon.
Recording and performing career:
1960-1970: Early years:
In Stockport, he joined local bands The Rainmakers and then The Motown Sect who enjoyed playing northern clubs for three years. Wanting to progress further, in 1965 he joined The Rockin' Vickers who signed a deal with CBS, released three singles and toured Europe, reportedly being the first British band to visit Yugoslavia. With the band living in a Manchester flat, he had a relationship with a girl named Tracy who bore him a son, although it would not be until the boy was six that Lemmy had any involvement with him.
In the film Lemmy he speaks briefly of having another son by an unnamed woman. It appears this child was adopted because the mother has only recently "found him" and "hadn't got the heart to tell him who his father was".
Wanting to progress, Lemmy relocated to London in 1967. Sharing a flat with Noel Redding and Neville Chesters, he got a job as a roadie for The Jimi Hendrix Experience. In 1968 he joined Sam Gopal and recorded the album Escalator and the single "Horse".
After meeting Simon King in a Chelsea shopping centre in 1969, he joined the band Opal Butterfly, but the group soon folded, having previously failed to raise enough interest with their preceding CBS singles.
At this point he changed his legal name from his step-father's surname Willis to his biological father's surname Kilmister. Despite an attempted reconciliation between them in 1970 their relationship was not repairable: Lemmy later described him as a "nasty little weasel".
See also Hawkwind (1970-75: United Artists era)
In 1972, Lemmy joined the space rock band Hawkwind, who were based in Ladbroke Grove, London, as a bassist and vocalist. He had no previous experience as a bass guitarist, but quickly developed a distinctive style that was strongly shaped by his early experience as a rhythm guitarist, often using double stops and chords rather than the single note lines preferred by most bassists. His bass work was a fundamental part of the Hawkwind sound during his tenure, perhaps best documented on Space Ritual. He also provided the lead vocals on a number of songs, including the band's biggest UK chart single, "Silver Machine", which reached No.3 in 1972.
In 1975 Lemmy was fired from Hawkwind after he was arrested at the Canadian/US border in Windsor, Ontario on drug possession charges; he spent five days in jail. Lemmy was released without charge as Windsor Police arrested him for possession of cocaine and after testing the evidence it turned out to be speed. So according to Canadian law at the time, he couldn't be charged with anything and was released with no charge or conviction.
He went on to form a new band called "Bastard" with guitarist Larry Wallis (former member of the Pink Fairies, Steve Took's Shagrat and UFO) and drummer Lucas Fox. Lemmy's connection with Took (formerly of T. Rex) was not limited to Wallis, as they were personal friends and Took was the stepfather to Lemmy's son, Paul. When his manager informed him that a band by the name of "Bastard" would never get a slot on "Top of the Pops", Lemmy changed the band's name to "Motörhead" - the title of the last song he had written for Hawkwind.
Soon after, both Wallis and Fox were replaced with guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor and with this line-up the band began to achieve success. The band's sound appealed to both Lemmy's original fans and, eventually, to fans of punk rock. In fact, he asserts that he generally feels more kinship with punks than with heavy metal; he even played with The Damned for a handful of gigs when they had no regular bassist and Lemmy's guttural vocals were unique in rock at that time, as they would not be copied until the rise in popularity of punk. The band's success peaked between 1980 and 1981 with a number of UK chart hits, including the classic single "Ace of Spades", which is still a crowd favourite, and the UK No. 1 live album No Sleep 'til Hammersmith. Motörhead have since gone on to become one of the most influential bands in heavy metal and although Lemmy is the only constant member, are still performing and releasing records. Despite Motörhead's many member changes over their 40-year history, the current lineup of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee has remained constant since 1995.
Lemmy has also worked with a number of other musicians over his career and occasionally guests with Hawkwind. He wrote the song "R.A.M.O.N.E.S" for the Ramones, which he still plays in his live sets as a tribute to the band. He was brought in as a songwriter for Ozzy Osbourne's 1991 No More Tears album, providing lyrics for the tracks "Hellraiser", (which Motörhead would later record themselves and release as a single), "Desire", "I Don't Want to Change the World" and the single "Mama I'm Coming Home". Lemmy has noted in several magazine and television interviews that he made more money from the royalties of that one song than he had in his entire time with Motörhead. After being diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes in 2000, which led to a brief hospitalisation, Lemmy again appeared with Motörhead at WrestleMania 17. Lemmy published his autobiography, White Line Fever in November 2002. In 2005, Motörhead won their first Grammy in the Best Metal Performance category with their cover of Metallica's "Whiplash". Since 1990 he has lived in Los Angeles, California, currently resident in a two-room apartment two blocks away from his favourite hangout, the Rainbow Bar and Grill.
An officially licensed Lemmy figurine has been produced. Available as a "regular" or "special" edition, Lemmy recalls:
I had to stand on this platform while the camera went around and did the hologram thing and then they made the model, only smaller. They said it's an action figure and I said, 'So, you're gonna put a dick on it?' They said, 'No.' I said, 'Well, then it's not going to get much action then, is it?' A bad name for it, right?
In 2005, he began recording an unreleased solo album titled Lemmy & Friends, which was intended to include a collaboration with Janet Jackson.
In October 2009 Lemmy performed vocals and bass on a cover of "Stand by Me" with Dave Lombardo of Slayer on drums and produced by DJ and producer Baron. The song was made for professional skateboarder Geoff Rowley.
Lemmy appeared on the song "Doctor Alibi" from Slash's self-titled solo album.
In 2011 Lemmy appeared on the song "Debauchery As A Fine Art" from Michael Monroe's solo album Sensory Overdrive.
In 2014 Lemmy appeared on the band Emigrate's new album Silent So Long singing lead vocals on the song Rock City.
Film and television:
Lemmy has made a number of appearances in film and television, including the 1990 science fiction film Hardware and the 1987 comedy Eat the Rich, for which Motörhead also recorded the soundtracks. In the 1980s Motörhead were the musical guests on the cult British TV show "The Young Ones", episode entitled "Bambi". In the 1994 comedy Airheads (in which he is credited as "Lemmy von Motörhead"), one scene involving Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler, and Steve Buscemi, has Brendan Fraser's character, "Chazz" Chester Darvey talking to an undercover cop who is pretending to be a record executive--Chazz asks him, "Who'd win in a wrestling match, Lemmy or God?", the cop replies, "Lemmy", to which Rex, played by Steve Buscemi, imitates a game show buzzer and the cop quickly changes his answer to "... God!". Rex replies saying, "Wrong, dickhead, trick question. Lemmy is God". Lemmy appears in the film and shouts out (truthfully) that he edited his school magazine as other people in the crowd admit geeky pastimes in their youth. Lemmy has also appeared in several movies from Troma Entertainment, including the narrator in 1996's Tromeo and Juliet and as himself in both Terror Firmer and Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV.
Having a predilection for self-deprecating parody, he once appeared in an advertisement for Kit Kat chocolate bars, miming a piece of chamber music on the violin, in an upper-class tea-room, and he also appeared in an ad for Walkers where he gets his crisps stolen.. In the 1990s he appeared in a TV advert for the Axa insurance group, talking on the phone in the back room of a biker club to his financial advisor about the company's pension plans, and upon realising he's being filmed swiftly changes the conversation by saying "so get me 100 gallons of whipped cream, fill the bath with Tequila and don't forget the goats alright?!" while looking sheepishly at the camera.
He also appeared on an intro scene on The Drew Carey Show in which Motörhead play outside Carey's home, startling him awake. Lemmy is one of the few musicians to have been mentioned on Beavis and Butt-head without being made fun of. Upon seeing Lemmy making a cameo appearance in the Ramones's cover of The Who's "Substitute" video, Butt-head exclaims, "He's Lemmy. He can walk into any damn video he wants!" and Beavis adds that Lemmy "rules," the highest compliment that the two are known to pay to an artist. Lemmy made an appearance in the music videos for the 1986 Boys Don't Cry song "I Wanna Be A Cowboy" and the 1998 Rap song "Freak of the Week" by adult film star Ron Jeremy.
Motörhead performed the entrance theme song "The Game" for WWE's Triple H, and performed the song live for his entrance at Wrestlemania 17 and at Wrestlemania 21. They later performed the song "Line in the Sand" for Triple H's wrestling stable, Evolution. In 2006, they once again provided theme music for WWE as they recorded the song "King of Kings" for Triple H on the Wreckless Intent CD.
Lemmy has a cameo role in the film ''Down and Out with the Dolls'' (Kurt Voss 2001). He appears as a lodger who lives in a closet.
Lemmy appears in the Airbourne music video for "Runnin' Wild". He plays a trucker driving wildly while the police chase him down a highway.
Lemmy recently has appeared on Down and Dirty with Jim Norton as the series deejay, and also created the theme music.
