Motorhead Roadie Steve Luna Opens Up on Lemmy, Himself a Former Roadie for Jimi Hendrix

Portrait of Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister with a Rickenbacker bass guitar.

Robert Knight Archive/Redferns

Yesterday the world lost its most elemental rock and roller, Lemmy Kilmister, someone who once said "I don't need to hide behind nothing. The devil didn't make me do it, I did it.... whatever I did." Lemmy kept his work tucked as close to the ooze and magma of music as possible, writing some of the most indelible smirks to bad behavior that we've ever had the privilege to hear.

Lemmy would become a shaman of sleaze and respect in equal measure, but infamously had an early-life mini-career as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, telling Rolling Stone in 2010: "Whenever they needed an extra pair of hands I was right there. I didn't get the job for any talent or anything. But I did see Jimi play a lot. Twice a night for about three months..." He went on to explain Hendrix's courtesy, saying: "Good manners don't cost nothing." That attitude, that baseline decency, is just as important to Lemmy's legacy as his white cowboy boots and black everything else, someone who felt no need to limit their own behavior but no right to dictate others', either.

Since Lemmy began his career in music by reassembling Jimi Hendrix's pedals after the elder statesman would destroy them each night, by shuffling between front and backstage for the guitar god, and that he loved every precious second of that proximity, it seemed appropriate to ask the people who worked with him in the same capacity for their take on the man and the myth.

Enter Steve Luna, who was at the bass maniac's house the day Lemmy stomped into the next life, having spent the past 10-plus years working for him as a bass tech (don't call them roadies), personal assistant and everything in between. Lemmy rocked for as long as he could -- that turned out to be longer than anyone could've guessed.

First of all, my condolences for the loss of your friend. 

I actually went and saw him [on Monday]. I was there an hour before everything went down. Just gave him a giant hug and thanked him for everything. He did a lot for me. I've toured with many musicians, but Lemmy I held in high regard. It was like losing a family member -- I worked with him for 10-plus years.

This all happened really fast, from what I heard.

He lived a long time, he drank, he did what he did. But how many people can say they did 50+ years--  we're going back 40 years with Motörhead and then on top of that these other bands, the Rockin' Vickers, Sam Gopal, Hawkwind, we're talking 50+ years that he survived in the industry that most people can't do. And stay true to it. I don't want to use the term “selling out” because everybody has to do what they have to do. But Lemmy lived for the music and the music only.

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He always seemed to have an appreciation for where he was, where came from, and where he ended up. 

Yeah, even while I was on the road with him he just wanted to do what he wanted to do. It wasn't about the money to him, it was about the music. That's what you rarely see in this industry. His appreciation for music... that always came first for him.

Ever since Inferno, I've been in there with them from start to finish, just watching a record be made from beginning to end.

What was it like watching that process, over and over?

It was amazing, just watching them push out song after song. Mikkey, Phil and Lemmy working together as a unit, as a machine. Just producing great song after great song. And not one Motörhead song is the same, each one is different.

It seemed like he never quite lost that focus.

He would go in there and write lyrics all day. He wrote lyric after lyric. He was basically a musical genius when it came to lyrics, in my opinion.

What would he do? What do you mean?

The lyrics he wrote weren't something he pulled out of his ass. You could tell that somebody thought about it. He would write a song and then rewrite it 10, 15, maybe 20 times to get it right. That was the method for Motörhead recording in the studio working with Mikkey, Phil and the producer Cameron Webb, who was essential in making Motörhead sound as deep as they did.

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Can you tell me a bit about being on the road with him? What was it like first meeting him and starting that relationship?

