Personalities | Alex Lifeson | Rush to Rock Legend | Guitar Heroes

For over 30 years, guitarist Alex Lifeson has quietly served as the cohesive key to success for progressive rockers Rush – arguably the most enduring and successful hard-rock band of all time.

A guitarist always more interested in finding the right chord voicing or textural effect to make a chorus work than in shredding the frets off his axe du jour, it’s no wonder every one of his power trio’s 20 studio albums have achieved gold sales.

Born Alex Zivojinovich in Fernie, Canada, in August 1953, Lifeson grew up in Toronto and received his first guitar at the age of 13. He drew inspiration from the usual crowd of guitar heroes, like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, and in the autumn of 1968, he formed his first substantive band, teaming up with drummer John Rutsey and bassist Geddy Lee, and calling themselves Rush. After several years on the Toronto covers circuit, the trio signed a deal with Mercury Records and released their self-titled debut in 1974. Soon after, Rutsey left the group, opening the door for virtuoso drummer and gifted lyricist Neil Peart. After two more albums in 1975, Fly By Night and Caress Of Steel, the trio broke through in 1976 with 2112, an album of epic, complex tunes that carried the band to the top of the progressive-rock mountain.

The band’s next three albums – A Farewell To Kings (1977), Hemispheres (1978) and Permanent Waves (1980) – burnished the trio’s reputation as superior instrumentalists, while songs like ‘Closer To The Heart’, ‘Xanadu’, ‘La Villa Strangiato’, ‘Free Will’ and ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ established Lifeson as a bona fide guitar hero. In 1981, Rush achieved its greatest commercial success with the release of Moving Pictures, featuring the cult hit ‘Tom Sawyer’, as well as guitar extravaganzas ‘Limelight’, ‘Red Barchetta’ and ‘YYZ’.

During the 1980s, Rush experimented heavily with synthesizers, crafting a more futuristic sound to go with Peart’s often sci-fi and Cold War lyrical themes. But by 1993’s Counterparts, the band had largely gone back to guitar- and riff-driven songwriting; their 2007 release Snakes And Arrows contained no keyboards whatsoever. In an interview with Guitar One magazine in 2007, when asked if keyboards would ever again be used in Rush, Lifeson replied, ‘Yes – over my dead body’. Rush continued to experiment with instrumentation, however; 2012’s well-received Clockwork Angels featured violin and cello string arrangements.

Essential Recordings

Rush: Fly By Night

Rush: 2112

Rush: Moving Pictures

Rush: Clockwork Angels

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