The Axe Factor

Thin Lizzy. UFO. Scorpions. Motorhead. Four of the most prestigious names in Hard Rock/Heavy Metal history. Three of them still exist to this very day; four if you count Black Star Riders (I don’t). Celebrated for decades, their basic histories are pretty well known to the average fan of heavy rock around the world, while hardcore fans will even recognize names like Lucas Fox or Rudy Lenners. What’s not so well-known is how many ex-members these bands share between them. For these bands early on it was all about getting the chemistry just right; about finding that magic missing piece of the puzzle. What follows is an outline of how these four iconic bands hired, fired, borrowed and traded several guitarists before settling on the line-ups that made them famous. Do try to keep up…

Round 1: Gary Moore quits the band he joined at age 16, Skid Row, in 1971, just before a planned tour of the States. Guitarist Eric Bell, then a member of Thin Lizzy, who have just released their debut album, replaces him for some live dates. Welsh guitarist Paul Chapman is hired soon after as Moore’s permanent replacement. Chapman quit in ’72, and the band folded.

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Round 2: UFO have released 3 albums with guitaris Mick Bolton, to modest success. Bolton, however, quits in January of 1972. The band hire Larry Wallis, who lasts until October; UFO never record anything with him in the line-up. Wallis is replaced by Bernie Marsden, who records a 2-song demo with the band before leaving abruptly while on tour with Germany’s Scorpions in mid-1973. Scorps guitarist Michael Schenker, then 17, plays guitar for both bands for the duration of the jaunt. At tour’s end, Schenker is invited to join UFO permanently. He accepts, and Scorpions split up. Klaus Meine and Rudy Schenker join Uli Jon Roth’s band Dawn Road, bringing the Scorpions name with them.

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Round 3: On New Year’s Eve 1973, Eric Bell quits Thin Lizzy. Bell is replaced by ex-Skid Row guitarist Gary Moore (see Round 1). Moore only stays until April of ’74, but the band record three songs with him that would appear on their next album, ‘Nightlife’. Moore is replaced by ex-Atomic Rooster/Hard Stuff guitarist Jon DuCann for live work. DuCann and Lizzy’s Phil Lynott clash, the band’s Phonogram deal is about to expire, so drummer Brian Downey quits the band. Downey eventually rejoins Lynott, who hires guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson to complete the classic Lizzy line-up.

Round 4: Paul Chapman (ex-Skid Row, see Round 1) joins UFO as second guitarist for the ‘Phenomenon’ tour in 1974. He leaves in January of ’75, but evidence of the short-lived 2-guitar UFO can be found on the final four tracks of the ‘BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert’ CD.

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Round 5: Also in ’75, Larry Wallis (ex-UFO; see Round 2) joins Lemmy’s fledgeling Motorhead. Wallis appears on Motorhead’s debut album, which is shelved by United Artists as being ‘unfit for commercial release’ and isn’t released until 1979. Wallis quits a year after joining, in 1976, when 2nd guitarist Eddie Clarke is added to the band.

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So at this point, all four bands have entered a period of relative stability, having finally arrived at what many refer to as their their ‘classic’ line-ups, and release a bunch of undeniably classic albums. For UFO it’s ‘Force It’, ‘No Heavy Petting’, and ‘Lights Out’; Thin Lizzy make ‘Fighting’, ‘Jailbreak’, and ‘Johnny the Fox’. Scorpions release ‘Fly to the Rainbow’, ‘In Trance’, ‘Virgin Killer’ and ‘Taken by Force’. Motorhead’s Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor trio begin making records. And then, Restless Guitar Syndrome set in again…

Round 6: In November 1976, Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson (see Round 3) severely injures his hand in a bar fight and has to sit out the band’s US tour with Queen. Robertson is replaced by Gary Moore (see Rounds 1&3). After Robertson recovers, he rejoins the band for another album and tour but he is fired for his excessive drinking, and is replaced once again by Gary Moore in June of 1978. This is Moore’s 3rd go-round w/Lizzy.

