Contents Under Pressure: 3 Years of Rush at Home and Awayby Martin Popoff
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Contents Under Pressure: 30 Years of Rush at Home & Away is a detailed history of the exhaustive road experience of Canadian rock icons Rush. Celebrating the band’s 30th anniversary, By-Tour features in-depth original interviews with Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. Together, history’s loudest Order of Canada recipients conjure the sights and sounds of their strange journey: one that began in the microscopic, sometimes hostile clubs of Ontario and culminated in hockey barns, arenas, and stadiums all over the world. Rush have been headliners for over 20 years. The announcement of an impending Rush tour is major entertainment news all over the world, and a cause for celebration for the fanatical following the band has created with their grace, humour, intellect, focus, and spellbinding musicianship. A visitor to this book will be justly rewarded with fresh, exclusive insights about this enigmatic Canadian institution.
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Contents Under Pressure
30 Years of Rush at Home & Away
By Martin Popoff
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2004 Martin Popoff
All rights reserved.
The early history of what can arguably be called Rush is actually quite a long one, reaching back a good five years before that first wollopingly Zeppelinesque album on Moon Records. At times a four-piece with a revolving door of players, the band wouldn't actually become something worthy of the tag "the grandfathers of progressive metal"(!) until well past Neil Peart's arrival, until, that is, the three amigos committed their special purpose to wax with a little something called Fly by Night . As alluded to in the introduction, this book is neither the time nor the place for a detailed history of the band, but it is indeed a celebration of the art, science and sheer luck of constructing records and playing live. In that spirit, I offer a few words from Alex Lifeson (born Alex Zivojinovich), Geddy Lee (born Gary Lee Weinrib) and Neil Peart (just born, but not really as a drummer — that took 13 years) on the formative years, when pushing air to small tribal gatherings was all they had to confirm their very existence.
"Well, let's see, we started in September of '68," begins Alex. "We got a gig in a United Church basement where they had a drop-in center on Friday nights. We played this gig, and we knew maybe seven or eight songs — mostly Cream and Hendrix — and we would just play them over and over, repeatedly throughout the night. And through the rest of the week, we would get together and rehearse and learn more songs.
"We started writing right from the beginning; I think we wrote our first song within a few months. The first original song we wrote was called Losing You, and it was kind of an up-tempo bluesy thing.
"And we continued doing that gig pretty much on a weekly basis until the spring of 1969. The first gig we played there, there were probably 30 people. By that spring, there were about 200, 250 people. I mean, the place was packed! And we had two solid sets of material, and that was a real treat; it was so exciting."
World domination was drafted, says Alex, shortly thereafter. "We got ten bucks to do that first gig. And we went to Pancers, a deli at Steeles and Bathurst; the gig was in that area, ten minutes from there. And we talked about, you know, what we were going to do now, where were we? [laughs]. At what level were we in the world of rock bands? We figured we were like number 10,680, even though we only knew a few songs [laughs]. But it was so exciting sitting in there. I can still visualize what the place looked like and the booth we were sitting in and how excited we were.
"And by the spring, we were getting 35 bucks a week to do that gig. So it was quite a big increase. And then we started playing high school dances, other drop-in centers, things like that. We continued doing that for the most part until '71, I guess, when they lowered the drinking age to 18. And then all of a sudden there were all these bars you could play in.
"We went through some difficult periods. You know, John Rutsey [drummer on debut album and part of first tour] had some health issues. So there were a few times when things kind of just went into limbo. We had some changes in the lineup a couple of times. Joe Perna was the bass player for a little while; Geddy was gone for a bit, and then he came back. Geddy's brother-in-law played in the band in the spring of '69 for a few months, playing piano and guitar. We were still playing a lot of bluesy stuff. Mitch Bossi came later [lasting February to May of '71]. But Lindy Young was in the band for a little while, and then he quit [Young was in from January to July '69]. Mitch came in I think just as we were doing the bar gigs; he might have done a few of the bar gigs."
Legend has it that Rutsey's older brother just blurted out the name Rush one day, and it stuck. But along the way, the band had been called Hadrian (not bad), and Geddy had been in bands such as Ogilvie and Judd (ok, those ain't so hot). Very early on, Lactic Acid's Jeff Jones was also part of the stew.
Geddy sifts the sands and recalls a few of the covers Rush used to conjure up through the early '70s. "We did a version of For What It's Worth; we used to do this old Motown song called Roadrunner, but it didn't sound anything like Roadrunner; I don't know why we called it Roadrunner. We made it into this long extended jammy thing; Alex used to play a really long solo, but of course they were all like that. Earlier we used to play Crossroads, Suffragette City by David Bowie. I don't know if we ever played Zeppelin in the bars. I know when we were just a high school band we used to play Livin' Lovin' Maid. In the early, early days, we used to play Jeff Beck's Let Me Love You, from Truth. Also Morning Dew, some Yardbirds songs like Shapes of Things." Larry Williams' Bad Boy (made popular by the Beatles) got some airtime, actually right up until December '74.
