Gigantour: Motörhead, Megadeth to play The Palace Feb. 9Written by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
Motörhead has never had a hit album in the United States. Its previous release, “Motorizer,” was the group’s first CD to crack the top 100 on the Billboard 200.
Yet the group’s bassist/singer, Lemmy Kilmister, has become one of the most familiar figures in heavy metal — if not all of rock ’n’ roll. He’s been a contributor to hard rock magazines, and his quick wit, gravelly voice and his rugged look — usually dressed in black with his mutton chop sideburns, mustache and his famous pair of warts on his left cheek — have made him familiar to generations of hard rock fans.
Now he’s the subject of a documentary by filmmakers Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver that is receiving considerable acclaim. For his part, Kilmister can’t explain why he has become something of an icon in hard rock circles.
“I think it’s really been like dumb luck,” he said in a phone interview. “I haven’t changed how I am at all. I’m just like banging against the furniture on my way through life, and people seem to have picked up on it a bit more. I mean, it becomes fashionable to like Motörhead again about every seven years, so maybe we’re going through our own phases.”
Kilmister and Motörhead have been around long enough now to have seen several of those cycles of popularity, particularly in the United Kingdom.
Ian Fraser Kilmister formed Motörhead in 1975 after playing in the legendary cult band, Hawkwind. His intent from the start was for Motörhead to be a British version of Detroit’s seminal garage/punk/metal band, the MC5 — although he didn’t expect the group to take on its famous power trio format.
“It’s become like the MC3, hasn’t it?” Kilmister said. “At the start we were going to have three guitar players and a singer. Then I got stuck with the singing because the singer left. I was only one that could sing, or I was the only one that would. Eddie [Clarke] could sing very well, but he wouldn’t do it. I got stuck with that. I like it now. I couldn’t be on stage and not sing now.
“We must have done something right because when the MC5 re-formed, they asked me to sing a couple of songs with them,” Kilmister said, obviously pleased with that anecdote. “So that’s all right, full circle, right?”
It took about a year for the nascent Motörhead to settle into its trio configuration, with Clarke (known as “Fast Eddie”) on guitar and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor on drums. To a good number of fans, this is still considered the classic Motörhead lineup.
Kilmister, though, disagrees with that notion, noting that the current band, with drummer Mikkey Dee and guitarist Phil Campbell, is the definitive Motörhead in his eyes.
“Phil Campbell’s been with me 25, 26 years now, and Mikkey for 15,” Kilmister said. “I mean, Eddie was with us for seven and Phil (Taylor) was with us for 12.
“To say that was the definitive Motörhead, this Motörhead has played ‘Ace Of Spades’ more than that Motörhead,” he pointed out.
The first decade of Motörhead was marked by several personnel changes — with the band having two guitarists in Campbell and Michael Burston (known by his stage name, Wurzel) for a stretch.
Along the way, Motörhead made its mark, especially in the U.K. Its early albums gradually attracted larger audiences, with 1979’s “Bomber” reaching No. 12 on the album chart. That set the stage for 1980’s “Ace Of Spades,” which went top five. The title song remains the band’s signature song.
Next came 1981’s “No Sleep ’til Hammersmith,” a live album that became Motörhead’s first No. 1 album in the U.K. and was in stores when Motörhead first toured the United States, opening for Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard Of Ozz.
Since then, Motörhead has continued to release CDs at regular intervals, enjoying considerable notoriety and decent success with such albums as “Orgasmatron” (1986), “1916” (1991), “Sacrifice” (1995), “Overnight Sensation” (1996) and most recently, “Motorizer” in 2008.
The latest, “The World Is Yours,” arrived in early 2011 just as Kilmister gained additional notoriety through the documentary, “Lemmy.”
Now the cameras are off and Kilmister, Dee and Campbell are back to doing what they’ve done throughout their time together — touring. This time it’s playing second on the bill of this winter’s Gigantour, headlined and organized by Megadeth. The monsters of metal pull into The Palace of Auburn Hills on Feb. 9. Doors are at 5:30 p.m. and tickets cost $13-$39.50. Visit palacenet.com to purchase tickets.
Fans can expect the typical Motörhead live experience, Kilmister said.
“It’s pretty minimal,” he said of the show. “We can’t afford big stage sets. I mean, that’s really stupid money. We don’t sell a lot of albums for that. We just go out and play some rock ’n’ roll, really. We have a decent light show. That’s about it.”