Motörhead was a British heavy metal band founded in 1975 in London by bassist, vocalist and songwriter, Lemmy Kilmister, along with guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox.
Motörhead had great success in the early 1980s with several singles on the UK charts. The albums Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, Iron Fist, Orgasmatron, Bastards and particularly No Sleep ’til Hammersmith cemented their reputation as one of the most prominent bands on the British heavy metal scene.
Although Motörhead’s music is routinely labeled heavy metal, speed metal, or thrash metal (and often regarded as a fundamental influence of the latter two), Lemmy Kilmister has rejected the latter two labels, preferring to describe Motörhead’s style as “rock and roll“, which fits with some of the versions of classic songs that the band has been doing during their career.
Motörhead’s lyrics generally speak of the struggle between good and evil, war, abuse of power, sex, substance abuse, and life on the road. The band’s logo, Snaggletooth (sometimes called War-Pig), a mixture of gorilla, wolf, and gigantic horned dog with helmet, chains and spikes, was created by Joe Petagno in 1977 for the cover of their debut album. Snaggletooth appeared with variations in almost all of their albums.
Lemmy Kilmister, leader and founder of Motörhead, passed away on December 28, 2015. Following his death, drummer Mikkey Dee confirmed the dissolution of the group.
The story of Motörhead is inextricably linked to that of singer and bassist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister. Born on December 24, 1945 in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, Ian Kilmister, son of a Royal Air Force field chaplain and a librarian, played bass with the British space rock band Hawkwind since 1971. During a tour of North America, he was arrested on the US-Canadian border in May 1975 for possession of amphetamines. The band bailed Kilmister and flew him to Toronto to perform because they couldn’t find a replacement quickly, but he was fired after the concert.
Kilmister returned to England and immediately began putting together a new band. He knew guitarist Larry Wallis from joint appearances with UFO and the Pink Fairies, drummer Lucas Fox was recommended to him by a friend. Lemmy played bass and did the vocals.
Originally the band was supposed to be called Bastard, but the band manager at the time, Douglas Smith, did not consider the name to be suitable for the media. Lemmy then chose “Motörhead” as the band name. The name comes from US slang, meaning “speed freak” and is also a synonym for users of amphetamine-containing drugs. At the same time, “Motorhead” is the title of the last song that Kilmister wrote for Hawkwind. This song was originally released as the B-side of Hawkwind’s single Kings of Speed. The use of the letter ö, which is not common in the English language, goes back to the group Blue Öyster Cult.
On July 20, 1975, Motörhead made their first appearance at the London Roundhouse in the opening act of the band Greenslade and in October 1975 the band played as the opener for Blue Öyster Cult at the Hammersmith Odeon.
United Artists, Hawkwind’s record label, signed Motörhead and in the spring of 1976 the band went to the recording studio to record their first album, On Parole. During the recording there was already tension with drummer Lucas Fox, who could not keep up with the lifestyle of the other musicians, which was characterized by excessive consumption of alcohol and other drugs. Kilmister met Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor through a mutual friend, and after a jam session with him, Fox was fired, replaced by Taylor and the recordings completed with this line-up.
In 1976 Kilmister came up with the idea of adding “Fast” Eddie Clarke as a second guitarist to the band. Larry Wallis showed up several hours late for the first rehearsal and then left the band. As the main reason for his departure, Wallis later stated that he had lost interest in Motörhead because of the problems with the recording and the feeling that Clarke had been intended to replace him from the start.
At the end of 1976 United Artists released the band from the existing contract. Without a valid record deal, Motörhead decided in spring 1977 to break up due to unsuccessfulness and to give one last concert. Ted Carroll from Chiswick Records was present during this concert and offered the musicians a record deal for a single. The recordings for the single became recordings for a full album, which was released in September 1977 under the title Motörhead. It ranked 43 on the British album charts, and marked the band’s first commercial success.