"Certainly Zeppelin were the biggest influence at the time," adds Alex. "But, you know, so was Cream, Hendrix, John Mayall, Jeff Beck."
From the basement band days through the break of the new decade, other acts Rush (and pre-Rush) would cover included the Stones, Eric Clapton, Ten Years After and Traffic. Original compositions, such as Keep in Line, Morning Star, Child Reborn, Love Light, Slaughterhouse and Feel So Good, would also emerge. All the while, Alex scraped a little extra cash together by pumping gas and working with his dad, a plumber. Geddy worked in his mom's variety store.
If there can be said to be a fourth member of Rush, that would have to be manager and business overseer Ray Danniels, who has been with the band since early 1969 (of note, another longtime loyal trooper is Liam Birt, first hired on in '72 as lighting and guitar tech, now cracking the whip as tour manager). In the ensuing years, Ray would be associated with bands as big or bigger than Rush, including Queensryche and Van Halen, but many of those ties have been severed, with his friendship and inextricable business ties with Rush remaining.
"Well, he was a kid," says Alex, with respect to first meeting Ray, who had approached the band with a proposition at one of their high school gigs, having been familiar with them from their packed shows at The Coff-In. "I mean, we were 15 years old, and Ray was 16 years old. He left home, I guess about a year earlier. He moved to Toronto, moved into Yorkville when it was a hippie hangout, hooked up with some people. There was a band called Sherman Peabody. Greg Godovitz was in the band then, and Ray used to live in their basement; he would sleep on the mattress in their band house in Willowdale. And I don't remember how we met, some common friend.
"After a while, Ray said, 'Listen, do you guys want a manager? I'd like to manage the band.' And of course he had no skill or experience, but he was a hustler. So he started managing us and set up some gigs and got posters and drove around on a friend's motorcycle putting posters up on telephone poles across the city, all that stuff.
"And eventually Ray just became more of a promoter; he started promoting other bands, and then he started an agency (Music Shoppe), and then that agency grew. So he was set very early on, in terms of where he wanted to go, in a business sense musically. And our relationship has existed since then."
Alex draws us back to re-create the sense of blinding glamour that enveloped the band on their earliest road trips. "I remember doing a gig at the Thunderbird Motor Inn in Thunder Bay, in October of '73. It was freezing cold. They had us at the far end of the motel. There was no heat down there; the rooms were around 50 degrees. Every night you would hear 'zzzzzzz' as we would turn the hair dryers on under the sheets to keep warm. And the guy wouldn't pay us after the first week. And we didn't have any money, so we had to eat and drink in his restaurant, and one night I remember he sat us down and said, 'Come on, boys, we're going to have some drinks.' We had all these drinks and had a great time, and ... we got the bill for it! He actually gave us the bill for it [laughs]. But we had a real fun time up there back then.
"I remember doing a gig at The Meat Market. It was the old Colonial Tavern, on Yonge, right across from The Eaton Centre. It was a jazz club, but downstairs they had a rock club. And you can imagine, being in that location, what kind of crowd they brought in. And I remember I had surgery; I had my wisdom teeth taken out. And we were there doing the gig; I was 18, 19. And I was sitting on a chair on stage, because I was on Percodan, and my mouth was killing me, and I had smoked some hash. And this fight breaks out. And, like, every person in the place is in this fight, and it's all happening right in front of me, while I'm sitting in a chair playing, and I just remember looking at Geddy and him looking at me, like, 'What is going on?!' And we're playing a song called You Can't Fight It on top of it all."
You Can't Fight It actually figures prominently as Rush's first original recording, backing Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away on what is now a very collectible seven-inch single on the band's own Moon Records. Garden Road and Fancy Dancer were the other (latest) Rush originals that never made the grade. "Yeah, they were sort of riffy songs," says Alex, "very repetitive, mostly 12-bar sorts of things. They wouldn't have survived the test of time, I don't think."
"John had juvenile diabetes, and that was an issue in what he wanted to do," says Alex, offering a concise history of John Rutsey's time in the band as drummer. "John and I were friends from about the time we were 11. We would play hockey in the street. We were really interested in music, and that's all we cared about; he played drums, and I played guitar, and we used to have little bands, and you would play parties mostly. There was no money or anything, but somebody was having a party, and you would set up your equipment in their basements, and you would play some songs.
"John was a very funny person. He was really hip and cool; at least that's what we thought at the time. He was a great guy to hang around with, but he also had a dark side to him. But he got really sick at that time, and we started auditioning other drummers and just playing with some other people. But he came back, and then when the prospect of signing this deal came up with Mercury — the tour, all of that — he got scared, I think, of the whole thing. And it wasn't for him."CHAPTER 2
But John Rutsey would indeed be around for the recording of the pressing and impressionable self-titled first album, along with a handful of dates in promotion of it.
