From Experience Hendrix Magagazine Winter 2000
"You'll Never See Someone Like Hendrix Again"
Interview By STeven C. Pesant
By the time 1980 rolled around, Motorhead was on the bleeding edge of the burgeoning 'New Wave of British Heavy Metal,' a scene that group leader Lemmy Kilmister helped forge. Timing couldn't have been better for the group as the world was just being introduced to a new generation of gut-wrenching, longhairs that included Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Australian newcomers ACjDC. Despite Lemmy's backing in the more psychedelic space-rock sounds of Hawkwind, whom he had performed with since 1971 before being unceremoniously booted from the band in 1975, he turned a blind eye to these ambient overtures insisting on the grinding, plutonic sounds of heavy metal-a sound that he more than once pushed to the edges of punk but willingly kept firmly planted in the rock 'n' roll side of things.
While longtime Motorhead fans will be quick to argue their favorite album-be it Overkill (Roadrunner, 1979), the cult classic, Ace Of Spaces (Roadrunner, 1980), the brilliant live No Sleep Til Hammersmith (Roadrunner, 1981), or 1984's best-of anthology, No Remorse (Roadrunner); everyone is in agreement that Motorhead rules. Despite their successes in recent years-they haven't come even close to the highs they earned in their first decade as a group-the band continues to tour the globe, packing clubs everywhere they go, and continually releasing new music for awe-inspired, "Ace Of Spades" chanting audiences.
Despite Lemmy's ominous stage presence, belting lyrics, and hard-driving, heart-stopping bass licks, he's a true gentleman at heart. I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Lemmy for close to an hour this past summer to talk about a relatively unknown period in his life-the summer of 1967 and his life on the road as one ofJimi Hendrix's roadies. While most Motorhead fans are aware that Lemmy roadied for Hendrix, few have ever heard the stories behind-the-scenes, and how Lemmy, a one time guitarist himself, looks to Hendrix for inspiration today.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: How did you get involved with Hendrix?
LEMMY: I came into London in early 1967 and had nowhere to live. The only guy I knew in London was a guy called Neville Chesters who used to roadie for The Who. So I called him up and asked him ifI could sleep on his floor or wherever. And he said yes, so I went over there and slept on the floor with Noel Redding. [Ed. Redding was a longtime friend of Chesters and would regularly offer him roadie positions with The Experience whenever there was a down time in The Who's schedule]. Around this time, Hendrix started doing some radio shows, like Saturday Club and a few things like that ... Alexis Korner's program. And he started doing the Axis: Bold As Love album and then just after that he was doing The Move tour with Amen Corner, The Floyd, and The Nice. It was a hell of a tour for 1967. And I did all that. Then they went to Sweden and I was dropped then because I was just a spare guy ... that was the last that I had ever roadied with him. I went to see him a few times after that, like the Albert Hall in '69, and hung out with him and stuff.
EH: That was a very hectic point in Jimi Hendrix's career and things were just beginning to take off for The Experience. How did ]imi react to all this attention?
LEMMY: He was just enjoying himself. That's what Hendrix did mostly. He was a craftsman. He was not starving or worrying in the same way that people are doing it now, he wasn't after the money. He wanted to be a flamboyant sexual animal ... and get paid for it [laughs]. And he achieved all of that and double. Believe me, Jimi was something of a sexual athlete [laughs]. I've seen him go into his room with four chicks and wake up smiling the next day. I mean he was like greased lightning. The way he moved around on stage, chicks would just go all over themselves just looking at him. He was like a cat and spider all rolled up. He had huge hands. He was just so graceful in a very menacing way. The chicks went for it in handfuls. Half the girls would faint. He was really a gentleman. I mean you can be intensely sexual and still be intensely well mannered - I don't see what the difference is.
EH: ]imi was well mannered off stage, but thought to be something of a wild man on stage. Did he have two different personas?
LEMMY: It's not two personas you see. I'm wild on stage, but you can't do that all the time, you'll wear yourself out ... you can't be like that all the time. On stage is one thing, but you can't be like that all the time. You don't see these guys out there in the streets doing cartwheels.
