There are different ways to build a rock band. You can be a trio like the Jimi Hendrix Experience or a quartet like the Beatles. Each option affects the dynamics within the group differently and impacts the complexity of the overall sound and the range of motion.
Motörhead took the stage as one of the trio rock bands: a vocalist who was also a bassist, a guitarist, and a drummer. It had many line-up changes throughout its presence on the rock scene, with a rhythm guitarist added as a fourth in some of its incarnations. However, it retained its three-members/instruments-based sound until its final version before disbanding.
As the founder Lemmy Kilmister revealed in an interview with Louder Than War in 2011, his initial plan was not to be a trio or, at most, a quartet. The band, which formed one of the essential legs of British Rock and Roll, was actually going to be a quintet. The inspiration behind Lemmy’s plan was MC5, which was an important part of the American rock scene at the time.
MC5 impacted rock and roll so much that many bands still can’t catch up. When it was formed, it was a quintet featuring vocalist Rob Tyner, bassist Michael Davis, drummer Dennis Thompson, and guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred’ Sonic’ Smith. The band’s work could be described as a rich sonic experience, mainly thanks to the guitar interplay with Davis’ solid bass and the drummer’s clanging rhythms.
Kilmister, who was very impressed with the harmony, reciprocity, and interconnection between the instrument use of this quintet, had already started planning the band he was going to establish in the early 1970s. He wanted to make music like the Detroit Quintet, powered by the interlinkage of multiple instruments. In an interview in 2011, he revealed that that was his initial plan.
“The original Motorhead was a 5-piece band,” he said, remembering his initial plans for the rock and roll trio. “I wanted to form the MC5 of Britain. They were such a great band, the MC5. I did that MC5 gig a few years back, and they were f*cking great man. They sound exactly the same! I sang ‘Sister Ann’ and ‘Back In the USA’ with them. It was f*cking brilliant. I came out high as a kite. It was one of them shows.”
He continued, “So the original Motörhead was modeled on the MC5. Luther Grosvenor was in the band for a month, and Ariel Bender [laughs] great guitar player. I like the bass better than the guitar. I’m a really mediocre guitar player. Luther was going to be in the band but bottled out, and we were going to get a singer, and that never happened to I got stuck with the singing.”
If Luther Grosvenor and Ariel Bender had joined him as planned, Kilmister would have been able to perform as part of the quintet he dreamed of. However, we know that Motörhead remained and did a pretty good job as a power trio. Although he said he was stuck singing when that plan failed, his intense, bluesy, energetic vocals undoubtedly became one of Motörhead’s main signatures over time.