Led Zeppelin have been a constant inspiration since they burst on the scene in the late 1960s. Featuring the earth-shaking drums of John Bonham, the powerhouse vocals of Robert Plant, the inventive bass-playing John Paul Jones and the virtuosic fretwork of Jimmy Page, the group’s sound was unlike anything else at the time, foreshadowing the many heavy metal groups who formed in the group’s wake.
Rush vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee was just one of the ambitious musicians the stadium rock quartet impaired to pick up an instrument of their own and start a group. Lee has always been a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, confessing that he decided to start learning the bass after listening to ‘What Is and What Should Never Be,’ from the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II. It is a surprisingly sparse and jazzy number, intersected by soaring riffs and dense harmonies.
Speaking to Classic Rock, Lee opened up about how Zeppelin inspired his work with Rush: “I remember when the first album dropped and we waited at our local Sam The Record Man store in Willowdale, grabbed the record, ran to my house, put it on and sat on my bed freaking out over ‘Communication Breakdown'”, he recalled. “They were a huge, huge influence on us. We wanted to be them instantly. But their stuff was hard to play. We tried a number of Zeppelin songs when we played in the bars, but we felt we couldn’t pull them off. We did have Livin’ Lovin’ Maid in our set for a while though.”
Rush’s self-titled debut is full of the same blues-fused licks and wailing vocals that defined Zeppelin’s best works. ‘Finding My Way’ even features an impersonation of Plant’s classic “ooh yeah” vocal from ‘Black Dog’. Lee actually came to know Plant very well over the years. Indeed, it was the Led Zeppelin frontman who is supposed to have brought Rush back together after the band went on hiatus following the death of Neil Peart’s wife and his daughter Selena.
Plant, who had lost his own son Karac back in 1977, called Lee and invited the Rush members to join them at a show. Initially, Lee and the others were hesitant to accept the invitation. Lee told Classic Rock: “We were on hiatus after Selena [Neil’s Peart’s daughter] had passed away and we were not in a good place. I called Robert back, and he wanted us to come to the show, and I was pretty down in the dumps at that point. And he said, ‘No, come to the show, we’ll talk.’ He understood what was going on with the band. I remember him saying: ‘You’ve got to re-join life, and sooner is better than later. So get your ass down here.’ So I called Alex up and said we’re going to see Page & Plant.”
It seems that Plant and company not only helped form Rush but actively contributed to their longevity, pushing them back into the ring at a time when they could easily have packed it in for good. Thank God for Led Zeppelin; that’s all I can say.