Arts·Q with Tom Power

Geddy Lee recalls Neil Peart's incredible Rush audition — and how he showed up with his drums in garbage bags

In an interview with Q’s Tom Power about his long-awaited memoir, My Effin' Life, the Rush frontman shares the story behind the late Neil Peart’s audition to join the band.

The Rush frontman sits down with Q’s Tom Power to discuss his long-awaited memoir, My Effin' Life

Geddy Lee wearing headphones and sitting in front of a studio microphone.
Geddy Lee in the Q studio in Toronto. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

On July 28, 1974, the Canadian rock band Rush found themselves in a bit of a predicament: they had an album deal and an upcoming tour, but no drummer.

Days earlier, the band's original drummer, John Rutsey, had made the decision to depart the group due to health concerns. So, for the first time ever, Rush held auditions.

"It was absolutely a humiliating experience for both the person holding the audition and the poor people that are coming to the audition," Rush frontman and bassist Geddy Lee recalls in an interview with Q's Tom Power about his new memoir, My Effin' Life.

"We had like four guys scheduled. Sadly, I don't even remember the first guy, but the second guy was someone that had played with us when John had gotten sick and done a couple of gigs, so he was a natural person to try out. And then the third was this lanky dude that showed up in a Ford Pinto. He pulled up to the loading dock of this place in Pickering [Ont.,] where we were rehearsing. He had short hair and he wasn't wearing a shirt, and it was a hot day and his drums were in garbage bags."

That lanky shirtless man with his drums stored in garbage bags was none other than the late Neil Peart, the Canadian rock icon who's best remembered as Rush's drummer and primary lyricist. Sadly, Peart died in 2020 following a years-long battle with brain cancer.

How can you have a poker face when Neil Peart is playing drums for you?- Geddy Lee

"So he comes in and introduces himself, and he's very animated," Lee continues. "He sets up his drums and … once he gets the kit tuned up, he sits on the throne and he starts playing triplets. And oh my effin' Lord — it was like machine guns.

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"I had this shit-eating grin on my face, and I was looking at [guitarist Alex Lifeson], and Al was getting a bit miffed at me because I was getting too excited too quickly. I had promised him that I wouldn't make any decisions until we both talked about everybody afterwards. I was supposed to have a poker face, but how can you have a poker face when Neil Peart is playing drums for you?"

After jamming through a few songs, Lee knew he couldn't let Peart out of his sight — but Lifeson wasn't as pleased.

"Afterwards, we sat on the floor and we talked about things we liked," Lee recalls. "Alex was the whole time pouting. And that's not like Al, because, you know, Al is the funniest person on the planet Earth. He wasn't saying much, but he was just mad at me. So we said goodbye to [Neil]."

But when the fourth and final guy came in for his audition, Lifeson had a change of heart.

"Al looked over at me and he said, 'OK, I understand why you got excited about the last guy,' " says Lee. "And that was it. I knew [Neil] had to be in the band."

WATCH | Geddy Lee's interview with Tom Power:

The full interview with Geddy Lee is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. He also discusses growing up the son of Holocaust survivors, dropping out of high school, and more memories from his time in Rush. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Interview with Geddy Lee produced by Matt Murphy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vivian Rashotte is a digital producer, writer and photographer for Q with Tom Power. She's also a visual artist. You can reach her at vivian.rashotte@cbc.ca.

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