Gary Lee Weinrib was born in the Willowdale neighborhood of Toronto on July 29, 1953, to immigrant parents of Jewish/Polish descent that had both survived the Nazi concentration camps in Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. Due to his mother’s thick accent, “Gary” often came out sounding like “Geddy”, and some of his friends began using that as his nickname. When he was twelve his father passed away and, as the oldest son, Geddy had to attend synagogue every day for 11 months and one day. As a reward for this feat, his mother purchased Geddy a guitar from the boy next door for $50.
A classmate of Lee’s in junior high school was Aleksander Zivojinovic, born August 27, 1953 to Serbian immigrants who had immigrated to British Columbia before settling in Willowdale. Their surname is loosely translated to “Lifeson”, which “Alex” would adopt eventually as his stage name. At the age twelve, Alex had renounced his formal training as a violist in order to play the guitar, which he would primarily teach himself. Shortly afterward, he formed a band with another classmate; drummer John Rutsey called The Projection. Originally, the band also consisted of a bass player/vocalist named Jeff Jones (who would go on to slight fame with the gospel-rock band Ocean in the early 1970s), but in September 1968, Jones was replaced by Geddy Lee (Weinrib).
That same month the trio of 15-year-olds played their first gig in a church basement for which they were collectively paid $10. Through their high school years, they would hone their skills by playing similar gigs at high schools and teen dances until their graduation in 1971, the same year they officially adopted the band name Rush. That same year there were a couple of other events that would shape their destiny.
First, they signed on with Toronto manager Ray Daniels who would remain with them through much of their career. Next, Ontario dropped the drinking age to 18 (the same age of the members of Rush), allowing the band to play the Toronto night club circuit, which was far receptive to their heavy-blues and rock sound then the high school dance circuit. Soon the band was playing 6 nights a week and began incorporating some original songs into their repertoire including the very early songs “Garden Road” and “Fancy Dancer”. Daniels began shopping the band to Canadian record labels but was initially rejected by each one, so he decided to start a label of his own called Moon Records, for which the band would record their debut album.
During 1973 the band recorded at Eastern Sound in Toronto late at night when the rates were cheapest. They started with a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, which became the band’s first single, as well as a few originals including “In the Mood”. Eventually they migrated to Toronto Sound Studios where they recorded the bulk of what would become the eponymous album that was released in early 1974.
Rush is an energetic and entertaining debut that draws heavy influence from early-mid era Led Zeppelin, especially on songs such as “Finding My Way” and “What You’re Doing”. If Rush would’ve continued along these trend lines, they may have become the Canadian equivalent to a band such as Nazareth, but that would certainly not be the case, as there was something quite evidently special about this band even at this very early stage. The first sign of this arrives at the end of the first side with “Here Again”, a calm and bluesy ballad with nice little bass and guitar rudiments, behind a soaring, dynamic vocal line. Then there’s the “before” part of “Before and After”, a masterful little piece of chimed guitar by Lifeson, accented by Lee’s strategic bass. It gradually builds towards a heavy sound until it breaks down and launches into a mediocre riff and song for the “after” part.
The only album to include John Rutsey instead of Neal Peart, it is clear that special element is absent from the sound, but it is also clear that Rutsey is certainly a competent rock drummer and he plays his role more than adequately for the material on this album. When Cleveland DJ Donna Halper discovered the song “Working Man” as a perfect anthem for her city and Rush began to receive significant airplay in the United States, the band’s rise began to accelerate. By mid-1974 they had landed a deal with Mercury Records and were signed on as a supporting act for nationally-touring arena acts. Rutsey, a diabetic who tended to party too much, was unable to physically keep up with the pace and it was decided that he would have to be replaced as drummer.
Neil Peart was born on September 12, 1952 in Hagersville, Ontario and grew up in the city of St. Catharines. Having a penchant for carrying around a pair of chop sticks to drum on various objects throughout the house, his parents bought him a drum kit for his 14th birthday. Inspired by the sound of Keith Moon and later John Bonham, Peart migrated towards heavy rock bands and eventually joined a “very serious’ progressive rock band called JR Flood. But by the time he was eighteen, Peart had grown frustrated by the timid scene in Ontario and decided to move to London to further his career.
After a year and a half of dead-end musical gigs, Peart returned home to work at his father’s farm equipment store. In the summer of 1974 he was tipped off by a mutual acquaintance that Rush needed a new drummer and he drove to the audition in a battered old car and with his drum kit stored in trash cans. The band nearly dismissed him out of hand but was extremely impressed when he actually started playing. Neil Peart officially joined Rush on July 29, 1974 and had barely two weeks to learn all their material before the band made their arena debut, opening for Uriah Heap in Pittsburgh on August 14th of that year.