Lemmy also appears briefly, but with some confiding words, in the Penelope Spheeris film "The Decline of the Western Civilization, Part II".
Lemmy also took part in a comedy skit titled "The Easy Guitar Book Sketch" with comedian Rowland Rivron and fellow British musicians Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, Mark King from Level 42 along with Northern Irish guitarist Gary Moore.
In late 2010 Lemmy and Motorhead appeared in a commercial for Kronenbourg beer in which he played harmonica and sang along to a slower version of Ace of Spades.
In February 2011 Lemmy acted as the driver of the limo for the Foo Fighters music video "White Limo" He also provided his voice for the video game Brütal Legend, voicing the Kill Master, a character designed and based on his likeness.
The rockumentary film Lemmy was directed and produced by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski. It consists of a combination of 16 mm film and HD video footage, produced over three years. It features interviews with friends, peers, and admirers such as Dave Grohl, Slash, Ozzy Osbourne, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Robert Trujillo of Metallica, David Ellefson of Megadeth, Scott Ian of Anthrax, Alice Cooper, Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order, Dee Snider, Nikki Sixx, Mick Jones of The Clash, Ice-T, Kat Von D, Henry Rollins, Lars Frederiksen of Rancid, Jim Heath of The Reverend Horton Heat, Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats, Mike Inez, Joan Jett, pro skateboarder Geoff Rowley, pro wrestler Triple H, Fast Eddie Clarke, Jarvis Cocker, Marky Ramone, former Hawkwind bandmates Dave Brock and Stacia, and Steve Vai.
Lemmy premiered on March 2010 at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. It was first screened in Britain at the London Film Festival on 23 October 2010. Entertainment One released the DVD on 25 January 2011.
In video games:
Lemmy appeared as an unlockable character in the game Guitar Hero: Metallica. Lemmy also provided the voice for the arms dealer in Scarface: The World is Yours. He also provided his voice for the video game Brütal Legend, voicing the 'Kill-Master', a character designed and based on his likeness. Also he was the main character in the 16-bit video game "Motörhead". Because of his association with WWE, Lemmy's face is used as a template in the video game WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007.
Image and celebrity status:
Dave Grohl, on his Probot website, summarizes musicians he worked with. For Lemmy's entry he wrote:
We recorded his track in Los Angeles in maybe two takes about a year and a half ago. Until then I'd never met what I'd call a real rock 'n' roll hero before. Fuck Elvis and Keith Richards, Lemmy's the king of rock 'n' roll - he told me he never considered Motörhead a metal band, he was quite adamant. Lemmy's a living, breathing, drinking and snorting fucking legend. No one else comes close.
In a Channel 4 documentary called Motörhead: Live Fast, Die Old, broadcast on 22 August 2005, it was claimed that Lemmy had "bedded" in excess of 2,000 women. Lemmy himself however stated: "I said more than a thousand, the magazine made two thousand of it." Maxim has Lemmy at number 8 on its top ten "Living Sex Legends" list, as they claim that he has slept with around 1,200 women.
In the documentary he explained that while in school he noticed a pupil who had brought a guitar to school and had been "surrounded by chicks". His mother had a guitar, which he then took to school, even though he could not play, and was himself surrounded by girls: "In those days just having a guitar was enough... that was it".
Lemmy is one of the characters in the book Sex Tips from Rock Stars by Paul Miles.
Drugs and alcohol:
Lemmy is well known for his lifelong large intake of alcohol. In the documentary Live Fast Die Old, it was revealed that he drank a bottle of Jack Daniel's every day and had done so since he was 30 years old. However, as of 2013, Lemmy has stopped drinking Jack Daniel's for health reasons.
During Lemmy's time with Hawkwind, he developed an appetite for amphetamines and LSD and was to become renowned for his use of the former. Before joining Hawkwind, he recalled Dik Mik, a former Hawkwind sound technician, visiting his squat in the middle of the night and taking speed with him. They became interested in how long "you could make the human body jump about without stopping", which they did for a few months, until Mik ran out of money and wanted to return to Hawkwind, taking Lemmy with him.
I first got into speed because it was a utilitarian drug and kept you awake when you needed to be awake, when otherwise you'd just be flat out on your back. If you drive to Glasgow for nine hours in the back of a sweaty truck you don't really feel like going onstage feeling all bright and breezy... It's the only drug I've found that I can get on with, and I've tried them all - except smack heroin and morphine: I've never "fixed" anything.