After the break with band manager Tony Secunda in mid-1978 because he had canceled his contract with Chiswick Records, Douglas Smith took over the management again and got Motörhead a contract with Bronze Records. The first result of this collaboration was the single Louie Louie, which was released on August 25, 1978 and reached number 68 in the UK singles charts. After a tour in the fall of 1978, the album Overkill was recorded and released on March 24, 1979. It reached number 24 on the album charts in Great Britain and received a “Silver Record” for more than 60,000 discs sold
After completing the Overkill tour, Motörhead recorded the next album, which was released on October 27, 1979 under the title Bomber; it reached number 12 on the British album charts. With this, the musicians achieved for the first time income from which they could live and invested a large part of the royalties in the equipment of the band.
In the fall of 1979, shortly after Bomber and the associated commercial success, United Artists Records released On Parole, which had been recorded in 1976. Since the rights to the album were held by the record label, they did not need the band’s consent.
During the tour to Bomber, four tracks were recorded live and appeared in May 1980 as EP The Golden Years, which reached the British Top Ten with 8th place. The rigors of touring life took their toll when Kilmister collapsed after a concert at Stafford Bingley Hall in July 1980. After a short recovery period, the band began recording Ace of Spades in early August, which was released on November 8, 1980. The album was Motörhead’s greatest success in Great Britain, with No. 4 on the album charts and gold status for more than 100,000 units sold. The single Ace of Spades reached number 15 on the UK singles chart.
In November the Ace-Up-Your-Sleeve tour of Great Britain and Northern Ireland began. After a performance in Belfast, Phil Taylor injured his cervical spine, so that the performances planned for early 1981 in Europe had to be postponed. During this time, Motörhead and Girlschool recorded the EP St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which included Please Don’t Touch, a cover version of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates. The EP reached number 5 in the charts. In March 1981 the tour continued. During the performances in Leeds and Newcastle, the recordings were made that can be heard on the live album No Sleep ’til Hammersmith, released in June 1981. This album entered the UK album charts at number 1 in the first week of the chart. For the album Motörhead received their last gold record in Great Britain to date.
After completing the US tour with Ozzy Osbourne, Motörhead returned to Europe and began recording the next album, Iron Fist. During this time there were differences between the management and the band, as the members of Motörhead suspected that they had been cheated on finances. These problems were reflected in the recordings because management did not provide the £10,000 required to produce the album. Kilmister then decided that Eddie Clarke should produce the album.
After Kilmister had obliged Clarke to produce the recordings for the Stand-by-Your-Man EP with Wendy O. Williams during the ongoing tour of the Iron Fist album, there was an open dispute between the two musicians in the studio, as a result of which Clarke left Motorhead. Clarke played two outstanding shows in New York and Toronto, but was no longer an official Motörhead member at the time.
Clarke was replaced by Brian Robertson (formerly Thin Lizzy), whom Kilmister had known for years. Because he was available at short notice, the band had him flown from Europe to Canada. After a short rehearsal, he played the first concert with Motörhead in Detroit in June 1982. This was followed by further appearances in Japan and Europe, before the recording of Another Perfect Day began in March 1983. The album is due to Robertson’s guitar work not typical of Motörhead, and contains more refined and extravagant melodies than the other albums. With the album released in June 1983, the commercial success of Motörhead began to wane, it no longer reached the top ten of the album charts and did not receive an award for the number of sales. The fans of Motörhead initially disliked Another Perfect Day and accused the band of pursuing more commercial than musical interests. The collaboration with Robertson lasted until the fall of 1983. During the current tour, he initially refused to play old Motörhead songs. The scandal came after a concert in Hanover, at which Robertson sang the song Another Perfect Day three times, despite a warning from Kilmister. Kilmister then fired him and canceled the rest of the tour.
In an interview with the music magazine Melody Maker, Kilmister announced that Motörhead was looking for a new guitarist. Phil Campbell and Michael “Würzel” Burston were selected from the large number of applications. In order to be able to choose one, Kilmister set an audition to which drummer Taylor did not appear and instead declared that he wanted to quit. At the suggestion of the band manager he was replaced by Pete Gill (formerly Saxon), whom Kilmister had known since touring with Saxon in 1979. It was also decided to continue the band with two guitarists. With this line-up, Motörhead continued the tour that was interrupted in autumn 1983 in the spring of 1984. To promote the new line-up, Bronze Records released the best-of album No Remorse in September 1984, which, in addition to previously released tracks, contained four new tracks recorded by the current line-up. Due to problems with the label, which according to Kilmister “was no longer interested in the band“, Motörhead left Bronze Records in late 1984, but was prevented from releasing a new album until further notice due to legal disputes. During this time, the band made various appearances, including the tenth anniversary in June 1985 at the Hammersmith Odeon.
