About Geddy Lee
Geddy Lee Weinrib, OC known professionally as Geddy Lee, is a Canadian musician, singer, and songwriter 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 was born on July 29, 1953 in Willowdale, Toronto, Ontario, to Morris and Mary Weinrib . His parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland who had survived the ghetto in their hometown Starachowice, followed by their imprisonments at Dachau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, during the Holocaust and World War II.
They were about 13 years old when they were initially imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp, close to the same age as Anne Frank at that time. “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, his father set out in search of his mother and found her at a displaced persons camp. They married there and eventually emigrated to Canada.
In Canada, Lee’s parents gave him a Jewish education, with a bar mitzvah at age 13. His father was a skilled musician, but died the year before from medical problems resulting from his imprisonment. This forced his mother to find outside work to support three children. 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.”
Today, Lee considers himself a cultural Jew. 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 heavily 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.
Geddy Lee Career
when Lee was 9 or 10, he began playing music in school 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 on his own. 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.”
In 1969, Rush began playing professionally in coffeehouses, high school dances and at various outdoor recreational events. By 1971, they were now playing mostly 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,” 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 punk band, New York Dolls. By 1972 Rush began performing full-length concerts, consisting mostly 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.
After a number of 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 of 1976, A Farewell to Kings in 1977, Hemispheres in 1978, Permanent Waves in 1980, and Moving Pictures in 1981. The group’s distinctiveness was enhanced when Lee began adding synthesizers in 1977, with the release of A Farewell to Kings. The additional sounds expanded the group’s “textual 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 at the same time, 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 considered the most prominent member of the group, being the lead vocalist and 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, with their Test for Echo Tour, they began performing without an opening act, their shows lasting nearly three hours.
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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 super groups that play arena rock. By 1989, Guitar Player magazine had already designated Lee the “Best Rock Bass” player from their reader’s poll for the previous five years. Bass players who have cited Lee as an influence include Cliff Burton of Metallica,Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, John Myung of Dream Theater, and Les Claypool of Primus.
Geddy Lee Personal life
Lee married his wife Nancy Young in 1976 and together they have a son, Julian, and a daughter, Kyla. He is an avid wine collector, with a collection of 5,000 bottles. He takes annual trips to France, where he indulges in cheese and fine wine. In 2011, a charitable foundation he supports, Grapes for Humanity, created the Geddy Lee Scholarship for students of winemaking at Niagara College.
He is also a longtime fan of baseball, with favourite teams including the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago Cubs, and the Toronto Blue Jays. 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. In 2016, Lee plans 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.”
Geddy Lee Awards
- Bass Hall of Fame – Guitar Player magazine
- Six-time winner: “Best Rock Bass” – Guitar Player magazine
- 1993: “Best Rock Bass Player” Bass Player readers’ poll
- 1994: With Rush, inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame
- 1996: Officer of the Order of Canada, along with band mates 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
- 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)
Geddy Lee Songs
- Can Tell If a Song Will Work
- Grace to Grace
- Home on the Strange
- Moving to Bohemia
- Musical Decisions
- My Favorite Headache
- Original Drummer John Rutsy
- Possible Solo Tour
- Runaway Train
- Spirit of the Radio, Tom Sawyer, Limelight
- Take Off feat. Bob & Doug McKenzie
- Rick Moranis / Kerry Crawford / Jonathan Goldsmith / Dave Thomas
- The Angels’ Share
- The Present Tense
- Window to the World
- Window to the World, My Favorite Headache, Playing Bass
- Working With Ben Mink
- Working at Perfekt