Rush's Fond Memories Of Hamilton

Alex Lifeson Reminisces About Gigs Here, Talks About His Bond With His Bandmates

By Graham Rockingham, Hamilton Spectator, June 22, 2013

It's hard to imagine now, but 39 years ago today Rush was in the final night of a six-night stand at a little basement bar on the north side of Gore Park called Duffy's Rockpile.

The bar has long departed this world, but the band goes on.

Located on the north side of Gore Park - Kresges to the west, Chicken Roost to the east - Duffy's was the place to see up-and-coming bands in Hamilton during the early '70s.

There were so many bands it was sometimes hard to keep track of them. Easy, for example, to confuse Montreal's Mohogany Rush with just plain Rush from Toronto.

Rush was certainly an up-and-comer back in June, 1974. The band had just released its debut album and was touring hard.

On June 12, they had played a high school dance in Cannington, Ont., a gig the next day in Toronto, then a long drive June 14 to Elliott Lake, and back to Hamilton for six nights at Duffy's, June 17 to 22.

A week later they'd be in Cleveland - where a radio station was playing their single, Working Man - for a show with ZZ Top.

Rush's fortunes were about to take off.

Within a month, drummer John Rutsey would be forced to leave the band because of health issues (Rutsey eventually died of a heart attack in 2008). He was soon replaced by Neil Peart, a 21-year-old powerhouse from Port Dalhousie.

"I do remember Duffy's," Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson says in an interview from his home in Toronto shortly before the band's induction last month into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

"I remember the dressing room was under the stairwell behind the coat rack, and there was that stupid support pole on the stage. I have very fond memories of those times, 19 years old and having a riot."

Lifeson remembers the band's Hamilton shows fondly, for the most part.

"It's a blue collar town and rock has always been popular there," Lifeson says.

"We've always had great concerts there - Copps, Ivor Wynne. We played Hamilton Place in 1975 when it was new. I had the flu and I had to run off stage, throw up into a bucket, run back on and keep playing. A rough night."

In August, Lifeson will turn 60. He's grandfather to two boys, aged five and nine. The time he spends with them is the most important part of his life right now.

But Lifeson still gets a rush playing with Rush. As they approach their 40th year together, Lifeson, Peart and singer/bassist Geddy Lee have never been more popular with both young and old. On July 19, Canada Post will even offer for sale a new postage stamp honouring the band.

The band's 2011 Time Machine tour earned lavish praise from critics - something Rush rarely received during the band's recording heyday in the '70s and '80s - and the Rush steam roller continues this year with the Clockwork Angels tour, which stops at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum on July 6.

"Every tour I feel like we're playing better than ever before," says Lifeson. "Time Machine felt that way, and this tour, I'm thinking we're the best we've ever played. There's something that comes with age and maturity. There's a confidence and ease that I didn't experience in the past."

Lifeson attributes Rush's longevity to the close personal bonds shared by the band's three members.

"We're lucky," he says. "We all come from hard-working, working class families. So there's a good work ethic instilled in us. We love what we do. We love each other.

"We spend so much time laughing and hanging out. Neil travels a little separately from us these days. He has his own interests, motorcycling.

"But we always have that dinner time together where we're just joking and laughing and riffing on the day. Geddy and I live just five minutes away from each other. We always have. We're still at the same tennis club and we go out for dinner, have a couple of bottles of wine every now and then. We get together and do lots of things."

Still, touring is not as easy as it once was. It now takes discipline.

"I'm at the gym every day at nine, five days a week, four weeks before we hit the road. Same thing for Geddy, and the same for Neil. In fact, Neil starts probably two weeks before we do in a very intensive program.

"We all take it very seriously and you have to, because when you're tired on the road, it is so hard to recover. I'm finding now that it's a real fine balance between what you do in the off days and what you do on the show days.

"Off-days are truly recovery-days now. They are not days to go and party. Maybe a little bit of sports, I play golf, hit the gym, have a nice dinner, maybe get a massage and try to get a good night's sleep. That's what is required when you put on a three-hour show and you do it the best you ever have."


When: Saturday, July 6

Where: Copps Coliseum

Tickets: $42.50, $59.50, $87.50 and $118.50, available at Copps Coliseum box office, or online at, and by phone at 1-855-985-5000.