‘Oh, God, Rush Hate Me.’ Steve Lillywhite Talks Grace Under Pressure
Back in 1984 Rush and British award-winning producer Steve Lillywhite were going to work together on the band’s first album without long-time producer Terry Brown, but at the last minute Lillywhite pulled out, putting Rush in a tight spot. They ended up producing it themselves along with with Peter Henderson, a sound engineer they had worked with on previous albums.
The album was released as Grace Under Pressure, with the name in part reflecting the pressure the band was facing as it moved forward without Brown.
Of course, the album’s theme goes beyond that, since it also looks at the natural grace of people when they’re facing extreme inhumanity, whether its the Holocaust or a sterile technological future.
In any case, in later interviews, Geddy, who seldom has a bad word to say about anybody, didn’t speak favorably of Lillywhite, saying in one that he’s “really not a man of his word. After agreeing to do our record, he got an offer from Simple Minds, changed his mind, blew us off… so it put us in a horrible position.”
Lillywhite, for his part, said in a 1984 Sounds interview that he didn’t care for Rush’s songwriting, calling the band’s odd time signatures unplayable on the radio. “Someone should explain to Geddy Lee that you must be a good songwriter to get an ‘odd-time-signatures’ tune across pop radio,” he said. “Listen to ‘All you Need is Love’ by The Beatles or ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd and there are prime examples.”
This row came up in a July 5, 2013, episode of “Mohr Talk.” Lillywhoite and host Jay Mohr were talking about how a producer should interact with a band when they’re not playing well. Lillywhite said he learned a lesson when he made Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman look bad during a recording session becaue Wyman was a bit off in his timing. Mohr then threw out Neil Peart as an example of a musician who is never off his mark. That led Lillywhite to admit he backed out of his promise to do Rush’s record, causing the row. “Oh, God, Rush hate me,” he said, adding that Rush manager Ray Danniels was so mad he implied that he was going to break his legs, but Lillywhite said he couldn’t produce a band whose music he doesn’t love.
The exchange is captured in the 40-second video above that I made. It pulls out the conversation from the 80-minute interview.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
Thanks to RushIsABand for the head’s up on the interview.
Aaaand . . . speaking of Caress of Steel, I think the image on the album cover, when looked at from afar, looks a lot like an Indian head penny. Take a look.