Another old-school rocker has left us to join the great gig in the sky. January 10, 2018, saw the passing of ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke, guitarist of the infamous metal band Motörhead and later Fastway. He died in hospital from pneumonia at the age of 67. Clarke was with Motörhead from 1976 to 1982 and recorded the band’s first five studio albums alongside bassist and frontman Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister and then drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. Seen as the original line-up, it would be these three do-no-gooders who would live on eternally in rock history for creating a new sound entirely and for producing the spectacular 1980 album Ace Of Spades and title song.

Before Motörhead

Edward Allan Clarke was born on 5 October 1950 in Twickenham, London. Prior to joining the band, Clarke played in a few local bands in London. He had started playing guitar at the age of fifteen and his style of playing was primarily influenced by blues, as can be heard in his later years. He was influenced by the music greats Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Yardbirds and Eric Clapton. He recorded a studio album with the band Zeus, which effectively ended the band due to a dispute over amplifiers. After that, he formed the band Continuous Performance, but none of their demo tracks were picked up by a record label. This failure left him downtrodden and he swore off music. Fortunately, this was not to last.

And then there was metal

In 1975, Taylor was already a member of the band and he and Clarke met while working on the same boathouse as renovators. Clarke was introduced to Lemmy by Taylor and an audition for the place of guitarist in Motörhead was arranged. The name originated from the last song Lemmy had written for his previous band, Hawkwind, before being asked to leave.

A “Motorhead” is the slang term for an amphetamine abuser.

Though the idea had been for the band to have two guitarists, Larry Wallis, Motörhead’s guitarist at the time, quit the band after Clarke’s joining, leaving the latter as the only guitarist. And thus, Motörhead was born. It was this trifecta of musicality that would go on to produce five studio albums over a period of six years; Motörhead (1977), Overkill (1979), Bomber (1979), Ace of Spades (1980) and Iron Fist (1982).

The first album was produced under the label Chiswick Records. Subsequent albums were all done through Bronze, the same record label that later signed Hawkwind. For the rest of the band’s career, they would switch labels often, all of their later ones recorded and produced primarily in North America.

Sound wise, his new band was on the opposite end of the metal spectrum as Lemmy’s former bandmates. Motörhead was visceral and beautiful and straight as an arrow all at the same time, a concoction of sounds thus far unheard of. With notable punk influence, especially in the drumming, and vocals that could not be likened to any of the band’s contemporaries, their sound was truly original and uncanny.

As with most first albums, Motörhead, features the triple sound of classic metal, rock ‘n roll, and punk, with just the occasional dab of surfer rock. Clarke as the guitarist would help refine and shape this sound into a well-honed metal machine. They dubbed Clarke ‘Fast’ Eddie for his playing with good reason. They played loud, raw, fast and hard. Lemmy and Taylor lived in a similar fashion, with Clarke in tow.

The quieter, more reserved of the three, though by no means quiet and reserved by traditional measures, many who knew the band personally during their heyday have reported that he was the bonding factor, the one who kept everything together and everyone rocking.

They even had their own logo, an emblem of their one-of-a-kind brand of anarchism.

As the lyrics on “Overkill” go: “Only way to feel the noise is when it's good and loud.” Snaggletooth, also known as Warpig, is the snarling, ambiguous toothed and tusked creature inked by Joe Petagno and would remain the band’s stamp until the end, appearing on many of their album covers and merchandise.

As a unit, they were growing, going from strength to strength, but the thing that would forever write their names in gilded letters in the minds of both fans and would-be fans alike was their fourth studio album.

The only card I need

The band had experienced marginal success with Overkill and Bomber, the albums reaching number 24 and 12 on the UK Album Charts respectively. But it was not until the release of Ace of Spades that their fame really skyrocketed.

With their third album in only two years, their unique style of supremely constructed musical mayhem and lyrical content had reached the next level. The album was released on the 8th of November 1980 by Bronze Records, to critical acclaim.

It was released in North America by Mercury Records, their first international album. “Ace of Spades,” the title track, with its driving bass intro and life-or-death gambling lyrics, its fast and furious drumming and supreme guitar solos, would become the most well-known Motörhead song; their anthem.

It is still being played on alternative radio stations worth its salt to this day. Scott Ian from Anthrax, an American thrash metal band that formed a year after the release of Ace of Spades, was quoted as saying “Who the hell are these three Mexicans, and how do they play so fast?” in reference to his reaction to when he first heard the album.

It went on to reach number four on the UK Charts and achieve Gold status. In addition to this, it would inspire countless bands and musicians to follow in the speed, thrash, and heavy metal scenes. As Paul Elliot of Metal Hammer magazine stated so undeniably in his February 2016 article on the band’s wide influence on the metal genre as a whole; “…if it’s loud and heavy, it owes its life to Motörhead.” This was arguably Clarke’s most accomplished year with the group, and to think that it was possible to achieve all of it with only one man on guitar.