EH: What was it about Hendrix that made him so intriguing?
LEMMY: You'll never see someone like Hendrix playing the guitar again. He was unique and he was the best. We'd do these gigs where Eric Clapton would come down. I remember this one gig and Clapton and Graham Nash both came down and they sat with their ears to the back of their [ speakers] stacks on chairs all night trying to figure out how he did all those things. That's Eric Clapton - this is the Clapton who's God here. That must mean something.
EH: To a certain extent, Jimi had the entire British scene in awe of him at this point....
LEMMY: Not to a certain extent. Completely. And then they went and conquered America completely.
EH: What was it that captured everyone's attention?
LEMMY: When he was playing in this pick-up band The Blue Flames, which was basically different people every day. And Linda, Keith's [Richards] girlfriend Linda went and saw him. She couldn't ****ing believe it. She was a very smart girl and she knew what she was seeing was ****ing phenomenal you know. Even through that equipment, which I think was a small Gibson amp at the time with a borrowed guitar. He didn't even have a guitar of his own. [laughs] And then Chas Chandler went down there and literally fell flat on his back - and that was it - the end of the States. So he brought him over to London and had him playing with two white guys, which he'd never done. And it worked.
EH: Are you saying that the black/white combination was part of the reason everything worked so well?
LEMMY: It's not the background that matters; it's the chemistry between the people. And that's all that matters. It doesn't ****ing matter if you're Chinese or Vietnamese or black or white or anything. As long as that chemistry is there, stick with it then because that's extremely rare. Things changed though. When he came back over to the States in 1968 and 1969, the Black Panthers were immediately on his ass because they knew he could be their new musical spokesman. They weren't interested in him personally. They only wanted to use him. He felt guilty, kind of, because these guys would come over and say, 'you're better than these white boys. Why aren't you hanging out with these brothers.' He didn't think of himself as black, I think he just thought of himself as a guitar player. That black thing must have come up a few times in his early days on the Chitlin' Circuit or when he toured with The Isley Brothers. He still went on, and I'm sure he didn't think of himself as a black spokesperson for a whole generation. He was just having fun ... getting laid all the time and playing around being outrageous. That was his main thing. I don't think he ever had a serious meeting in his life - except with Chas or Mike Jeffrey.
EH: But like you said before, it wasn't about being outrageous all the time....
LEMMY: Not at all. I learned a lot from Hendrix in the way that he was so well mannered. I was well mannered because my mother always told me to be so but he was really a refinement. If a chick came into the room and he was sitting down, he'd shoot to his feet like he was goosed up the ass with a rocket, and pulled out the chair for the girl and all that. I don't see that as an insult. I think that's a really nice thing to do and I don't see why you shouldn't. Good manners are free and everyone can have them.
EH: Hanging with Hendrix, you must have picked up a few things from him that helped you play the guitar. .. and then you moved to the bass guitar ... what happened there?
LEMMY: It's just an accident when you go from the guitar to the bass. It's not that you set out to do so. You set out to be a guitar player cause then you get to stand out front and get all the chicks. But then if you get offered a job as a bass player, just as Noel did and as I did, and the bass is provided, which in both cases it was. Then, you try bass and see what happens. I turned out to be a jar better bass player than I was ever going to be as a guitar player. Even had I practiced the guitar until now, I would never have been as good guitar player as I am a bass player. Whereas Noel always resented Hendrix for that, for some reason. He'd always used to say, "there's that ****ing Hendrix stealing the spotlight. I was the best guitarist in Kent. I won a contest." He just didn't get it. I mean; I'm sure most people would have given half their teeth to play with Hendrix for half a night. ****ing Noel, all he could think of was that he should have been a guitar player [laughs]. And then he got Fat Mattress together and proved the point once and for all. [laughs] When they played the Albert Hall it was embarrassing. I couldn't face him afterwards. "Well, what did you think of that one." "Well you certainly showed me Noel, you certainly weren't meant to be a guitarist."
EH: When it came to Jimi and the guitar, he certainly helped shape its future?
