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Humor of the Beast

Don Jamieson Talks Befriending Lemmy, and The Immortal Influence of MOTORHEAD

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Simply getting to meet your music hero is a special moment. But getting to regularly interview and befriend them? That’s something most of us can only dream of. Yet that’s exactly what Don Jamieson got to do with one of his heroes – Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister – thanks in part to his time co-hosting That Metal Show on VH1 Classic.

Welcome to “Humor of the Beast,” a recurring series where we interview the funniest people about their favorite band, as well as the impact heavy music has had on their lives and in comedy. In this article, we talk with Don Jamieson.

While making the rounds in support of his new standup album Denim and Laughter (out now via Metal Blade Records), we spoke to Don about what it was like to interview the almighty Lemmy and how Motorhead continues to inspire him in life. We also discussed how he’s working hard to keep the spirit of That Metal Show alive with his own online series That Jamieson Show, why he enjoys performing standup on the road with his favorite bands, and how metal will always play a critical role in his comedy.

Read highlights from our conversation below.

When did you first discover Motorhead?

The first time I discovered Motorhead was in high school. I used to save up my lawnmowing money and on Saturdays go to the mall to buy a new heavy metal record. There was a guy with long hair at the record store who I’d go right to and say, “Ok, last week you gave me Anvil’s Hard ‘n’ Heavy, and the week before you gave me Riot’s Fire Down Under. Who do I get this week?” I remember him handing me Motorhead’s Bomber, and that was it – my life changed forever!

What was it about that record that made it stand out among everything else?

They were ugly [laughs]. And I liked that! So many of the bands were too pretty in the 80s, so I was like, “These guys are ugly… I like them instantly! I don’t even care what they sound like, I already like it!” But there were characters on the cover – the whole imagery of the [Heinkel] bomber – and then obviously when I put [the record] on and felt the power of the music, I was instantly hooked.

What is it about Motorhead that still resonates with you?

It’s the “give no quarter” attitude they always had. Lemmy was the Frank Sinatra of metal – he was like, “I do it my way!” He did things the way he wanted to… I mean, Motorhead took chances along the way, but they never caved into what they thought fans would want, or if they thought they could increase their fanbase by having Lemmy take singing lessons or stop smoking and drinking Jack Daniels – none of that stuff was going to happen!

Which Motorhead song in particular brings back a specific (good or bad) memory as soon as you hear it?

Probably anything off of Bomber because that was my first Motorhead album. Whenever I hear “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” I still feel the power that I felt all those years ago when I first put the needle on that vinyl. That riff still punches me in the nuts!

When was the first time you ever saw Motorhead live? What do you remember the most about the show?

I think the first time I saw them live was at L’Amour in Brooklyn. I remember that I couldn’t hear for three days. Even at 18 years old and feeling indestructible, I was still slightly worried that I wouldn’t get my hearing back [laughs], but I eventually did. That show just took me to another level of love for Motorhead when I saw how powerful [the band] was live.

I know you’ve had the chance to interview Lemmy a few times for That Metal Show, but when was the first time you actually got to meet him?

I met him a long time ago in Los Angeles, probably late 80s / early 90s, when he started hanging out at the Rainbow. When he wasn’t at the Ms. Pacman machine, he’d be at the bar drinking a Jack & Coke. We met through a mutual friend, and he invited me to sit down and have a drink with him. Even as a young buck at the time, I thought I could keep up with Lemmy, but I was sorely mistaken. After drinking with Lemmy for about an hour, I made out with a chick with a mustache and my friends carried me out.

That sounds like how drinking with Lemmy should go!

[Laughs] Well I probably could’ve done without the girl with the mustache!

Listen, it might’ve been Lemmy in a wig!

And I’d be proud!

Fast forward a few years later and you’re interviewing Lemmy on That Metal Show. What was going through your mind the first time you interviewed him?