In November 1985, the dispute with Bronze Records was settled, and band manager Douglas Smith signed Motörhead to his own record label GWR Records. The studio album Orgasmatron, recorded in early 1986, was released on August 9, 1986, followed by a tour. In early 1987, the shooting of Motörhead’s cameo in the film Eat the Rich took place. While shooting, Pete Gill was fired due to personal differences, and Phil Taylor returned to the band. With him Motörhead recorded the next album Rock’n’Roll in June 1987, which was released in September of that year.
The following tour took the band to the USA in 1988 as a support act for Alice Cooper. In July 1988, a concert in Hämeenlinna, Finland was recorded at the Giants of Rock and released as the live album No Sleep at All. After a short break in early 1989, the band began songwriting for the next album. Its release, however, was postponed considerably because Motörhead parted ways with their manager in the fall of 1989 and thus also with his record company GWR Records. The reason for the separation was the suspicion of financial irregularities, which ultimately led to a breach of trust between Smith and Motörhead.
In 1990 Motörhead found a new manager in Phil Carson, who had worked for Robert Plant. Carson got Motörhead a record deal with WTG Records, a sub-label of Sony Music. The headquarters of the company was Los Angeles, which is why Kilmister moved his residence there in June 1990, while the other band members remained in England. Shortly thereafter, recordings began for the album 1916, which was released in February 1991. During the subsequent tour, manager Carson broke up with the band because he got a better offer. The management was initially taken over by Sharon Osbourne, who, however, blamed financial irregularities during the Japan tour on the band and terminated the contract.
Motörhead went on tour through Australia without management. This was followed by the Operation Rock’n’Roll tour through North America, organized by the Sony Group. In addition to Motörhead, a total of five bands – Alice Cooper, Judas Priest, Metal Church and Dangerous Toys – took part, all of which were under contract with various Sony group labels. Towards the end of the tour Motörhead found a new manager in Doug Banker. In early 1992, the recordings for the album March ör Die began, while drummer Taylor was fired.
The Swede Mikkey Dee, who Kilmister knew from a joint tour with King Diamond, was hired as the new drummer. Dee can be heard for the first time on March ör Die, which was released in August 1992. Motörhead changed management again and Todd Singerman became the new manager. At this time, the bankruptcy of the WTG label became apparent. In early 1993, the band switched to the German label ZYX Music, which specializes in dance music, because it made the best financial offer. In November 1993 the next studio album Bastards was released. After the tour in support of the album, Motörhead and ZYX separated ways and the band switched to CBH, the label of their German promoter Rainer Hänsel. For the album Sacrifice, released in March 1995, a distributor for the markets outside Europe could only be found with CMC Records afterwards. Shortly thereafter, guitarist Michael “Würzel” Burston left the band. Motörhead decided not to look for a replacement for Burston and has since been active as a trio in the line-up of Kilmister, Campbell and Dee.
After a tour, the next studio album, Overnight Sensation, was released in October 1996. The accompanying tour took the band to Russia for the first time, where they made four appearances in Moscow, Rostov and Saint Petersburg. In March 1998 the album Snake Bite Love was released. On the tour that followed, an appearance in Hamburg was recorded and released in 1999 as the live album Everything Louder than Everyone Else. Also in 1999, the fifteenth studio album was recorded during the breaks from the current tour. We Are Motorhead was released on May 16, 2000, followed by a year-long tour.
A turning point in commercial terms was the album Hammered, which was released in April 2002. Motörhead sold more copies of the record within a month than of the two previous albums put together. Since the band was booked again for larger concerts, this meant a financial upswing for the musicians. This was followed by a record deal with the renowned German independent label SPV and in 2004, the album Inferno was released. Motörhead also recorded the song You Better Swim for the SpongeBob SquarePants movie in 2004. For their title Whiplash, a Metallica cover version, Motörhead received the 2005 Grammy Award in the Best Metal Performance category.
