RUSH is the only band with Geddy Lee's unique voice and frenzied bass playing, Alex Lifeson's scorching guitar work, and Neil Peart's thunderous drumming. Few can argue the fact that RUSH is one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Over the course of their decades-spanning career, the Canadian power trio has emerged as one of hard rock's most respected bands.
Although often brushed aside by critics and rare beneficiaries of mainstream radio airplay, the group nonetheless built up an impressive and devoted fan following and have proven themselves to be the leaders at their respective instruments while creating an incredible body of musical work. The band has often been cited as an influence by many contemporary recording artists including Metallica, Dream Theater, Primus, Smashing Pumpkins, Godsmack, 3 Doors Down and Barenaked Ladies.
RUSH is still going strong and continue to justify acknowledgment as Canada's finest hard rock export. Throughout their illustrious history, the group has released a series of innovative albums and captivated concert audiences around the world. Their work has been acknowledged for its variety and technical sophistication.
In the mid-1960s, the founding members of RUSH were in their teens learning to play the new rock music of the time. In late spring/early summer of 1968, a band named The Projection was formed by guitarist Alex Lifeson (born Alexander Zivojinovich) and drummer John Rutsey. Later that summer, bassist Jeff Jones joined the band, and the name of the band was changed to RUSH. At some point before the end of 1968, Geddy Lee (born Gary Lee Weinrib) joined the band and by the spring of 1969, guitarist and keyboard player Lindy Young joined the lineup making it a four-piece.
During the summer of 1969 Geddy Lee left the band and was replaced by bassist Joe Perna at which time the band changed its name to Hadrian. Geddy began his own project which was initially called Ogilvie and later Judd. By July of 1969, Lindy Young quit Hadrian to join Judd. At this point, the remaining members of Hadrian decided to call it quits. Toward the end of that summer, Judd disbanded as well.
By the end of September 1969, Alex Lifeson, John Rutsey and Geddy Lee had decided to regroup and once again use the name RUSH. The band performed as a three piece until February of 1971 when guitarist Mitch Bossi joined the band. The band reverted back to a three piece when Bossi left the band in May 1971 and has remained that way since.
Lee and Lifeson's suburban upbringing combined with living near the city of Toronto brought them into contact with a wide range of pop and rock music. Both of them had initially been inspired by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but had shown a preference in the late 1960's for the more aggressive and blues-based rock of The Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin.
RUSH's first gig was in the basement of an Anglican church that housed a teen-oriented coffee house called the "Coff-in". It was here that the band met a determined 16-year-old by the name of Ray Danniels, who had dropped out of high school and was booking teenage bands into any venue he could. RUSH was one of Danniels' first clients and he booked the band at other church basements and any high school function that would take them. Although Danniels kept the band playing, performance opportunities for an underage band were few and far between and rarely financially rewarding. In addition, as the band's taste for The Beatles and Rolling Stones waned and their interest in heavy rock and blues jams grew, their music became less suitable for high school dances. Still, RUSH could attract a crowd of between 150-200 to its coffee house or school gymnasium performances.
In 1971, Ontario changed its liquor laws, dropping the legal drinking age from 21 to 18, which allowed RUSH to begin performing on the bar circuit. The balance between RUSH's original material and their catalog of covers began to shift until the band was mainly playing its own songs by the early 1970's.
RUSH continued to play bars in Ontario for the next few years, attracting a regular following. By 1973, the band decided to make a concerted attempt at securing a record deal. A cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" along with a RUSH original, "You Can't Fight It", was released as the band's first single. The voice quality on the single was not as heavy as was characteristically known of RUSH at the time. Both songs, however, featured a good deal of instrumental jamming in the style of Cream or Led Zeppelin.
Unfortunately, Danniels was unable to convince any record companies to even listen to the single. Disappointed with sales of their first single, RUSH decided to go for broke and produce a full-length LP. At the end of 1973, RUSH entered the studio to record its self-titled debut album, with the hope of selling the completed product to any major record label that would release it. The band was disappointed that the album did not capture the energy and sound they were known for at the time. However, the album was re-mixed to achieve the desired result by an English producer named Terry Brown who was working in Toronto at the time.
The album is a raw representation of the band's live sound at the time. "Finding My Way" shows the band lashing away in a Zeppelin-like manner. "Working Man" looks forward to what RUSH would become, a fast-fretting power trio carried by Lifeson's lightning-fast guitar leads. The jam-session format of this seven-minute workout showed just how exciting the band could be live.
