There are few bands that represent the rock n roll spirit more accurately than Motörhead, and it’s not hard to see why. But it can be hard for the casual listener to understand just what the big deal about was; after all, he’s not the best bassist in the world and his voice isn’t all that outstanding either. While all that is undeniable, there are some factors in play that are not usually considered, but were nonetheless important contributors to his rise to fame.
To see this, consider his past. Lemmy started out as Jimmy Hendrix’s roadie (see: We Are The Road Crew) and took advantage of the time to learn guitar. After a short time in a couple psychedelic rock bands in England, he joined Hawkwind as a singer and bassist. Hawkwind was where Lemmy’s unique playing style originated: he was a guitar player and had never touched a bass before, but one show the bassist didn’t show up and Lemmy volunteered to give it a shot. He picked up a bass and learned it on stage. He played it with no respect whatsoever for how it was intended to be played; unlike a respectable bass player, Lemmy plays multi-string chords with outrageous amounts of distortion, just like a guitar, and the result is a unique playing style unlike anyone else’s:
He was kicked out of Hawkwind soon after due to his uncontrollable drug use and formed Bastard, which was later named after the last song he recorded with Hawkwind, Motörhead. It was with Motörhead that he got significant mainstream success, and acquired some of the traits that he is now remembered by, such as his raspy voice, and near-superhuman tolerance for alcohol.
Exactly how Lemmy became the legend he is today is subjective though. Motörhead made great music, which was helpful. Part of it was his unmatched bass style for sure, complimented by his unusual voice and mic position. What sets Lemmy apart from other musicians is that he kept it up for so long. In addition, drinking reportedly over a fifth of whiskey with multiple shots of speed (crack cocaine mixed in heroin, FYI) every single day got him a bit of a reputation. His alcoholism was so extreme it was difficult to interview him after his current hangover passed but before he was working on the next one, and when his manager wanted him to get a blood transfer so he wouldn’t drop dead, he was denied and told that his blood was so toxic it would kill someone. Despite all this, he managed to live to 70 and died of cancer before anything else, performing live just two weeks before his death. He did what he wanted all his life until he absolutely could not anymore, and that, if nothing else, earned him a place among the stars of metal and rock n’ roll alike.
Lemmy’s reputation is not a result of being the best singer or bassist the world has seen. His legacy was carved not because of how well he did what he did, but that everything he did he did in his own unique way and however the hell he wanted, from the drinks to the mic position, and despite living fast all his life he just refused to slow down until the end.
Elvis may be the king, but Lemmy was the god of rock n’ roll.