I first met him during the Inferno record. At first I was like, "Oh god -- Lemmy." We didn't talk for the first week, but slowly and surely we started communicating. I'd go pick him up and drive him to the studio and they would do their thing. Two years later I found myself touring with them -- we went to South America in 2007, I was kinda looking after Lemmy, Mikkey and Phil at that time. It was a job in itself, just looking after the three of them. They were always respectful. I can honestly say that about all of them. Out of all of them though, Lemmy showed the most gratitude. Always said, "thank you," "you're welcome," "please." Always a gentleman, you know? He was always a nice guy -- I mean he had his moments, like anybody else does. But going with them to South America in 2007, I had never been to South America and I was blown away by the stamina of the audience. They were just pumped on hearing Motörhead in São Paulo, Rio, Santiago, Caracas, Venezuela. They just love them down there. Not to mention all the stories, we could stay on the phone for two days talking about all the stories he would tell me. That part I'm going to miss and cherish. Hearing him talk about Jimi Hendrix, how he was his roadie, I was just blown away. Most people don't know that this guy was Jimi Hendrix's roadie for six months.

That was his first job in music.

He actually has a bass that Jimi Hendrix gave to him. Like an eight string bass. Just hearing that story -- and all the countless stories of him being on the road -- was amazing.

Do you remember one that sticks out for you? 

You see, Lemmy was a funny guy, too. If it wasn't a story, it was a joke. I was talking to his son this morning, we talked on the phone for about half an hour and we were just sharing stories about all the jokes we had. 

Other than the humor, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame invited Lemmy to be apart of the Chuck Berry concert, that was really special to him. He basically got to see his idol and play with his idol. Even going up he was a little nervous, but he was stoked on the whole event.

You can still be star-struck, even if you're Lemmy.

Yeah, he got to meet Chuck Berry. They talked for a brief minute and everybody got around and took pictures. That was a really cool moment for him.

Is there a time between you and him that sticks out?

What Lemmy taught me was what music was, what music was supposed to be. Not what's out there, what you hear on the radio, what you read in the tabloids. He was able to show me what music was all about, the real side of music. It doesn't have to be about partying twenty-four-seven. Him writing in the studio... record after record, touring nine months of the year. That was eye-opening, to see that this is what a real touring musician does, someone who is true to the industry.

When you're 30 years old going out on a nine month tour, that shit is hard. I can't imagine being a 65-year-old man hitting it like that, you know?

He was able to do it for so long. He did it without bitching and complaining. Most people say, "I'm tired of touring, I'm over this." He just did it. That's what he liked doing. He went out like he wanted to.

He didn't want people feeling sorry for him. He wanted to give people music. Share that with people. Always gave autographs to all the fans. There would be fans outside shivering cold. I'd go outside, grab their stuff bring it in and he'd sign. He would sign every single one of them. Even being on stage as his bass tech, when the other bass techs couldn't make it, when I was teching for him, just watching it, Lemmy was the easiest guy to tech for. His amps hardly went down. Once he went on stage it was just 90 minutes of "Woah, this is real."

We lost a good soul yesterday. I know that a lot of people are at a loss of words but it is good to see all his friends, family, everybody that loved him throwing out their condolences.

After our conversation, Luna sent along a story that stuck out to him, which illustrates plainly the character of the man born Ian, who died a legend named Lemmy.

It's December 5th, 2012, around 9PM at the Velodrom in Berlin. You can hear the crowd chanting "Motorhead, Motorhead!" We're in the dressing room backstage and Lemmy is lying on the couch, not feeling well. The tour manager, Eddie [Rocha] comes in and asks if he is going to play. I can't give him a definite answer. I tap Lem on the shoulder to see if we are going to cancel or if he's going to go up and play tonight. He says "I don't know if I can do it tonight." I don't know if he was sick, tired... but I didn't think he was going to be able to play. I look at Eddie, and we both look down at him, trying to figure out what to do. It's about 9:15PM now --  we were supposed to be on stage 10 minutes ago. At this point you could hear the crowd pounding their feet on the ground, and then they all started chanting "Lemmy, Lemmy, Lemmy."  It was at that moment that Lem stood up, looked at himself in the mirror, combed his hair, fixed his shirt & said: "Let's do it." 

Lemmy & Motorhead gave it their all that night, and the fans loved him for it -- that's the Lemmy I will always remember. Lemmy will forever represent rock and roll to me. He lived and breathed it, and showed me what it was all about. It was an honor and privilege to work with Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister, just as he was once honored to work with Jimi Hendrix!