Danniels attempted to generate record label interest in RUSH with this album, but again there was none. Danniels and the band were convinced that RUSH's album was worth promoting and they decided to form their own independent record label in order to have the album distributed. The band borrowed $400 from Lee's mother and created the "Moon Records" label. The record was finally released in Canada under a distribution deal with London Records. Copies were sent to various record stations in the United States in an attempt to produce interest in the music.
RUSH was able to get some airplay on the Toronto station CHUM-FM, but by early 1974 RUSH still did not have a record deal. A copy of the album managed to reach a radio station programmer at WMMS in Cleveland by the name of Donna Halper. Halper decided RUSH's song "Working Man" would go over well with Cleveland's blue-collar listeners. The eager listener response and resulting record sales was enough to interest Mercury Records to release the record in both Canada and the United States. RUSH performed as an opening act for the New York Dolls and ZZ Top, and was now in a position to plan a five-month tour.
The Coming of Neil Peart
Much to the shock of Lee and Lifeson, Rutsey decided to leave the group right after the release of the album in July 1974. He cited poor health and artistic differences with the band as his reasons for leaving. With every intention of carrying on with their tour plans, Lee and Lifeson began auditioning drummers. Neil Peart, a 21-year-old drummer from St. Catharine's, Ontario, was one of the first drummers the two auditioned. Lee was certain immediately that Peart was the right person to replace Rutsey. Lifeson, however, was cautious about the unusually intense drummer. No other drummer who auditioned came close to matching Peart's level of technique or passion. Peart was a learned man who had dropped out of high school to dedicate his life to making professional music. As a teenager, he had been inspired by the drumming style of Keith Moon of The Who, and later by Michael Giles, the flashy, technically skilled drummer of King Crimson. Peart moved to England in the early 1970's to find musical success. When none was imminent, he returned to Ontario, believing that his chance at life as a professional musician had passed.
Peart had a powerful effect on RUSH's sound and musical direction virtually at once. Although the group continued to feature long instrumental passages in many of their songs, these passages became less improvisational and more carefully arranged. Peart voluntarily took on the task of chief lyricist, a role about which Lee had always been hesitant. His attraction to fantasy novels and libertarian philosophy, led him to write lyrics with themes inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien ("Rivendell", "The Necromancer", "The Fountain Of Lamneth", "By-Tor And The Snow Dog") and songs in praise of individualism and creative human endeavor ("Anthem", "Fly By Night", "Beneath, Between & Behind", "2112", "Something For Nothing"). RUSH's music continued to be created in two-way jams between Lee and Lifeson.
Over the next two years, the trio recorded three records, Fly By Night (1975), Caress Of Steel (1975), and 2112 (1976). Each record reaffirmed RUSH's loud heavy metal sound, but the group began to branch out, with some tracks sounding like acoustic folk-rock and others employing classical guitar interludes.
The band's Fly By Night album featured an embellishment on the Zeppelin-inspired style, but the band's sound was much better structured due to the addition of Peart who brought the precision and ensemble sense of a percussionist schooled in the art-rock forms of Pink Floyd and King Crimson. "Fly By Night" offers a hint of the kind of melodic song structures towards which the band would eventually evolve, while "Anthem" polished the sculpted, hard rock sound of the first album to a glistening sheen.
On their third album, Caress Of Steel, songs like "Bastille Day" and "Lakeside Park" showed the band developing more varied and complex song structures as well as a fondness for unusual songwriting themes. Neither of RUSH's 1975 albums or tours made a noteworthy impact in sales, although the band did gain more exposure as the opening act for Rory Gallagher, Kiss, Aerosmith, Manfred Mann and Blue Öyster Cult.
Peart's science fiction-inspired imagination provided the impetus for a series of concept albums that added a new twist to the band's identity. Their breakthrough album, 2112, developed an intriguing science fiction tale of a future hero who leads a revolution through music. The album also marked a musical evolution for the group, away from the slabs of sound that dominated the heavy metal approach to the sophisticated music patterns and dramatic stop-time arrangements that would become a RUSH trademark.
