Lemmy (born Ian Fraser Kilmister, December 24, 1945), also known as Lemmy Kilmister, Ian Willis or Lemmy von Motörhead, is an English singer and bass guitarist, most famous for being the founding member of the heavy metal band Motörhead. His appearance, facial moles, mutton chops (sideburn-moustache combination), and gravelly voice, have made him an instantly recognisable cult figure.
Lemmy was born Ian Fraser Kilmister on 24 December 1945 in Burslem, Stoke on Trent, England. At three months of age, his father, an ex-Royal Air Force chaplain, separated from his mother. His mother and grandmother settled in Newcastle-under-Lyme then moved onto Madeley, Staffordshire.
At the age of 10, Kilmister's mother married George Willis, who had two older children from a previous marriage, Patricia and Tony, with whom he didn't get on. The family moved to Benllech, Anglesey, North Wales and it was during this time that he 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 nick-named Lemmy, although he is unsure why, and it would later be claimed that it originated from the phrase "Lemmy a quid til Friday" due to his habit of cadging money off of people to feed his addiction to fruit machines.
Upon leaving school and with his family relocated in Conwy, Kilmister 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 named Cathy and he followed her to Stockport where she had his son, Sean. Sean was put up for adoption.
In Stockport he joined local bands The Rainmakers then The Motown Sect, who enjoyed three years playing northern clubs. Wanting to progress further, in 1965 he joined The Rockin' Vickers who signed a deal with CBS and released three singles and toured Europe, reportedly being the first British band to play behind the Iron Curtain when they visited Yugoslavia. With the band living in a Manchester flat, he had a relationship with a girl named Tracy who bore him a son, Paul, although it wouldn't be until the boy was 6 that Lemmy had any involvement with the child.
Wanting to progress even further, he relocated to London in 1967. Sharing a flat with Noel Redding, 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 during 1969, he joined the band Opal Butterfly, but the band soon folded, having previously failed to raise enough interest with their preceding CBS singles.
At this point he thought about changing his legal name to his stepfather's surname of Willis, but with his actual father's surname of Kilmister, he decided changing his birth certificate and passport would be too much hassle, so didn't bother. An attempted reconciliation in 1970 between Lemmy and his birth father broke down, with Lemmy describing him as a "nasty little weasel".
In 1971, Lemmy joined the space rock band, Hawkwind, who were based in Ladbroke Grove, London. He had little 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 notes 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 lead vocals on a number of songs, including the band's biggest UK chart single, "Silver Machine", which reached No.3 in 1972.
See also Hawkwind (1970-75: United Artists era)
In 1975 Lemmy was fired from Hawkwind after he was arrested at Canadian customs on drug possession charges; he spent five days in prison. He went on to form a new band 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. This new band was originally called Bastard. When his manager informed him that a band by that name will never get a slot on "Top of the Pops", Lemmy changed the band's name to Motörhead - the title of the last song Lemmy wrote for Hawkwind.
Lemmy playing bass live.
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, as well as to fans of the nascent punk rock scene. 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 the world of rock at that time. The band's success peaked between 1980 and 1981 with a number of UK chart hits, including the classic single "Ace of Spades" (still a crowd favourite today) and the #1 live album No Sleep 'til Hammersmith. Motörhead have since gone on to become one of the most influential bands in the heavy metal music genre, and although Lemmy is the only constant member, are still performing and releasing records to this day. Despite Motörhead's many member changes over their 30-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 was brought in as a songwriter for Ozzy Osbourne's 1991 No More Tears album, providing lyrics for the tracks "Hellraiser", (which Motörhead later released on their "Hellraiser" 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 Motorhead. Lemmy published his autobiography, White Line Fever in November 2002. In 2005 Motörhead won their first Grammy, beating out such modern contemporaries like Slipknot, Killswitch Engage, Hatebreed, and Cradle of Filth, in the Best Metal Performance category with their cover of Metallica's "Whiplash".He lives in Los Angeles.
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 newspaper as other people in the crowd admit geeky pastimes in their youth. Lemmy has also appeared in several movies from the Troma studio.
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. He also appeared on an intro scene on The Drew Carey Show in which Motörhead plays outside Carey's home, startling him awake. Lemmy is one of very few musicians to have been mentioned on Beavis and Butt-Head who was not made fun of. Upon seeing Lemmy making a cameo appearance in the Ramones' "Substitute" video, Butthead exclaims, "He's Lemmy. He can be in any damn video he wants to!". Lemmy made an appearance in the music video for the 1998 Rap song "Freak of the Week".
Motörhead performed the entrance theme song "The Game" for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)'s Triple H (who at one point wore his mustache and sideburns like Lemmy as a tribute), as well as "Line in the Sand" for Triple H's now defunct 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. He's currently set to voice the Kill Master in the video game Brütal Legend.
Lemmy also appears in the new Airbourne music video for "Runnin' Wild". he plays a trucker driving wildly while the police chase him down a highway.
A documentary/rockumentary on Lemmy has been announced for release in 2009. Entitled "Lemmy: The Movie," It is co-produced by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski, and shot on a combination of 16mm and HD film. It will feature interviews with friends, peers and admirers such as Dave Grohl, Slash and Steve Vai and is said to set the record straight on a number of rumors and myths regarding Lemmy's lifestyle.
In a Channel 4 documentary called "Motorhead: Live Fast, Die Old", broadcast on August 22, 2005, it was claimed that Lemmy "had bedded" in excess of 2,000 women. Maxim magazine has Lemmy at number 8 on its top ten "Living Sex Legends" list, as they claim that he has slept with around 1200 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 at age 60
During Lemmy's time with Hawkwind, he developed an appetite for speed and acid and was to become renowned for his use of speed. 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 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. However he shocked the Assembly Members and Welsh public when he 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 legalize it." He stated that legalization would eradicate the drug dealer from society.
Lemmy collects Nazi memorabilia, and has an Iron Cross encrusted on his bass, which has led to accusations of Nazi tendencies. However, he considers himself an anarchist or libertarian, and that he is "anti-communism, fascism, any extreme," saying that "government causes more problems than it solves". According to Keith Emerson's autobiography, two of Lemmy's Hitlerjugend knives were given to Emerson during Lemmy's time spent 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.
Lemmy in his usual singing stance, with his microphone in its high position.
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 50-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 has been using a customised 4004.
He uses hot-rodded Marshall JMP Superbass II amplifiers from the later 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 destroyed in Argentina when all the other equipment was stolen. They were not seen for many years, but in 2006 (a new?) "Murder One" got on stage again. Currently (2008), there's no special name on the amps. In 2008 Marshall released the "1992LEM", a signature series copy of his 1992 100 Watt Super Bass Unit, "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 the bass and treble off, and the midrange up all the way, with the volume and presence up to the 3:00 position. The result is a biting midrange sound which is somewhat distorted but not "fuzzed out" or "blurry", a formula well-suited to his use of open-string drones and power chords. 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 "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, "Boogeyman" on Rock 'n' Roll, and "Whorehouse Blues" from the Inferno album.
In September 2006, his Rickenbacker bass was featured in the Bang Your Head exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
For releases with Motörhead see the Motörhead discography
As a member of The Rockin' Vickers
As a member of Sam Gopal
As a member of Hawkwind
As a member of Robert Calvert's band
Side projects and career spanning
Appearances on film soundtracks, tribute, wrestling and various artists albums