Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson was interviewed on Renman Live last Wednesday, April 22, and spoke a lot about the Canadian prog-rock act’s history, growth and development. Show host Steve Rennie covered a wide range of topics, as you can see in the full interview below.
To help guide you through the one-hour-plus show, we picked 10 things that we learned from Alex in the course of his interview. The relevant time markers are provided, in case you want to jump ahead to that portion of the interview.
1. Lifeson studied viola for two years as a child. (8:20) “I took viola in junior high school in grade seven,” he says. “So I played two years, and I really enjoyed it a lot, and that was my first connection with musicians—my classmates playing in school band.”
2. His first guitar was a $9 Kent acoustic. His second guitar was an electric that cost $59. (9:30) “It was a terrible acoustic guitar,” he says. “I had that for a year and I really wanted an electric, and [his parents] bought me an electric the following Christmas. I cherished that thing. I still have it.”
3. He formed his first band at the age of 15. (11:30) “I’m still in that same band,” he says. “We started [Rush] in September of 1968, and I think we wrote our first original song a few weeks after we came together. We wrote original music almost from the very beginning. Consequently, we didn’t get a lot of gigs.”
4. Rush got their big break when the drinking age was lowered from 21 to 18 in Toronto, allowing the teenage group to play clubs rather than schools. (14:00) “We went from playing a few high schools a month to playing six nights a week, with matinees on some Saturdays,” he says. “Towards the end of that run we were getting about 1,200 dollars a week, which was pretty good for a band back then.”
5. Caress of Steel (1975) was an important album in Rush’s development. (18:18) “At that period, we were coming out of our fascination with Led Zeppelin, primarily,” Lifeson says. “They were an enormous influence on us. Around the time that Neal [Peart] joined the band [summer of 1974], we were already looking at other kinds of music—the whole progressive rock scene. So Caress of Steel, we were at a very experimental period. That was a pivotal record for us. It was not a very successful record financially, but for us it was a really important stepping stone. We probably would not have made 2112 if we had not made Caress of Steel.”
6. If he had to be stranded on a desert island, he would take his white Gibson ES-355 but not a Rush album. (20:15) “I don’t think I would take one of our albums,” he says. “I’m sick of that music, to be honest with you.”
7. He and Rush bassist Geddy Lee met in seventh grade and bonded because they thought they were cooler than the other kids.(25:00) “We had a common interest in music,” Lifeson says. “We were a little bit on the outside, not because we were shy or geeky—we just thought we were cooler than everybody else was.”
8. The awards and accolades Rush have received sometimes embarrass him. (58:40) “It feels great. We’re very grateful for all of that,” he says. “I don’t know how important it all is. I think if you do the thing that you do as well as you do and it inspires other people and it has some kind of impact on other people, that’s reward enough.”
9. He is a pilot, a bar owner, a former golf course owner, and an actor—he played roles in the TV show and film series Trailer Park. (1:01:20) “I said, ‘If you guys want to do anything, just let me know,’ ” Lifeson says. “And they wrote back and said, ‘We’re huge Rush fans. If we can get you guys on the show, we can work an episode around it.’ So I did an episode in the third season called ‘Close to the Heart.’ ”
10. He is an avid golfer and considers the game “a saving grace for touring musicians.” (1:04:50) “It gets you out of your [hotel] room—and your room can be death,” he says. “You’re outside, you develop new friendships. I go back through these towns that we play and reconnect with people that I met 20 years ago playing golf.”