Fortune and Fame without Compromise
For many years, radio stations ignored RUSH's music, and, in the pre-video age, touring was the only means of gaining exposure. The almost non-stop touring through 1975 had seemed unproductive to the band, management and record label, but the repeated exposure across the continent began to start paying dividends by early 1976. Now that the band's name and sound was familiar to a large part of the audiences of Kiss, Blue Öyster Cult and Aerosmith, RUSH's album sales increased significantly with the release of 2112. With its 20-minute-long science fiction song, the record finally sold enough copies in North America to lessen the tension in the band's relationship with their record label, Mercury. Had 2112 only sold as many copies as its predecessors, it's likely that RUSH would have lost their recording contract or have been forced to completely change their musical approach. As a result of RUSH's success in 1976, Danniels was able to book the band as a headlining act in medium-sized auditoriums and arenas (2500-5000 seats) throughout Canada and the United States. RUSH's first live album, All The World's A Stage (1976), sold more than all of the band's previous albums. The band would follow this format going forward, releasing four studio albums followed by a live album that would serve as documentation of their live performances at the time.
RUSH decided to expand its musical scope on its next two albums, A Farewell To Kings (1977) and Hemispheres (1978). All three members of RUSH had been fans of British progressive rock (e.g., Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer) since the early 1970's, and they decided to more directly include this genre into their music, even going so far as to record in the UK for the rest of the 1970's. Although RUSH's sound was still discernible by the heavy guitar and Lee's distinguishing vocals, the band's musical palette was extended to include synthesizers, acoustic guitar interludes, instrumental passages in odd time signatures, and the use of orchestral percussion. Their albums became a mix of short, melodious hard rock songs and long, concept rock suites inspired by Greek myth, science fiction and some 19th century poetry (e.g., "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge). From 1977 on, RUSH attracted a large enough audience to tour North America and the United Kingdom as a headlining act. RUSH's core audience during the late 1970's included primarily male hard rock fans, although they also appealed to fans of progressive rock.
2112, A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres worked together thematically as a post-apocalypse trilogy, and the band's stage shows revolved around these stories, backed up by the elaborate visuals on a giant screen behind the stage. The melodic "Closer To The Heart" became an emotional high point live, while "The Trees" and "La Villa Strangiato" showcased Lifeson's increasingly virtuosic guitar playing.
As RUSH's music became heavier and less bluesy and as they moved further and further away from the blue-collar lyrics of the first album, the band was ignored by most radio stations. Although the band received very little airplay on Contemporary Hit Radio stations in North America in the second half of the 1970's, they could rely on some airplay on Album Oriented Radio (AOR) stations. In fact, by the start of the 1980's, RUSH was a fundamental part of AOR radio throughout much of North America. RUSH's strength was the high quality of musicianship, combined with a varied range of musical styles. Never was there any compromise in their overall approach on the road to fame and fortune.
Living in the Limelight
By the early 1980's, RUSH had become fascinated by the new punk and Caribbean-derived trends in rock, such as new wave, ska, reggae and electro-pop. Their early 1980's albums, Permanent Waves (1980) and Moving Pictures (1981) featured shorter songs, an intermittent blend of reggae rhythms, and a departure from their fantasy-oriented lyric style in favor of songs outlining Peart's thoughts on music, fame, technology and human endeavor. This led journalists to refer to RUSH as "the thinking person's heavy metal band". The new mix of influences proved to be very popular and RUSH reached a commercial high point, securing platinum record sales in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, and performing to tens of thousands of fans in the cities they visited. It was with the Permanent Waves album that RUSH made the most dramatic transformation, emerging as an arena and FM radio-oriented band, creating memorable yet thoughtful tunes like "Freewill" and "The Spirit Of Radio" (which peaked at No. 51 on the singles charts in March 1980).
What they put down was the foundation for one of the most durable arena rock presentations of the '80s. Moving Pictures picked up where Permanent Waves left off and went on to become the band's most influential album on the strength of such compelling songs as "Tom Sawyer" (No. 44, April 1981), "Red Barchetta" and "Limelight" (No. 44, August 1981). Following their eighth studio album, the band released their second live album, Exit...Stage Left (1981).
Between 1982 and 1984, RUSH continued to incorporate new wave sounds into their music. The incorporation of ska and reggae rhythms into rock textures was becoming more common. Lifeson began to favor thinner guitar sounds reminiscent of U2 and Lee began including more synthesizers into RUSH's arrangements. In the second half of the 1980's, RUSH's fondness for reggae and ska rhythms diminished, but the band's interest in modern music technologies reached its zenith. Electronic percussion, elaborate synthesizer sequences and sophisticated album and concert sound production "tricks" were the most notable new features of RUSH during this period. At the same time, the characteristic features of RUSH's sound - virtuosic instrumental passages, forceful heavy metal-style guitar solos, melodic bass lines, irregular meters and hectic drumming - remained an integral part of the band's material. Peart's lyrics grew as well, as his politics withdrew into the background and a more balanced social and political commentary became his focus, critically approaching topics such as suburban lifestyles, the cold war, and the environment.
