Philip Campbell

Decibel Level Be Damned
Decibel Level Be Damned

We recently caught up with Motorhead guitarist Philip Campbell to talk about his influences, the new album, and the band’s efforts.

Vintage Guitar: You’ve been a guitarist for Motorhead longer than anyone else.
Philip Campbell: Eighteen and a half years… I’ve been with Lemmy longer than any of ’em. It’s like a family!

Lemmy’s from North Wales, and Kim Simmonds is also Welsh.
He’s a great guitar player. Paul Chapman, from Lone Star, is also a Welshman.

Tell us about some of your pre-Motorhead bands and influences.
I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old, and at 13 I was playing semiprofessionally in a cabaret band all over South Wales. In ’79 I formed a band called Persian Risk, and after five years I left to join Motorhead.

What made me want to play guitar in the first place was Hendrix in the West, the live album; I loved the sound of it. In the early days, there was Black Sabbath, Jimmy Page, Michael Schenker in UFO, and Todd Rundgren – one of my sons is called Todd Rundgren Campbell. There were so many amazing players around. Jan Akkerman in a Dutch band called Focus was an incredible player.

Earlier guitars?
Just cheap copies. I bought my first Les Paul in ’73, but it was stolen. Then I had a natural (finish) Gibson Flying V. I wish I’d kept all of the guitars I’ve had over the years!

Now, I’m using a Lag Explorer-style, from a French company. I’ve also used PRS, Brian Moore Custom guitars, a Parker Fly. I just use whatever sounds right to me; I’m not endorsed by any particular person or company; I’ve been endorsed by a bunch of companies, and they’re all happy that I play their instruments.

I’m also using Line 6 amps for the first time on this tour. I recorded all of Hammered with it. I’ve also got four stacks on the road with me.

Legend has it that in auditions for Motorhead, Lemmy couldn’t decide between you and (erstwhile Motorhead guitarist) Wurzel, so he opted to keep both of you.
Me and Wurzel auditioned separately, and another thing that figured into it was that (drummer) Phil Taylor had decided to leave the band, and Wurzel and I talked about how maybe we could make it work with two (guitarists). So that’s how they decided to go.

The ironic facet about your first recordings with Motorhead was that the four tracks ended up on an anthology, No Remorse, instead of a bonafide album.
Yeah, but they were going to put (No Remorse) out anyway, and we were wanting to start writing songs. We thought it wouldn’t be as much of a value for the kids if they already had the tracks on earlier albums, so Lemmy insisted at the time that we put the new stuff on there.

Was there any thought of using those tracks on the first studio album recorded by the new lineup, Orgasmatron, which Bill Laswell produced?
No, there was a different licensing deal; a separate thing.

Laswell was better-known for his efforts at producing dance music. What was it like to work with him?
Well, Bill’s very talented, and we had a great two weeks doing it. Jason Corsaro, from the Power Station, engineered it, then we left it with Bill for two weeks; I went away on holiday. He said something like, “I’ll take care of it. I’ll mix it when I’m in New York.”

To be honest, when we all sat around and listened, we were disappointed in it. I think the songs were really strong, but I’d like to re-mix it. That’s a good argument for why artists should always be in the studio – not on holiday (chuckles)! I don’t think it sounds that heavy. I know how heavy the songs should have sounded.

Not long after the new lineup premiered, there was a 10th anniversary concert at which (former Motorhead guitarists) Eddie Clarke and Brian Robertson showed up to play.
(Thin Lizzy bassist) Phil Lynott showed up, as well. I wasn’t worried about previous guitar players turning up; I’ve got lots of respect for ’em, but I do my thing. It was just exciting to be doing a big stage production like that. Eddie came onstage with us again when we did our 25th anniversary concert; my son came on, Lemmy’s son came on, Brian May. It’s coming out on DVD.

When did you think the four-man version of the band hit its stride?
A couple of tracks we did, like “Just ‘Cos You Got the Power, That Don’t Mean You’ve Got the Right,” and “Cradle to the Grave,” which is on the B-side of the 12″ of “Eat The Rich.” Those were some of the best tracks we ever recorded. I was really pleased with how my solos turned out on those. Rock and Roll was a good album.

