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On December 24th, 1945, a baby boy named Ian Fraser Kilmister was born. He would grow up to become known simply as Lemmy, the bassist, vocalist and all-around mastermind behind Motörhead, one of the greatest bands of all time. But Lemmy was so much more than a musician or frontman. With a Jack-and-Coke in one hand and a smoke in the other, he could hold forth on anything from the Beatles (whom he actually saw live) and Jimi Hendrix (for whom he roadied and scored acid) to World War II (he was something of an expert on the subject) and life in general. All with incisive wit, humor and zero fucks given.
To celebrate the life and times of this one-of-a-kind human, who passed away on December 28th, 2015, we reached out to musicians who knew and/or admired him. Of course, we had to speak with his old friend Rob Halford of Judas Priest, who goes way back with Lemmy. The day of our conversation with him just happened to fall on December 8th, the anniversary of the deaths of two other music legends. "It's amazing that we're talking about Lemmy today, because it's also a remembrance day for Dimebag Darrell and — 40 years ago — John Lennon," Halford said. "Of all the days you can I could talk about Lemmy, it's the one where these two great artists left this plane and went to the next one."
WHEN DID YOU FIRST MEET LEMMY?
ROB HALFORD Oh, lord ... that's a good question. I'm sure it must've been when Priest did some shows with Motörhead in the Seventies. I can't remember any specifics other than one particularly famous moment when we played together in an aircraft hangar type of place in Birmingham [U.K.] — Motörhead might've even been headlining at that point. I went out front and watched their whole show, and then I had one of the worst alcohol-poisoning experiences that I can recall. [Laughs] It took me three days to recover from overdoing the booze after I saw Motörhead, and I'm probably not the first person to have done that — or the last.
WERE YOU DRINKING WITH LEMMY THAT NIGHT?
I probably was, but I don't remember! [Laughs] I know we met backstage and the booze was flowing freely before we even went onstage. But that's another part of Lemmy's large-than-life persona: He loved his cigarettes and he loved his JD and Coke. When you think about all the other people in rock & roll who have had skirmishes — sometimes fatal skirmishes — with too much booze and drugs, Lemmy was able to handle it. And I think there was a sense of awe about that.
I remember doing a photo shoot with Lemmy and Ronnie [James Dio] and [Testament singer] Chuck Billy. We were in L.A. and we were waiting for Lemmy. When he came in, the first thing he did was go into the little back room, where there was a bottle of JD, a bottle of Coke, and a pack of cigarettes waiting for him. He poured about three-quarters of a red cup full of JD, topped it off with a couple slugs of Coke and then quaffed the lot. He was, like, nonstop. He was the embodiment of the rock & roll lifestyle, and he did it 24/7.
I ALWAYS EQUATE HIM WITH KEITH RICHARDS OR WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS — THESE GUYS WHO LIVED TO A RIPE OLD AGE WITH ALL THEIR HABITS INTACT.
Yeah! And ... what was the name of the guy that Johnny Depp played in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?
HUNTER S. THOMPSON.
Yes! Very Thompson-esque, or Ernest Hemingway. All of that was wrapped up in Lemmy. Nobody else in rock & roll had all of those attributes. And this idea of rock & roll being about living life on your own terms and saying what you feel and not holding back and being true to yourself — all of that was wrapped up in Lemmy.
YOU AND LEMMY OBVIOUSLY HAVE VERY DIFFERENT VOICES. WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF HIM AS A SINGER?
There's no other voice like Lemmy's. There never will be. His voice was the perfect match for the sound that Motörhead made. If they'd had a different singer, it wouldn't have been Motörhead. So that characteristic of him is remarkable, and that is part of the overall makeup that people think about with Motörhead. It's what makes his role in the band so special.
I KNOW YOU ADMIRED HIS BASS PLAYING, AS WELL ...
Here's the thing about personalities in rock & roll: People tend to overlook their musical prowess. And Lemmy was a fantastic bass player. And actually, J, before we started talking today, I was listening to some of Overkill, and particularly Lemmy playing bass. He really defined his own sound. People who play guitar and bass always strive to do that, but he was quite successful with it.
And on top of that, his great songwriting ability. People instantly think of "Ace of Spades" or "Eat the Rich" or one or two others, but Motörhead dropped 22 studio albums, I believe.
WHAT WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM LIKE?
On a friendship level, I was always a little bit in awe of Lemmy because he was — and still is — this larger-than-life persona. When you talk to anybody about Lemmy, you see this mental picture in your head — the guy in the cowboy boots and the jeans and the bullet belt and the leather jacket and the mustache. His physical characteristics are really, really pronounced, so you've got all that wrapped up in his persona, as well.
PEOPLE ADMIRED LEMMY AS MUCH FOR HIS ATTITUDE AS THEY DID FOR HIS MUSIC, I THINK. DID IT SEEM THAT WAY TO YOU?
Yes. There should be a book of Lemmy quotes, because he never held back. That's what I loved about him. He epitomized this great virtue in rock & roll, which is not only music but speaking your mind. He always had an opinion on any matter in life, and it was always Lemmy-esque. [Laughs] He had a very unique way of looking at the world because he was a very smart man. He was a total bookworm and he loved his war history and memorabilia. His very astute way of talking and thinking made him remarkable.