Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Over The Top

The exciting sequel to No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn, Random Rock Star Moment: Bon Scott, and Welcome To Hell!

A million years ago back in The Old Metal Days I was penpals with a Metalhead in St. Louis named Trace Rayfield. Besides the usual penpal activities such as tape trading, Trace also contributed to my fanzine Whiplash. Of course, Motörhead was one of the bands that Trace and I bonded over. So sit back and enjoy Trace's memories of meeting and hanging out with Lemmy and the boys back in those ancient times!


My love affair with Motörhead’s music began early in 1980 when my best friend Wade Brooks and I first discovered the Overkill album while searching for the next great underground Metal band. We had developed a thirst for new music that we had to feed and were constantly digging for the next big thing. It was the cover to Overkill that caught our attention while thumbing through the import bin at Wuxtry Records in the hip “central west end” neighborhood of St. Louis.

Trace's autographed copy of Overkill

It was a short time later that we realized the band had other albums out. In fact, Bomber was already on the shelf the next time we made it back to the import bin at Wuxtry Records. We were hooked! It was also around this time that we were getting a sniff of some new music coming out of England which went on to be known as the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM). We started buying the British music paper Sounds about this time and discovered that we were already far behind.

Wade decided he wanted to see this thing first hand so he booked a flight to England and posted a classified ad in Sounds requesting “penbangers” that could bring us up to speed on this new musical scene. We could never have expected what was to follow over the next couple of weeks. Wade’s mailbox began to overflow with letters, tapes, patches, badges and other assorted NWOBHM tidbits. Wow, we were blown away!

It was around this time that we also discovered the Motörhead fan club Motörheadbangers. One of the people running it was Helen Taylor, none other than the sister of Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. During the ensuing correspondence that followed Wade received several offers to put him up while in England, one of which was from Helen Taylor and one from Metal Forces magazine legend Bernard Doe.

Fast forward to 1981 and me sleeping on a cold sidewalk in suburban St. Louis outside a record store, which also doubled as a concert ticket outlet. We had heard the announcement several days earlier that Ozzy was finally bringing his Blizzard of Ozz to St. Louis for his debut solo tour appearance on May 21st. Of course we were fans of Black Sabbath and Ozzy, but would I spend the night on a cold sidewalk for tickets to see them? Probably not, but the opening band for this tour happened to be none other than Motörhead, who had recently released the heaviest album of all time, Ace of Spades! Any thoughts that Motörhead wasn’t our favorite band were quickly extinguished when that monster hit the turntable.

Trace's autographed copy of AOS

We knew we had to get good seats for this show, so I volunteered to spend the night waiting for the tickets to go onsale, which was what you had to do back in the days before the Internet and StubHub. I found myself 3rd in line, but was that good enough to secure seats in the first three rows? This show was at the “big house” in St. Louis, The Arena, which held 18,000 and was typically the hardest venue to get good seats due to the demand.

Local radio spots for Ace Of Spades and the Ozzy / Motörhead Tour
St. Louis - May 1981
(From the Trace Rayfield Archives)

As the night progressed and the diehards in line started to bond over a beer or two, I began to wonder what sort of barter would secure me the coveted first position in line. After some discussion, I came up with a rare piece of vinyl (a Budgie import if my memory serves) that the first guy in line would kill for. Bingo! As the doors opened and the tickets were unveiled, I could not have been more pleased when I saw the first tickets on the stack: "Floor-Section B - Row 1”.

When the day finally arrived we were too excited to wait around for showtime. We wanted to meet our new favorite band at any costs. We drove around some of the downtown hotels looking for tour buses that might be parked outside. This didn't always work but this time we got lucky. Wade and I sat patiently in the lobby of the posh riverfront hotel watching for any signs of our heavy metal heroes Motörhead.

After maybe an hour or so, 3 figures approached the hotel entrance on foot from the direction of the St. Louis landmark “Arch”, the symbol of the gateway to the west. It was quite surreal as Lemmy, Fast Eddie, and Philthy Phil all strolled into the hotel in typical Motörhead attire. A little out of breath, Lemmy approached us to declare, “You have a beautiful city!” after having just viewed the region from the 630-foot high observation deck of the Arch. The band had no doubt that we were serious Motörhead fans as we stood out like a sore thumb amongst the well-dressed hotel guests surrounding us. Our Motörhead t-shirts and a stack of albums made our enthusiasm more than obvious.