On June 16, 2005, the band’s 30th anniversary was celebrated at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. The long-time companions Saxon and Girlschool opened for Motörhead. Also in 2005 Motörhead played at the Vaya-con-tioz farewell festival of the Böhsen Onkelz at the Lausitzring.
Motörhead has worked with the American wrestling promotion company World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) several times since 2000. Three songs were recorded (The Game, Line in the Sand (Evolution) and King of Kings), which were used as entry music for the wrestler Triple H. In addition, Motörhead had appearances at Wrestlemania 17 (April 1, 2001) and WrestleMania 21 (April 3, 2005), where they accompanied Triple H’s entries live.
In August 2006, the album Kiss of Death was released – the first since the 1992 album March ör Die, which was placed in the British album charts. In Germany, it entered the album charts at number 4 in the first week of the chart. In 2008 the album Motörizer was released. For part of the American tour in 2009, ex-Guns-N’-Roses drummer Matt Sorum was hired to replace drummer Mikkey Dee, who was not available due to participation in the Swedish edition of the jungle camp. In the course of the preparatory work for the 20th studio album The Wörld Is Yours, which was released in December 2010 on the occasion of Lemmy Kilmister’s 65th birthday and the band’s 35th anniversary, the band founded their own record label under the name Motörhead Music. During the tour for the album The Wörld Is Yours, a performance in Santiago de Chile was recorded on July 9, 2011 and released in November 2011 as DVD The Wörld Is Ours Vol. 1: Everywhere Further Than Everyplace Else. The concert was recorded by Sam Dunn’s production company Banger Films.
Motörhead has been offering its own beverage collection since 2011. It consists of the red wine Motörhead Shiraz, a rosé and a vodka called Vödka. Various accessories such as wine and whiskey glasses are also offered.
Due to Lemmy Kilmister’s health concerns following an operation and a fall, Motörhead canceled all subsequent festival appearances of the year on July 2, 2013. Nevertheless, the band performed at the Wacken Open Air 2013; the concert was canceled after 30 minutes due to Kilmister’s health. Kilmister’s health problems also overshadowed the recordings of the 21st studio album Aftershock, which was released on October 18, 2013. Due to persistent health problems, the European tour planned for winter 2013 had to be postponed to spring 2014. This European tour was also canceled in January 2014. Lemmy Kilmister’s health problems due to his diabetes were cited as the reason.
In 2014 Motörhead recorded the song Starstruck with Biff Byford for a Ronnie James Dio tribute album. It was released on April 1, 2014 and is called This Is Your Life. In the same year they had a concert in Birmingham, where they appeared again for the first time with Phil Taylor and Eddie Clarke. These had a guest appearance on Ace of Spades. In September 2014 the first Motörhead cruise took place under the title The Motörboat Experience.
In an interview with Rock Hard magazine, Kilmister announced a new studio album for 2015. This was published with the title Bad Magic on August 28, 2015. It reached number 1 in the German album charts in the first week after its release, making it the band’s first number one album after No Sleep ’til Hammersmith, which reached number 1 in the British album charts in 1981. On the eve of the album’s release, Motörhead had to cancel a concert in Salt Lake City because Kilmister complained of breathlessness. The concert in Denver the following day was also canceled for this reason. Further concert cancellations followed at the beginning of September 2015, the reason being the altitude sickness that Kilmister is said to have contracted in Salt Lake City. On September 8th, Motörhead continued the tour in St. Louis.
Lemmy Kilmister died of cancer on December 28, 2015. In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen, drummer Mikkey Dee said that with the death of the singer, the band would no longer exist. He categorically ruled out future tours and new albums, which officially sealed the end of the band.
UDR Music announced that they want to release Clean Your Clock, a live album by the band on May 27, 2016. The album, which shows material from their shows on November 20 and 21, 2015 at Club Zenith in Munich, was released on DVD, Blu-Ray disc, CD, vinyl and as a box set. The band’s last concert took place on December 11, 2015 in the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin after it was postponed from November 27, 2015 due to an illness of guitarist Phil Campbell.
R.I.P. Lemmy Kilmister