Rush has been rightly viewed as one of the most complete bands, instrumentally, that the rock world has ever known. Not only are they blessed with the searing guitar licks of Alex Lifeson but they also have The Professor, Neil Peart, as their man behind the drum kit. It’s a pairing which, in any other band, would be given ample room to show off their stuff by a simple, yet methodical, bassist. However, Geddy Lee is anything but simple.
Quite often regarded as the finest bassist of rock music history, Lee has become synonymous with his instrument in the same way that Jimi Hendrix was with his guitar – that is the level of iconography we are dealing with here. It’s a status he has achieved largely through the consistency of his playing rather than an abundance of wild performances such as the aforementioned counter-culture poster boy had done. One song in which Lee really lets it all go is on the quite brilliant ‘Limelight’ and, through the isolated bass recording, we get an up-close and personal reminder of his talent.
“Back in my day, nobody chose to be the bass player,” Lee once said, remarking on his own decision to ditch the glamour of the guitar or singing for something which spoke to him on a more fundamentally musical basis. “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.”
While becoming the bass player in a band is still quite low on the aspiration list for the first moments of starry-eyed adoration of rock ‘n’ roll that one experiences as a child, there’s a good argument to suggest that Geddy Lee is now at least providing an icon for fans to look up to. Like Hendrix, Clapton and Page before him, Geddy Lee has now become the de facto bass leader and one that deserves special attention.
Unlike most bassists, Lee has always attempted to lead the band and not fall into the same trap of becoming a part of the musical furniture — something which has befallen many a bassist over time. Instead, he charges the melody through his instrument and often attempts to provide the lead line for the song. It’s an unusual arrangement but one which has seen Rush become one of the biggest bands on the planet. One song where this can be heard most clearly is on the brilliant ‘Limelight’.
In a 1988 interview about the song, Lee shed some light on the track and its origins as part of Peart’s inability to deal with fame: “‘Limelight’ was probably more of Neil’s song than a lot of the songs on that album in the sense that his feelings about being in the limelight and his difficulty with coming to grips with fame and autograph seekers and a sudden lack of privacy and sudden demands on his time…he was having a very difficult time dealing with.”
While Lifeson and Lee were better equipped with notoriety, Peart struggled with autograph hunters and the like. “Being very much a person who needs that solitude,” continued Lee, “To have someone coming up to you constantly and asking for your autograph is a major interruption in your own little world.”
Geddy Lee can always be safe in one assurance, that he transferred Neil Peart’s musings into music with consummate ease. It’s an attribute which quickly saw Rush become one of the greatest bands in the land. Much of that brilliance comes from Lee’s bass and on this isolated track, one can certainly appreciate his genius.
Listen below to the isolated bass track of Geddy Lee on Rush song ‘Limelight’.