Over four-plus decades, Canadian power trio Rush (bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart) emerged as one of rock's most celebrated and enduring bands. Though typically brushed aside by critics during the early years (who derided their high concept recordings such as 2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres), Rush managed to win a massive and devoted fan following among hard rock, heavy metal, and prog audiences. They sold over 40 million records and were nominated for seven Grammys between 1981-2010; they also netted 25 gold and/or platinum albums, and all but three entered the upper half of the Top 200. Rush carved a unique place in North American and English popular culture. Since the '80s, there are countless references to their work in films, books, software, visual art, comics, video games, and television. After 1981's chart-topping Moving Pictures (a rock classic due to hit songs such as "Tom Sawyer" and "Red Barchetta"), they began a seven-year period where their recorded sound was dominated by Lee's synth playing and somehow solidified their standing as musicians' musicians in spite of sometimes lukewarm critical reception and some fans seemingly confused by the shift. During the '90s, they shifted toward a hooky and radio-friendly brand of hard rock, delivering albums such as Roll the Bones and Test for Echo. During their final period, they delivered three almost universally well-received studio offerings that fused heavy and prog in new ways: 2002's Vapor Trails, 2007's Snakes & Arrows, and 2012's conceptual Clockwork Angels (the latter also inspired a novel co-written by Peart and Kevin J. Anderson). Rush amicably split in 2015 after Peart decided to retire from touring. He died from brain cancer in early 2020. Rush was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
Rush formed in Toronto, Ontario in the autumn of 1968, initially comprising guitarist Alex Lifeson (born Alexander Zivojinovich), vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee (born Gary Lee Weinrib), and drummer John Rutsey. In their primary incarnation, Rush drew a heavy influence from Cream, and honed their skills on the Toronto club circuit before issuing their debut single, a rendition of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," in 1973. A self-titled LP followed in 1974, at which time Rutsey exited; he was replaced by drummer Neil Peart, who also assumed the role of the band's primary lyricist; his words gradually became a hallmark of the group's recording aesthetic.
With Peart firmly ensconced, Rush returned in 1975 with a pair of LPs, Fly by Night and Caress of Steel. The former bore the radio hit "Fly by Night" and their first metal suite in "By-Tor and the Snow Dog." The album also contained "Anthem," whose title and subject matter reflected the inspiration of the dystopian novella of the same title by Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand; she would become an even greater inspiration to Peart on 2112 in 1976. 2112 proved their breakthrough release: a futuristic concept album based on the writings of Rand, it fused the elements of the trio's sound — Lee's high-pitched vocals, Peart's epic drumming, and Lifeson's complex guitar work — into a unified whole. Fans loved it — 2112 was the first in a long line of gold and platinum releases — while critics dismissed it as overblown and pretentious (and some as a work of proto-fascism, which Peart disavowed), either way, it established a formula from which the band rarely deviated throughout the duration of their career.
A Farewell to Kings followed in 1977 and reached the Top 40 in both the U.S. and Britain. After 1978's Hemispheres, Rush achieved even greater popularity with 1980's Permanent Waves, a record marked by the group's dramatic shift into shorter, less-sprawling compositions; the single "The Spirit of Radio" even became a major hit at radio. With 1981's Moving Pictures, they scored with "Tom Sawyer," and "Red Barchetta." The former garnered heavy exposure on album-oriented radio and became what is probably the trio's best-known song. As the '80s continued, Rush grew into a phenomenally popular live draw, as albums like 1982's Signals (which generated the smash "New World Man"), 1984's Grace Under Pressure, and 1985's Power Windows continued to sell millions of copies.
As the decade drew to a close, the trio cut back on their touring schedule while hardcore fans complained of a sameness afflicting slicker, synth-driven efforts like 1987's Hold Your Fire (that featured Aimee Mann duetting with Lee on the title track single) and 1989's Presto. At the dawn of the '90s, however, Rush returned to the heavier sound of their early records and placed a renewed emphasis on Lifeson's guitar heroics; consequently, both 1991's Roll the Bones and 1993's Counterparts reached the Top Three on the U.S. album charts. In 1996, the band issued Test for Echo and headed for the road the following summer. Shortly thereafter, Peart lost his daughter in an automobile accident. Tragedy struck again in 1998 when Peart's brokenhearted wife succumbed to cancer. Peart told his bandmates to consider him retired after her funeral. He traveled extensively throughout North and Central America on his BMW motorcycle, covering 55,000 miles. At some point in his journey, he decided to return to the band. His book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road chronicled the journey. In early 2001, he announced to his bandmates that he was ready to return to music-making. Rumors of the group playing together again in the studio began to circulate, though it would be five years until any music surfaced. Fans were reassured in early 2002 by news that Rush were recording new songs in Toronto. The fruit of those sessions led to the release of their 17th studio album, Vapor Trails, later that spring. By the end of the year, a concert from the supporting tour was released to video as Rush in Rio.
In 2004, Rush embarked on their 30th anniversary tour, documented on the DVD R30, and in 2006 they returned to the studio to begin work on a new album that resulted in the 2007's acclaimed Snakes & Arrows. A documentary on the band assembled by Toronto's Bangor Productions called Beyond the Lighted Stage appeared in 2010, followed a year later by another Bangor video production, Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland.
Rush's 19th full-length studio album, Clockwork Angels, arrived in June 2012. While the following year wouldn't bring a new album, it did deliver the next best thing by way of Vapor Trails: Remixed, which found producer David Bottrill revisiting one of the more notable victims of the so-called loudness wars. Along with a freshly repaired album, Rush also released Clockwork Angels Tour, a three-disc live album recorded during their 2012 tour. The band took the next year off, but they returned in 2014 with the R40 video box set, which was released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Neil Peart's membership. The following year saw Rush embark on their North American R40 tour, which was purported to be their last large-scale tour. It was chronicled in the 2015 CD/DVD concert album R40 Live.
Rush continued celebrating that anniversary for the next several years and began reissuing deluxe remastered versions of catalog titles including 2112, Caress of Steel, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres. The latter proved bittersweet: In January of 2018, Lifeson told Toronto's Globe & Mail, "We have no plans to tour or record any more. We're basically done. After 41 years, we felt it was enough." Adding to the finality of Lifeson's statement, Neil Peart died on January 7, 2020, at the age 67, after succumbing to a three-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer.
With the announcement of his passage, an enormous outpouring of grief, love, and tribute was paid by many musicians. They ranged from Heart's Nancy Wilson, Metallica's Lars Ulrich, and Black Sabbath's Bill Ward to the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt, and jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, in addition to millions of fans across the globe. Sirius/XM ran a two-week Rush/Neil Peart tribute channel. At that year's Grammy Awards, the rock band Tool won for Best Metal Performance. During their acceptance speech, drummer Danny Carey paid a warm tribute to Peart.
HOMETOWNToronto, Ontario, Canada