At every musical point across the prog-rock giants, Rush are fully-loaded with one of the instrument’s finest players. Whether it is Neil Peart on drums or Alex Lifeson on guitar, both are in the higher echelon of performers. However, perhaps most accomplished of all in their field is Geddy Lee on bass. One of the greatest players to have walked the earth, we’re looking at Lee’s isolated bass track on Rush’s classic ‘Tom Sawyer’.
Too often maligned as a dull instrument the role of a bass guitar to any band is vitally important. Setting the rhythm for the group and quietly guiding them and the audience to their chosen destination without much fuss or fanfare. But some bassists, like Geddy Lee, are capable of buckling up, putting the pedal to the metal and unleashing launching the song, band and audience into high gear.
Lee may well have become the ultimate bassist with his noodling hands and impressive ability to improvise lines on the spot but even he can admit that the instrument doesn’t have the greatest image. “Back in my day, nobody chose to be the bass player,” Lee says. “You were always a guitarist, and somebody said, ‘Well, we need a bass player,’ so they had a vote and you became the bass player. That’s how I became a bass player: I was voted in. I think that was pretty common for the period, because everybody wanted to be Jimi Hendrix; everybody wanted to be Eric Clapton; everybody wanted to be Jimmy Page.”
There’s a very strong argument that Lee has now become that figure for a host of bass players across the globe. So below, we thought we’d take a look at Lee’s performance on one of Rush’s biggest songs, ‘Tom Sawyer’. It’s a song of huge proportion for the group but not necessarily one Lee likes to shout about. When asked for a list of Rush’s greatest songs by The Guardian, he initially didn’t want to include ‘Tom Sawyer’ before being won over, “But how could I not? It changed our lives,” the singer frankly admitted.
The song then took on a second lease of life after its use in the Paul Rudd and Jason Segel film I Love You, Man which spread the word of Rush to a new generation. “We decided that anything we were going to say no to instinctively, we would now say yes to. It served us very well,” he said on the inclusion of ‘Tom Sawyer’ in the comedy.
“I winged it,” Alex Lifeson said on his guitar solo from the track. “Honest! I came in, did five takes, then went off and had a cigarette. I’m at my best for the first two takes; after that, I overthink everything and I lose the spark. Actually, the solo you hear is composed together from various takes.” The track is underpinned by a searing rhythm section.
“The drum is so detailed,” Neil Peart revealed on his part when speaking about the song to CBC. “But when we go into the middle to the odd time part, it was improvised. I got lost and I punched my way out of it and somehow came back to the one. And that improvisation became a new part…It’s one of those key parts that I love and it was absolutely a mistake that I just got lucky and got out of,” the late drummer said.
On ‘Tom Sawyer’ Geddy Lee unloads a classic bassline. A melodically driven track that pushes the song from everyday rock into something dynamic and engaging. Though it isn’t Lee’s most precise or complex track, it shows his undeniable star quality.
Listen to Geddy Lee’s isolated bass line on Rush’s classic ‘Tom Sawyer’ below.