LEMMY: He changed the way people played the guitar. He just changed the way people played the electric guitar altogether. Before him, nobody did that. After him, then everyone did. Simple as that. But at the time, you don't know what's going on because it is the time. It's only in retrospect that you actually see these things the way they may have been. They may have been or may not have been. Retrospect may not really be 20/20 like people say it is. Retrospect may really be 60/40 or 70/30 on the side of good times and you don't get a clear vision of what it really was like. You know if you could remember a toothache, you'd kill yourself [laughs]' It's true. If you could remember all the toothaches you ever had at the same time ... that'd be some ****ing memory. If you could actually remember all the pain, exactly the way it was, then you'd probably have them all pulled out. You couldn't stand it. So you know, I think hind-vision isn't all that good. I think we tend to paint it a lot rosier that it really was.
EH: While everyone points to the strength of some performances, like Monterey, they definitely weren't all that way.
LEMMY: Hendrix ****ed up a lot too. He'd be up on stage and he'd run up and be all over the stacks and all that was very great. He was a great mover on stage ... he was the best. But sometimes, he'd come out and his fuzz box wouldn't work properly so he'd smash it and springs and bits would fly all over the place. And then we'd have to pick 'em up and try to make one good one with the six that he smashed that week. And he'd do four songs and if he wasn't good on that, he'd just walk off the stage - which is bad manners - so you've got both kinds. But even on his bad manners he was still better than most guys. If he couldn't hear the music the way he wanted to, he'd walk off the stage, which was really selfish too.
EH: Looking back on touring in the Sixties compared to today, how has the scene changed?
LEMMY: It's like a whole different planet.
EH: For better, or worse?
LEMMY: Both. It's potentially better now, but it rarely is. While you can get better [equipment], but most places don't provide better stuff. Most venues provide whatever it is they can get away with by the skin on their teeth, and of course, we usually blow it up [laughs]. At least some of it. Whereas in Hendrix's day, he was one of the first ones to use those big stacks, The Who was the other. I remember all three of them [Jimi, Mitch, and Noel] going through a single 30 AMP feed and there were no mics on the drum kits at all and that was in the town hall. I never remember feeling that it was out of the ordinary. Things change now really without you noticing them. Today, I've got more power coming in to me than what we used to run for the whole band.
EH: It's all about power...
LEMMY: Well, rock 'n' roll is supposed to be powerful. If it doesn't change your life in the hour and a half or whatever it is you're listening to it, then it isn't doing its job. If you're going to see rock 'n' roll and you're there to have a conversation, that's cabaret, not rock 'n' roll. No ****er is talking when I'm playing. No one is having a pleasant conversation about the stock market when I'm playing on stage.
EH: The face of touring has certainly changed in the past thirty years. You obviously weren't touring around in one of these luxury tour buses ...
LEMMY: Absolutely. In those days, you had a van and you crashed on the seats or on a rack of stuff in the back. In the old days those old Big Bopper and Buddy Holly tours were all on buses.
EH: What was your tour with Hendrix like?
LEMMY: Gerry Stickles drove Jimi. On stage it was just me and Neville.
EH: That kept you pretty busy....
LEMMY: And Herniated. Most gigs you were by yourself with no local crew. You may have been able to get a few extras guys to help out if you asked someone on the street., but you wouldn't get the whole package laid on you like you do now. Today they've got a ten man local crew laid on you, they get fed, and they're paid to be there. But in those days, there was just two of us in a box transit (van) carrying all of Hendrix's stuff....which is really unbelievable having being able to do it.
I remember Neville having a "nervous breakdown" on the way from Bournemouth (November 16, 1967) on the way to somewhere (Sheffield, Yorkshire) one day, and he went just under the wheel. I had to stop the van and ran across this field to this farmhouse and when I came back with help he said he was "okay" so we went on. These days, you get a guy with a hangnail you get a guy that's off work for two weeks with a ****ing doctor's bill and is suing the people that gave him the hangnail. They're just a bunch of ****ing sissies now as far as I can see. Everyone's always weeping and moaning all the ****ing time. You just have to like it or lump it and just get the ****ing show on the road....that's the whole point.
EH: How demanding was Hendrix when it came to the stage setup?
