Phil Taylor, who has died aged 61, was not Motörhead’s first drummer, and he had not been part of the band’s lineup since 1992.
Nonetheless, his playing was crucial in establishing Motörhead as one of rock’s great institutions, and the lineup of Taylor, the singer and bass player Lemmy and the lead guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke is regarded as the definitive version of the band.
Whether they should be described as heavy metal, thrash or merely heavy rock remains a perennially debated question. The band disliked being described as “heavy metal”, as Taylor himself explained in 1981. “It’s the way you look and the sort of audiences you attract that gets you labelled as heavy metal,” he said. “But at every interview we always try to point out that we don’t like to be called HM music. It’s more like hard, fast, nasty, disgusting rock.”
That description makes it sound as though Motörhead’s music was merely a barrage of noise – in 1984 they cracked the ceiling at the Variety Theater in Cleveland, Ohio, by playing at 130 decibels – but there was considerable method in their sonic madness. Taylor, colloquially known as Philthy Animal, was renowned in the metal fraternity for his pioneering use of a double kick-drum, which enabled him to lend frenzied impetus to songs such as Overkill or Ace of Spades and inspired a new generation of thrash metal bands such as Metallica and Anthrax.
Taylor, an enthusiastic subscriber to the rock’n’roll lifestyle, was also accident-prone. In 1980 he played drums in a neck brace after a friend had dropped him on his head (this left him with a calcium deposit on the back of his neck he nicknamed “the knob”), and on another occasion, after breaking his hand in a fight, played with a drumstick taped to his hand. Yet Taylor also brought discipline and attention to detail to his playing with Motörhead, giving listeners a structure to cling to amidst the band’s eardrum-battering roar.
Their celebrated live album No Sleep ’til Hammersmith (1981), the band’s only No 1, showcases the way he was able to shape the songs with crisp accents and punctuations, like his speedy fills during Ace of Spades or his almost elegant accents in No Class or Jailbait.
Taylor spent two separate stints with Motörhead, from 1975 until 1984 and then 1987 until 1992. The best albums from the first period, Ace of Spades (1980), No Sleep ’til Hammersmith and Iron Fist (1982), were pinnacles of Motörhead’s career.
Taylor was born in Hasland, a suburb of Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He first played with Motörhead in 1975, when he was called in to replace the original drummer, Lucas Fox, while the group were making what would become the album On Parole, belatedly released in 1979 (executives at United Artists records held it back because they were not convinced of its quality).
Taylor replaced Fox’s drum tracks on all the songs except Lost Johnny, since an arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour meant he could not return to the studio before the band’s recording time had expired.
At Taylor’s suggestion, Clarke was brought in on guitar to replace Larry Wallis, and the new-look Motörhead now released Motörhead (1977), Overkill (1979) and Bomber (also 1979), the last two reaching No 24 and No 12 on the charts respectively. Then came Ace of Spades, which reached No 6 and confirmed Motörhead as a potent new force in heavy rock.
Taylor left Motörhead in 1984 following the Another Perfect Day album and tour, and after a farewell appearance with the band on the TV comedy show The Young Ones. He put in stints playing drums with Waysted and Operator, and in 1986 played in Frankie Miller’s touring band.
In 1987 Taylor rejoined Motörhead, and played on the albums Rock’n’Roll (1987), 1916 (1991) and March ör Die (1992). However, his commitment to the group appeared to be wavering during March ör Die, and his playing became so erratic that Lemmy felt forced to sack him. “That was a blow, because I knew it was going to devastate him – and it did, and that really upset me,” Lemmy said. Taylor played his last gig with Motörhead at Irvine Meadows, California, in March 1992.
Taylor subsequently worked with a variety of bands, including The Web of Spider and Capricorn. He collaborated with the guitarist Chris Holmes, and appeared on three albums by the Deviants. In November 2014, he joined Motörhead onstage at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham as they performed Ace of Spades, but he did not play the drums.
• Phil Taylor, drummer, born 21 September 1954; died 11 November 2015
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