One Track Mind: Billy Gibbons/ Dave Grohl/ Lemmy Kilmister, "Run Rudolph, Run" (1998)

Could Christmas get any cooler than a collaboration between Lemmy and Billy Gibbons on a Chuck Berry tune? Didn’t think so.

It’s an odd combination straight out of one of those old team-up comic books that threw unlikely heroes together – the smooth, bluesy, Texas cool of Gibbons’ guitar tone and the gruff, hell-raising, European mystique of the Motorhead frontman. Throw in drummer Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters/Nirvana), and it’s a wonder the studio didn’t explode.

They all came together on a thoroughly entertaining 2008 compilation by Wendy Dio – wife of the late, great Ronnie James Dio – titled We Wish You a Metal Xmas. The album threw together artists from all walks of the hard rock and metal spectrum to perform classic Christmas carols and songs. There were a lot of potential outcomes for the project from cheesy to just completely awful. Surprisingly – an exceedingly strange death metal version of “Silent Night” aside – it produced some pretty hot tunes, among them: a hard-rocking version of “Santa Claus is Back in Town” featuring Tim Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen), Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs), Marco Mendoza (Ted Nugent, Whitesnake) and Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio); a groovy “Little Drummer Boy” featuring Doug Pinnick (King’s X), George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big) and Simon Phillips (Judas Priest. Michael Schenker Group, Toto); and of course, the Sabbathed-out, dirge-like version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” featuring Dio himself, Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Dio) and Simon Wright (AC/DC, Dio). Rumor has it that Dio’s wife had to twist his arm to get him to sing a Christmas song, but it all turned out well.

There was no song on the record cooler, though, than this version of “Run, Rudolph Run.” It remains one of my favorite versions of the song, which also happens to be one of my favorite Christmas tunes. The choice is not so surprising when you consider how much of Berry-style rock ’n’ roll is in Motorhead. Despite the reputation they’ve built in metal circles, Lemmy still insists that they’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band, and a deeper listen to the band’s catalog than “Ace of Spades” bears that out. Lemmy also explored his love of all things rockabilly and old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll earlier this year with his Headcat project. The guitar licks, of course, are right up Gibbons’ alley, and all Grohl has to do is keep up and not get lost underneath the two legends in the room. To his credit, he does.

It’s not exactly a pretty, note-perfect rendition of the song. It’s gruff, rough and rowdy – everything that rock ‘n’ roll should be. Lemmy’s inimitable cigarette and whiskey-stained rumbling probably doesn’t belong on most Christmas records, but on this one it works perfectly. Gibbons pretty much plays things by the book on the guitar, but we get to see a little personality in the solos, including some of those trademark squeals, particularly in the outro.

It’s not a number you’re likely to hear at very many of the Christmas parties you attend this year – unless it’s time to go and they’re trying to clear the place. But at my house, you can bet it will be cranked up early and often over the next few weeks.

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.