Geddy Lee (born Gary Lee Weinrib, July 29, 1953) is a Canadian musician, singer, and songwriter. He is best known as the lead vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for the Canadian rock group Rush. Lee joined what would become Rush in September 1968, at the request of his childhood friend Alex Lifeson, replacing original bassist and frontman Jeff Jones. Lee's solo effort, My Favourite Headache, was released in 2000.
|Birth name||Gary Lee Weinrib|
|Born||July 29, 1953|
North York, Ontario, Canada
An award-winning musician, Lee's style, technique, and skill on the bass have inspired many rock musicians such as Cliff Burton of Metallica, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, John Myung of Dream Theater, Les Claypool of Primus, and Tim Commerford of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Along with his Rush bandmates – guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart – Lee was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on May 9, 1996. The trio was the first rock band to be so honoured as a group. In 2013, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after 14 years of eligibility; they were nominated overwhelmingly in the Hall's first selection via fan ballot. Lee is ranked 13th by Hit Parader on their list of the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Vocalists of All Time.
Lee was born on July 29, 1953, in the North York neighbourhood of Willowdale, Toronto, to Morris Weinrib (born Moshe Meir Weinrib; August 5, 1920 – October 8, 1965), from Ostrowce, and Mary "Manya" Rubinstein (born Malka Rubinstein; July 16, 1925 – July 2, 2021), who was born in Warsaw and later grew up in Wierzbnik. His parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland who had survived the ghetto in Starachowice (where they met), followed by their imprisonments at Auschwitz and later Dachau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps during the Holocaust and World War II. They were in their teens when they were initially imprisoned at Auschwitz. "It was kind of surreal pre-teen shit", says Lee, describing how his father bribed guards to bring his mother shoes. After a period, his mother was transferred to Bergen-Belsen and his father to Dachau. When the war ended four years later, and the Allies liberated the camps, Morris set out in search of Manya and found her at a Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp. They married there and eventually emigrated to Canada.
Lee's father was a skilled musician who died young, forcing Lee's mother to work to support three children, running the Newmarket, Ontario variety store that her husband had owned and managed. Lee feels that not having parents at home during those years was probably a factor in his becoming a musician: "It was a terrible blow that I lost him, but the course of my life changed because my mother couldn't control us." He said that losing his father at such an early age made him aware of how "quickly life can disappear", which inspired him from then on to get the most out of his life and music.
He turned his basement into practice space for a band he formed with high-school friends. After the band began earning income from small performances at high-school shows or other events, he decided to drop out of high school and play rock and roll professionally. His mother was devastated when he told her, and he still feels that he owes her for the disappointments in her life. "All the shit I put her through", he says, "on top of the fact that she just lost her husband. I felt like I had to make sure that it was worth it. I wanted to show her that I was a professional, that I was working hard, and wasn't just a fuckin' lunatic."
Jweekly featured Lee's reflections on his mother's experiences as a refugee and of his own Jewish heritage. Lee's name, Geddy, was derived from his mother's heavy Polish accented pronunciation of his given first name, Gary. This was picked up by his friends in school, leading Lee to adopt it as his stage name and later his legal name.
After Rush had become a widely recognized rock group, Lee told the story about his mother's early life to the group's drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart, who then wrote the lyrics to "Red Sector A", inspired by her ordeal. The song, for which Lee wrote the music, was released on the band's 1984 album Grace Under Pressure. The lyrics include the following verse:
Lee began playing music in school when he was 10 or 11 and got his first acoustic guitar at 14. In school, he first played drums, trumpet and clarinet. However, learning to play instruments in school wasn't satisfying to Lee, and he took basic piano lessons independently. His interest increased dramatically after listening to some of the popular rock groups at the time. His early influences included Jack Bruce of Cream, John Entwistle of The Who, Jeff Beck, and Procol Harum. "I was mainly interested in early British progressive rock", said Lee. "That's how I learned to play bass, emulating Jack Bruce and people like that." Bruce's style of music was also noticed by Lee, who liked that "his sound was distinctive – it wasn't boring." Lee has also been influenced by Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, and James Jamerson.
In 1969, Rush began playing professionally in coffeehouses, high school dances and at various outdoor recreational events. By 1971, they were now playing primarily original songs in small clubs and bars, including Toronto's Gasworks and Abbey Road Pub. Lee describes the group during these early years as being "weekend warriors". They were holding down jobs during the weekdays and playing music on weekends: "We longed to break out of the boring surrounding of the suburbs and the endless similarities . . . the shopping plazas and all that stuff. . . the music was a vehicle for us to speak out." He claims that in the beginning, they were simply "a straightforward rock band."
