RUSH (1974–PRESENT). Alex Lifeson (guitar), Geddy Lee (bass/lead vocals), Neil Peart (drums, replaced John Rutsey in 1974).
Starting off as a howling Led Zeppelin-influenced blues-based hard rock group, Canadian power trio Rush would go on to evolve into one of the most influential progressive-leaning rock groups, especially to progressive metal groups, and in constantly pushing their own limits have demonstrated the outer limits of the three-piece format. While they have rarely topped the charts, their instrumentally demanding music, with philosophical lyrics by Peart, have won them a large and loyal following, and one of the most enduring careers in rock.
Formed in 1968 in Toronto, Ontario, the band featured bassist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee (originally Gary Lee Weinrib), guitarist Alex Lifeson (originally Alexander Zivojinovich), and drummer John Rutsey. The band originally was heavily influenced by the bluesrock of the day, as played by Cream and Led Zeppelin. After playing the Toronto club scene, the band released a single of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” backed with their first original “You Can’t Fight It” in 1973. In 1974, Rush released their debut self-titled album on their own Moon records. Rush featured the band playing blues-based hard rock. Tunes like “Working Man” and “In the Mood” were clearly Led Zeppelin-influenced with Lee’s high-pitched vocals emulating Robert Plant, and Lifeson’s crunching guitars giving Jimmy Page’s a run for their money. Although the album only did well locally, “Working Man” eventually became a favorite with a DJ in Cleveland, Ohio, and began to catch on, gaining the attention of Mercury Records, who rereleased the album in the States. Shortly afterward, Rutsey, who suffered from diabetes, decided to leave the band due to concerns about his ability to tour with his disease. Drummer Neil Peart was chosen as his replacement after a series of auditions.
Rutsey had been the band’s primary lyricist, and Peart took on that role with the band as well, bringing to bear his highly intelligent and well-read sensibility as well as an interest in science fiction and fantasy that would make its way into the band’s songs. The band’s first album with the new lineup was Fly by Night (1975), which began to introduce a progressive rock influence into Rush’s sound, in particular on the cut “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.” Caress of Steel later that year did as well, and saw the band delve into more storytelling lyrics. In 1976 the band released the concept album 2112, which dealt with a futuristic dystopian society, and was influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand. The album featured much more
of their progressive rock influences, including much longer tracks and much more instrumental complexity from the band. 2112 was their breakthrough release an was highly popular with fans and earned the band their first gold record. It was also largely unappreciated by the critics.
The tour for 2112 culminated in a three-night stand at Toronto’s Massey Hall, which was recorded for the band’s live album All the World’s a Stage, released later in 1976. The album marked the end of an era and heralded a new one to come for the band. Feeling that they had taken their sound as far as they could, they considered adding a fourth member, but ultimately decided to expand their repertoire as a three-piece. Consequently, Lee added synthesizers to his duties, and both he and Lifeson began to master bass pedals which allowed them to play bass while otherwise playing synths or guitars. They also incorporated double-neck guitars, with Lifeson exploiting the possibilities of the 12-string and classical guitar, as well as utilizing the unique sounds of the chorus pedal, an effect that had just recently been invented. For his part, Peart expanded his drum kit, incorporating a wider array of percussion instruments into his sound.
The first album to feature the band’s expanded Palette was 1977’s A Farewell to Kings, which was the band’s most progressive rock-sounding album to date, and which featured the band’s classic track “Closer to the Heart.” The track showcased the band’s new sound, starting with quiet acoustic guitar work and gradually building in layers as the band built up the song. The album was a success, and consolidated the band’s reputation as a creatively ambitious outfit whose playing and songwriting were constantly growing.
Hemispheres, in 1978, continued the band’s evolution, and was the band’s most realized album yet, featuring the classic tracks “The Trees” and the instrumental “La Villa Strangiato.” The band’s next effort, 1980’s Permanent Waves, became their next breakthrough album and saw them taking their mature sound into shorter, more concise compositions, which led to the band’s first hit single in “The Spirit of Radio,” which deftly blended their sophisticated sound and lyrics with the harder rock of their past. 1981’s Moving Pictures was even more successful, with the band scoring two radio hits, “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight.” Moving Pictures began a series of successful albums for the band that would also involve a number of hit singles as well, and the band continued to grow their fan base on the basis of their tight live performances, which rivaled the precision of their studio recordings.
While Rush’s sound got somewhat slicker through the late eighties, as on Hold Your Fire (1987) and Presto (1989), by the time of 1991’s Roll the Bones, the band had returned to a heavier, more guitar-oriented approach, and both it and its follow- up, Counterparts (1993), had made the top of the U.S. album charts.
Toward the end of the nineties, the band, and Peart in particular, suffered a series of tragedies, first with the death of Peart’s daughter Selena in an automobile accident in 1997, and then the passing of his wife, Jacqueline, from cancer in 1998. The band would be on hiatus for five years as Peart dealt with his losses. Peart would go on to travel on his motorcycle as part of his mourning, covering more than 55,000 miles as he crossed North America, later chronicling his experience in the book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (ECW Press, 2002). In 2002, Peart returned to the band as they released Vapor Trails, their 17th album together. 2004 saw the band celebrate their 30th anniversary with a tour. And in 2007 they released Snakes and Arrows, which was produced by Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz. Snakes & Arrows Live followed in 2008.
Discography: Rush (Mercury, 1974); Fly by Night (Mercury, 1975); Caress of Steel (Mercury, 1975); 2112 (Mercury, 1976); All the World’s a Stage [live] (Mercury, 1976); A Farewell to Kings (Mercury, 1977); Hemispheres (Mercury, 1978); Permanent Waves (Mercury, 1980); Moving Pictures (Mercury, 1981); Exit … Stage Left [live] (Mercury, 1981); Signals (Mercury, 1982); Grace Under Pressure (Mercury, 1984); Power Windows (Mercury, 1985); Hold Your Fire (Mercury, 1987); A Show of Hands [live] (Mercury, 1989); Presto (Atlantic, 1989); Roll the Bones (Atlantic, 1991); Counterparts (Atlantic, 1993); Test for Echo (Atlantic, 1996); Vapor Trails (Anthem/Atlantic, 2002); Rush in Rio [live] (Anthem/ Atlantic, 2003); Snakes & Arrows (Atlantic, 2007); Snakes & Arrows Live (Atlantic/WEA, 2008); Archives (Mercury, 1978); Rush Through Time (Mercury, 1980); Chronicles (Mercury, 1990); Retrospective, Vol. 1 (1974–1980) (Mercury, 1997); Retrospective, Vol. 2 (1981–1987) (Mercury, 1997); Different Stages: Live (Atlantic/Anthem, 1998); The Spirit of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974–1987 (Universal, 2003).