We quickly shook hands and introduced ourselves as huge fans trying to get a head start on the evening’s festivities. The band obliged our autograph request and listened curiously as Wade described his upcoming trip to England and his correspondence with Phil’s sister Helen. In fact, Wade had to reschedule his original travel dates because of tonight’s concert and would now be leaving in the morning! Well, that sealed our fate for the evening as Lemmy announced that they had to finish packing but we should follow them to the venue. We were on Cloud 9 already as we went to get our car, not having any idea where our adventure would take us next.

We pulled up behind their tour bus and waited for the band to return. After following the bus to the Arena, we parked adjacent to the venue “load in” entrance. We quickly mingled with band and crew in order to blend in before sliding in backstage. Now, we knew this was a long shot and our euphoria could be dashed any second by an over zealous security guard, but what happened next even surprised us. Fast Eddie suggested we hide out in their dressing room with strict orders to not be noticed until proper passes could be obtained. They were really paranoid about Ozzy’s crew because they didn’t want any trouble on this important debut tour for the band. After all, this was the Ozzy and Randy Rhoads show. To be honest, that was the farthest thing from our minds. Of course we had no idea that this would be the one and only time we would witness Mr. Rhoads guitar acrobatics. However, tonight was all about our favorite band: Motörhead!

Lemmy, Eddie and Phil with Wade and Trace

Fast Eddie and Phil seemed to be the most interested in some pre-show partying with their new found fans. And party we did. Eddie started to get pretty wasted with us before they even did their sound check. Some time later before the band went out to play, Eddie turned to us and said, “If I mess up tonight, I’ll never talk to you guys again”. Wade and I laughed but when we looked back at Eddie, he was kinda serious. Oops! We forgot we weren’t gonna be the ones performing in front of 18,000 people in an hour. Now when the band asked us to come along for the sound check, we figured we would be neatly tucked away in the wings. Forget about it. They let us stand on the stage inches from them, headbanging away as they pounded out a couple test numbers. We could have left right then and there and been totally satisfied with the days experience, but we pointed out to Lemmy and Eddie our first row seats and asked them to keep an eye out for us.

We had time to retreat backstage for one more cold one before the venue quickly filled up with Ozzy fans. Man, it was cool walking out from the side of the stage to head to our first row seats. Even the security guard was confused, but by that time we felt like we owned the place. Lights go out and BAMM!!, Motörhead was galloping through their first couple of songs before we knew what hit us. When the band finally stopped to catch their breath, we sat back for a second and realized the Midwest crowd had no idea what they were witnessing. We were headbanging our asses off and this huge crowd behind us was sitting on their hands; I've never seen anything like that before or since. However, Eddie had no problem spotting and acknowledging his new buddies who had gotten him a little red eyed before the show!

We had to cut watching Ozzy’s show a little short to make sure we had time to see Lemmy and company off to their next destination. We went so far as to follow the boys out to their bus for one last photo op before we said our farewells. We had no idea that the member of the band who we had bonded with the most would be out of the band the next time we saw them. We shook hands with Eddie for the last time.

The band in front of their tour bus

To commemorate the return of Motörhead to North American soil the next year for the Iron Fist Tour, we planned a road trip like never before. It would be 3 shows in 3 nights. We would begin in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 20th to see Iron Maiden and their new singer Bruce Dickinson open for .38 Special and Rainbow (a strange line up for sure!). Then on to Detroit and Chicago for Motörhead’s Iron Fist shows. However, less than a week before we hit the road, I got the disturbing news from a NYC friend that Fast Eddie Clarke had quit Motörhead, this time for good. She had just seen the band the night before at the Palladium in New York on May 14th. Things didn’t seem right that night and it was confirmed the next day that Eddie was indeed out of the band. Now what to do?!

Stunned, I passed the news along to Wade and our other friends who were road bound with us. We waited for news of the shows being rescheduled but it never came. At the last minute the band recruited ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson to fill in on the much-anticipated tour. Shook up and disappointed, we soldiered on just like Lemmy and Phil. More on the Iron Maiden leg of our road trip another time. We arrived in gritty Detroit at Harpo’s on May 21st to get back to some Motörhead.

