Motörhead’s Mikkey Dee Talks the Legacy of Lemmy, Seriously Bad Magic & More
There was only one Lemmy Kilmister. As fans of metal, we all know this. As such – despite what’s been reported – the idea that Mikkey Dee and Phil Campbell would even consider replacing Lemmy is nothing short of preposterous.
Outrageous reports aside, what is true is that the heavy metal masses haven’t remotely forgotten Lemmy. Nor have his bandmates, as evidenced by the continuous retrospective releases – this time the record in question being Seriously Bad Magic – as well as the general outpouring of love and adoration that Lemmy receives even though he left this earth nearly seven years ago.
Lemmy’s legend needs no introduction. He was a rocker, an anti-hero, a wild man, and one of the very few rock soldiers who can truly say he died with his boots on. Indeed, there was only one Lemmy, and to that end, there was truly only one who could rock until he quite literally dropped, which Lemmy did do.
These days, Lemmy’s old cohorts, Mikkey Dee and Phil Campbell, are still preaching the good word of Motörhead. When it comes to the legacy of Lemmy, time and distance, mean nothing, nor does life or death. In Lemmy, we saw a man who became immortal, with a shadow that would be forever cast across the hard rock and heavy metal landscape.
Motörhead alum Mikkey Dee recently dialed in with Metal Sucks to dig into Seriously Bad Magic, the fallen rocker’s final days, and the enduring legacy of Lemmy Kilmister.
What can you tell me about Seriously Bad Magic?
We worked hard to make this special, as we have with all the things that we’re doing to keep the legacy of Motörhead alive. I think it’s a great thing for our real fans to get to hear a few unreleased tracks. The truth is that we make no money on this stuff. We do this to prolong and support the legacy and era of Motörhead. The history of the band is important, and Bad Magic, of course, was special. It’s the last one that we did in the studio with Lemmy [Kilmister], and it will always hold a lot of meaning for us because of that.
What stands out most from the Bad Magic sessions?
Well, number one: we recorded that entirely live in the studio. It was one of those moments where we came together as a band, and it really showed. We knew Lemmy was struggling, and me and Phil [Campbell] put in 120% effort to support him because he had some really rough days. He also has some great days, but overall, I honestly can’t believe how well he performed when he clearly wasn’t feeling well or at his best.
But what stands out most? Lemmy was determined to do a kick-ass record, and we absolutely did. Other than that, I guess you never know what might happen in the studio. It was always a bit of a gamble, but we were all very inspired to do Bad Magic. We wanted to make it right, and I think we managed to do that.
How did Lemmy’s illness affect the recordings?
It affected the recordings here and there simply because he didn’t feel too good. It’s never a good feeling to see your family member struggle with something like that, so we had to put all of that aside and concentrate on playing well. Cameron Webb helped a lot by pushing us to perform to our absolute best, which meant a lot, given what we were dealing with. So, we didn’t think too much about it. We decided to take every day as it came and worked as hard as we could.
What tracks from Bad Magic stand out most to you?
It sounds like a cop-out, but all of them. Recording it together live in the studio the way we did, made it so that every song has its moment. When you piece things together one at a time, that lends itself to different sounds, but we didn’t do that. Recording live gave the record a different vibe. We went in there, and all three of us just slammed the shit out of the songs, and I think all of them are amazing.
I will say that the cover of “Heroes” that we did is great. Phil insisted on doing that, but Lemmy didn’t want to at first. He said, “I don’t want to destroy a David Bowie song,” but we insisted that he give it a shot. He did, and it turned out to be one of his favorite tracks on Bad Magic. Lemmy did a fantastic job on that one.
What are your enduring memories of the final tour that followed?
The last tour was pretty hard. We had to take it one day at a time because Lemmy was struggling. It was no secret, but at the same time, I just looked at Lemmy while we were playing, and I knew how much he had put in to be able to do this. Honestly, as the tour was happening, I told him several times that we should pack it up. I thought he should go home, rest, and feel better. But he said, “Oh, no. I don’t want to cancel. We’ve got to play. The fans paid for this. I’m not going home.”
After that, me and Phil talked about it, and we said, “Look, let’s not fight him. Let’s let him have this. Let’s help him instead.” So, we did everything we could to support him and keep the tour going. We had to pull down the tempos a little bit on certain songs so that Lemmy could keep up on the nights that he wasn’t feeling strong. We just tried to help him out as best we could, and we got it done. For us to be able to play those shows was incredible. We managed to play most of the shows; that’s incredible.
What was Lemmy’s state of mind like at the time?
He took the hit and gave it all he had. He took a lot of punches. I remember that after the shows, on most nights, he would be completely exhausted. We all were tired, but obviously, he was more than us. But that gave us the inspiration to continue because we saw how much Lemmy wanted it. He did not want to give up; he did not want to cancel. He said, “We have to stay out here. We should stay out on the road for our fans who bought tickets. They want to hear us; we got to do this.” And looking back, I’m so glad we did. Lemmy took punches, but he hit back in a big way, and he succeeded. He really did die with his boots on; I’ll tell you that.