In November 2005, he was invited to the Welsh Assembly as a guest speaker by Tory Welsh assembly member William Graham. He was asked to express his views on the detrimental effects of drugs, and called for the legalisation of heroin: "I have never had heroin but since I moved to London from North Wales in '67 I have mixed with junkies on a casual and almost daily basis," he said. "I also lived with a young woman who tried heroin just to see what it was like. It killed her three years later. I hate the idea even as I say it, but I do believe the only way to treat heroin is to legalise it." He stated that legalization would eradicate the drug dealer from society.
Lemmy collects German military regalia, and has an Iron Cross encrusted on his bass, which has led to accusations of Nazi sympathies. He has stated that he collects this memorabilia for aesthetic values only, and considers himself an anarchist or libertarian, and that he is "anti-communism, fascism, any extreme," saying that "government causes more problems than it solves".Jeff Hanneman, the late founder of the trash metal band Slayer, befriended Lemmy due to their shared fondness for collecting Nazi memorabilia. According to Keith Emerson's autobiography, two of Lemmy's Hitlerjugend knives were given to Emerson by Lemmy during his time as a roadie for The Nice. Emerson used these knives many times as keyholders when playing the Hammond organ during concerts with The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, often before destroying them.
Lemmy stated in a 2011 interview with The Art Desk that he is agnostic.
Lemmy positions his microphone in an uncommonly high position, angled so that he appears to be looking up at the sky rather than at the audience. He said that it was for "personal comfort, that's all. It's also one way of avoiding seeing the audience. In the days when we only had ten people and a dog, it was a way of avoiding seeing that we only had ten people and a dog".
He has used Rickenbacker 4001 and 4003 bass guitars almost exclusively since his Hawkwind days, although some of these instruments were modified with the installation of Gibson Thunderbird pickups in the neck position. Rickenbacker produced a 60-bass run of Lemmy Kilmister signature basses, the 4004LK, which is fitted with three pickups, gold hardware, and elaborate wood carving in the shape of oak leaves. Lemmy currently uses a customised 4004 made by luthier TC Ellis.
He uses hot-rodded Marshall JMP Superbass II amplifiers from the late 1960s/early 1970s. Each amp, with a nominal output of 100 watts, is used with a 4x12 speaker cab and a custom-made 4x15 cab. He uses two such stacks, one on each side of the drum riser. For many years the amps were nicknamed "No Remorse", "Killer" (left side amp) or "Murder One" (right side amp) with appropriate nameplates. "No Remorse" was subsequently replaced by a new amp nicknamed "Marsha" when, as Kilmister said in an October 2004 interview, it "blew up". "Killer" and "Murder One" were believed to have been destroyed in Argentina when all the other equipment was stolen but this was later proven to be untrue. In 2006 Marshall designed new, prototype versions of "Murder One" which were then put into production, and the original amplifier was retired. A limited number of these bass heads have been released by Marshall in 2008 as the "1992LEM", a signature series copy of Lemmy's 1992 100 Watt Super Bass Head, "Murder One".
The phrase "Everything Louder Than Everyone Else" sums up Lemmy's sonic approach, as he plays at the loudest possible levels. He uses the bridge pickup exclusively (giving his bass sound more definition) and turns all the tone and volume knobs on the bass up full. On the amplifiers, he turns off the bass and treble and he turns the midrange up all the way, with the volume and presence up to the "3:00" position. The result is a biting, mid-range, almost guitar-like tone which is somewhat distorted but not "fuzzed out" or "blurry", a formula well-suited to his use of open-string drones and power chords. Lemmy uses no effects pedals: the distortion is produced naturally by the amplifiers, as they are set at such a high volume. In the 1990s after a Motörhead show at Hultsfred, Sweden a radio reporter asked Lemmy "If you were to play here again in ten years, how do you think you would sound?" Lemmy replied "Same, but louder..."
Lemmy has occasionally played electric or acoustic guitar, notably on the acoustic song "I Ain't No Nice Guy" from Motörhead's March Ör Die album, the title track on 1996's Overnight Sensation, "Limb from Limb" on Overkill (on which he plays the second lead break), "Boogeyman" on Rock 'n' Roll, and a mouth harp on "Whorehouse Blues" from the Inferno album. On "Lost Johnny" by Hawkwind he sings, plays bass, lead, and rhythm guitars.
In September 1996, his Rickenbacker bass was featured in the Bang Your Head exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license