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Rush: The Early Years

alex lifeson rushThe first glimmerings of Rush began in a Toronto, Ontario, suburb in 1968 when guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer John Rutsey, who were classmates, formed a band with bassist and lead vocalist Jeff Jones. According to biographer Bill Banasiewicz, Jones was the motivator behind the band, encouraging them to be diligent in their practice schedules. However, Jones soon left the band. Geddy Lee and his inimitable voice replaced Jones, and the legendary Canadian progressive rock band was launched. Both Lifeson and Lee changed their given names, originally Alexander Zivojinovich and Gary Lee Weinrib respectively.

The First Single

The band bounced around the Toronto bar scene for a while and then released its first single in 1973. Entitled “Not Fade Away,” it was a variation of a Buddy Holly song. Side B contained a unique synthesis, “You Can’t Fight It,” credited to Lee and Rutsey. The single didn’t attract much interest, and as a result the band was released from their contract. The band decided to form its own label, Moon Records.

Rush released its first album, Rush, in 1974. Rush got very little traction until the record was noticed by WMMS, a radio station in Cleveland, Ohio. Donna Halper, a music executive and DJ working at the station, chose “Working Man” for her play lists. Reportedly, callers called the station to ask about the new Led Zeppelin single. Mercury Records picked up the album and U.S. sales began to take off.

Goodbye Rutsey, Hello Neil Peart!

Soon after the album release in 1974, Rutsey left the band due to health problems related to diabetes. His last gig was on July 25, 1974, at Centennial Hall in London, Ontario. Rush held tryouts for another drummer, and in the long run chose Neil Peart as Rutsey’s replacement. Peart formally joined Rush on July 29, 1974, two weeks prior to the group’s first U.S. concert. On August 14th, the new Rush lineup performed its first show together, opening for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann. More than 11,000 fans watched the show at the  Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

New Lyrics

When Peart joined the band as a drummer, he also became the band’s lyricist. Despite writing the lyrics for the first album, Lee reportedly had very little enthusiasm for composing. Instead, Lee focused on the instrumental parts of Rush’s music. Fly By Night (1975), Rush’s first album with Peart, introduced its first epic song, “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” packed with complex fantastical lyrics. This album was reasonably well-received. Peart’s talent for writing philosophical and mythological lyrics, combined with Lee’s iconic voice, eventually made Rush songs instantly recognizable. Soon after, Rush released Caress of Steal, a five-track collection, but this album didn’t appeal to fans as much as Fly By Night had. It contained two developed multi-part tunes, “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth.” Critics said the album was unfocused and a big deviation from Fly By Night.

he following year, Rush released two albums, Fly by Night and Caress of Steel. The group’s big breakthrough came the following year with the release of the album 2112. The album featured a 20-minute title track divided into seven sections. It went platinum in Canada, and Rush hit the road, touring the U.S. and Canada. – See more at: https://rockhall.com/inductees/rush/bio/#sthash.n5JoAbqR.dpuf

The Leap Forward

Rush’s leap forward rode on the backs of its next release, 2112, which helped define the inimitable sound that still defines Rush today. The 20-minute title track was divided into seven segments. The collection was the first taste of financial success and the first platinum record in Canada. The supporting tour for 2112 grew and finally finished with three nights at Massey Hall in Toronto. The three concerts were recorded and became the first live collection titled All the World’s a Stage. “Allmusic” commentator Greg Prato noted that the collection separates the limit between their initial years and the following period of their music.

Solidifying Their Sound

After 2112, they moved to the United Kingdom to record A Farewell to Kings (1977) and Hemispheres (1978) at Rockfield Studios in Wales. Both albums were considered to be more progressive rock. According to RockHall.com, Lee said about the albums:

“As our tastes got more obscure, we discovered more progressive rock–based bands like Yes, Van der Graaf Generator and King Crimson, and we were very inspired by those bands. They made us want to make our music more interesting and more complex, and we tried to blend that with our own personalities to see what we could come up with that was indisputably us.”

In 1980, Rush released Permanent Waves, which was the first deviation from the longer, epic-ish songs Rush was know for and became a Top Five seller in the U.S. The songs were shorter and more radio-friendly, which appealed to a broader audience. At this point, Rush was on a straight trajectory to becoming one the most successful bands in the world. One year later, Rush released Moving Pictures, which became the biggest success as of yet, with songs such as “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” “Red Barchetta,” and “YYZ.”

Rush was here to stay.

Finally, Rush Tours Again!

When you think of Canadian progressive rock, you naturally think of Rush. Sure, some know-it-all types will beg to differ concerning the group’s quintessential importance to the music scene in the 1970’s – and in the 21st century, for that matter. But, rest assured, when the final chapter is written on classic progressive rock from the Great White North, it will be Rush that gets the central role in the saga.movingpic rush album cover

To date, the group has released two dozen albums, sold millions of records and played thousands of shows. The unique lyric style and drumming virtuosity of Neil Peart, coupled with the inimitable voice and bass skills of Geddy Lee, forms a solid foundation for the soloing skills of Alex Lifeson, one of the foremost electric guitarists of his generation.

Falling Record Sales Are An Issue

They may be the national treasure of Canada, but even our heroes can’t fix the sad state of the record industry in the 21st century. American veterans of the scene, such as Kiss and Aerosmith, have released records in the past few years which have sold in pitiful quantities compared to the gold and platinum heights they once scaled.

American record sales have fallen by an astonishing 80 percent in the past few years. And Canadian figures aren’t much better. Even when you add in the international totals, the outlook for a new studio album is rather grim. Of course, one should never say never, but it seems that the 2015 national celebration of the band’s history will probably be accompanied by a new DVD or anniversary-themed compilation, rather than a brand new studio release.

And who wants to hear a drum solo while sitting at their laptop? The place to hear music is on the live stage, and let’s be thankful that the band still brings their “A” game to each and every concert they play.

2014: The Long Layoff

However, long time fans of the group were in for a rude shock during the course of 2014. The trio suddenly ceased performing, preferring to remain oddly dormant. Many critics and aficionados were left scratching their heads and wondering if this strange silence signaled the end of the road for the Canadian powerhouse.

Even though the group didn’t tour behind their “Clockwork Angels” release, it didn’t mean that they were ready to throw in the towel. The group is simply taking time off to rest. After all, the group has been on a seemingly endless cycle of recording and performing for the past decade.

As it happens, 2015 will mark the 40th anniversary of drummer and lyric wizard Neil Peart’s first appearance on an album by the group: The immortal rock classic, “Fly By Night.” As every concert goer knows, no show would be complete without a Neil Peart tour de force on the drums. It seems likely that a 40th anniversary celebration of Peart’s arrival will be cause for an extra special show of virtuoso skill on his part.

Working up the energy to travel and perform music all over the world takes its toll on these hardened veterans of the progressive rock scene, especially after four decades. However, for the next touring cycle in 2015, electric guitar wizard Alex Lifeson promises some well-earned surprises and thrills for their legions of long time fans, in Canada and beyond, who have stayed loyal to the group, including the performance of some rarely heard 1970’s classics.

And, finally, in 2015, they’re going to play live again. Granted, they’ve certainly not been slackers in the live performance arena in the past. In fact, the group has been on a seemingly nonstop treadmill of sorts for quite some time. Over the past ten years, the group has released several studio albums, all of which have been accompanied by jaunts all across the civilized world.

The announcement that the group will play live in 2015 is the very best news long time fans could receive for the new year.

What is your most memorable Rush concert? Share your memories with other Rush fans.

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