It was … [going into that interview,] I didn’t care if he knew my name, I didn’t care if he liked me, I just didn’t want him to not like me for any reason. I would’ve rather been invisible to him than to do or say something that would make him not like me… So, I wasn’t trying to impress him in any way, I wasn’t trying to become a friend of his, and I guess it turned out that because I didn’t do any of that stuff, he took a liking to me eventually.

I actually got to interview Lemmy myself many years ago, and I too was nervous about saying one wrong word to him. But he ended up being the friendliest guy. For someone who as you described was the Frank Sinatra of metal, he was very conversational – as if he was actually interested in what some metal journalist had to say.

Well, then he was obviously enjoying his conversation with you because the one thing about Lemmy I learned was that he didn’t like small talk. [One time after a taping of That Metal Show] he invited me to his dressing room to sit and have a Jack & Coke – which I had done unsuccessfully so many years before [laughs], glad I got a second chance – and there was somebody in the room who just kept chiming in. Then Lemmy just finally said, “If you don’t have anything interesting to say, don’t say anything!”

So obviously he was enjoying the things you guys were talking about, and luckily he and I seemed to be having a pretty awesome conversation… If someone is down-to-earth and had something to say, he liked to be social with them.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Lemmy during your conversations with him?

It goes back to the Bomber album – it was a little disappointing when I told him how much that album meant to me, and he was sort of like, “Eh, that’s a pretty good album… there’s a couple of clunkers on there.” … Obviously, I feel like they’ve made even better records after that, but it was a little surprising that he didn’t think Bomber was one of their stronger albums.

Is there one guest you had on That Metal Show that still stands out?

Other than Lemmy, my favorite guests were the ones who would stir things up. A guy like Ted Nugent comes on and he’s completely uncensored… whether you love Ted or hate him, you’re tuning in because you know he’s completely unhinged, and you’re waiting to hear what he’s going to say. So, I always loved guests like them.

Is that the type of conversations you hope to continue doing on That Jamieson Show?

I’m interviewing people by myself for the first time [in this type of format], so it’s kind of interesting to see where these conversations will go and where I’m sort of willing to [let myself] steer people. I actually just interviewed Ted [for an episode], and I got into politics and everything with him, which we tried not to do on That Metal Show. I sort of let him run a little more wild on politics and hunting, as well as on music.

And yet you can still have someone like Randy Blythe from Lamb Of God – who politically is on the opposite end of the spectrum as Ted Nugent – on That Jamieson Show without it feeling odd.

Oh yeah, and with respect to everybody’s political beliefs! You get Ted Nugent on one week, and then Randy Blythe the next week – so you get two different perspectives on the world from both of those guys. I equally enjoy both of them, so I was glad and honored to get to talk with those dudes.

I know a lot of fans had hoped That Metal Show would come back in some way, but how did the opportunity to host your own show come about?

Well, it was an opportunity [to join], a network that has a bunch of shows mostly hosted by comedians, and I get to be the “rock comedian” [on the network]. For me, it’s keeping the spirit of That Metal Show alive, but with my little twist on it. I’m like Tony Iommi when he was doing Black Sabbath with 19 different singers in the middle there – he was keeping that name alive.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a TV show described that way… brilliant!

[Laughs] One thing I learned from doing That Metal Show, and even as a comedian getting interviewed mostly about hard rock and metal, is that I feel an obligation to continue promoting these artists we love and care for, and to give them a platform to talk about what they’re doing. It’s on a smaller scale now, but I’ll never stop doing it.

It’s interesting to hear that you feel “obligated” to talk about metal and hard rock. You never shy away from incorporating metal into your standup routine – even naming your standup albums after classic album titles – but have you ever been concerned about being stereotyped as a “metal comedian”?

Guys like me, Jim Breuer, Brian Posehn, we’re known as “metal comedians” but can all also play the regular comedy clubs in town or anywhere else. So, I don’t worry about it because there’s always going to be a certain percentage of talking about rock music in my act – it’s a big part of my life!

It would be like not talking about my relationships or my childhood – I would be remiss by not talking about this music that I love. So with a more mainstream crowd, I just don’t talk about it as much. But obviously when I open for bands, that’s all I do – it’s just my “sex n’ drugs n’ rock n’ roll set.”