Unlike many successful bands, once RUSH reached the summit they refused to fall into complacency and chose instead to pursue an intensive touring and recording schedule. Few bands have managed to mirror the stylistic changes rock underwent in the '70s and '80s, but RUSH changed its sound from album to album, growing with the advances of the time. Though the band's complex sound defies any one classification, the influence of technological and stylistic advances characteristic of the early '80s are evident on "Subdivisions" and "New World Man" (No. 21, October 1982) from Signals (1982) and "Red Sector A" and "Distant Early Warning" from Grace Under Pressure (1984).
RUSH songs have often focused on political and environmental themes over the years. Power Windows (1985) features two of the band's most compelling treatments of these topics, "The Big Money" and "Manhattan Project". The band's compositional progression continued on Hold Your Fire (1987), which includes the beautiful "Time Stand Still" and the dynamic "Force Ten". The space-age nuances of the album's themes are compatible with its increasingly complex song structures. A Show Of Hands (1989), the band's third live album, was released after Hold Your Fire continuing the pattern of four studio albums followed by a live album. RUSH's records continued to achieve platinum sales and the group's concert tours were among the most successful in North America throughout the 1980's. RUSH was an album-oriented band whose promotional channels were concert tours, AOR FM radio, some degree of video play on MuchMusic and MTV, and word-of-mouth.
Return to their Roots
After a creative hiatus, RUSH emerged with a new album, Presto (1989), and a fresh attitude. "Show Don't Tell" charted the new direction, expressing a healthy skepticism toward authority and containing slight elements of funk-rock throughout. The melancholy "The Pass" deals with the contentious subject of teen suicide, while the rocker "Superconductor" covers the ups and downs of being a celebrity.
Since the early 1980's, RUSH's musical interests have been "current", in that RUSH's principal sound has been refreshed frequently with "new" technologies and with the recognition of new developments in rock. This has been apparent in their albums from the 1990's as well, with RUSH including the influence of punk-funk, alternative rock and even hip-hop into their progressive/hard rock mix.
At the dawn of the 1990's, RUSH returned to the heavier sound of their early records and placed a renewed focus on Lifeson's guitar heroics. From a lyrical perspective, Roll The Bones (1991) may be RUSH's darkest album with several songs tackling the subject of death. Tracks like "Bravado", "The Big Wheel" and "Heresy" feature wonderful melodies and arrangements. The single "Dreamline" was for a time the most requested song on U.S. rock stations and the concert tour in support of the album was a success in an unexciting concert season. Roll The Bones sold faster than any previous RUSH album and reached the Top Three on the U.S. album charts.
Counterparts (1993) was RUSH's most honest and organic rock & roll record in over a decade and, like Roll The Bones, reached the Top Three on the U.S. charts. The opening "Animate" and "Stick It Out" delight in the strength of the band's revived hard rock chops. "Nobody's Hero" is RUSH's analysis of the AIDS situation.
On Test For Echo (1996), the band tried to concentrate on the sounds and styles that made their albums in the late '70s and early '80s huge successes. Peart penned thoughtful lyrics about global subjects ranging from the Internet ("Virtuality") to comparative religion ("Totem"). The off-kilter rhythm on "Time And Motion" is vintage RUSH.
RUSH continued to command a large public following, even though the volume of the band's record sales is no longer as large as it was in the 1980's. RUSH's 1996-1997 North American tour in support of Test For Echo essentially matched the level of success that the band had enjoyed in the 1980's. Owing to their expansive catalog of music, RUSH toured without an opening act for the first time in their history. The career spanning show consisted of two sets with an intermission that was approximately three hours long and included material from the 1970's which the band had not played in 15 years. The highlight for fans was a complete performance of the title track from 2112, the first time all seven parts of the epic had been played live together.
Continuing their pattern of live releases, Different Stages (1998), a three-disc set, was RUSH's fourth live album. The first two discs consisted of performances from the Counterparts and Test For Echo tours, while the third was a long-lost classic show from London's Hammersmith Odeon in 1978. It's the third disc that had longtime fans thrilled since for the first time ever on an official release, live versions of "Cygnus X-1", "A Farewell To Kings" and "Cinderella Man" were included.
