A study in resilience, this hard-rocking Canadian trio has aged gracefully, continuing to remain musically relevant. At Musician’s Friend we’ve got Rush fever!
Richard Nixon, soon to resign in disgrace, was the president. Patty Hearst was missing—kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. And up north on July 29, 1974, a young guy by the name of Neil Peart formally took over the drum throne for an up and coming Toronto rock band—thus forming a musical partnership that endures and even thrives to this day.
To celebrate Rush’s subsequent 40 years of astounding musicianship, we’re honoring the band throughout July. But before we get into that, a little more Rush history for the uninitiated.
When Peart joined bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist-backing vocalist Alex Lifeson, he replaced original drummer John Rutsey who was struggling with health issues and a dislike for touring. Peart had to get up to speed fast—Rush’s first U.S. tour was due to kick off in two weeks, opening for Manfred Mann and Uriah Heep. He rose to the occasion delivering the brilliant skills that had won him the spot in a lengthy audition process.
But Rush was already a going entity when Peart joined. Formed in the summer of 1968 by Lifeson, the lineup was reshuffled several times. Before Peart came aboard, the band had already built a local reputation playing the Ontario bar and high school dance circuit, occasionally heading out into the provinces. Heavily influenced by The Who and the emerging sounds of proto-metal as embodied by Led Zeppelin, the pre-Peart Rush issued its self-titled first album in 1974. The record failed to find an audience until a Cleveland radio station began playing “Working Man,” a track off the LP with blue-collar sentiments that hit home in the lower 48. It was picked up by Mercury who re-released Rush.
The Fender USA Geddy Lee Jazz Bass brings together the best elements from three of the bassman’s favorite instruments.
Peart brought more than his drumming chops to the band. He and Lifeson quickly formed a songwriting partnership in which the drummer began infusing lyrics with his love of fantasy and sci-fi themes. As songs grew more lyrically complex, so did the music. With Lifeson and Lee primarily focusing on the instrumental aspects of Rush, the music evolved, growing more complex and multilayered as the band continued to veer away from its blues-rock roots. Beyond his demanding role as beatkeeper, Peart’s influence was apparent on the follow-up LP, 1975’s Fly By Night. The record included the epic tale, “ By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” showing off the band’s new fondness for complex, multilayered arrangements. Released just months later, Caress of Steel continued in the same direction, but weak sales and a smaller-venue tour left the band still looking for mainstream acceptance.
Despite urgings by their record company to take a more commercial direction, Rush’s next release, 2112, with its 20-minute title track composed of seven movements ignored that advice. The album, which squarely placed the band in prog-rock territory, went platinum in Canada spawning a successful tour and live album.
Neil Peart and DW’s John Good geek out on drum construction science.
Since then, Rush fans have been treated to a thrill ride as the band has continued to evolve, shedding and taking up musical identities easily. Beginning in the early 1980s with Permanent Waves, a U.S. top-five album release, the trio began incorporating new elements such as reggae and new wave sounds as well as an increasing role for synths in the band’s towering orchestrations. Fans and critics alike see the next LP, 1981’s Moving Pictures, as high-water mark for Rush. “Tom Sawyer,” the leadoff song, is among the band’s most-recognized work. Moving Pictures also proved to be a huge commercial success going quadruple platinum.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Rush again made a decided shift in direction, returning to a more guitar-driven approach. Gone for the most part were the lush orchestrations as the band gravitated towards a more power-pop sound. By the 1990s Rush was flirting with jazz and even hip-hop sounds. Especially notable was Peart’s development of jazz and swing grooves in his playing that reached its full impact with the 1996 recording Test for Echo.
Alex Lifeson talks about all the elements that went into the design of his Gibson LP Axcess guitar.
After an acclaimed tour to promote Test for Echo, Rush went on hiatus for five years, largely due to personal losses on Peart’s part. After writing a book reflecting on his grief and subsequent healing road trip, the drummer rejoined his bandmates in 2002 to produce the LP Vapor Trails, written and recorded back on their home front in Toronto. More records and touring followed with Snakes & Arrows in 2007 earning sales of more than 611,000 units—no mean feat for a rock band in an era of shrinking music sales. The record also spun off the single “Far Cry” which received heavy radio play.
Rush’s work ethic continues to be of the driven variety to this day. The band has continued to issue a steady stream of studio and live recording as well as videos. With the current lineup’s 40th anniversary approaching, Rush has embarked on the 30-date R40 Tour that’s now underway and scheduled to close with a bang at The Forum in LA. on August 1. Lifeson has said that this will likely be the last large-scale tour Rush will undertake.
We got Rush Fever!
Throughout July at Musician’s Friend, we’re celebrating with a spotlight on Rush-relevant gear. From Geddy Lee’s Fender Signature Jazz Bass to Alex Lifeson’s Les Paul Axcess guitar to Neil Peart’s Sabian cymbals, you’ll find a cool collection of instruments deeply associated with these prog-rock pioneers. And if you aspire to capture Rush’s chops and songs, you’ll also find a huge selection of tutorials and performance videos to inspire you.
Photo: Lifeson, Lee and Peart play a 2004 Milan show. Wikimedia/Enrico Frangi