First U.S. Show in Pittsburgh a ‘Freakout,’ Geddy Says
The story of John Rutsey leaving Rush right before the band’s first U.S. tour in 1974 is well known, but we learn a little bit more about it in a 6-minute radio interview that Alex, Geddy, and Neil gave to a Dallas audience three months into that tour. Eric at Power Windows posted the 1974 interview on his site last week and Ed at RushIsABand helped publicize it.
Geddy called that first show in Pittsburgh, with Neil having joined the band only about a week earlier, “a freakout,” because they were opening for Uriah Heep and 14,000 people were in the audience. “It was really kind of a scary thing,” he says.
The interview was taped backstage at a Dallas club called the Travis Street Electric Co. in mid-October 1974, about three months into that first tour and the host said it’s amazing that they were able to pull themselves together so quickly as a band.
“The first few gigs were a little shaky,” Neil says.
Geddy says Neil had come highly recommended. “He wasn’t really doing anything major at the time, playing part time, so we had a few practices together, and got everything together in about a week and came here [to the U.S.].”
The band clearly saw themselves as progressive rockers, even before Fly by Night, and Geddy and Neil attributed their progressive style as part of the reason the band had to self-produce its first album. Canadian record companies at the time were “branch offices” of the big U.S. and U.K. record companies and were only interested in Top 40 music, which Neil attributed to the Canadian music industry’s immaturity. “Canadian record companies didn’t want anything over two minute or that can’t be played on Top 40 radio,” he says.
“There are only about six FM rock stations in all of Canada while there are thousands of AM stations,” Geddy says, “so it’s really hard to sell a progressive band in Canada.”
That would reinforce why CFNY in Toronto, the free-form FM station that the band celebrates in “The Spirit of Radio,” was so important to them.
Neil credits Bachman Turner Overdrive for helping to pave the way for Rush and other Canadian bands to finally break into the U.S. market. Because of their U.S. success, Neil says, “people have started to realize there is music in Canada besides lumberjacks and eskimos. There’s always been good music coming out of Canada but they never had a way to get to the U.S. There was no market.”
Neil describes their type of progressive rock as having high energy and contrasts that to a band like Led Zeppelin, which he calls heavy but not high energy. “That wasn’t energy music, really, it was downer music.”
Although Neil had only been in the band about three months at the time of the interview, the three of them had already written all of the material for their second album, Fly by Night, which would release in early 1975. “It’s just a matter of rehearsing it and recording it,” Geddy says. “I think we’ll be recording it in January,” adding that he expects it to be released in early March.
And he notes the collaboration among the three of them in writing it. “Since Neil’s been in the band we’ve been writing music the three of us together.”