Motorhead‘s Lemmy Kilmister once referred to Michael “Wurzel” Burston as “a quiet monster. He’s a very soft-spoken guy — kind of a gent, even. But give him a guitar and he just…erupts.”
Wurzel, who was with Motorhead for nine albums between 1985-1995, died on July 9 from ventricular fibrillation caused by heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), at the age of 61. Kilmister’s bass tech, Tim Butcher, broke the news on his Facebook page, also referring to Wurzel as a “complete gent” and a “great guitarist, and writing “We will miss you.”
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On July 10 in Knebworth, England, Motorhead dedicated its Sonisphere Festival set “and our lives” to Wurzel. Drummer Mikkey Dee, meanwhile, told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that Wurzel “wrote damn good Motörhead riffs. I remember that I missed that when he was not there. I missed the simple classic Motörhead riffs. They were never written after that. They left with him. He was wonderful, he was really funny. There was a lot of rock and roll in the old man.”
Wurzel was born in Cheltenham, England, serving as a corporal in the 1st Batallion of the British Army’s Gloucestershire Regiment in Germany and Ireland. The army was reportedly where Wurzel got his nickname due to a resemblance to Worzel Gummidge, a character in a British children’s TV series of the same name based on a series of books by Barbara Euphan Todd.
Wurzel played in the bands Bastard and Warfare before auditioning for Motorhead in 1984, becoming part of the group’s first four-piece lineup with fellow guitarist when Lemmy could not decide between him and Phil Campbell; Lemmy did, however, add an umlaut above the U in Wurzel’s name. The Wurzel-Campbell lineup debuted on some music Motorhead recorded for the TV series “The Young Ones,” then on four newly recorded songs for the 1984 compilation album “No Remorse.”
The guitarist — whose personal business card declared him “Wurzel the bastard, so fuck off” — left Motorhead in 1995, shortly after recording the “Sacrifice” album; he also appears on the 2005 archival release “BBC Live & In Session” and has made several onstage guest appearances with the band during the intervening years. Wurzel released his first solo album, “Bess,” in 1987, following 11 years later with “Chill Out or Die (The Ambient Album).” He also made guest appearances on albums by Warhead, Splodgenessabounds, WVKEAF and Disgust.
Prior to his death, Wurzel was working in a new band, Leader of Down, which had been recording material for its debut album.