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Round 7: In June 1977, after wrapping up the UK leg of the ‘Lights Out’ tour, troubled UFO guitarist Michael Schenker (Round 2) disappears. Paul Chapman (Rounds 1 & 4) rejoins the band again at the height of their US polularity. Schenker is coaxed back to complete the tour, and Chapman steps down. A year later, Schenker quits UFO, while at the same time, Uli Roth (Round 3) leaves Scorpions. Scorps hire Matthias Jabs to replace Roth, but after Schenker becomes available, Jabs is kicked to the curb, and Michael Schenker rejoins his brother in Scorpions after 7 years. Schenker plays a handfull of shows with Scorpions but soon flakes out yet again, and is replaced permanently by Jabs. Oh, and Paul Chapman, on his third tour of duty with UFO, finally becomes a permamnent member.

Scorps go on to fame and fortune as a very different kind of band with Jabs. Lizzy will never be the same, with a revolving door of guitarists that never quite recapture the Gorham/Robertson magic. UFO continue onward with some great records but the ‘Chapman Era’ will always be unfairly compared against the ‘Schenker Era’, and usually not-so-favorably… And what of Motorhead?

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Round 8: Fast Eddie Clarke (Round 5), disgusted with his band’s collabration with punk band The Plasmatics, quits Motorhead during the 1982 US tour promoting the ‘Iron Fist’ album. Mere days later, ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson (Rounds 3&6) is on stage in New York with Philthy & Lemmy, and remains in Motorhead until November 1983. It would be another 13 years before Lemmy and Co. would arrive at the satable 3-piece line-up that still exists to this day.

So what have we learned here?

1) There’s considerably less than ‘six degrees of separation’ between these four bands. The most moves required here to connect any two of these groups is 3.

2) This post is in dire need of a flow chart.

2) Guitarists are mercurial, ego-centric prima donnas.

3) Guitarists may be mercurial, ego-centric prima donnas, but finding the right one was essential to the chesmistry that created the four of the greatest bands and some the greatest music in Heavy Rock history.

 

Motorhead: The First Three Years

Shortly after his firing from UK space rock pioneers Hawkwind, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister adopted the biker motto ‘Born to Lose, Live to Win’ and made it his new band’s mission statement. As luck (both good and bad) would have it, he would spend the next few years living both sides of that creedo, earning the right to make it his own every day while struggling to get his new band, Motorhead, off the ground.

Motorhead was doomed from day one. But Motorhead was also destined for greatness. Lemmy knew both of these statements to be true even at the very beginning. Motorhead survived more drama and disaster in their first few years of existence than most bands suffer in decades, all through the sheer force of one man’s will. Lemmy’s bold self-belief, dogged perserverance, and abject refusal to give up and go home kept Motorhead alive during the nearly complete clusterfuck of their first three years.

Of course, being 49% motherfucker and 51% son of a bitch didn’t hurt either.

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Born To Lose: In May of 1975, Lemmy is arrested at the Canadian border for possession of amphetamine sulfate. Management bails him out and puts him on a flight to Toronto. At 4am after the Toronto show, he is fired from the band he once performed with on Top of the Pops, singing lead on their Top Ten (#3) single ‘Silver Machine’ in 1972.

Live To Win: Within two weeks of returning to England, Lemmy steals his equipment back from Hawkwind’s rehearsal space, repaints his psychedelic amps black, and forms a band he calls Bastard. He retains his Hawkwind-era manager, who persuades him to change the name. He re-christens his new band Motorhead, naming it after the last song he wrote for his previous band.

BTL: In July, Motorhead’s live debut takes place at the Roundhouse, a high-profile UK venue. Lemmy himself states the band were “bloody awful”. After a 10-show trek across Britain in August, the band opens for Blue Oyster Cult at the Hammersmith Odeon in October. In December, based on the Hammersmith performance, Motorhead wins “Best Worst Band in the World” in the reader’s poll featured in the year-end issue of the respected UK music paper Sounds.