A lot of comedians I talk to say how difficult it is to perform standup before a band’s set, and yet you’re constantly on the road opening for bands or playing music festivals.

Most comedians, when they ask me, “Hey where you’ve been working?” and I respond with something like, “Oh I was just touring with Zakk Wylde for a month,” they’re like, “Why would you do that?!” Because those are my people! It’s fun for me, and I get to do just a set about the bands, the music, and the scene that we all love so much.

It’s a real bonding thing. I also think crowds enjoy it because I’m not going outside the lines too far, and instead of hearing a 15th band, they get a little break from the music. They get a little bit of everything, and the response for the most part since I’ve been doing it has been awesome.

So which would you prefer – to open for Motorhead in front of a sold-out crowd who ONLY wants to see Motorhead, or headline Carnegie Hall … in front of an unruly drunk crowd on St. Patrick’s Day? 

[Laughs] That’s definitely the most interesting question I’ve been asked… Well here’s the thing about a comedian opening for bands – you have to set yourself up with the right band. I certainly wouldn’t want to try and open for Slayer. I try to stick with the bands [whose audience] I think I’ll have a fighting chance with. So as much as I love Motorhead… I might opt for the Carnegie Hall crew, only because I’d really feel like a loser bombing in front of Lemmy.

Now imagine another scenario where you’re about to fight a heckler in the middle of your set – which song from Motorhead would you want playing during the fight?

It would have to be “(Don’t Let ‘Em) Grind You Down” off Iron Fist. “Don’t let them bastards grind ya down…” I love that, man! Whenever I have a rough set, I always think about that song and that message. Comics can have a 100 great shows, but it’s that one bad gig that always sticks in our fucking craw. But when I get down, I just think how Lemmy would’ve just told me to don’t let them bastards grind ya down.

Do you think that’s one common ground between musicians and comics – how it can just take one show to bring them down?

Yes! I tour with these bands, they get off stage and they’re miserable. I’m like, “That was a brilliant show!” And they’re like, “No, I was out of tune! I couldn’t hear anything in the monitors! My amp went out halfway through!” We’re all the same, live performers. We’re usually always happy, but never satisfied. What the audience sees is hopefully just what live rock or comedy should be – not perfect, but still great.

I always worry if I don’t stumble over some words during the set. If I don’t fumble over my words, I go, “Ah, I was on auto-pilot!” I never want to do my act in auto-pilot. And a rock band hitting a bum-note or there, who cares?! That’s why I love it when bands go, “Look, we put this live album out, there’s mistakes on it but it is what it is.”

[With my standup albums] I’ve left some stuff in their that were mistakes that I clearly could’ve edited. There’s even a joke [on my new album, Denim and Laughter] that doesn’t go over all that well, but I [joke with the audience] “Look, I’m just gonna edit a laugh in here anyway,” and I like to leave that stuff in there. I love [to capture] that live feel, as if you’re in the room and at my show.

You are one of the few comedians who can say they’ve not only toured with bands, but actually has standup albums released by Metal Blade Records. What was going through your mind the first time Brian Slagel approached you about signing to his label?

I thought he was kidding. And I didn’t answered him for like a year [laughs]. I think I got a better advance that way, but I didn’t mean to! I just thought there’s NO way he wants me to be on the label. Then he hired me to do an event for him, and he goes “Hey, you never got back to me about doing an album.” I went, “Oh, you’re serious about that?!” Literally five minutes later, we hammered out a deal in his car, and I’ve been with him ever since.

I knew Brian’s reputation as a businessman and simply as a human being, and of course Metal Blade’s bands shaped my life since I was a teenager. So, for me it was a no brainer. I knew he was very artist-friendly. He’s not going to censor my material if he’s got Cannibal Corpse on his roster. He let’s the artists do their thing, and if they need guidance, he’s there… Brian lets us all have our own creativity, and I’m forever grateful to him.

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