Why Lemmy was a rock'n'roll outlaw

He played fist-pumping rock ‘n’roll loud enough to pester neighbouring galaxies, dealt speed in the 60s, was once deported from Finland, and famously saw himself dismissed from Hawkwind – one of Europe’s druggiest bands – in the 70s, because the drugs he was taking were just too heavy. From the cradle to the grave, Lemmy was the ultimate fucking rebel.

Hawkwind signing to Atlantic Records in the 70s, just before Lemmy was thrown out of the band for his wild ways

Hawkwind signing to Atlantic Records in the 70s, just before Lemmy was thrown out of the band for his wild ways (Image credit: Getty)

An outlaw among outlaws, Lemmy would count some of Britain’s hardest bikers among his closest friends. Before taking over as promoter of Download Festival in 2003, Andy Copping booked Motörhead at Rock City in Nottingham in the 90s. He recalls: ”You always used to get biker gangs that would come to see Motörhead play, and Lemmy was friends with them all. They came in with a real respect for him. You’d think that biker gangs would be kind of rebellious and follow their own lifestyle, but when they were around Lemmy, they had to follow the Lemmy way of living, if you like, which was not going around being super intimidating and aggressive, but just being a very cool gang, following Lemmy’s rules.”

Whereas some musicians might dive headlong into a life of hedonistic abandon as the spoils of success, it was simply convenient that the lifestyle Lemmy preferred – double helpings of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, please – dovetailed so neatly into the music industry. Before he was the much-beloved, grandfatherly curmudgeon, politely posing for Instagram photos with goggle-eyed fans at the back of the Rainbow, Lemmy was an absolute hellion, with all of the attitude, pugnacity and authority-rejecting swagger such a term implies.

There was, for example, that aforementioned time he was deported from Finland. Describing the event in his autobiography, White Line Fever, Lemmy recalls, “We were given this terrible caravan as a dressing room. There was no cooling in it… and there was no booze in there, either – horrors! So we were sweltering in this thing, and Kris Needs, a writer for Zig Zag magazine, was walking about with this tree [and] he put it through one of the caravan’s windows while he was trying to talk to us. So we felt, well, we fucked up the caravan now, so we had better disguise the fact by sailing it into the lake and setting it on fire – give it a Viking funeral. And it went out very well, floated off in a very Arthurian manner, flames and smoke pouring out of it, and it sunk in quite a dramatic display.”

Heading to the airport afterwards, their bus driver made the mistake of asking them to behave which, of course, inspired Lemmy and the boys to launch into a food fight, spackling the walls with fruit and eggs. In Finnish customs, they were shuttled into a room and put in jail for three days before finally being deported.

For Lemmy, however, it was never about thuggish antiestablishmentarianism – it was about nothing more than having a good ol’ time, as Testament’s Chuck Billy remembers. “The first time I met Lemmy was in the 80s. We were at [heavy metal industry convention] Foundations Forum in LA, and I was on a panel with him,” he says. “I was with my wife having breakfast one morning, and in Lemmy walks with his bottle of Jack Daniel’s. My wife said to me, ‘Man, this guy smells like booze and cigarettes and sex!’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s Lemmy!’”

All rock stars wanted to be him

Rock’n’roll has never suffered a lack of colourful, hard-living characters, brimming with noisy swagger and outrageous proclamations, and yet such figures faded into the background when Lemmy walked into the room. Having seen many a rock legend pay homage to Lemmy backstage at Download, Andy Copping explains: “Here’s the reality – they all wanted to be him, they all wanted to hang out with him and they all wanted to go have a photograph taken with him backstage. It was funny seeing people like Slash and Marilyn Manson and different acts at Download sort of standing in line, wanting to speak to Lemmy. He was just that important to them. He was one of the last rock’n‘roll stars that we’re ever going to encounter.”

Lemmy loved his gaming and fruit machines almost as much as he loved rock’n’roll

Lemmy loved his gaming and fruit machines almost as much as he loved rock’n’roll

Play To Win

From Soho to the Strip, Lemmy loved to gamble…

When he wasn’t onstage, in the studio or knee-deep in women, Lemmy could usually be spied nudging many a night away on fruit machines at his beloved Rainbow and, before that, at Soho’s St. Moritz Club, where he was a regular in the 70s and 80s.

St Moritz owner Armin ‘Mr Sweety’ Loetscher fondly recalls how the Motörhead man would sit a drink on top of his favourite fruity, settle in and pump coin after coin in until the wee hours.

“The fruit machine was his life there – sometimes he’d play all night,” laughs Sweety. “He’d sit there until 3:30am, then go home with a couple of women.”

Booze, gambling and women; no wonder Sweety says Lemmy was always in a great mood in the club. Only one thing could royally piss him off…

“The only time I’d see him get annoyed would be if he put a lot of money into the machine and then someone else came over, put a pound in and won the jackpot. That he did not like!”

His former publicist, Nik Moore, agrees, adding: “I remember one time when he was on a fruit machine, I put a couple of quid in when he went to the toilet, and got about £30 when he was walking back out. He said, ‘That’s not a very nice thing to do to a mate.’”

Even on the Motörboat cruises, Lemmy found his way to the slot machines most nights. “On the first Motörboat in 2014, he won quite a bit of money!” says promoter Alan Koenig.

Lemmy’s love of gambling was so great that he famously wrote a little song called Ace Of Spades about it. Even 78-year-old Mr Sweety’s a big fan of that one. “That’s a fantastic song,” he muses. “That’s still a great song, isn’t it?” You bet it is, sir.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.