The path to success can often have many false starts. For Ian Fraser Kilmister—the man, the myth, later known simply as Lemmy—his early success was a useful apprenticeship for his later career.
The first real clue as to what he would do with his life came when Lemmy saw the Beatles at the Cavern Club in 1963. They were thrilling, they were fab, and they were doing something Lemmy knew he would be good at too. But how the fuck do you get started? He’d left school, was working in dead end jobs and playing in bars with local bands for kicks. Seeing the Beatles made him focus on his music career.
After a few misfires, Lemmy joined The Rockin’ Vickers as guitarist in 1965. The group was originally called Reverend Black and The Rocking Vicars—known for their upbeat live act and clerical dog collar outfits. The band came to the attention of American record producer—known for his work with The Who and The Kinks—Shel Talmy and a record deal was signed.
A few singles and tours followed. By the time Lemmy joined, the band had shortened their name to the Rockin’ Vickers—as “Vicars” was thought by some to be “blasphemous.” The Vickers were (allegedly) the first band to play behind the Iron Curtain—Yugoslavia in 1965—and with Lemmy on guitar were hailed as “one of the hardest rocking live bands around.” Lemmy played guitar “with his back to the audience ‘windmilling’ power chords (like Pete Townshend)” but the sound, their sound—well their sound on disc—was just like many other beat combos of the day, which can be heard on their singles “It’s Alright” and—a cover of the Ray Davies’ song—“Dandy.”
‘It’s Alright’—The Rockin’ Vickers.
‘Dandy’—The Rockin’ Vickers.
Lemmy moved to Manchester, but covering songs and playing guitar was soon not enough for the nascent rocker. In 1967, he quit the band and moved to London where he shared a flat with Jimi Hendrix’s bass guitarist Noel Redding. Lemmy—still using the name Ian Willis—briefly worked as a roadie for Hendrix before joining tabla player Sam Gopal and his band (aka Sam Gopal’s Dream).
Sam Gopal’s Dream was a psychedelic rock band that had achieved some success on London’s underground scene in 1967. Following a line-up change in 1968, Gopal brought in Lemmy as lead singer, along with Phil Duke and Roger D’Elia—shortening the band’s name to just Sam Gopal.
‘Escalator’—Sam Gopal (written and sung by Lemmy).
Lemmy started writing songs and the band recorded them for the album Escalator. Released in 1969, it showcased Lemmy’s compositions and vocals.
To get an idea of the kind of psychedelic thing Lemmy and co. were into here he is lip syncing (badly) to a number called “The Sky Is Burning” with Sam Gopal on a boat for French TV circa 1969.
Though Lemmy was going in the right direction, the band Sam Gopal was not as good as they could have been—considered by some as “adequate” but not brilliant—with a lack of ambition in their songs.
After Sam Gopal, Lemmy gravitated towards another psychedelic outfit which was to prove far, far more successful—Hawkwind.