'I Miss My Buddies': Geddy Lee Reflects On Rush And His Love Of Bass

By Jane Stevenson, Toronto Sun, May 21, 2019

Geddy Lee is on the road again in Canada.

But not in the way fans of his beloved Toronto prog-rock outfit Rush who packed it in after four decades following the final show of their R40 tour on Aug. 1, 2015 at the L.A. Forum - might imagine.

The 65-year-old bassist-singer is making his way across the country to promote Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Book of Bass, a glossy, 400-page book that includes photos of his own massive bass collection, its history and interviews with fellow famous bassists like the Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, U2's Adam Clayton and Metallica's Robert Trujillo.

The book, co-written with Daniel Richler, came about because Lee began collecting basses "in earnest around 2012" and now owns about 280 of them along with 80 guitars.

"It was so hard to find information and I thought, 'You know what? There's a real hole in the world of books about vintage instruments when it comes to the bass guitar,'" said Lee.

"And as I was collecting them, I was finding stories from some of these people that used to own them, and their stories were so fascinating. So I thought it would be a great idea to put them all in one compendium. And then I went down the rabbit hole. (Laughs)"

The musician is also chatting up Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Bass Exhibition at Studio Bell at Calgary's National Music Centre featuring 26 of his bass guitars that will run from May 26-Jan. 2 after previously showing a smaller collection at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

We caught up with Lee on the phone recently from his Toronto home.

Does all this collecting and writing lead to any musically creative thoughts?
I try to go down at least once or twice a week to my (home) studio and get to know these instruments a bit more and put some ideas down, but I don't know what will come of them, if anything. Time will tell. They're going to keep me busy (with the book tour in other parts of the world) until next Christmas and then I'll be free as bird and probably next spring I'll start looking at some serious musical ideas.

You're touring again but in a different way. Do you miss touring with Rush?
I don't miss leaving (my family). But I miss those three hours on stage with my buddies. That, especially in the last 10 years of touring, was so much fun and so gratifying.

Did you all know that the last show of the R40 tour would be the last ever or was it a wait-and-see situation?
(Drummer) Neil (Peart) insisted that that was his last gig. And you know, Alex (Lifeson) and I would look at each other and go, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, he's just saying that.' So I think we kind of knew, we should have known, it was the last show. But I think being eternal optimists we hoped that after a break we would be back out there. That never materialized.

Do you see the three recording together going forward or will it be individual projects?
I don't really know. Alex is turning into this super session guy. He loves playing on other people's records without the responsibilities of having to write anything other than his solo. I know he's really digging that. I've been doing this project, but we talk, quite a lot. We see each other quite a lot. And we visit with Neil quite often. So we're all close but I don't think we would ever do a project - the three of us. It's certainly possible that Alex and I would do something down the road. I can't see the three of us ever really doing anything.

You must get approached with Rush ideas all the time ?
I get hit up with a lot of ideas on how to keep Rush music out in the public eye, so we listen. But there's nothing we can announce at this point. But as I said, I'm reluctant to leave my family again. So for me to do another musical project that would involve touring etc., it would have to be something I feel really strongly about. I'm not saying I wouldn't do it. But I would have to be so charged up about it, it's worth that separation.

Was there any bassist you were really nervous to speak with for the book?
When I met first met Bill Wyman, I was a bit nervous because he was such a central figure to me when I first started playing. The very first song I had to sort of learn to be accepted in my local group of garage band players was a Rolling Stones song called 2120 South Michigan Avenue. And if you could learn that Bill Wyman bass part then you were considered worthy. So that song got me my first gig with some of my local degenerates in my neighbourhood. I must have been about 15 or 16.

And who got away?
I wanted Paul McCartney because he could speak about that early Hofner period, but he was unavailable.

And who charmed you?
John Paul Jones, who I had met before and we have mutual friends, and he was an interviewer's dream. He is such a lovely guy and he was so prepared and he brought his favourite and his first bass along with him and he showed up to my flat in London. He wouldn't even let me pay for his taxi. He was just a sweetheart of a guy. Honestly, I could have done the book of nothing but interviews with bass players. And you know, these guys, toil in the background while the lead singers and the lead guitar players get all the glory. And, because of that, in a way, they lead fascinating lives.

In addition to instruments, you also collect baseball ephemera and wine?
Yeah, I'm very given to these passions and they takeover my life. Somebody asked me why. And I said, 'I really don't know why. I can describe the disease but I can't explain it.'

What do you make of the Toronto Blue Jays' recent acquisition of top prospect Vladdy Jr. AKA Vladimir Guerrero Ramos Jr.?
He's totally exciting. I really felt for his situation when he was first called up. It's such a poor team right now. And to throw him in the middle of it puts so much pressure on him right now. He's supposed to be the saviour. So I really felt for every swing where he was trying a hit a home run. But he's settling in now and I think he's going to bring a lot of joy to us Blue Jays fans. At least he gives us some reason to come to the ballpark.

Have you seen him at Rogers Centre?
Yeah, I think it was his third game as a Blue Jays. He didn't get a hit that day. (Laughs). He's a lovable kid. And he is an enormous talent. There's no question that he'll be the mainstay of this team for years to come. He is only (20) years old.

Dave Grohl says his mother Virginia and your mother have become besties since she interviewed her for the 2017 book, From Cradle to Stage (about the mothers of music stars).
My mom and my sister went (to that Dave and his mom event at Canadian Music Week earlier in May) because Ginny has become really close with my mom and my sister. And I've been talking to Dave because we have this now mom-connection thing. It's really very sweet. He's so kind to my mom when she comes to the (Foo Fighters) shows. My mom comes back and tells me about (puts on Yiddish mother accent), 'How nice David was!'

Does your mother know you do this impression of her?
(Laughing). Oh, yes.
Geddy Lee's Official (Yet Kind of Random) Big Beautiful Book of Bass Tour of Canada
Wednesday, May 22 - Victoria, B.C. - Bolen Books 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 23 - Vancouver - Chapters Metrotown 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 25 - Calgary - National Music Centre 1 p.m.
Sunday, May 26 - Edmonton- Costco West Edmonton 2 p.m.
Monday, May 27 - Winnipeg - Costco Winnipeg South 5 p.m.
Tuesday, May 28 - Toronto - Indigo Bay and Bloor 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 29 - Ottawa - Dominion-Chalmers 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 1 - Richmond Hill, Ont. - CosmoFest 2:30 p.m.
Monday, June 3 - Oakville - Oakville Centre for The Performing Arts 7 p.m.
Tuesday, June 4 - Montreal - Rialto Theatre 7 p.m.

Note that Geddy Lee will personalize and sign each BBBoB at the book signings but time will not permit signings of any Rush memorabilia.