We met the band outside behind Harpo’s several hours before the show was slated to begin. Lemmy and Phil acknowledged us but we had to make friends with their road manager to secure the backstage passes we cherished. It’s always a good idea to find common interest with people within the “inner circle” and use them to your advantage in times like these. In this case, we weren’t the only ones that liked to party!

Eventually we found ourselves with Lemmy backstage in the dressing room and he was in quite a serious mood. It was going to be the first show he would be playing without Eddie in 6 years. We talked about Eddie’s departure, being careful to not dwell on anything that might open old wounds. Ironically, one of the topics we discussed was the single that Lemmy did with Wendy O. Williams. As it turned out, the rift with Eddie began over this recording session. It seems, Eddie wanted no part in the recording and refused to participate. Of course, we were interested in any salacious details that Lemmy would give up about his time with Wendy O.! Lemmy assured us that he and Wendy became fast friends and he was very fond of her. He told us he woke up the next morning wrapped in plastic food wrap. Sounded like a good time for Lem!

We witnessed the soundcheck from the front of the house this time. Things were a little more serious, since Brian Robertson was still learning the songs. The show actually went off really well and sounded much better than you would expect with less than a week to prepare. If nothing else, we were there for an historic moment in Motörhead history.

Morning came and we are off to the Midwest Heavy Metal hotbed Chicago for the last leg of our journey. We arrived at the Aragon Ballroom by mid-afternoon after the 300 mile trip. This time we get access to the band's tour bus straightaway. Like I said, it's good to make friends with the road manager! We hung out with various band and crew members as show time approached. Things were much more relaxed today since the band survived the nerve-racking experience of Robbo’s debut gig the night before. By now our road manager buddy was handing us backstage passes like candy. I even had an extra to give to a local kid that we had befriended. Early access to the hall came in handy since this was a general admission free for all. We went straight for stage position this time.

Motörhead took the stage to huge fanfare, as this was one of their strongest markets in the U.S.. They didn’t disappoint, even though many in attendance wondered who the red headed guitarist was. It was a really tight set considering the infancy of the “new Motörhead”. We were able to spend some quality time with the band backstage after the show on this occasion.

Everybody seemed to be in an excellent mood after the success of the evening’s concert. They were happy to pose for photos and share some war stories. We noticed that Lemmy had been admiring Wade's chrome bullet belt as we were knocking back a few beers. Wade mentioned that he had always wanted the chrome version after seeing Lemmy sporting one in photos some years back. "Funny you mention that", Lemmy recalled because it had recently been nicked on tour and he was having trouble locating a replacement. Wade gladly took his belt off and handed it to Lemmy. Quite suprised, Lemmy asked "What can I give you for it?!" Wade just shrugged it off and said "Thanks for the memories!"

Another funny story from our evening of drinking with the band came when the beer was running low towards the end of the night and Wade’s girlfriend Polly warned Lemmy that he was about to drink from a half empty beer bottle that someone had discarded. Lemmy replied “I know, I just check it first for cigarette butts..” and chugged it down. Hilarious! No Rock Stars here!

We were blown away by the overall outcome of our 3 day odyssey. It gave us a little insight into the Rock ‘N Roll life on the road with the ever flowing alcohol, cheap motels, little sleep, and miles of blacktop. We arrived back home in St. Louis the next day with hangovers and memories to last a lifetime.

Wade with Phil, Lemmy, and Robbo

Time traveled 30 years and I found myself back at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom (now my home base) for the 2012 Gigantour featuring Megadeth and Motörhead on February 10th. I hadn’t met Lemmy again since we left this very same venue back in May of 1982. I printed out some 8x10 photos in hopes of giving them to Lemmy on this special night. Of course, since we left him all those years ago, he has gone on to become one of the most iconic figures in Hard Rock and Metal. A true legend in any Headbanger's handbook!

On this night 30 years later, I was able to meet Mikkey Dee but he explained that Lemmy was still on the tour bus and usually doesn’t come onto the scene until show time. I explained the meaning behind the photos and asked him if he would pass them along to his bandleader. He gladly accepted as he disappeared into the backstage corridors of the legendary Aragon.

"I swear it.. I can't get it. Completely... Over the top, over the top!"