Guitarist Close-Up: Alex Lifeson

It’s no big secret that Progressive Rock is my favorite genre of music, a love which was fully ignited by my favorite band of all time, Rush.

Enroute to a gig in the late 1970’s.

During most of my 40+ years of following the band, I could never understand why Alex Lifeson never seemed to get the respect he so richly deserved. Even going back to their earliest works, it’s clear (or it certainly is to me) that along with Geddy Lee and Neil Peart, he was eons ahead of his time.

Although each member of Rush are obviously complete virtuosos, it seemed that Lifeson had always taken a back seat, at least in the eyes of the music industry.

However, over time, that attitude drastically changed…

This is an excerpt from his “About” page at

“Lifeson was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on May 9, 1996 and the highest artistic honour by receiving the Governor General’s Award in 2012. He ranks third in the Guitar World Readers poll of 100 greatest guitarists and is also included in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Lifeson and his beloved Gibson ES-355

At least some people in the music industry woke up to what Rush fans already knew for nearly four decades: This guy is an absolute Juggernaut.

You’ll have to excuse me for drifting off the subject of Alex a bit, but it’s impossible to write about him without references to the band as a whole…

Amazingly, the invigorated attention included that of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, famous for turning their noses up to Progressive Rock acts. Rush was eligible for induction beginning in 1998, yet were snubbed until 2013 when they finally made it in.

This was in large part due to multitudes of devoted fans sending mail, running various campaigns and online petitions, and probably even using smoke signals, all of which were ignored for years by Jann Wenner along with the rest of the morons who run that place. Those millions upon millions of people were clearly more than tired of waiting for something that should have happened well over a decade earlier.

Prior to the band finally being inducted, Lifeson was quite indifferent about the entire affair:

“I couldn’t care less. Look who’s up for induction; it’s a joke.”

Alex Lifeson

Well, he sure had that right.

In contrast, every member of Rush had always expressed sincere appreciation of fans throughout their entire career, which is a rarity for a band of such tremendous caliber.

I think we’ve been eligible for the last 14 or 15 years. But our position has always been that if we’re not part of that scene, that’s okay. But I think for our fans, they were…they were pretty pissed!

Alex Lifeson

Take a moment to consider just these two facts, either of which alone should have made them instant candidates the moment they became eligible:

  • The band very successfully recorded and toured with the same members for roughly 40 years.

I can’t think of many other Rock bands that can make that claim except for perhaps ZZ Top, although they didn’t produce as many albums or do nearly as much touring.

  • Enormous record sales.

Despite what amounted to non-existent airplay, RIAA statistics place them fourth behind only the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith for the most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a Rock band.

This is really the bottom line regarding Rush: They always went their own way despite what music might have been popular at the time, radio and record companies be damned. Sticking to their guns, they never abandoned that philosophy.

The Rush fan base is certainly one of the most loyal and largest out there, but to clearly appreciate their adoration of the band you need to watch the introductions at the beginning of the 2013 induction ceremony, made by this sad sack of shit:

Jann Wenner’s 2013 Induction Ceremony Introductions

You’ll notice polite applause for the other inductees, then not one, but two standing ovations for… You-know-who.

I created another video of their induction some time ago, which is edited down to the good stuff:

  • The induction itself, made by Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters.
  • Acceptance speech by each Rush band member.
  • Full live performance (preceded by a humorous little cover band performing 2112).

The segment I actually like best is Lifeson (always the joker of the bunch) delivering his now infamous “Blah, Blah, Blah” tirade, which I’m sure was intended as a major jab in the ribs to the Hall. It’s amazing (not to mention hilarious) just how much he gets across with that one little word: If nothing else, be sure to watch it about 15 minutes into the video:

Click to view highlights of the R&RHoF induction of Rush

As for myself, it’s a nearly impossible task to choose just what Lifeson’s best performances might be. As far as lead guitar goes, just a few of my favorites are those in the epic classics “Xanadu” and “La Villa Strangiato”, both recorded in the mid-to-late 1970’s.

Moreover, he surely didn’t quit there, and never had in any Rush production. In addition, he often sat in with other bands such as Porcupine Tree and 3 Doors Down, along with impromptu jams at his night club The Orbit Room, located in the home town of Rush, Toronto, Canada.

Off the beaten track, I’ve always adored his blazing solo on “The Analog Kid” from their album “Signals”. That recently inspired me to create a new video of its performance, captured during their “Clockwork Angels” tour which took place in 2012-2013, thirty years after it was first released.

The song was performed consistently in the set lists of only two previous tours (supporting the “Signals”, and “Counterparts” albums), making it a bit of a rarity to see played live. It’s a wonderful example a Rock power trio at their very best, which I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

Live performance of “The Analog Kid” during the “Clockwork Angels” tour

For even more in-depth information about Alex Lifeson, visit his Wikipedia page.

It’s a great read about one of the most awesome (yet at the same time most underrated) guitarists in the history of Rock.

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