Rush Biography

This Canadian heavy rock band was formed in late 1968 by Alex Lifeson (Alexander Zivojinovich, 27 August 1953, Fernie, British Columbia, Canada; guitar), John Rutsey (b. 1953, Canada, d. 11 May 2008, Canada; drums), and Jeff Jones (bass/vocals), although the latter was quickly replaced by Geddy Lee (b. Gary Lee Weinrib, 29 July 1953, Willowdale, Toronto, Canada; bass/vocals). From 1969 to 1972 the trio performed in Toronto playing a brand of Cream -inspired material, honing their act on the local club and bar circuit. In 1973, they recorded a version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’ as their debut release, backing it with ‘You Can’t Fight It’, for their own label, Moon Records. Despite failing to grab the attention as planned, the band pressed ahead with the recording of a debut album, which was remixed by Terry ‘Broon’ Brown (he would continue to work with the band until 1984’s Grace Under Pressure.) With no bite from the majors, once again this arrived via Moon, with distribution by London Records. The quality of their live appointments improved, picking up support slots with the New York Dolls in Canada and finally crossing the US border to play gigs with ZZ Top.

Eventually Cliff Burnstein of Mercury Records (who would later also sign Def Leppard) heard the band and reissued their debut in America. At this point Neil Peart (b. 12 September 1952, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; drums, ex-Hush), who was to be the main songwriter of the band, replaced Rutsey, and Rush undertook their first full tour of the USA. Rush’s music by this point was typified by Lee’s oddly high-pitched voice, a tremendously powerful guitar sound, especially in the early years, and a recurrent interest in science fiction and fantasy from the pen of Neil Peart. Later he would also conceptualize the work of authors such as John Barth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and John Dos Passos. This approach reached its zenith in the band’s 1976 concept album, 2112, based on the work of novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand, which had as its central theme the concept of individual freedom and will. Including a 20-minute title track that lasted all of side one, it was a set which crystallized the spirit of Rush for both their fans and detractors. However, the band’s most popular offering, A Farewell To Kings (1977), saw Peart finally dispense with his ‘epic’ songwriting style.

By 1979, Rush were immensely successful worldwide, and the Canadian Government awarded them the title of official Ambassadors of Music. As the 80s progressed, Rush streamlined their image to become sophisticated, clean-cut, cerebral music-makers. Some early fans denigrated their determination to progress musically with each new album, though in truth the band had thoroughly exhausted its earlier style. They enjoyed a surprise hit single in 1980 when ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ broke them out of their loyal cult following, and live shows now saw Lifeson and Lee adding keyboards for a fuller sound. Lee’s vocals had also dropped somewhat from their earlier near-falsetto. The best-recorded example of the band from this period is the succinct Moving Pictures from 1981, a groundbreaking fusion of technological rock and musical craft that never relied on the former at the expense of the latter.

Rush’s career in the mid-80s endured something of a creative wane, with the band at odds with various musical innovations. Despite this, live shows were still exciting events for the large pockets of fans the band retained all over the world, and with the powerful Hold Your Fire in 1987 they proved they were still able to scale former heights. In the late 80s they signed a new contract with Atlantic Records, making their debut for the label in 1989 with Presto. The album marked a move away from the synthesizer-heavy releases from earlier in the decade, and the band maintained this direction on Roll The Bones (1991) and Counterparts (1993).

In 1994, the trio agreed to a break for the first time in their career, during which Lifeson worked on his Victor side project. They returned in 1996 with Test For Echo, which was snapped up by their loyal fans despite being roundly ignored by most music writers. Often criticized for lyrical pretension and musical grandstanding - unkind critics have suggested that Rush is exactly what you get if you let your drummer write your songs for you - they nevertheless remain Canada’s leading rock attraction, and have clearly found strength and unity following an extended hiatus owing to the deaths of Peart’s daughter and wife (the drummer’s Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road details his grief and the healing process). The post-tragedy Vapor Trails, released in 2002, proved to be one of their strongest albums in many years. Both this release and the subsequent Snakes & Arrows (2007) were the band’s most straightforward rock albums since their mid-70s debut. Testifying to Rush’s continued commercial relevancy, both albums reached the US mainstream Top 10.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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