Geddy Lee is highly regarded as one of the most talented musicians in progressive rock, as he played both bass and keyboards/vocals in Rush. In a 2017 interview with AXS TV’s Dan Rather, Lee talked about his background in Toronto, his switch from playing guitar to bass, and how he met guitarist Alex Lifeson.
Lee spoke about how his introduction to music happened because of his lack of supervision and getting mixed up with a group of friends who were into rock music, which he caught an interest in early on.
“Because [my mom] wasn’t around, I think that I had a little more freedom than your average kid, and I got in with a bad crowd. A crowd that loved rock music, and it sort of was my first taste of playing music and I got the bug quite early.”
He went on to talk about how he got his start in music by buying an acoustic guitar with his mom’s loan and playing in a neighborhood band called the Dusty Coconuts. When the original bass player was no longer able to play, Lee was voted in as the new bass player and had to buy an electric bass guitar. He said he never looked back after that.
“I first bought an acoustic guitar – I begged my mom to loan me some money to buy the acoustic guitar from the guy who lived next door. He had a beautiful acoustic guitar that had palm trees painted on it, and I had to have it. . . . I was about 12, and I played in a little band of neighbors. I think we called ourselves the Dusty Coconuts back then. We would meet at our friend’s house.”
I was playing guitar at the time, and then we were told that the mother of the kid who was supposed to play bass – his mother wouldn’t let him be in the band anymore. They voted and said that I was gonna be the new bass player. So, I went back to my mom and I begged her to lend me money to buy a bass guitar. . . . I bought my first electric bass guitar and sort of haven’t looked back.”
He met Lifeson while in junior high school, where they both sat at the back of the class and quickly connected as they both played guitar. He eventually joined Lifeson’s band Rush as a substitute for a gig, not realizing that he would be spending the rest of his life with the Serbian guitarist. The gig went well and they went for French fries and gravy after, which was their tradition. This was the start of his long-standing musical partnership with Lifeson.
“I was in junior high school at the time. Around that same time, there was a fellow in my class named Aleksandar Živojinović and we both sat at the back of the class. He was really funny, and we sort of connected. He played guitar, and before you know it, we were starting to jam together. I didn’t know at the time that I’d spend the rest of my life with this crazy Serbian guy.
He was actually in a band called Rush. I wasn’t . . . a founding member. I was just a pal. They were scheduled to do a show at a local drop-in center, which was in the basement of a church. Their bass player couldn’t make it for some reason and Al called me up in a panic, saying, “Do you think you can play the gig with us?” I went, “Sure.” I went down and I learned the songs that afternoon. I think we only knew about four songs anyway. . . . We did the gig and then went to the local deli for French fries and gravy, which was the tradition. That’s how my career with Al started.”
The remainder of Geddy Lee’s story is well-known. Share your thoughts on his experiences and favorite Rush album in the comments. Also, don’t miss the full video below: