The tributes to late Motorhead leader Lemmy Kilmister have been coming in at a feverish pace since his passing on Monday (Dec. 28). Among them was a briefly worded statement from Metallica in which they cited that Lemmy was one of the main reasons that Metallica exists. But in a new piece penned by Metallica’s Lars Ulrich in Rolling Stone, he reveals that the statement is not just some nice platitude meant to honor a legendary musician, there is some real history that shows Lemmy’s impact on the formation of Metallica.
“Lemmy is probably one of the absolute primary reasons that I wanted to be in a band. It’s that simple. I got introduced to Motörhead’s music in 1979, when Overkill came out. I was in a record store and the double bass intro to ‘Overkill’ started, and I never heard anything like that in my life. The subsequent ride that this music took me on was to a place I had never been. It was really exciting and really invigorating. It felt fresh and different,” recalls Ulrich.
A couple of years later, Lars’ interest in Motorhead led him to see the band for the first time on their tour through California while they were opening for Ozzy Osbourne. The drummer recalls traveling from San Diego to Los Angeles and San Francisco to see the band, following their bus and nervously deciding to approach the members at stops along the way with his friend Rich and being surprised at how they were welcomed.
“Getting a chance to see them that often was an amazing thing, but more so, we actually got really close to them. We got a chance to meet them and hang out with them. And that’s because of Lemmy and his graciousness,” recalls Ulrich. “He was so open and approachable, so the antithesis of a rock star; he wasn’t full of s–t or unapproachable, hiding behind masks or whatever. None of that existed. He had this presence and this aura of all the great rock stars of the ’60 and ’70s, but at the same time, he was this incredible down-to-earth, easygoing, easily approachable guy.”
He adds, “So me and my friend Rich were just hanging out and we ended up in the back of the bus drinking beer, hanging out, listening to tall tales and wild tour stories and being a part of all the shenanigans that followed a rock ‘n’ roll tour around at that time. It left a deep impact on me, because rock stars up until that time seemed to come from someplace else. They were larger than life; you weren’t on the same level as them. You weren’t worthy. You couldn’t even picture yourself even engaging with Robert Plant or Paul Stanley, Elton John or Rod Stewart.”
A little while later, while still a teenager, Lars decided to leave California and fly to Europe to experience some of the great metal going on at the time. He shares a story of basically talking his way into one of the band’s biggest shows in Europe to hang with Motorhead using his past experience of meeting them in California and later taking a chance that they might be rehearsing and being invited to watch as they took part in the creative process.
“I got down to this rehearsal studio, and within another half an hour, I’m sitting in their rehearsal room and it’s Lemmy, Phil Taylor, their drummer who just passed a month ago, and [guitarist] Eddie Clark,” recalls Ulrich. “It was just them and me, and they’re writing songs for their next album. I’m just sitting there watching them write. I remember they were talking about this new song called ‘Iron Fist’ that they were working on, which became the title track from the next album. This is the biggest band in England, and I’m just sitting there with them in the f–king rehearsal room writing songs for their next record, just put that in f–king perspective.”
The drummer says he was so enthused by the experience that it put him on the path to what would eventually become Metallica. “When I went back to California later that week, I had met this kid, James Hetfield, about six months before, and we spent 24 hours together. I could tell he was a super cool guy, but nothing much came out of that interaction. But later in the week after I got back, I called him up and said, ‘We’ve got to form a band together. I just hung out with Motörhead. I got a chance to meet these guys in Diamond Head. I’m feeling it, this otherworldly calling.’”
Ulrich concludes, “When I say that Lemmy is the primary reason that I’m in a band to this day, and that Metallica exists because of him, it’s not some cheap exaggeration. It really was. They took me in, they let me be a part of what they were doing, and it inspired James and I to form this band based on that kind of attitude and that kind of aesthetic of engaging with your fans and being open and transparent and letting people in and sharing the experience. We were all just a bunch of lost f–king kids who wanted to belong to something that was bigger than ourselves.”
Ulrich goes on to describe Kilmister as “a godfather” and “a parental figure,” adding, “He was someone you felt completely safe with. You were never judged. You were never intellectualized. You were never questioned. You were always just welcomed in to whatever level that they were capable of. It was like you were instantly just welcomed into the inner sanctum.”
The drummer says he will always cherish his time with Lemmy. Read more of Ulrich’s tribute, including some recollections of drinking with Lemmy, how he appeared on the sleeve of the Orgasmatron album and more, at Rolling Stone.
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