Progressive Icons Talk Rush in PROG Magazine's 100th Issue

Progressive Icons Talk Rush in PROG Magazine's 100th IssuePROG Magazine is celebrating the release of its 100th issue with a feature titled 100 Icons That Changed Our World.

In the issue, John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and Alan Reed of Pallas share their thoughts about Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, and Geddy Lee respectively, and how the three members of Rush have influenced them during their own careers.

From the issue:
Alex Lifeson by John Petrucci (Dream Theater)

“Alex Lifeson is such a big influence on me in so many ways. You know how it is when you discover a band as a teenager, you just get so invested in it. The first couple of Rush albums, I literally learned every song, and me and my friends, including John Myung, we jammed to all that stuff. I think from learning all those songs, it’s just ingrained as part of my style. I remember dissecting YYZ and learning the guitar solo and all these different techniques of hammer-ons and pull-offs, even the scales that Alex used. I use that stuff all the time with Dream Theater.

“Rush introduced me to progressive rock and metal and the idea that song structures didn’t have to be the typical three-minute song. That style of music was the perfect backdrop to storytelling and conceptual lyrics, things like 2112. All of that had a huge influence on me and opened my mind to exploring a more unique way of writing in that whole progressive style. The odd time signatures and songs that had multiple parts – something like La Villa Strangiato, where it’s broken into sections much in the way that Genesis would – was a big influence. The guitar sound and the way that I created the effects that I use, and some of the approaches to chordal playing and making a band sound really big with just one guitar, all that stuff was a huge influence on me.

“The thing with Rush is since they were just a three-piece, the guitar really had the job of taking up a lot of space. So the very big approach that Alex had to playing guitar and using open strings and pedal tones and chords that were richer and using chorusing on the guitar, it really filled out that space. I do some solo work, touring with G3, and that’s just a trio, so it harkens back to that influence when I’m trying to make the guitar fill out a lot of space when there’s no keyboards, no second guitar player, especially during the instrumental sections when there’s no vocal. Alex has a beautiful way of approaching the guitar, so it brought the guitar to the forefront and made it take up this beautiful space in such a great way.”

Geddy Lee by Alan Reed

“When I was much younger I wanted to be a bass player before I became a singer, bizarrely. I kind of blundered into singing. As I learned to play bass, Geddy was ‘The Man’. He had it all – fluidity, great technique and a great voice. More importantly, he seemed to have a genuinely pleasant personality. He wasn’t one of those supposed rock gods from the metal bands I was into; Geddy appeared friendly and blessed with an amazing talent. He took Rush’s music incredibly seriously, but himself less so. I loved that. And the more I got to know about the band, the more that impressed me. I get the impression that he’d be great company in a bar.

“The most important thing is that Geddy Lee has the chops as a bass player. In my opinion there are very few that could touch him, technically speaking. But more than that, he’s also an amazing singer and a pretty fine keyboard player as well. He’s this unassuming, talented, nice Canadian chap. I appreciate that he doesn’t make a big thing of how good he is.

“Rush didn’t lose me as a fan when they began to introduce more and more keyboards during the 80s and early 90s. Quite the opposite. I could see where he was coming from. By then I was in prog bands too, so I appreciated the idea of playing bass pedals and singing. Technology improved, and Rush got more into that direction. I expect that with the frequency range of the keys taking up so much space, it frustrated Alex Lifeson for a while that there was less room for his guitars. But although they sounded less like the band I’d fallen in love with, Rush have never let me down. Few bands have had such a discernible thread of pushing on and adapting their sound. They reach a plateau and either stick with it or fall out and move on, but those three guys developed around each other. It’s definitely helped Geddy as a singer, too.

“One of the joys of being a solo artist is that I get to play bass on my own albums. I’m finalising the bass parts of my next album and I realised I needed to up my game, so I asked myself: ‘What would Geddy do?’”

Neil Peart by Mike Portnoy

“I have a lot of heroes who are more than just drummers. People like Frank Zappa and Roger Waters would fit into that. But obviously, I have a special place for drummers. My earliest inspirations were Keith Moon and John Bonham. Now, their legacy is secure, but they died young, and I never got the chance to meet them. But Neil Peart is definitely the biggest icon in my life.

“Of course, you can talk about what an amazing drummer he is, but beyond that he’s done so much in his career and life, which inspires me.

“Neil’s attitude and work ethic are simply astonishing, and an object lesson to me. The way he writes both lyrics and books are part of a much bigger picture. And that’s what makes him a true hero. When Neil joined Rush, he changed them musically and also started to write lyrics. And in both senses what he did was take the band into a more progressive direction, which gave them the career they’ve had.

“I first got into Rush about 1981, when I was 15 or 16, and it was through the Moving Pictures album. After that I was hooked on them and worked my way backwards through their catalogue. I became obsessed, and being an aspiring young drummer, I focused on what Neil was doing. I learnt so much by watching and listening to him. He opened up the world of progressive music for me. It was because of him that I discovered bands like Yes, King Crimson and Genesis.

“Back in the early 80s of course, there was no such thing as YouTube. You couldn’t access footage of any band you liked through the internet. But then MTV was launched, and they had a series called Live In Concert, and on one of these shows, they aired Rush’s Exit… Stage Left performance. I recall videoing this, and played it through so many times that I quite literally wore out the tape! It was something precious and exciting for me.

“Because Neil is such a private person, people often have this idea that he’s not a nice person. Nothing could be further from the truth. I first met him when I was asked to be the guest editor on Rhythm magazine, and I was given the opportunity to interview four drummers. Naturally, Neil was one of them. And I had the chance to ask him all the fanboy questions I wanted. Now, under normal conditions, if anyone tries to talk to Neil about Rush or his drumming style, then he immediately switches off and doesn’t want to know. But because this was in a professional capacity, he sat there and answered everything politely and in depth. That was in 2006, and since then we have become good friends. I have to say that he is such a lovely man.

“We exchange emails a few times a year, and he’ll send me photos of his daughter and tell me how things are going for him. Yes, Neil can be elusive, because he protects that privacy he cherishes. But once you get beyond that, he’s truly a special person. This man has effectively taken me under his wing and has never been anything less than gracious and accommodating. I’ll give the perfect example: When Rush announced they were doing their farewell tour, I was very keen for my son, Max, who was a budding drummer himself, to get to see the band live, as it was an essential experience for him. Not only did Neil make sure we got into the gig, but he invited us to the soundcheck, and allowed Max to sit behind his kit and play for a little while. He didn’t have to do that, but it is typical of the sort of person he is. Neil even opened up his dressing room to us, and said that any time we wanted to get a drink or needed a toilet break, we should feel free to use his room. He was such a wonderful host, and made us feel so welcome.

“Shall I tell you how much Neil means to me? In my high school yearbook in 1984, I wrote under ‘Future Plans’: ‘To become the next Neil Peart.’ And when Dream Theater released our debut album When Dream And Day Unite, one magazine actually referred to me as ‘The heir to the Neil Peart throne.’ To have that sort of accolade given to me was truly a landmark moment in my career.

“Neil became the gateway for me to discover progressive music. Everything about the man puts him into a class of his own. He’s had to endure tragedy in his life, and has done so with such fortitude that you can’t help but admire him. They always say you should never meet your heroes; thankfully, Neil is an exception to that rule.”
To purchase a copy of the 100th issue of PROG, please click HERE.

Thanks to RushFanForever for providing the transcript of the issue.


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