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Alex Lifeson

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Alex Lifeson
Alex Lifeson

Alex Lifeson,(born Aleksandar Živojinović; August 27, 1953) is a Canadian musician, best known for his work as the guitarist of the Canadian rock band Rush. Lifeson founded Rush in the summer of 1968, and has been an integral member of the three-piece band ever since.

For Rush, Lifeson plays electric and acoustic guitars as well as other stringed instruments such as mandola, mandolin and bouzouki. He also performs backing vocals in live performances, and occasionally plays keyboards and bass pedal synthesizers. During live performances, Lifeson, like the other members of Rush, performs real-time triggering of sampled instruments, concurrently with his guitar playing. The bulk of Lifeson's work in music has been with Rush, although Lifeson has contributed to a body of work outside of the band as well. Aside from music, Lifeson is part owner of the Toronto restaurant The Orbit Room, and is a licensed aircraft pilot, motorcycle rider, and gourmet cook.

Along with his bandmates Geddy Lee and Neil Peart, Lifeson was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on May 9, 1996. The trio was the first rock band to be so honored, as a group. On May 1, 2007, Rush released Snakes & Arrows, their eighteenth full-length studio album. Lifeson and the band followed up the album with the Snakes & Arrows Tour.

Contents

Early Life

Lifeson was born in Fernie, British Columbia to Serbian immigrants, Nenad and Milka Zivojinovich (from Serbian: Живојиновић, Živojinović), and raised in Toronto, Ontario. His assumed stage name of "Lifeson" is a semi-literal translation of the name "Zivojinovich", which means "son of life" in Serbian. His first exposure to formal music training came in the form of the viola which he renounced for the guitar at the age of 12. His first guitar was a Christmas gift from his father, a six-string Kent classical acoustic which was later upgraded to an electric Japanese model. During adolescence, Lifeson was primarily influenced by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Pete Townshend. In 1963 Lifeson met future Rush drummer John Rutsey in school. Both interested in music, they decided to form a band. Lifeson was primarily a self-taught guitarist with the only formal instruction coming from a high school friend in 1971 who taught classical guitar lessons.

RUSH

Although it's widely agreed that all three members of Rush are incredibly talented at their respective instruments, guitarist Alex Lifeson tends to be the most underrated of the bunch. In the late 60's, the trio focused primarily on perfecting cover songs of Cream, Led Zeppelin, and The Who, among others. The group slowly built a regional following, and eventually started penning their own original songs (which were initially highly derivative of the aforementioned bands they had been long covering – especially Zeppelin). The trio eventually signed a recording contract with Polygram, who reissued their self-titled debut in 1973 (which had previously been released independently). After the release of this album, drummer Neil Peart, joined the group and the rest is history.

It took a few releases for the new line-up to truly gel, but with 1976's breakthrough release, 2112, Rush had begun a journey that would eventually establish them as one of hard rock's most popular and successful acts in the whole world. During this string of classic albums, Lifeson's fine guitar chops could be sampled on a variety of standout tracks, especially "Xanadu" (1977's A Farewell to Kings), "La Villa Strangiato" (1978's Hemispheres), "Freewill" (1980's Permanent Waves), and "YYZ" (1981's Moving Pictures). Rush continued to tour the world and issue hit albums throughout the ‘80s, but Lifeson's guitar work took a backseat, due to the group's experiments with more textured, synthesizer-based sounds. By the ‘90s, Rush's desire to return to more straight ahead, hard rock-based material had returned, as Lifeson's guitar work once more became more prominent, especially on such releases as 1993's Counterparts. During the mid ‘90s, Lifeson participated in one-off side project, Victor, a group that issued a self-titled debut in 1996, and included appearances by Primus bassist Les Claypool and I Mother Earth vocalist Edwin. In addition to his Rush duties, Lifeson has guested on recordings by other artists, including Platinum Blonde (1985's Alien Shores), Tom Cochrane (1995's Ragged Ass Road), and 3 Doors Down (the 2001 ‘bonus CD' reissue of Better Life). Besides music, Lifeson also owns a small invention company, The Omega Concern, and is one of the owners of a Toronto restaurant, The Orbit Room.

Equipment

In Rush's early career, Lifeson used a Gibson ES-335 for the first single and the first four Rush studio albums. For the 2112 tour, he used a 1974 Gibson Les Paul and Marshall amplification. For the A Farewell to Kings sessions, Lifeson began using a Gibson EDS-1275 for songs like Xanadu and his main guitar became a cream-colored Gibson ES-355. During this period Lifeson used Hiwatt amplifiers. For effects Lifeson used various phaser and flanger pedals, a Cry Baby Wah Wah, along with Marshall 100 watt Super Lead amplifiers and 4x12 cabinets. Beginning in the late 1970s, he increasingly incorporated twelve-string guitar (acoustic and electric) and used a Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble and later, the Boss Dimension C. By 1982 Lifeson's primary guitar was a modified Fender Stratocaster with a Bill Lawrence high-output humbucker L-500 in the bridge position and a Floyd Rose vibrato bridge. Lifeson increasingly relied on a selection of four identically modified Stratocasters from 1980 to 1986, all of them equipped with the Floyd Rose bridge. For the Moving Pictures and Signals albums, and on concurrent tours, Lifeson used up to four rare Marshall 4140 Club & Country 100W combo amps. In the mid 1980s Lifeson switched from passive to active pickups in his guitars, and from vacuum tube to solid-state amplification, all with an increasingly thick layer of digital signal processing. He became an endorser of Gallien-Krueger and Dean Markley solid-state guitar amplifier lines and Dean Markley Blue Steel strings respectively, gauges .009-.046. In the late 1980s he switched to Carvin amplifiers in the studio and his short-lived Signature Guitar Co brand guitars onstage and in the studio. Alex also was using custom Lado guitars built in Toronto Canada.