Tragedy and Triumph
RUSH's first and only period of extended inactivity came in the last few years of the 1990's, when Peart's daughter and wife passed away tragically in 1997 and 1998, respectively. The group's future was very much in doubt, with Peart even telling his bandmates to consider him retired after his daughter's death. Slowly but surely, however, Peart moved down the road of recovery and eventually fell in love and remarried. After deciding that he was interested in working again, the band got back together in a Toronto recording studio to see if they could "rekindle the fire". RUSH worked for over 14 months and the fruit of their labors was their 17th studio album, Vapor Trails (2002).
With the tragedies that befell Peart, the 13-track collection is extremely personal and autobiographical. Instead of writing about the trauma in his life, however, Peart focused on the elusive powers of healing and salvation he discovered after his ordeals. "Ghost Rider" describes his restless search for answers and personal healing process. Lee's and Lifeson's songwriting give the material the kind of urgency RUSH haven't had since their early 1980's releases. Peart's lyrics also conquer the challenging subject matter of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on "Peaceable Kingdom". Of note on Vapor Trails is Lee's singing, which finds him soaring with poise in the upper part of his range for the first time in quite a while.
RUSH filmed the final show of the Vapor Trails tour in Rio de Janiero, Brazil and released their first live concert DVD, RUSH In Rio (2003). The two-disc set showcases the band's triumphant return from their long hiatus in their first ever trip to South America. A three-disc audio companion of the same name was released as well. The audio set also included two bonus tracks of performances of "Between Sun And Moon" and "Vital Signs", recorded earlier in the tour.
Three Players, Three Decades
In 2004, RUSH celebrated their 30th anniversary with a summer tour and a new release. The group played about 40 dates in the U.S. and Canada on the R30 Tour before heading to Europe for their first shows there since 1992's Roll The Bones Tour. In Europe, RUSH performed in Italy and the Czech Republic for the first time in their career.
RUSH also released Feedback (2004), an 8 track EP of covers the band grew up listening to. Feedback includes RUSH's renditions of "The Seeker" by The Who, "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran and "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield, among others. This is the first time that RUSH has recorded songs by other artists and writers.
In the liner notes for Feedback, Neil wrote, "We thought it would be a fitting symbol to commemorate our thirty years together if we returned to our roots and paid tribute to those we had learned from and were inspired by. We thought we might record some of the songs we used to listen to, the ones we painstakingly learned the chords, notes, and drum parts for, and even played in our earliest bands."
The Frankfurt, Germany show on the R30 Tour was filmed and released on DVD in 2005. R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour was filmed using 14 hi-definition cameras in 16x9 widescreen format. The first disc of the 2 DVD set contains an edited version of the Frankfurt concert while the second contains interviews and rare and classic footage from the seventies to more recent performances. The Deluxe Edition includes two limited edition RUSH guitar picks, a souvenir backstage pass and a two CD audio version of the show.
The band took some time off after the completion of the R30 tour but still managed to stay busy. Replay x3, a four-disc box set containing DVD reissues of Exit...Stage Left, Grace Under Pressure and A Show Of Hands along with a previously unavailable CD soundtrack version of Grace Under Pressure, was released in 2006. Each DVD features new 5.1 surround sound and stereo mixes created by Alex Lifeson and Mike Fraser from the original concert multi-tracks as well as digitally transferred and remastered visuals. The package also includes mini reprints of the original tour booklets for the three concerts.
Prior to the release of Replay x3, the band started writing material for a new studio album - their 19th. The band wrote and spent time in pre-production off and on from just after the beginning of the year through early fall of 2006. In September, 2006 it was announced that RUSH would be co-producing the new album with Nick Raskulinecz. The trio entered the studio with Raskulinecz in the late fall and finished the recording process in just a matter of weeks. In interviews and postings on his web site, Neil revealed that reflections on faith emerged as a clear theme of the lyrics from the very beginning. The album, titled Snakes & Arrows, was mixed early in the new year with the first single, "Far Cry", released in March. The album was released on May 1 with a world tour that covered North America during the summer of 2007 and Europe in October. A second leg of the Snakes & Arrows tour is planned for spring of 2008 and will kick off with the group's first ever concert in Puerto Rico.
Nearly all of the Canadian trio's albums have been certified gold-or-better by the RIAA, with cumulative worldwide sales of over 35 million. The band has been nominated for 2 Grammy Awards and won 5 Juno Awards to go along with more than 30 nominations. In addition, they were inducted into the Juno Awards Hall of Fame in 1994. All three members received the esteemed Order of Canada in 1997 and were given their own star on the Canadian Walk of Fame in 1999.