Did anyone accuse the band of ripping off Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” on that album’s final track, “Boogieman?”
(Chuckles) I might’ve heard that, but I think it sounds a bit like (Motorhead tune) “Shine,” as well. I did a four-part harmony thing at the end of that one; the first time I’d done a four-part overdub. “All For You” was a good song on that album, too. We recorded it in 11 days.

What were you using on the live black-and-white concert video of a ’91 Munich show?
That black Les Paul Custom that I got in ’73. In Germany, somebody came up with a Les Paul Standard, which I used, and I still have it. In the early days, I used a Tokai Love Rock, and I’ve still got that one, too. I actually swapped that for a couple of days with Jimmy Page when we were rehearsing in London. He let me use his #2 Les Paul, the one Joe Walsh gave him.

Was there a four-man Motorhead album that you ultimately found to be the most satisfying by that version of the band?
Bastards was my favorite because I know the work that went into it – the songwriting, the preparation. I think everything on that album is 100 percent – the production, the arrangements, the vocals, the sound. There’s only two solos on there that could be a little bit better. I used a Nashville tuning on “Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me.”

We just got the rights to that album, and we’re gonna re-release it with a couple of extra bonus tracks. It’s still my favorite album to this day. You know that track “I’m Your Man?” I always thought we should have given it to Aerosmith to do; I bet they would’ve gone to the top of the charts with it.

Wurzel left after Bastards; why did the band opt to continue as a trio?
I really always wanted it to be a three-piece, but that’s not why Wurzel left; he left for personal reasons. But when he did leave, I said we should try it as a three-piece, because I thought it would work.

Did you have to change any tone settings, etc., when you went to three-piece?
Not particularly, but I do a lot more onstage. I became a better performer; I have more “area” to cover. But I think the solos sound clearer.

And do you have a favorite album by the three-piece version?
(Pauses) They’re all good; I love the track “Snake Bite Love.” I like “Overnight Sensation,” too.

You’ve also had the opportunity to work with three drummers in Motorhead…
They were all great. Phil Taylor’s a lovely guy, but I think there were times when he overdid it a bit, and he didn’t improve. Mikkey Dee was great for the band.

Further details on some of your current instruments?
I’ve been using Lags for about 12 years; I’ve got about five different ones. I’ve also got two Framus Pantheras that were custom-made. I’ve got two PRSs, and I just found out the Brian Moore is worth about eight grand. A guy in Philadelphia is making one for me that will have the Motorhead logo in LEDs. I’ve got about 48 guitars total.

I’ve used Gallien-Kruger amps, and Engls, but used Line 6 on the album and this tour.

How do you feel about Lemmy’s policy of trying to make an album a year?
We enjoy doin’ ’em, and I’m hoping to start on my solo album this year… after 18 years. But it’s not gonna be a regular solo album; it’ll have many surprises. Adam Jones from Tool was supposed to be on “No Remorse” on Hammered, but he didn’t make it because they were working on a 12-minute video, so maybe I’ll get him for the solo album. My son, Todd, blows me away on guitar; he’s got a band that’s supported us in England; all three of my children play instruments, so they’ll be on it, as well.

In the aforementioned Munich concert video, one of the first comments you make goes something like “Stage show? Um… difficult to say, really… Basically, we’ve got ****ing nothing there.” Any improvement since then?
No! I’ve got a small silver plastic fist that flicks up and gives the finger. That’s our stage show (laughs)! Somewhat like Spinal Tap!

Kilmister and Campbell continue to purvey their unique and loud music in a manner that keeps them working. They wouldn’t have it any other way… nor would their fans. And Campbell has assumed the lone guitar slot in admirable fashion, while Lemmy’s chord-based bass playing on his new signature instrument have given Motorhead a finely tuned, yet utterly dependable sound in the maelstrom of heavy metal. And the beat (and the noise level) goes on…

Photo: Gene Kirkland.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.