Lifeson primarily used PRS guitars during the recording of Roll The Bones in 1990/1991. When recording 1993's Counterparts, Lifeson continued to use PRS Guitars and Marshall amplifiers to record the album, and for the subsequent tour. Lifeson continued to use PRS along with Fender and Gibson guitars, Hughes & Kettner Triamp MK II and zenTera amplifiers and cabinets. In 2005, Hughes & Kettner introduced an Alex Lifeson signature series amplifier with $50 from each amplifier sold will be donated to UNICEF. Alex Lifeson playing his Garrison GD25-12 guitar

For the 2007 Snakes & Arrows Tour, Lifeson replaced his PRS Guitars with Gibson Les Pauls. In a 2007 interview for Guitarist magazine, Lifeson states "I hear PRS on everything these days and I wanted a little bit of a change ... I love them [PRS] but they have a smaller sound than the bigger heavier Gibsons ... I just wanted to be more traditional." He has Fishman Aura piezoelectric pickup systems installed into his Les Pauls to model acoustic guitar sounds without changing guitars. As of July 2008, Lifeson uses Floyd Rose tremolos on his main Les Pauls. He has also replaced his Hughes & Kettner zenTera amp heads with Switchblade heads (which, like the zenTeras, include built-in programmable digital effects, such as chorus and delay, but are valve-powered instead of transistor-powered), while retaining his signature series H&K Triamp heads. His effects for the 2007 tour include a TC Electronics G-Force rack multi-FX, a TC Electronics 1210 spatial expander and a Loft 440 Delay Line/Flanger, as well as the effects built into his Switchblade heads.

Discography

While the bulk of Lifeson's work in music has been with Rush, he has also contributed to a body of work outside of his involvement with the band in the form of movie/tv appearances, as well as instrumental contributions for other musical outfits. Lifeson's first major outside work was his solo project, Victor released in 1996. Victor (the album) was attributed as a self-titled work (i.e. Victor is attributed as the artist as well as the album title). This was done deliberately as an alternative to issuing the album explicitly under Lifeson's name.

Lifeson made a guest appearance on the Platinum Blonde album Alien Shores (1985) performing guitar solos on the songs "Crying Over You" and "Holy Water". Later, in 1990, he appeared on Lawrence Gowan's album, Lost Brotherhood to play guitar. In 2006, Lifeson founded The Big Dirty Band, which he created for the purpose of providing original soundtrack material for Trailer Park Boys: The Movie. Lifeson jammed regularly with The Dexters (The Orbit Room house band from 1994-2004). Recently, Lifeson made a guest appearance on the 2007 album Fear of a Blank Planet by UK progressive rock band, Porcupine Tree, as well as the 2008 album Fly Paper by Detroit progressive rockers, Tiles. He plays on the track "Sacred and Mundane". Outside of band related endeavors, Lifeson composed the theme for the first season of the science-fiction TV series Andromeda. He also produced 3 songs from the album Away from the Sun by 3 Doors Down.

Studio Albums

  • 1974 Rush
  • 1975 Fly By Night
  • 1975 Caress of Steel
  • 1976 2112
  • 1977 A Farewell to Kings
  • 1978 Hemispheres
  • 1980 Permanent Waves
  • 1981 Moving Pictures
  • 1982 Signals
  • 1984 Grace Under Pressure
  • 1985 Power Windows
  • 1987 Hold Your Fire
  • 1989 Presto
  • 1991 Roll the Bones
  • 1993 Counterparts
  • 1996 Test for Echo
  • 2002 Vapor Trails
  • 2004 Feedback (EP)
  • 2007 Snakes & Arrows

Live albums

  • 1976 All the World's a Stage
  • 1981 Exit...Stage Left
  • 1989 A Show of Hands
  • 1998 Different Stages
  • 2003 Rush in Rio
  • 2005 R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour
  • 2006 Grace Under Pressure Tour
  • 2008 Snakes & Arrows Live


Compilations

  • 1978 Archives
  • 1990 Chronicles
  • 1997 Retrospective I
  • 1997 Retrospective II
  • 2003 The Spirit of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974–1987
  • 2006 Gold
  • 2009 Retrospective 3

Video