Lemmy, Slim Jim & Danny B

Lemmy, Slim Jim & Danny B (Cleopatra Records)

May 24, 2000 at 4:00 am
This is one of those albums that bends the limits of human comprehension: Lemmy, the demigod leader of biker-space-thrash-rock legends Motörhead, teams up with Slim Jim Phantom, ducktailed rockabilly greaser percussionist par excellance for the Stray Cats and Phantom, Rocker and Slick, to record 18 tracks of golden age (pre-British Invasion) rock standards. What's next, Hank Williams III with the Melvins? Waitaminnit ...

OK, stranger things have happened, but who really wants to hear Lemmy, whose voice could be charitably described as equal parts unfiltered Chesterfields and 20-grit sandpaper, cover a Johnny Cash song like "Big River"? Johnny Cash has that raw, booming specter of a voice, whereas Lemmy gargles umlauts and power chords. And besides, Lemmy has been crotch-deep in filthy metal skank since 1974; who's going to believe he'd go all maudlin over some missing broad and cry enough tears to flood a river?

But Lemmy opens with Cash's "Big River," and damn if he doesn't pull it off. Sure, his voice is ragged, but he's sincere. That's when it hits you; Lemmy is what Johnny Cash would have become if the Man in Black hadn't found Jesus, kicked speed, married June Carter and gone on all those Billy Graham crusades to repent his evil ways: fiftysomething years old, nursing an ossified liver, marginalized by the music biz and still in love with what was known back then as the Devil's Music.

Lemmy loves this music, and that's what's carrying him through the album. Listen to him on Buddy Holly's "Learning the Game." He strums an acoustic guitar gently over Phantom's delicate cymbal ride and Danny's almost creepy harpsichord. "Feeling so sad when you're all alone and blue/That's when you're learning the game," Lemmy croons without either a trace of irony or the iron fist he normally uses to hammer wrecking-ball bass lines out of a vintage Rickenbacher. Hardly what you'd expect from the man who penned "If you squeeze my lizard/I'll put my snake on you." But at some point in Lemmy's life, he was Ian Kilminster, the vicar's son, a gangly, warty, pasty-faced English teen with greasy hair and a bad attitude who couldn't find a date for the Guy Fawkes Day dance at his prep school. Buddy Holly's songs about teen love gone bad were probably all that got him through those years, and they eventually taught him that a geek with a guitar becomes a chick magnet. Nobody ever forgets the agony of teen romance, or the release offered by a good sad song like "Crying, Waiting, Hoping." Not even a rock demigod.