LEMMY: You see there wasn't very much demand. All you had was your amps and we got them working. Then you had your drums. You hit them and as long as they went "band" that was all right too. And that was it. How the house sounded wasn't our concern. There was no "1-2, 1-2" stuff going on in those days. Just put the mic up and you were set. The house guy up in the booth would set up the other things. It was just rubbish comparitively. You talk about getting perfect sound....there were many times where you couldn't even hear the drums on stage.
EH: Some of those problems are very evident on some of the concert recordings that have surfaced over the years?
LEMMY: Some of them are pretty rough around the edges. You can hear Hendrix ****-up quite a bit, but he was brilliant at covering it all up - masking some feedback overtop (mimicks guitar feedback, then laughs). He was tuning up while he was playing and I've seen several shows where he was never able to get his guitar in tune.
I remember seeing him playing "Are You Experienced" live. In the studio it was great, because he got the backwards guitar parts by playing the tape backwards. But for the stage, he had to learn how to play that like that. Amazing! Especially on "Third Stone From The Sun." And then he went and learned how to play it backwards and fowards.... Wow!
There was nothing in the equipment that helped make this happen live. It was just Jimi. The best things I ever heard him doing were the things going on backstage. He used to have this 12-string Epiphone acoustic and he'd just sit backstage and play this stuff.
EH: What is it about Jimi that continues to make him so popular today?
LEMMY: I don't know if much of this new generation has ever heard much of his stuff, because if they had, they wouldn't be playing all this hip-hop. Simple as that. But guitarists have lost it too. Half of Hendrix was the visual side. It really was, and I'm not taking anything away from his guitar playing because that was phenomenal. But when you hear it on the record, you don't understand it because it's just a record and he could have been sitting down in a chair and playing it. But the fact that he wasn't is lost on people because they get to see him.
Q - You worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix for a year?
Lemmy - About six months.
Q - How did you get that job?
Lemmy - I was living with his bass player in a flat. I was sleeping on the floor 'cause I knew their roadie. He was sharing a flat with Noel Redding. So, when they needed an extra "humper", they put me in. I was at all the sessions for "Axis Bold As Love".
Q - What kind of guy was Jimi Hendrix?
Lemmy - Smashed out of his mind.
Q - All the time?
Lemmy - More or less. He was another one of those people. He'd just walk on stage and people would go "Ahhh", even on his bad nights. A lot of the time Hendrix was rubbish, the worst stuff you'd ever heard in your life. He'd be out of tune, stompin' on his fuzz box. He'd be terrible, but he's still command. Some people carry themselves.
Mar 25, 2010 12:03 PM EDT
Before he became the legendary singer/bassist of Motörhead, Lemmy Kilmister logged time as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix in the late Sixties, prepping his guitars for his explosive performances — and picking up the bits of his destroyed stomp-boxes post-show. In honor of our latest issue chronicling Hendrix’s last days and lost recordings, we caught up with Kilmister at SXSW, where he was promoting the documentary Lemmy , for a look back at his time with the guitar legend. Plus, watch his interview — smokes and drinks included — above.
“I was sleeping on [Jimi Hendrix’s roadie] Neville Chester’s floor — he was sharing a flat with Noel Redding, so whenever they needed an extra pair of hands I was right there. I didn’t get the job for any talent or anything. But I did see Jimi play a lot. Twice a night for about three months. I’d seen him play backstage too. He had this old Epiphone guitar — it was a 12-string, strung as a six string — and he used to stand up on a chair backstage and play it. Why he stood up on the chair, I don’t know.
“When he performed, he was magic. You would watch him and space and time would stop. After he played, we would have to repair his fuzzboxes because he’d just stomp all over them. And they’d go into bits all over the stage, and you’d have to go fine the bits and put them back together. Fucking murder. He was supposed to be a showman but I think he eventually got sick of it, and when people moaned at him, he’d go into this kind of imitation Jimi Hendrix routing, you know? It wasn’t convincing. That was a shame.
“But Jimi was a really nice guy. And very courteous. If a woman came into the room, he’d shoot to his feet and get a chair out for her. He was old fashioned like that. Good manners don’t cost nothing.”