Bassist Geddy Lee and the late, great drumming professor Neil Peart more often than not take the lion’s share of plaudits when it comes to Rush’s musical excellence, but one key component that is somewhat taken for granted is Alex Lifeson’s sublime guitar skills—a factor which is a complete joy to behold, especially on this isolated version of the iconic ‘Tom Sawyer’.
Lifeson was the only one out of the trio who was there from the start with Lee joining a month later before Peart took the group to another level following his recruitment in 1974. The guitarist often is cruelly left off the list of the best guitarists of all time, for no reason we can really see, but his influence on the group can’t be underestimated and he is a truly pioneering player.
‘Tom Sawyer’ is one of the band’s biggest songs and is the perfect example of Rush’s brilliance with Peart, Lee and Lifeson all putting in a performance that’s up there with the best that they ever made during their reign together, a time that saw the group become one of the most well-loved groups on the planet. The guitarist is on excellent form on this number which sounds even better when it is isolated and Lifeson’s brilliance is brought to the forefront of ‘Tom Sawyer’.
The track has become a big hit, not just with diehard fans who remember the game-changing tune when it was released on the album 2112 back in 1975, but from the film I Love You, Man. Included in the film as a crucial moment of character development, with the two main protagonists having bonded over the proc-rock giants, the song has since taken on a new life.
Geddy Lee and the rest of the band were initially hesitant to allow the film to use their song, worried they may have been the butt of a joke. But in the end, it came down to the group having only recently employed a new career strategy: “We decided that anything we were going to say no to instinctively, we would now say yes to. It served us very well.” It helped broker the group to a brand new generation.
When that generation arrived at the classic song they would have found at its heartbeat one of the most iconic guitar solos of in rock music. But how did Lifeson manage to nail it so well? “I winged it,” Lifeson revealed. “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.”
Listening to the isolated guitar track on this song shows off just how fantastic Lifeson is. Never a big icon outside of the staunch Rush fandom, Lifeson has always gone about his work with professionalism and a natural talent that has likely irked more than a few guitar techs. His sound on ‘Tom Sawyer’ is like a tornado hitting your shutters, loud, brash and not without a hint of danger.
As you might imagine, the crescendo of the piece is Lifeson’s solo, something that can be appreciated wholeheartedly in the isolated track below of Rush’s iconic hit ‘Tom Sawyer’.