Highs and lows

For the next two years following the phenomenal reception of Ace of Spades, the band toured extensively in both the UK, North America and Europe, and released a collaboration album as well as their first live album as they went.

No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith, recorded at West Runton Pavillion in Norfolk between the 28th and the 30th of March 1981, was their first number one UK Charts album. Living the high life had a double meaning and the themes in their music were often true to real life.

The antics would take a toll on all three of them later in life, but for the time being, they were larger than life and loving it.They began work on Iron Fist, their self-produced fifth studio album. It was released on the 17th of April 1982 and was the last album to feature all three band members; Lemmy, Taylor, and Clarke. Clarke believed that the planned recording for the B-side of a cover version of Tammy Wynette’s Stand by Your Man stood in contrast to Motörhead’s musical manifesto and would not record the song.

Because of their falling out over artistry, Clarke parted ways with the remaining two members of the band. “I actually thought I’d die in Motörhead. I never thought I’d leave,” said Clarke. It was his feeling that he had been let go instead of it being a mutual agreement. The story, as told by Lemmy in his biography White Line Fever, was that Clarke left the band after a disagreement about artistic direction during which Clarke walked out. Motörhead went on to hire Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzy, and Clarke ventured out to form a new band.

A new way of life

Following a discussion Clarke had with the would-be-former bassist of UFO, Peter Way, the two decided to join forces and form a new band, Fastway.

The band’s name would be a combination of their own names and all that was left to do was find a lead singer and drummer.

Clarke was so impressed by the vocal abilities of Dave King that he paid for his flight from Dublin to London and Jerry Shirley, of former Humble Pie fame, joined them on drums. But the lure of playing for Ozzy Osbourne was too strong for Peter Way and he left the band during its embryonic stage.

They recorded their first, self-titled album with Mick Feat standing in as bassist. Over the next 15 years, the band would go on to record six studio albums and release ten singles and Eps with a host of members from John McManus of Mama’s Boys to Steve Strange (not the vocalist for Visage).

Musically, Fastway was very different from Motörhead. Cleaner and more defined, they had a typical classic metal sound. Their last album before a nearly twenty-year-long hiatus, Bad Bad Girls, was released in 1990. The response to the album was unenthusiastic and its low sales figures played a part in the members of Fastway parting ways.

In 2007, however, the band reformed with Toby Jepson, Steve Strange and John McManus in the line-up alongside Clarke. They toured, playing rock and metal festivals the world over, but separated again for a time. In 2010, Fastway recorded Dog Eat Dog. This was to be their last ever studio album. Clarke recorded two solo albums in his lifetime; It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over, released in 1994, and Make My Day/Back to Blues in 2014.

We meet again

Various members took up the Motörhead badge after Clarke’s departure, with Lemmy being the only constant. Throughout its lifetime, the band featured Brian Robertson, as mentioned, Paul Gill, Larry Wallis (UFO and Pink Fairies), Lucas Fox, and Michael “Würzel” Burston, who passed away in 2011.

They released a total of 17 studio albums during the band's existence, the last of which being Black Magic in 2015. Taylor had left the band in 1984 only to reunite with them again from 1987 to 1992. After more than thirty years after his departure from the band, Clarke made an appearance on stage to play “Ace of Spades” with Motörhead on 6 November 2014 at the National Indoor Arena. Lemmy had previously featured on It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over, having written and sung the lyrics on the track “Laugh at the Devil”.

Then the goodbyes

Following a period of ill health, Phil Taylor passed away from liver failure on 11 of November 2015. In a statement on losing his former bandmate and friend, Lemmy stated: “It really pisses me off that they take somebody like him and leave George Bush alive.”

Though he had not been a part of Motörhead for some years, Taylor had been a great influence on their sound. His passing was a hard knock for both Lemmy and Clarke. Less than two months later, Lemmy himself also tragically passed away on the 28th of December, the cause of his death being cancer.

Both will forever be remembered as metal legends who kicked against the pricks and saying no to conventionality. The remaining members of Motörhead, Phil “Wizzö” Campbell and Mikkey Dee, disbanded after losing their frontman. Only Clarke remained and by the end of 2017, his health had started deteriorating. Life with Motörhead was not what one would call healthy and on 10 January, after being admitted to hospital for pneumonia, the last remaining member of the original Motörhead passed on.

Not one of the three left behind a wife or children (that we know of), a sign of their delirious lifestyles but also of their dedication to their one true love; metal. Clarke will be remembered not only for his time with the band, during its forming years and after, but also as a driving force in the shaping and reshaping of an entire genre of music and as a musical prodigy in his own right. The unequivocal fact remains; he played a mean guitar.