"I can still remember the three of us sitting there on the bed in utter awe": Geddy Lee recalls the day that Rush listened to Led Zeppelin for the first time

Rush and Led Zeppelin
(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns | ullstein bild via Getty Images)

On February 2, 1969 Led Zeppelin played their first ever show in Toronto, at a club called The Rock Pile. In attendance that night was a young drummer called John Rutsey, one quarter of a local rock band called Rush, alongside keyboardist Lindy Young, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee. Three months later, the bassist was ousted from the group, who subsequently re-emerged as Hadrian, but it soon became clear that the new-look band wasn't working, and a shame-faced Rutsey asked Lee if would consider playing with him and Lifeson once again. The drummer's new vision for Rush was that they could be a power trio in the mould of Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, crossed with the dynamics and power of Led Zeppelin, about who, Lee recalls, the drummer "couldn’t stop raving".

In an extract from his just-published memoir My Effin’ Life, published exclusively on Rolling Stone's website, Lee recalls how hearing Led Zeppelin's debut album changed everything for the young Canadian band.

"As soon as their first album was released we ran to our local Sam the Record Man, only to find that word was spreading fast and it was already out of stock," Lee writes. "When the re-order finally came in, we grabbed one, headed home and laid it on my turntable. I can still remember the three of us sitting there on the bed in utter awe, listening to the heaviosity of Good Times Bad Times, the fire of Communication Breakdown and oh, that drum sound!"

"Plant’s extreme vocal range and Jimmy’s guitar histrionics put this band way over the mark," Lee continues, "and for me John Paul Jones’s emotionally moving bass lines welded perfectly to the drum parts, grounding the band and creating a rhythm section for a new age of rock. The Who were full of abandon, rockin’ hard and melodically brilliant; Jimi was musical voodoo and flamboyance incarnate; Cream was a showcase of bluesy virtuosity; but this? This was heavy, man. Zep had reforged the blues in an explosive and very English style that would speak to our generation of players like no other. For us there was Rock before Zep came along, and there was Rock after. This was our new paradigm."

"Zeppelin challenged the way we felt about our own sound," Lee concludes. "if it wasn’t heavy now, it felt just plain wimpy."

In a 2021 Classic Rock interview, the bassist admitted that, upon hearing Zeppelin's debut album, Rush “wanted to be them instantly.”

"They were a huge, huge influence on us," he acknowledged. "The phrase ‘heavy metal’ didn’t suit Zeppelin. It didn’t suit them because they were so much more than a heavy metal band. They had a sound that constantly surprised. They used influences and they took chances that other heavy metal bands just would not conceive of."

My Effin’ Life by Geddy Lee is out now, on Harper.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.