May and Lemmy have crossed paths several times over the years. In an interview earlier this year, Kilmister told us, “He came onstage with us 10 years ago and did ‘Overkill’ and he went f–king cracking. I like Brian. He did this thing where he came coming at you like 1,000 miles an hour and he went down on his knees like they do in all the movies. I was very surprised. I was very pleased we got that out of him [laughs].” May most recently made an appearance on Motorhead’s Bad Magic album, lending a guitar solo to the song “The Devil.”
In his posting, May says of Lemmy, “Words don’t come easy, especially when you know Lemmy would have laughed at us all trying to say dignified things about him being a hero. Any time I attempted to say anything complimentary to Lemmy to his face, he would fix me with a kind of amused, contemptuous stare. But a kind of hero he certainly was. Unique in just about every way imaginable.”
“He was a living mismatch of personality types. His music was roaring, abrasive, uncompromising, and his lyrics mostly deliberately gave no hint of sensitivity. Yet as a person he was a pacifist, a deep thinker, and a man who cared profoundly about his friends,” recalls May. “I was never in his closest circle of pals, but we bumped into each other often and he always managed to say something shockingly respectful to me, leaving me disarmed, because he hated being praised himself. Or so it seemed. One of my dearest friends lived with Lemmy for 10 years and she always spoke of him as a tender man, very different from his public face, which never deviated from his tough gaze on the world. Lemmy was a highly cultured and well-read man — yet to see him glued to a fruit machine most of a night in the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Strip you would never have guessed it. In fact, that hallowed place, steeped in Rock and Roll history, will always bear his spiritual mark.”
He continued, “We all come into this world as babies, and mould ourselves into what we want to be. Lemmy — as a product of his own will, has to be the original mould of a Hard Rock Icon which defines the term. Lemmy lived his music and his persona within his music 100 percent to the full. Motörhead has been for most of its history a three-piece outfit — again leaving no room for frills — and the three pieces (or sometimes four) were always frenetically at max.”
May recalls, “I remember guesting with them at the Brixton Academy, and it was possibly the most ear-splitting experience of my life. Most bands — while the back line is arranged to look mean and powerful, actually keep the on-stage volume to a controlled maximum, the real volume for the audience being supplied by miking everything into a large PA system. Not so Motörhead (with the umlaut on the ‘o’ of course). The giant piles of speaker cabinets behind them were all live and all turned up to 10. ( OK – 11 ! ) The sound of Lemmy’s bass was like being inside a giant pulverising machine, a whole frequency spectrum thing. It wasn’t a conventional bass sound at all. Even if no other instrument was playing for a moment, Lemmy’s bass was deafening you from 50 cycles to 10K. And he was hammering (and I choose my words carefully) round about 200 notes a minute for a lot of the time. It was, and is, unique. And on top of this monumental noise sat his highly distinctive throaty tobacco-soaked growl of a vocal.”
The guitarist goes on to discuss the progression of Lemmy’s career, starting with the psychedelic Hawkwind and continuing in Motorhead, citing such stellar players as Fast Eddie Clarke, Philthy Animal Taylor, Wurzel and Phil Campbell along the way. He concludes by saying, “All the most important stuff is in his music. Phil roped me in to play on the most recent Motörhead album, an honour which I will now treasure more than ever. It’s a track called ‘The Devil.’ If there’s any justice, Lemmy will be in some celestial rock and roll bar, knocking back Jack Daniels with the Devil at his side, the two of them quietly chuckling at the oddities of life.”
Read Brian May’s full salute to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, complete with photos, at his brianmay.com website.