”Jethro Tull influenced me a lot in the later years of Rush - that attitude of taking your music seriously but not taking yourself seriously”: Geddy Lee’s prog stars

Geddy Lee and Ian Anderson
(Image credit: Getty Images)

After the best part of 50 years as the multi-tasking bassist, lead vocalist and keyboard player in the world’s biggest cult band, Geddy Lee admitted in 2020 that he found it weird to think of himself as ‘that guy who used to be in Rush’. “It takes some getting used to,” he said, before discussing the soundtrack of his life – a library heavy on prog and The Who, yet lightened with a little cocktail jazz.

The first music I remember hearing

As a teenager I worked weekends at my parents’ shop in a small town north of Toronto, and on the drive there the radio was always on. I remember Motown music playing – My Girl by The Temptations – and me drumming along on the dashboard, as we’ve all done in our lives.

The first song I performed live

When I was fourteen I auditioned for a band at a local high-school gym, and sang As Tears Go By – the Stones version of that song. I wasn’t very Jagger-esque, I had a much sweeter soprano voice.

The greatest album of all time

The Who, Who’s Next. That album embodies all the best things about rock’n’roll – great songwriting, great playing. Almost every tune is a classic.

The singer

Jon Anderson had such a clear, beautiful voice that could be rock when it needed to be and soulful when it needed to be. As a young aspiring musician, I wanted to sing like that.

The guitar hero

I was always a big fan of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, but to me Jeff Beck had an extra-special something that makes him inimitable. His sound is so original and so moving. He remains a god of guitar. 

And of course I have many bass heroes, but Jack Bruce was my biggest influence. He was the first bass player I saw on stage that just wailed and was able to fill in the blanks in his three-piece band. I saw Cream in 1969 at Massey Hall in Toronto. That show was magical.

The songwriter

Pete Townshend. Hands-down the greatest writer of rock songs. Won’t Get Fooled Again, Behind Blue Eyes, Tommy… on and on and on. He was equally adept at writing beautiful melodies and hard rock. The full body of The Who, if you examine it against other artists in rock, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anybody as consistently brilliant as him.

The best live band I'ver seen

Jethro Tull at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. I think it was on the Thick As A Brick tour. The show began with the house lights on and a bunch of people in overalls sweeping the stage. Gradually there were less people sweeping, and then, all of a sudden, one of them would pick up an instrument, and next thing you know it’s the guys from Tull launching into the show. 

For me that was the first band that combined incredible musicianship with complex songwriting, and they were funny. That influenced me a lot in the later years of Rush – that attitude of taking your music seriously but not taking yourself seriously

The anthem

It’s got to be Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. Maybe the greatest power chords ever recorded. Who invented the power chord? Probably Pete.

My biggest disappointment

Emerson, Lake & Palmer had a famously disappointing album, Love Beach. I was a huge ELP fan, but that one really furrowed my brow.

The most underrated band of all time

The Tragically Hip, from Canada, had huge, godlike stature at home but nowhere else. They had this perfect blend of simple, twin-guitar rock’n’roll and very evocative, thought-provoking lyrics

The best record I've made

I would say Clockwork Angels. It has that combination of songwriting and performance, all the things that go into a great record.

The worst record I've made

Immediately Caress Of Steel comes to mind. But I’ve met so many fans who love that record. And I think Presto disappointed a lot of fans. The songwriting was a little flat.

My guilty pleasure

Back in the day, I loved Simon And Garfunkel. For a rocker, that wasn’t very cool.

My Saturday night party song

Do I really seem like the Saturday-night party kind of guy? Jeez. But if I’m having a couple of glasses of wine with some friends I’ll play early BeatlesPaperback Writer, or anything off Rubber Soul or Revolver.

My 'in the mood for love' song

I’d pick a little cocktail jazz, something by Bill Evans. That’s my current obsession. I’m trying to understand the depth of his catalogue. 

The song that makes me cry

And You And I by Yes is so beautiful, especially when I listen to it now. The combination of nostalgia and pure sonic beauty is pretty moving.

The song I want played at my funeral

Why would I give a shit about that? They can play whatever the hell they want! Or maybe I’d have them play some Derek And Clive. The shock and horror of it would be fantastic.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”