"Back then there wasn't a lot of time for a lot of takes," recalls Alex, with respect to the construction of what is emphatically the odd man out of the Rush catalog. "I remember, when we recorded the record the first time, we were playing The Gasworks. And we would finish the gig at 1:00 a.m., pack up the gear, and go to Eastern Sound. It was at Bay and Yorkville, but it's a parking lot now. And we would go in after hours and record from about two until nine in the morning, when their regular sessions would come in. And the reason we did that is that we got the studio at quarter rate or something; it was very, very cheap.
"It was all eight track back then. We went in one day, basically did all the beds. We'd been playing the songs for a long time, so it was just a matter of getting the sounds up and recording them and then coming back the following day to do overdubs and vocals and things like that. And that's why it took a couple of days to do. Terry Brown came down to see the band at The Gasworks a couple of times and came in to really save the project. Finding My Way, Need Some Love and, I think, Here Again were the songs that we rerecorded for the record. So we dropped Not Fade Away, Can't Fight It, and there may have been another one. All of this stuff we had been playing for one to two years before. Working Man we had been doing for a while; In the Mood was probably at least two years old, if not three, when we recorded the first record.
"And the whole first part of the recording experience was awful. We worked with this guy named David, who was working at our office; I'm not sure what his position was. We used to go and just hang out. He was from England, a nice enough guy and everything, and he had an engineering background, but he did such a horrible job. We spent two nights recording the entire record, and he mixed the whole thing in two hours. The drums were out of phase, and I think they were recorded on just two tracks. Things were missing, the sounds were awful, and it was just a real mess.
"And as I said, we dropped a few of the songs we had recorded, did three or four newer ones with Terry and basically repaired all the problems we had. I may have rerecorded some guitar stuff. We knew the songs so well that it was easy to fly through it. We spent a day or two with him, and then he mixed it. So it was a real repair job that Terry did. He just breathed some life into it, and it was so much more what we thought it would be like, to work with him. Whereas David mixed it by himself; we did the thing and then had to leave — we kind of felt disconnected from it. And being the first record, it was so exciting. And so, of course, that was the start of that whole relationship with Terry that lasted through Signals."
As Alex explains, there was another interesting hurdle to overcome if Rush was to have their first album finished. "The funny thing is, John was the lyricist in the band at the time, and he wouldn't submit the lyrics for any of these songs. So Geddy had to quickly put some lyrics together for it. I wrote the lyrics on Here Again, but everything else was just sort of thrown together. And I think John probably regrets that, you know, to this day. There were the lyrics we were using for these songs live, but he didn't want them to be on the songs. It was just, like, 'Well, why?' 'I just don't.' 'Well, all right.' So they were a rush job, and it shows."
Geddy recalls things slightly differently. "We used to write the songs, and John would write lyrics. And sometimes he would say to us, 'I don't have them ready yet,' so I'd say, 'Well, I'll just make some stuff up. I'll just sing some off-the-cuff lyrics until you're ready with it,' when we were doing bars and stuff.
"So when it came time to record those songs that I'd been, you know, bluffing, coming into the studio I said, 'ok, where are the lyrics?' And he said, 'Well, I didn't like them, so I tore them all up.' And I was supposed to start recording that day, start singing them. So I just sat down in the studio and started scribbling off lyrics and wrote as many as I could for the songs that we needed. And they ended up being the lyrics for those songs on the first album. It was all done over a period of two days, because we didn't have any lyrics. I don't know what was going on in John's head. All I knew is that I kept asking for lyrics, and he kept saying they were coming, and one day he said, 'I tore them up. They're not happening.' He was not ... he had moments that were not strictly logical."
The above-cited problems did little to hamper the public's enjoyment of the album. With riffs exploding everywhere, and with Geddy's unworldly yowl, Rush stood out as a high-tension proto-metal feast, screechingly insistent at a time when few dared rock this hard — especially in Canada, where up to this point Bachman Turner Overdrive and April Wine had served as the nation's benchmarks in hard rock. No less than Finding My Way, What You're Doing, In the Mood (sometimes said to be the first song Geddy ever wrote but perhaps more like his first significant song) and Working Man — half the album — would last long into the band's live sets. Finding My Way is the most Led Zeppelin-like of the album's compositions, Geddy trying out the odd "ooh yeah" over a drumless verse, while What You're Doing also pulverizes somewhat Zep-like, housing the album's most combative celebrations of red-hot riffery. Need Some Love, Take a Friend, Before and After and In the Mood are perhaps a bit more dated, something closer to what UK or US boogie rockers of the day might have written. However, it is lengthy, weighty, closer Working Ma n that is, heads above, the album's classic, Geddy offering a blue-collar tale similar in tone, or at least in its effect on crowds, to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Simple Man.
Excerpted from Contents Under Pressure by Martin Popoff. Copyright © 2004 Martin Popoff. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Martin Popoff is a full-time music journalist. For ECW Press, he has authored The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time and The Top 500 Heavy Metal Songs of All Time. He is also the author of Riff Kills Man! 25 Years of Recorded Hard Rock & Heavy Metal, The Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal, 20th Century Rock and Roll: Heavy Metal, Goldmine Heavy Metal Record Price Guide and Southern Rock Review.
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