Welcome to another installment in the Unsung Guitar Hero series – articles dedicated to spreading the word about phenomenal guitarists who aren’t household names, but probably should be. In some cases, these players are not even well known to your average guitarist!
Nothing says “unsung” like being the only guy in a remarkable rock trio that is routinely left out of the conversation when it turns to the best players on their respective instruments. But for Rush guitarist, Alex Lifeson, it’s gotten to be the norm.
Best rock bassist? Check. Geddy Lee is always in that conversation. He’s in the Guitar Player Magazine Hall of Fame with six consecutive awards for Best Rock Bassist and has been cited as an influence by some of the top bass names in rock (mainly of the metal, hard rock and “progressive” styles).
Best rock drummer? Double check. Neil Peart is legendary among drummers, and even among music fans that don’t really know his name. “Great drummers? Definitely that guy in Rush.” Modern Drummer Magazine Hall of Fame (the “Honor Roll”) with nine wins for “Best Rock Drummer” and four for “Multi-Percussionist”. Fourteen wins for “Best Recorded Performance”. Four-time “Drummer of the Year” for Drum! Magazine. You get the point.
But Alex Lifeson is the other guy.
In an image driven world, you gotta have a hook to get recognized. Alex is the one that doesn’t have the weird name and odd look (some would say Geddy Lee has quite the “hook”) and high-pitched voice. He’s the one that doesn’t shun the fan base, sit behind a mountain of drums and play epic, 10-minute solos or write poetic, cerebral lyrics. He’s just the regular guy who has written a ton of great riffs and songs with Geddy, and who has pieced together a terrific body of work, both in rhythm parts, “textural” parts, and solos.
Alex is highly respected among guitarists, to be sure. He has won two “Best Rock Guitarist” awards from Guitar Player, and has been runner-up four times. And Rush, as a band, is cited as a major influence by acts such as Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, and Dream Theater, among others. But the general public seemingly has no clue about the depth of Lifeson’s talent as a guitarist and songwriter.
Consider the following: “Spirit of the Radio”, “Working Man”, “Closer to the Heart”, “Limelight”, “Tom Sawyer”, “Red Barchetta”, “YYZ”, “Fly By Night”, “Freewill”. All classics in the rock lexicon.
But part of Lifeson’s lack of recognition also lies in the type of music Rush plays. Progressive rock (“prog rock”) is a niche in the rock genre and is not exactly a chick magnet. Its biggest fan base is dudes who appreciate technically-demanding music, an admittedly small lot in the marketplace of music consumers. And Rush hasn’t had a popular song in years, so although their shows are sold out, they’re not really bringing in lots of new fans. Rather, their fan base is made up of veterans, like most bands of the classic rock era.
The Men Who Hold High Places
Never mind the fact that Rush can’t seem to buy their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – along with Heart, a travesty if there ever was one in HoF voting – but Alex can’t even get respect from Rolling Stone Magazine!
Recently he was named only the 98th greatest guitarist, behind such six-string luminaries as Lou Reed (81), J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. (86), and…wait for it…Bruce Springsteen (87)! (For more on that debacle, check out Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists. Really?) If you saw the Boss choking the snot out of his Tele on the 2012 Grammy Awards finale, you likely feel my pain.
Since the Rolling Stone list was voted on by a large contingent of guitarists, maybe I should rethink the whole “Alex is highly respected among guitarists” angle…
For a nice, tidy bio on Alex Lifeson, follow the link: Alex Lifeson wiki entry
As a kid growing up in the 70s, I heard plenty of Rush hits on the radio. But I became infatuated with learning Alex Lifeson’s parts on Rush songs as a teenager, especially after the release of Moving Pictures.
For me, Moving Pictures is an all-time desert island recording and one of the greatest albums in rock history. Side one (I’m showing my age with that comment, huh?) is perfection, with radio hit, “Tom Sawyer”, followed by the harmonics-laden “Red Barchetta”, then the tour-de-force instrumental, “YYZ”, and finally one of the band’s greatest tunes, “Limelight”. As a developing guitarist, I learned as much (or more) from those four songs as I did from any other recording. It had everything I needed as an early-intermediate guitarist looking to take his playing up a solid notch or two!
If Alex is an Unsung Guitar Hero, then “Red Barchetta” is one of his greatest unsung masterpieces. IMHO, this is one Rush tune that will give you maximum bang for your musical buck.
Truly an incredible piece of work, “Barchetta” has it all: a theme in natural harmonics, seamless arpeggios, overdriven riffs, partial upper-register chords, and a killer solo. It also has some sweet bass solo sections, unique and distinctive lyrics, and of course Rush’s ever-present changing time signatures to keep you on your toes. In a word, epic!
If you’re unfamiliar with “Red Barchetta”, here’s your chance to get hip to some of Alex Lifeson’s best work…
Between 2010 and 2011, Rush embarked on the Time Machine Tour, which featured their performance of Moving Pictures in its entirety. They also released Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland on DVD and Blu-ray.
Finally, here is a sweet interview with Music Radar, where Alex Lifeson talks about Moving Pictures track by track. Score!
Share This Article and Stay Connected
If you enjoyed Unsung Guitar Hero: Alex Lifeson, please leave a comment below and share it with others on Facebook or Twitter, or however you like!
Stay connected and JOIN THE MAILING LIST in the right sidebar – it’s quick and easy and you’ll get all the latest and greatest articles and free lessons straight to your inbox!
See you next time!