Ignore the moustache, just concentrate on the sideburns, the leather jacket and the bike gang logo. The signs have always been there: way down in his soul, Lemmy has always been a secret rockabilly hepcat.
Motörhead may have been the loudest and least restrained primal thrash band on the planet, never taking prisoners, but if you looked hard enough – and also came from the same generation as Lemmy himself – you knew instinctively that the band’s deepest roots reached all the way back to the screaming rebels of the 1950s. Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Johnny Kidd, the killer Jerry Lee Lewis, and even the young and wild Elvis Presley when he still stole his mom’s diet pills. Let’s not forget that Motörhead’s first hit single was Louie Louie. What was once a suspicion, however, is now laid out for all to see.
On these Head Cat sessions, Lemmy – along with Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats on drums, and Danny B Harvey, formerly of The Rockats, on guitar and piano – rolls out all the songs on which he was raised; a careful selection of ultimate classics. Vincent’s Say Mama, Cochran’s Something Else, Jerry Lee’s It’ll Be Me, Larry Williams’s Bad Boy, and Chuck Berry’s Let It Rock are all tried, tested and of the finest vintage. The only complaint might be that most of the cuts are extremely well known. The Head Cats haven’t opted for any rare gems.
I guess you don’t have to be a musicologist when you’re having a good time. And a good time would seem to be the object of the Head Cat exercise. Nobody seems too bothered about conforming to any particular form or carefully recreating any specific genre. Harvey at no time attempts to emulate the great fifties pickers like Scotty Moore, who backed the pre-army Elvis, or Cliff Gallup from The Blue Caps. He doesn’t shoot for any painstaking, note for note reproductions of the original solos as John Lennon did on Rock & Roll or Jeff Beck carefully crafted on Crazy Legs, his 1993 Gene Vincent tribute. Harvey just plays like he’s hugely enjoying himself, and the closest he comes to the sound on the 1956 juke box is on Let It Rock, maybe a demonstration that you can’t do better than mean ol’ Chuck.
For the rest of the material he uses a comparatively modern guitar sound, somewhere between Dave Edmunds and Wilko Johnson. He’s actually closer to tradition when he switches to piano and pumps out rockabilly triplets like it was for Alan Freed greasers at the Brooklyn Paramount.
The Head Cat idea is nothing new. The retro-rock concept was conceived in 2000 during recording session for a Presley memorial, Swing Cats: A Special Tribute to Elvis, and then continued with live shows, an album, Fool’s Paradise, in 2006, and a live DVD Rockin’ The Cat Club: Live From The Sunset Strip. Lemmy is also no stranger to extra-Motörhead collaborations like Blue Suede Shoes as Lemmy And The Upsetters, Stand By Your Man with Wendy O Williams and even a short-lived conspiracy with Sid Vicious way back when.
Where Fool’s Paradise was totally 1950s rock’n’roll (with a great deal of Buddy Holly) Walk The Walk… strays here and there in the direction of the blues. The disc closes with Robert Johnson’s Crossroads although played more in the manner of Cream, and the self-penned The Eagle Flies On Friday is a relaxed and wistful 12-bar blues. Head Cat also move out of the 50s for their reading of The Beatles’ You Can’t Do That, which is kind of surprising until I remembered how Lem was always partial to the tougher Lennon/McCartney songs.
The real standout, though is Lemmy’s voice. After almost 40 years of vocal abuse fronting Motörhead, he can still carry an old-school melodic rock song where lesser men might be hard pressed to muster an amphibian croak. When I saw that one of the tunes he had chosen was Elvis Presley’s Trying To Get To You I blinked in surprise. That’s not an easy song to sing unless you have the pipes of Elvis, but Lemmy negotiates all of the potentially tricky bits with nary a falter. Sure, there’s the trademark sandpaper rasp, but the notes are still all there.
You have to assume that Walk The Walk… has to be Lemmy’s response to the grim reality that none of us are getting any younger. I expect he’ll go on full bore and damn the torpedoes until he finally keels over. But now and again it’s good to take a backward glance at where you came from and make it a little bit easy on yourself.
What’s the slogan of those Kronenbourg commercials, ‘It’s time to slow the pace’?