Short of money, they began opening concerts at venues such as Toronto's Victory Burlesque Theatre for the glam rock band New York Dolls. By 1972, Rush began performing full-length concerts, mainly consisting of original songs, in cities including Toronto and Detroit. As they gained more recognition, they began performing as an opening act for groups such as Aerosmith, Kiss, and Blue Öyster Cult.
Like Cream, Rush followed the model of a "power trio", with Lee playing bass and singing. Lee's vocals produced a distinctive, "countertenor" falsetto and resonant sound. Lee possessed a three-octave vocal range, from baritone through tenor, alto, and mezzo-soprano pitch ranges, although it has significantly decreased with age. Lee's playing style is widely regarded for his use of high treble and very hard playing of the strings and for utilizing the bass as a lead instrument, often contrapuntal to Lifeson's guitar. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Lee mostly used a Rickenbacker 4001 bass, with a very noticeable grit in his tone. According to Lee, during the band's "synth era" in the mid-1980s, Lee used Steinberger and later Wal basses, with the latter having more of a "jazzy" tone. From 1993's Counterparts onward, Lee began using the Fender Jazz Bass almost exclusively, returning to his trademark high treble sound. Lee had first used the Jazz Bass to record Moving Pictures on songs such as "Tom Sawyer."
After several early albums and increasing popularity, Rush's status as a rock group soared over the following five years as they consistently toured worldwide and produced successful albums, including 2112 (1976), A Farewell to Kings (1977), Hemispheres (1978), Permanent Waves (1980), and Moving Pictures (1981). Lee began adding synthesizers in 1977, with the release of A Farewell to Kings. The additional sounds expanded the group's "textural capabilities", states keyboard critic Greg Armbruster and allowed the trio to produce an orchestrated and more complex progressive rock music style. It also gave Lee the ability to play bass simultaneously, as he could control the synthesizer with foot pedals. In 1981, he won Keyboard magazine's poll as "Best New Talent." By the 1984 album Grace Under Pressure, Lee was surrounding himself with stacks of keyboards on stage.
By the 1980s, Rush had become one of the "biggest rock bands on the planet", selling out arena seats when touring. Lee was known for his dynamic stage movements. According to music critic Tom Mulhern, writing in 1980, "it's dazzling to see so much sheer energy expended without a nervous breakdown." By 1996, their Test for Echo Tour began performing without an opening act, their shows lasting nearly three hours.
Music industry writer Christopher Buttner, who interviewed Lee in 1996, described him as a prodigy and "role model" for what every musician wants to be, noting his proficiency on stage. Buttner cited Lee's ability to vary time signatures, play multiple keyboards, use bass pedal controllers and control sequencers, all while singing lead vocals into as many as three microphones. Buttner adds that few musicians of any instrument "can juggle half of what Geddy can do without literally falling on their ass." As a result, notes Mulhern, Lee's instrumentation was the "pulse" of the group and created a "one-man rhythm section", which complemented guitarist Alex Lifeson and percussionist Neil Peart. Bass instructor Allan Slutsky, or "Dr Licks", credits Lee's "biting, high-end bass lines and creative synthesizer work" for helping the group become "one of the most innovative" of all the groups that play arena rock. By 1989, Guitar Player magazine had designated Lee the "Best Rock Bass" player from their reader's poll for the previous five years.
My Favourite Headache
My Favourite Headache, Lee's first and to-date only solo album, was released on November 14, 2000, while Rush was on a hiatus following the deaths of Neil Peart's daughter and wife. Musicians associated with the project include sometime Rush contributor Ben Mink, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, and others.
The bulk of Lee's work in music has been with Rush (see Rush discography). However, Lee has also contributed to a body of work outside of his involvement with the band through guest appearances and album production. In 1981, Lee was the featured guest for the hit song "Take Off" and its included comedic commentary with Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, respectively) for the McKenzie Brothers' comedy album Great White North. While Rush has had great success selling albums, "Take Off" is the highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100 of Lee's career.
In 1980, Lee was brought in to produce Toronto-based band Wireless who had previously opened up for Rush and were on the verge of breaking up. With Lee at the helm, the group recorded their third and final album, No Static, released on Rush's label, Anthem Records.
