Q&A: Geddy Lee Considers If Rush Would Reunite

Their time on the lam sparked a giant rodent romance that gave us Neil, Geddy and Alex

Canadian Press, December 20, 2018

TORONTO -- Geddy Lee was already an avid baseball collector and travelled wine aficionado before he began hoarding artifacts of a new obsession -- bass guitars.

It started less than a decade ago with one Fender bass, which led to buying another, and before long the member of prog-rock legends Rush was filling rooms of his homes with his new passion.

Now with more than 250 guitars in his collection, Lee is showing them off in "Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Book of Bass," a glossy 400-page collection of historical reflections, in-depth interviews and photographs shot inside the rocker's Toronto home.

It's a grand project paying tribute to his favourite instrument, and one that's fitting for a musician known for making sprawling album tracks out of fantastical concepts.

Vintage bass guitars only came into the picture as Rush wound down over the past decade. After starting a "modest collection," he began to learn more about the instrument and discovered a lack of "definitive" books on its history.

"It seemed like there was an injustice here," he said. "Bass guitars needed to be as well-represented as electric guitars are. I felt a bit of a mission to do that."

Lee interviewed fellow bass players, including Adam Clayton of U2, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, and whittled down an estimated 30,000 images to a roughly a thousand that were suitable for his book.

He spoke to The Canadian Press about how a collection turned into an obsession, why he's prone to hoarding treasures, and whether he will reunite on stage with his fellow Rush band mates.

CP: Some might be surprised to learn you weren't always collecting bass guitars. Since this is a relatively new hobby, can you explain how it came about?

Lee: This is very common with musicians -- most are focused on creating a sound for themselves, so the instruments they choose (are ones) that can get them their sound. In my life, I focused very specifically on those tools I needed. Collecting is a whole other mania. Collecting is about history. It's about the importance the instrument had in the context of the year. I didn't become a mental case for collecting instruments until that fateful day about eight years ago.

CP: At that point did you realize you were about to embark on collecting hundreds of bass guitars?

Lee: Maybe I don't know myself well enough, but I didn't think so. I said to my tech guy Skully (born Pa John McIntosh), 'This is cool to have an instrument from my birth year.' That comes from being a wine geek. Wine geeks love to collect vintages from their birth year, even if they're crappy vintages. When I started out with this, (I thought,) yeah it would be cool to have a bass from my birth year. The Fender bass was the first commercially produced electric bass, so it seemed like an interesting place to start.

CP: ...And before long you were building a collection of bass guitars from players you admired -- a Hofner violin bass from Paul McCartney and 1964 Rickenbacker from Chris Squire of Yes. How did you find all these guitars?

Lee: I scoured the world for vintage stores and tried to meet collectors. Most of the best stuff is in private hands anyway, so you have to meet collectors if you really want to get into some buried treasure. You start chit-chatting, get friendly and suddenly you have new pals. One thing leads to another through social interaction. And you make sure you have your spies at these trade shows to call you if something comes along. It's the search for the Holy Grail over and over again. Really this book is about more than just the electric bass and its history, it's about that collector's gene people have.

CP: Since you collect baseballs and vintage wines as well, do you prefer one collection over another at this point? Ultimately you need to consume that wine.

Lee: My wife is much happier with me collecting things that don't get drunk. She thinks that's a better use of my resources. It depends on how much you value memory and hedonistic pleasure versus articles that survive the test of time. The basses and my baseballs will survive much better than a great bottle of '53 Margaux.

CP: What's the ultimate goal for your bass guitar collection?

Lee: I don't know. It would be nice if there could be a place that the collection (was) kept in tact, especially in Canada because we don't have anything like that in here. There is the National Music Centre in Calgary, which is great. So you never know.

CP: Speaking of the future, it seems like Rush quietly hung up their instruments after the 2015 tour. But has the band officially retired at this point?

Lee: (Drummer) Neil Peart is retired. I'm still here. Alex (Lifeson, the band's guitarist) is still here. Will we perform as Neil, Alex and Geddy on tour ever? Probably not. Will we record together? Probably not. Will Alex and I make music on our own, or individually, one day? Probably.

CP: Peart has talked about his chronic tendonitis and shoulder problems, but why didn't Rush simply tell fans that last tour would be the finale?

Lee: I don't think in our heart of hearts we believed it was the end -- even though it did turn out to be the end. Maybe we would've served our fans better if we had just accepted the reality that yeah, this is going to be our last tour, and tell everybody. But they sort of had that sense and they came out because of it anyway. I wasn't really interested in capitalizing on someting that may not be true, so it seemed to me much hipper to just to go out and play.