What are your recollections of Motörhead’s final show?
It was in Berlin; I believe it was the 11th of December. I remember Lemmy being in good spirits. He was ready to rock, and there was this sense that he was going to go out there and do everything that he could to put on a great show. And again, as I said, we had to lower some tempos to give Lemmy a break, which was fine. It was a great show, and the fact is that all the fans who were there knew the deal; they knew Lemmy was sick.
They accepted that. The fans just wanted to see him on stage performing; nothing else mattered. I feel such immense gratitude to our fans for that. Sure, it was not one of the best shows we ever did; there were actually a few mistakes here and there. If you watch it back, you can see that all three of us were struggling to hold it together, but they didn’t care. Our fans were grateful for us doing it, and that’s all that mattered.
In your eyes, what is the definitive Motörhead lineup?
I am very proud of my nearly 25-year run with Motörhead along with Lemmy and Phil. But the original lineup of ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor, I mean, they created this. They were great guys and so much fun. They did so much good before I ever joined the band, and I will always respect that. But when I joined the band, I said, “We are going to change direction here; there is no way around it. Hopefully, for the better.”
So, you never felt beholden to the band’s past, then?
When I joined Motörhead, I had two choices: I could either be a Phil Taylor replacement, or I could put my own stamp on the band. Obviously, I chose the second option, and I’m sure a lot of fans thought it was crap in the beginning. Then again, most of them really loved what we were doing, so it wasn’t too many. We took a little bit different approach. Me, Phil, and Lemmy wrote everything together, which led to the music changing a little bit. I think the fans appreciated our run together; it was almost 25 years, which is definitely the longest of any Motörhead lineup.
What were some of the challenges of covering Phil Taylor’s drum parts?
There are certain drum fills that Phil Taylor did that were classic, and of course, I’d try to keep those. But then I also had to put myself into the loop of Motörhead, meaning I had to refresh a few things. No one ever asked me to be Phil, and no one ever asked me to redo anything, either. I had to find the balance between those two things. I didn’t want to destroy the legacy of what Phil Taylor did because some of it was great. But I have to say, some of it was really bad, too.
So, it was a fine line that I had to walk, and ultimately, it was about reading the song and finding the feel that fit the song best based on my style of drumming. When I joined Motörhead, I knew a lot about the band, but I didn’t really know anything about the guys. I knew the songs but not the people behind them. I had no idea what I was getting into. Motörhead is more than a band, it’s an institution, and the fact was that Lemmy always refused to compromise who the band was and sell out.
Would you call it a “getting to know you” period?
Yes, that’s about right. It was something that I had to learn, and a certain level of respect had to be earned. But once we got to that point, we always kept a collective mindset and made decisions together. We did what we thought was right; if people enjoyed it, that was a bonus. If they thought it was crap, we said, “Fine, it doesn’t matter.” The three of us loved doing it; that was the most important thing. We never compromised or sold out for more money or a chance at success in any way, shape, or form.
We knew it was important to keep that mindset because that’s what led to Motörhead being one of the most respected bands to ever take the stage. I’m very grateful to be a part of that, but it was a learning process. Of course, it was very frustrating sometimes to see how we could go and gain success, but at the same time, it wouldn’t be the right decision for Motörhead. Lemmy knew that it was crystal clear to him from day one, and he never wavered. It was black and white for him. But we were a democracy, and Phil and I could outvote Lemmy if we wanted, but we had to really think twice because we knew that Lemmy had the right vision.
Were you always in lockstep?
Sometimes I disagreed, and sometimes I did agree. But most of the time, we agreed on everything. I’ll give you an example: Motörhead was offered a tremendous show in Argentina. I was pressuring us to do this because I felt some good things would come out of it if we did the show. But the economic side was horrible, which meant we’d have to scale down big time. We wouldn’t have been able to bring all the crew we wanted, and we’d have to travel with less equipment. And the business side was on my ass to go to the band and kind of get them to do this show.
Well, Lemmy said, “No. I don’t want to do it under those terms.” But I kept pressuring Lemmy; I said, “We have to do it. We can’t lose all that money by bringing all the crew and equipment we usually do. We have to scale it down.” And then Lemmy just said it very simply: “What’s the point of Motörhead going to play in Argentina if we can’t deliver the show that we usually do?” What could I say to that? I thought about it and said, “Lemmy… you’re 100% right. Let’s blow it off.” And we did.
What is the most poignant moment from your time in Motörhead?