In 1982, Lee produced the first (and only) album from Toronto's new wave band Boys Brigade. On the 1985 album We Are the World, by humanitarian consortium USA for Africa, Lee recorded guest vocals for the song "Tears Are Not Enough". Lee sang "O Canada", the Canadian national anthem, at Baltimore's Camden Yards for the 1993 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Another version of "O Canada", with a rock arrangement, was recorded by Lee and Lifeson for the 1999 film soundtrack South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.
Lee appeared in Broken Social Scene's music video for their 2006 single "Fire Eye'd Boy", judging the band while performing various musical tasks. In 2006, Lee joined Lifeson's supergroup, the Big Dirty Band, to provide songs accompanying Trailer Park Boys: The Movie.
In 2015, Lee and bandmate Alex Lifeson appeared in the series Chicago Fire, season 4, episode 6, called "2112"
In 2018, Lee published Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Book of Bass, which highlights his collection of over 250 basses along with interviews with some of the leading bass players and bass technicians.
In 2020, Lee provided guest vocals to an all-star Canadian rendition of the late Bill Withers song "Lean on Me" during the TV special Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble, a Canadian benefit performance simulcast by every major television network in Canada as a benefit for Food Banks Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee married Nancy Young in 1976. They have a son, Julian, and a daughter, Kyla. He is an avid watch and wine collector, with a collection of 5,000 bottles. He takes annual trips to France, where he indulges in cheese and wine. In 2011, a charitable foundation he supports, Grapes for Humanity, created the Geddy Lee Scholarship for winemaking students at Niagara College.
He is also a longtime baseball fan. His favourite team while growing up was the Detroit Tigers, and he later became a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays after they were established. In the 1980s, Lee began reading the works of Bill James, particularly The Bill James Baseball Abstracts, which led to an interest in sabermetrics and participation in a fantasy baseball keeper league. He collects baseball memorabilia, once donating part of his collection to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and threw the ceremonial first pitch to inaugurate the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays season. Lee sang the Canadian national anthem before the 1993 MLB All-Star Game. In 2016, Lee planned to produce an independent film about baseball in Italy.
Lee has described himself as a Jewish atheist, explaining to an interviewer, "I consider myself a Jew as a race, but not so much as a religion. I'm not down with religion at all. I'm a Jewish atheist, if that's possible."
Lee has varied his equipment list continually throughout his career.
In 1998, Fender released the Geddy Lee Jazz Bass, available in Black and 3-Color Sunburst (as of 2009). This signature model is a recreation of Lee's favourite bass, a 1972 Fender Jazz that he bought in a pawn shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1978. In 2015, Fender released a revised USA model of his signature bass.
In Rush's early years, Lee's main instrument was a Fender Precision Bass, which he used on the band's debut album in 1974. He later had this bass sanded down into a teardrop shape and refinished with a Jazz Bass bridge pickup added. He subsequently switched to a modified Rickenbacker 4001, which made its first appearance on Fly by Night (1975). He used his Fender Jazz Bass alongside the Rickenbacker on the albums Permanent Waves (1980), Moving Pictures (1981) and Signals (1982) before moving to it exclusively from Counterparts (1993) until Rush's dissolution in 2018. He had also used Steinberger basses on Grace Under Pressure (1984) and Wal basses on Power Windows (1985), Hold Your Fire (1987), Presto (1989) and Roll the Bones (1991).
For Rush's 2010 tour, Lee used two Orange AD200 bass heads together with two OBC410 4x10 bass cabinets.
Keyboards and synthesizers
Over the years, Lee has used synthesizers from Oberheim (8-voice, OB-1, OB-X, OB-Xa), PPG (Wave 2.2 and 2.3), Roland (Jupiter 8, D-50, XV-5080, and Fantom X7), Moog (Minimoog, Taurus pedals, Little Phatty), and Yamaha (DX7, KX76). Lee used sequencers early in their development and has continued to use similar innovations as they have developed over the years. Lee has also made use of digital samplers. Combined, these electronic devices have supplied many memorable keyboard sounds, such as the "growl" in "Tom Sawyer" and the percussive melody in the chorus of "The Spirit of Radio."
Following the 1987 album Hold Your Fire, Rush gradually phased the keyboard and synthesizer-derived sounds in their compositions away, with the 2002 album Vapor Trails their first album since 1975's Caress of Steel not to feature any keyboards or synthesizers. On the 2007 album Snakes & Arrows, Lee sparingly adds a Mellotron and bass pedals. On the 2012 album Clockwork Angels, keyboards were used in several compositions once again, though not in a predominant capacity.
