Few bands rival the legendary status of Motorhead. Their place in rock history is not just based on longevity, but on the dedication and adoration of their absolutely die hard fan base. They never sold records, having instead built their reputation on decades of touring and unapologetically staying true to their thrash metal roots. Their iconic front man, Lemmy Kilmister, is simply a rock god - revered as one of the greatest heavy metal musicians of all time. He’s become a pop culture figure, instantly recognizable by the mutton chops and glass-eating voice. In terms of idolatry, he’s right up there with another front man - this one gangly, bespectacled, and shrouded in black hair. The relationship between Motorhead and The Ramones is a long one, going back to 1976. The two bands are the most respected in their genres - with Motorhead doing for metal what The Ramones did for punk.
Fans packed the Double Door on a Monday night to see Lemmy’s new project, The Head Cat - a classic rock n’ roll trio consisting of Lem on vocals, Danny B. Harvey on guitar (13 Cats, Lonesome Spurs) and classic tomcat Slim Jim Phantom on drums (Stray Cats). Supporting their new record “Fool’s Paradise”, The Head Cat rip through a set of classics like “Somethin Else”, “Not Fade Away”, and a perfect “Big River”. It’s pure rock n’ roll - in Lemmy’s own words - with no ulterior motive. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and not a single artist has yet to catch up with the genius of Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, and Johnny Cash. The Head Cat come close, packing the house with bikers, metal heads, and rockabilly girls and making them dance.
Hanging out with Lemmy before the show, I had to stop my questions three times - people kept coming up to him, wishing him a good show and shaking his hand. Most didn’t really have anything to say but hello, they just wanted to meet him and get a photo. Leaning against the bar in the basement at the Double Door (“I feel most at home at the bar,” he said when I asked him where we should go), it felt like one of those great rock n’ roll moments. Sharing a smoke with Lemmy an hour before he would rock a sold out show. We talked about Head Cat, Elvis, sequined jackets, and the state of rock n’ roll.
The Head Cat is a reintroduction of real rock n’ roll - simple, stripped down -
Having fun. Fun for the sake of it. No ulterior motive. No politics. No gender. No fucking around! (laughs)
Do you think that’s real rock n’ roll?
Real rock n’ roll is to piss your parents off, basically. I mean, I realize I’m the same age as your grandpa is now but that’s what it’s for. I mean, if your parents like it, you ain’t doing it right. It’s supposed to outrage the civil dignitaries. There’s no particular idea of it, but it’s really about rebelling.
And that’s a concept that keeps repeating. It always comes full circle.
We get the younger ones at our gigs. Not just in Europe but here, too. We get three generations. We get the originals, and their kids, and their kids.
Tell me a little about your relationship with The Ramones. (Lemmy wrote a song called “R.A.M.O.N.E.S” for the band, and performed it with them at their last show in 1996).
I met them back in 1977 when they came to England, actually I think it was 1976. I just fell in well with Joey and Dee Dee, you know. Johnny wasn’t so friendly but then he never was. The other two I got on really well with. And, terrible they’re all gone. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, Johnny and Dee went within seven months of each other? Ridiculous. Bang, bang, bang, they’re all gone. I think they kind of died when Dee Dee left, you know, in a way. I think that crippled Joey, because he had no buddies in the band then.
You had the strongest personal relationship with Joey right?
Yeah, I guess. Well, Dee Dee as well, you know. But Dee Dee was … you didn’t always get much from Dee Dee because he was kind of busy in his head. He was very damaged, you know, Dee Dee, damaged goods. So there was always that baggage he was carrying around with him, you know. I never really got the thought that he was ever happy, that he had the opportunity to be happy with his life. Did you read that book, Poison Heart? (Dee Dee’s autobiography). It was awful, the bitterness. That’s what his whole life was about.
What does each member of The Head Cat bring to the sound of the band?
I don’t know. You’d be the one to tell me that!
Do you want me to write that part?
Well, you’d have to, because I can’t judge it, because I’m in it! (laughs) You can’t judge what you’re in the middle of. It’s for the outsiders to judge that. It’s for the fans to interpret a song, you know. You can write a song and three different people will write three different stories. I can’t tell you what we bring to it. We bring what we got, you know.
When did The Head Cat first start playing together?
About five years. We were all busy doing other stuff and then it just came up that we had a few days off all at the same time.
I wanted to ask you about your version of “Big River”. That’s a different way of using your voice - something fans have never heard from you in Motorhead. Was that challenging?
That’s a Johnny Cash song. I got that record when I was 14. I’ve always loved that song.
Whose version of Eddie Cochran‘s “Somethin Else” do you prefer? Yours or Sid Vicious’?
Well, we’re both doing the same version basically! There’s only one way to do that song. Cochran still did the best version of it. But the drum sound on that is fucking ferocious for 1958, that’s ridiculous! I bought that back then when it came out. I think the b-side was something like ‘have I told you lately that I fucking love you’! He’d be schmaltz by now, Cochran! He’d be in Vegas, do you know what I mean? Seventy years old, going “Hello, everybody! Here’s another one of my greatest hits!”
What’s going on with Motorhead right now?
We’re going to do a French tour for three weeks. In a couple of days we start that. We’re doing festivals in Europe through the summer. We’re going to Sweden, Croatia. Usually in the fall we’re going to Germany and Britain, but I don’t know if we’re doing both of them this time. Probably doing a tour with Alice Cooper and Joan Jett in Europe. That will be good, right?
Are you coming to the United States with that?
No, it’s just for Europe. We should. That’d be a good tour - Alice, Motorhead, and Joan.
When’s the last time you played in the States?
Two years ago. It wasn’t a big tour. On our own we don’t sell a lot of tickets. And we don’t sell albums, you know. People got their head up their ass about us.
It doesn’t seem like people buy albums at all anymore.
Well, they don’t listen to them, you know. I think if they listen to them they might buy them but they don’t. You can’t do nothing about that. Just keep playing for the people who do listen to them.
And most fans don’t start out buying records. They listen to their parents’ records or their friends’.
Well, it’s alright for you, but when I was growing up and I wanted to listen to a record, my parents had “The Pirates of Penzance!” So you kind of made your own amusement, you know what I mean?
Do you plan on doing another record with The Head Cat?
Yeah, soon. We’ll probably get in the studio maybe in September when we get some time off.
Do you listen to contemporary music?
Yeah, sometimes, not as much as I did. I’ve been listening to Evanescence a lot, I think they’re fucking excellent. Excellent production, excellent songs, excellent arrangement. The girl’s got a great voice, you know. And I don’t even fancy her, which is a big part of girl singers, you know what I mean? I think they’re just great. I went to see them in Vegas.
Do you think newer bands like Evanescence give kids as much to look up to as bands like Motorhead?
Kids will work it out. Kids are always going to like rock n’ roll. You can’t stop them. They’ve been trying to since 1958. You can’t stop them. No matter how much schmaltzy crap they put out, whatever’s on the charts. Hip hop now is a joke, and rock n’ roll will always rear up again. It always has, in some form or another.