There’s so much I could tell you. The finest moments came every day. When the three of us walked off stage, we always felt like no one could follow or copy us. What we did was so unique and so special… those were the special moments for me. The camaraderie between the three of us and the family that we had… was special. People need to work very hard for that, but we always had that. That’s why we continue to put our releases like Seriously Bad Magic.
We want to prolong the Motörhead legend. The demand for Motörhead stuff is still there, and we want to fulfill that for our real fans. Forget the haters; what we do is for our fans. They gave us so much; it’s the least we can do. Again, there’s definitely no money or anything in it; we do this for the fans. As far as other special moments, I enjoyed all of it. My favorite times were us sitting around after a show, saying, “Fuck, that was a great show. What a great audience.” Those moments will be what I remember most.
You’re on the record saying there will be no Motörhead reunion without Lemmy. People seem to have taken that in different ways. Can you clarify your original statement?
I’d love to speak about that because I was very disappointed in the way that people to that entirely out of context and then blasted it all over the fucking world. What I said and meant was that, of course, we will never go out on the road with a replacement for Lemmy and call ourselves Motörhead. That’d be ridiculous. We have never even thought about that. Not ever. Would you see the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger? I mean, I would never go to see that. It’s stupid.
So, that’s what I said. But of course, we’re gonna do tribute shows, which I just did a few over the weekend. We play Motorhead songs, and it’s a lot of fun. But that’s tribute set; we don’t call ourselves Motörhead because we’re not Motörhead. Me and Phil will never call ourselves Motörhead, and we will never have another guy even attempt to replace Lemmy. That’s what I said. People twisted the shit out of that as they saw fit, and I hated to see it.
Does that put you off in terms of playing more tribute shows?
Not at all. We will continue to play Motörhead’s classic songs. We will do different collaborations with not-so-famous musicians and with famous musicians. But we will never call ourselves Motörhead with a third member that will replace Lemmy. When I read a lot of the comments, it told me that, basically, people just don’t get it sometimes. There are a lot of freaks out there that actually thought that this is what we might be thinking about doing. The idea of replacing Lemmy is just fucking ridiculous.
But also, when the press only puts one sentence out of a whole 45-minute conversation, I guess it could be misconstrued by people who don’t know better. But we will definitely keep playing Motörhead stuff often, both me and Phil. Why shouldn’t we? It’s great music, and people love to hear it. But again, we will not go out as Motörhead as a band, and we will never even consider trying to replace Lemmy. That would be pathetic. So, that’s the real deal. The press took what I said and made it their own thing.
Would you consider performing or recording with Phil again as part of a new project?
Oh, absolutely. I know that Phil is very busy with his own band, and of rouse, I’m super busy with Scorpions. But there are gaps here and there, and I love playing with Phil. He is one of my favorite guitar players ever, and we talk all the time. We constantly talk to each other, and we’re always checking in on what the deal is and how things are going. I would love to record something with Phil. I’m sure we will eventually do something fun together, and I would love to play some Motörhead songs together with Phil, but it will be Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee playing Motörhead songs, not an official Motörhead reunion with a new third member.
How do you remember Lemmy?
All I can say is, wow, what a tremendous man. Lemmy was probably the most intelligent man that I have ever met. He was well-educated in so many different areas. If our politicians were like Lemmy, there wouldn’t be any wars; there wouldn’t be anything. There would be nothing but peace. If you knew him or heard him talk, that man made all the sense in the world with his ideas and ideology. He was truly a fantastic man. He was a very fair man. He was direct, to the point, with no bullshit. He was like my old lady, my older and younger brother, and sometimes, even my younger sister [Laughs]. He was fantastic.
With the wild reputation that preceded him, was there a side to Lemmy that people didn’t get to see that you feel he should be remembered for?
A lot of people were intimidated by his looks and how straightforward he was. He looked wild and represented wildness and a certain kind of craziness, which was all true. But that man had the biggest heart in the world and was the nicest, most honorable fellow there ever was. People would come up to us sometimes and say, “I’d like to meet Lemmy. Do you think that’s okay to go over to him?” I’d go, “Yes! of course, it is.” And then they would say, “I’m kind of nervous. Can you come with me?” I’d always say, “Oh, no, just go over to him and talk. He’s the best. Don’t worry.”
And then afterward, they’d come back and say, “Oh my God, he must be the nicest guy I’ve ever met.” So, a lot of people have a misconception about how things were or how he was, but in the end, I believe that the world knew that this guy was top-notch. What can I say? Lemmy was the real deal; once you are the real deal, you can never be fake. There was not a bad bone in his body and not a fake bone in his body.
It made it a lot easier to deal with him because he was easy to get along with. But if you stepped over his boundaries or tried to dictate how things would be run, he wasn’t having it. You couldn’t bullshit your way through things with a guy like Lemmy, they are what they are, and they see through that. So, if he told you something, he meant it. He was all heart, with no bullshit. Totally authentic always. I think people should know about him above all else.