Live performances: special equipment
Recreating unique sounds
Newer advances in synthesizer and sampler technology have allowed Lee to store familiar sounds from his old synthesizers alongside new ones in combination synthesizer/samplers, such as the Roland XV-5080. For live shows in 2002 and 2004, Lee and his keyboard technician used the playback capabilities of the XV-5080 to generate virtually all of Rush's keyboard sounds to date and additional complex sound passages that previously required several machines at once to produce.
When playing live, Lee and his bandmates recreate their songs as accurately as possible with digital samplers. Using these samplers, the band members can recreate, in real-time, the sounds of non-traditional instruments, accompaniments, vocal harmonies, and other sound "events" that are familiar to those who have heard Rush songs from their albums.
To trigger these sounds in real-time, Lee uses MIDI controllers, placed at the locations on the stage where he has a microphone stand. Lee uses two types of MIDI controllers: one type resembles a traditional synthesizer keyboard on a stand (Yamaha KX76). The second type is a large foot-pedal keyboard placed on the stage floor (Korg MPK-130, Roland PK-5). Combined, they enable Lee to use his free hands and feet to trigger sounds in electronic equipment that has been placed off-stage. With this technology Lee and his bandmates can present their arrangements in a live setting with the level of complexity and fidelity that fans have come to expect and without the need to resort to the use of backing tracks or employing an additional band member. During the Clockwork Angels Tour, a notable exception was when a string ensemble played string parts, originally arranged and conducted by David Campbell on Clockwork Angels.
Lee's (and his bandmates') use of MIDI controllers to trigger sampled instruments and audio events is visible throughout the R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour concert DVD (2005).
Lee used a Roland Fantom X7 and a Moog Little Phatty synthesizer from the Snakes and Arrows tour onwards.
Unique stage equipment
In 1996, Lee stopped using traditional bass amplifiers on stage, opting to have the bass guitar signals input directly to the touring front-of-house console to improve control and sound definition. He began using Tech 21 SansAmp units after experimenting with one in the studio intended for Alex Lifeson's guitar and eventually received signature models from the company, most notably the GED-2112 rackmount. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with the empty space left behind by the lack of large amplifier cabinets, Lee chose to decorate his side of the stage with unusual items.
For the 1996–1997 Test for Echo Tour, Lee's side sported a fully stocked old-fashioned household refrigerator. For the 2002 Vapor Trails tour, Lee lined his side of the stage with three coin-operated Maytag dryers. Other large appliances appeared later in the same space. They were "miked" by the sound crew for visual effects, just as a real amplifier would be. The stage crew loaded the dryers with specially-designed Rush-themed T-shirts, different from the shirts on sale to the general public. At the close of each show, Lee and Lifeson tossed these T-shirts into the audience. The dryers can be seen while watching the Rush in Rio DVD, the R40 DVD, and the R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour DVD. For the band's R30 tour, one of the three dryers was replaced with a rotating shelf-style vending machine. It, too, was fully stocked and operational during shows. For the R40 Tour in 2015, four dryers were used instead of three for the show's portions that featured them onstage.
The Snakes & Arrows Tour prominently featured three Henhouse brand rotisserie chicken ovens on stage complete with an attendant in a chef's hat and apron to "tend" the chickens during shows. For the 2010–2011 Time Machine Tour, Lee's side of the stage featured a steampunk-inspired combination Time Machine and Sausage Maker. An attendant was occasionally throwing material into its feed hopper during the show. During the 2012–2013 Clockwork Angels Tour, Lee used a different steampunk device called a "Geddison" as a backdrop. This was composed of a giant old-style phonograph horn, an oversized model brain in a jar, a set of brass horns, and a working popcorn popper. The 2015 R40 tour combined several of these elements, except for the chicken ovens used on the Snakes and Arrows tour.
- Bass Hall of Fame – Guitar Player magazine
- Six-time winner: "Best Rock Bass" – Guitar Player magazine
- 1993: "Best Rock Bass Player" Bass Player magazine's readers' poll
- 1994: With Rush, inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame
- 1996: Officer of the Order of Canada, along with bandmates Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart
- Best Album for Bass (Snakes & Arrows) – Bass Player magazine
- "Coolest Bass Line in a Song" (for "Malignant Narcissism") – Bass Player magazine
- "Best 2007 Cover Feature" for "Northern Warrior" – Bass Player magazine
- 2010: With Rush, "Living Legend" – Classic Rock Magazine
- 2010: With Rush, Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- 2012: Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
- 2013: With Rush, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee
- 2014: Awarded an honorary doctorate from Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario (along with Neil Peart, and Alex Lifeson)
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