Rush's Geddy Lee on his new obsession with the history of the bass guitar

Geddy Lee talks about his new book, Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Book of Bass, which includes photos of his massive bass collection, as well as interviews with fellow bass players like John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman.

'I felt ignorant of the instrument that I had held in my hands for over 40 years'

Originally published on December 18, 2019

Rush's Geddy Lee is one of the greatest bass players in rock history, but he's never really considered himself a bass aficionado. 

Lee says he was never the type to scour pawn shops for vintage bass guitars and he didn't know much about the history of the instrument that made him famous. All that changed about six years ago when he finally started a vintage bass collection, which now numbers in the hundreds.

Lee has released a new book called Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Book of Bass, which documents the evolution of the bass guitar since the 1950s and shows how those evolutions changed the sound of popular music as we know it. The book includes photos of Lee's massive bass collection, as well as interviews with fellow bass players like John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones and U2's Adam Clayton.

Lee dropped by the q studio to talk to Tom Power about what it takes to cultivate this kind of musical obsession. 

On why he first got into collecting

Later in my life, when I got turned onto the idea of vintage instruments and I acquired the first one in 2012 or 2013, a light bulb went on and I felt ignorant of the instrument that I had held in my hands for over 40 years. It's like, why don't I know about the development of this? Why don't I know about the golden age of those instruments? So I started getting curious. 

On why he chose the bass — or rather, was chosen for it

No one becomes a bass player willingly, I don't think. You get voted to be the bass player when the bass player that was chosen originally quits. In my case we were in a little basement band — it wasn't even a basement band, it was an apartment bedroom band — and the guy that was supposed to play bass with us, his mother really didn't like him associating with us so he left and then they all looked at me and said, OK you're going to be the bass player. 

Rush's Geddy Lee with host Tom Power in the q studio in Toronto, Ont. Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Book of Bass is out now. (Jesse Kinos-Goodin/CBC)

On the importance of the Rolling Stones Bill Wyman

The very first part I had to play to get a gig in a band was 2120 South Michigan Ave [by the Rolling Stones]. In my little neighbourhood, if you could play that bass part, you were cool. So I learned that bass part and I got to be able to play with real other players of equal unprofessional status. And so that stayed with me. And when I started thinking about bass players to me that's sort of where it all began for me. 

Produced by Stuart Berman and Ben Edwards

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