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(Credit: Dina Regine / Shipguy)

Why Rush's Geddy Lee said Led Zeppelin were not a "heavy metal band"

Early in Rush’s career, the one band that they were most frequently held against was Led Zeppelin. Gene Simmons called them “Canadian Zeppelin”, while Cleveland radio stations were inundated with calls on where to get the new Led Zeppelin single when ‘Working Man’ helped break the band in 1974. The expert musicianship of the band’s members, plus the high shrieking wail of Geddy Lee, made for easy comparisons.

The trio were all Zeppelin fans, and when speaking with Classic Rock magazine, Lee expressed his fandom upon seeing the band during some of their first Canadian shows. “That wasn’t the first time I saw them, that was August 18, 1969,” he said. “They were doing two shows. We were at the first show. I went with John Rutsey and Alex [Lifeson]. It was general admission. We lined up for hours. We got in and we sat in the second row. And I swear they didn’t walk out on stage – they floated out. They literally brought the house down, because by the end of the night there was plaster falling from the ceiling.” 

The riffs, volume levels, and dedication to ball-busting rock and roll obviously impacted Lee. Whenever Zeppelin came back around to Toronto, Lee made sure he was there to see them.

“I had the pleasure of seeing them on the Zeppelin IV tour at Maple Leaf Gardens,” he continued. “If I’m not mistaken, they opened with Black Dog, and I remember being completely blown away by its heavyocity. It’s a great riff song, but to have the confidence to play that fucking riff and just let it draw out, and then Robert Plant steps up and does his lyric thing back and forth. I mean, nobody did that. Nobody had the courage to do that.”

Still, the biggest impact that Led Zeppelin had on Rush was their lack of ability to be categorised. “The phrase ‘heavy metal’ didn’t suit Zeppelin. It didn’t suit them because they were so much more than a heavy metal band. Yeah, they had a sound that constantly surprised. They used influences and they took chances that other heavy metal bands just would not conceive of, maybe sparked by Robert Plant’s lyrics.”

Finally, Lee was asked to name his favourite Zeppelin song, which the bassist found difficult. “You just go down the list: ‘Going To California’, beautiful song, amazing. ‘Misty Mountain Hop’, I love that song. You just say the titles aloud and you can hear the songs. 

“If I had to pick one song… it’s got to be ‘Stairway’, obviously. Though it’s hard to choose between that, ‘When The Levee Breaks’ and ‘Black Dog’.”

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