LTW: Motorhead manages to secure a record deal with Hawkwind’s label United Artists. Dave Edmunds, one of Lemmy’s heroes, is set to produce. The band prep their originals and a few covers and enter the studio In December.

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BTL: After recording only four songs, Edmunds abandons the project. Drummer Lucas Fox, trying to keep up with Lemmy’s speed habit, is a disaster in the studio. His drum tracks are not workable and his behavior is erratic, even dangerous; he is fired before the record is complete.

LTW: 21 year old drummer Phillip Taylor is drafted in as Fox’s replacement. Taylor overdubs all of Fox’s drum tracks (except one) and the album is completed with producer Fritz Freyer.

BTL: United Artists shelve the album, deeming it ‘unfit for release’. Motorhead, still under contract with UA, cannot record for another label. In the Spring of 1976, immediately after Lemmy drafts Eddie Clarke in to the band as rhythm guitarist; Larry Wallis quits.

LTW: Motorhead hire a new manager, who arranges another recording. In July, Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor record a single for Stiff Records, ‘White Line Fever’/’Leaving Here’.

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BTL: Motorhead are still under contract with United Artists, who block the release of the Stiff single. Motorhead have now recorded music for 2 labels and neither label has released anything. They limp through the rest of 1976 with one-off gigs, living in squats and starving. Just a few months into 1977, Phil and Eddie decide to call it a day.

LTW: A farewell performance is booked at the Marquee in London in April ’77. Lemmy convinces Ted Carroll of Chiswick Records to record the show in a last-ditch attempt to get anything with the Motorhead name on it released.

BTL: The mobile studio promised by Carroll never materializes at the Marquee gig; the farewell show is not recorded.

LTW: Carroll shows up backstage after the show and by way of apology, offers the band 2 days of studio time to record a single. The band instead record basics for 11 songs, and their single deal with Chiswick becomes an album deal. Carroll gave the band the cash to complete the unfinished tracks, with which Motorhead records 2 additional songs, for a total of 13. The album, called ‘Motorhead’, released in August of 1977, peaked at #43 in the UK.

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BTL: About a week into the headlining tour to promote their ‘debut’ album, Phil Taylor breaks his wrist in a fight and the rest of the tour is cancelled. The band is unable to do any live work until a November gig at the Marquee. Motorhead’s manager cuts ties with Chiswick, citing lack of support, and the band, in turn, fires him. Phil and Eddie throw together another band, The Muggers, and once again consider leaving Motorhead.

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LTW: Motorhead hire manager Doug Smith, who secures the band a deal with Bronze Records for a single. In August 1978, ‘Louie Louie’/’Tear Ya Down’ was released, and hit #68 on the UK Singles chart. The success of the single resulted in Morohead’s first appearance on BBC TV’s Top of the Pops program. It was Lemmy’s 2nd appearance on the show, his first having been to promote Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’.

So: After three years of struggle, Lemmy had come full circle. He had dragged himself and his new band through a minefield of bad deals, bad breaks and plain old bad luck. Lemmy never wavered. Each and every time he was kicked, he kicked back; every setback was met with a grim determination and a raised middle finger. Lemmy made his own good luck by constantly pushing against any and all obstructions, ignoring his detractors and doing plenty of good old fashioned hustling.

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All of this led up to their watershed moment: the release of their seminal ‘Overkill’ album. Lemmy (and Motorhead) ultimately won. Of course, all of the rejected material that was recorded during this time period was eventually released by labels eager to cash in on the Motorhead’s chart success a few years later. Hawkwind has even re-released ‘Silver Machine’ 3 times, and each time it has charted again. Lemmy of course never saw a dime from any of this thievery, but the vindication is priceless. As if the ongoing success of Motorhead, some 40 years on now, weren’t vindication enough.

The lesson in all this? As the slogan on the back side of the picture sleeve for the ‘Louie Louie’ single reads, “NIL ILLEGITIMUM CARBORUNDUM”.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.