Unlike his overexposed, reality-TV-damaged contemporary Ozzy Osbourne, Motörhead leader Lemmy Kilmister is riding into the twilight of his career with his old-school honor intact. Motörhead might not be the road warriors they once were, but when they do hit the stage, they bring all the uncompromising power that made them heroes of both the punk and metal undergrounds. They've never succumbed to a bankable pop side or tried to update their sound to compete with the nü-metal mainstream.
Given those admirable factors, it should come as no surprise that Kilmister has taken up the Head Cat, a side project that reflects his roots as a fan and a musician. With help from his old friends, Stray Cats' drummer Slim Jim Phantom and guitarist Danny B. Harvey (who also plays in Phantom's post–Stray Cats outfit, 13 Cats), the trio of veterans plays scuzzed-up, tricked-out versions of their favorite early rock 'n' roll and rockabilly anthems by the likes of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, and Chuck Berry. The results sound surprisingly fresh, partly because of the strangeness of hearing Kilmister's trademark gravel-gargling growl giving life to bopworthy anthems like Eddie Cochran's "Something Else," and also because the three friends share a deep history and unflagging passion for the bare-bones beauty of those early classics.
"When you go to a Head Cat show, what you hear, what you see, and what you feel coming off the stage from us is our mutual love and respect for the music we play — and for each other," Harvey explains. The classically trained guitarist has all the technical precision and dazzling showmanship that comes with decades of experience. His résumé includes production and playing credits on Wanda Jackson's comeback record, I Remember Elvis, as well as a slew of star-studded projects with the likes of Nancy Sinatra and Blondie drummer Clem Burke. However, Harvey first made his mark outside of Los Angeles, while playing with Levi Dexter and the Rockats in London during the rockabilly revival of the early 1980s.
"I met Slim Jim three days after he arrived in London with Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker, before they had even recorded their first record or changed their name from the Tom Cats to the Stray Cats," Harvey recalls. "Lemmy and I met very shortly after I first arrived in London because he's a big rockabilly fan and would show up at our shows. Over the years, Lemmy's and my paths crossed at different rock 'n' roll events, mainly in Los Angeles."
The idea for the Head Cat began to take shape in 2000 during some inspiring sessions for an Elvis tribute album. "Lemmy came into the studio and did a great version of 'Good Rockin' Tonight,'" Harvey says. "At Lemmy's suggestion, we recorded two songs with just three of us: 'Trying to Get to You' and 'All Shook Up.' They turned out so well, we decided to record an entire CD together, and the Head Cat was born."
The band originally stuck to covers on Fools' Paradise (released on Cleopatra in 2006), but its ideas have recently evolved. "We have written three originals recently, so don't be surprised if the second CD has a lot of originals on it," Harvey says. "Since we've started playing out live, the band's sound has solidified and we've taken on a character of our own." But just because new material is making its way into the mix doesn't mean the Head Cat has ambitions beyond a pleasurable itinerary. "We all get along wonderfully and so far everything this band has done has been both exciting and fun," he enthuses. "We do this band because it's fun. We have no dreams of making it big because we all already have successful careers in music."