John Rutsey: The one musician to walk out on Rush

Meta Description: Discover the crucial role John Rutsey played in the formation of Rush. Explore the band’s early years and how Rutsey’s influence shaped their path to becoming prog-rock legends.

The Early Days of Rush: The Impact of John Rutsey on the Iconic Band

When looking at how a band like Rush operates, nothing about them screams ‘mainstream stars’. Out of all the groups of their time aiming to make punchy hits for the radio, the Canadian icons, known for multipart songs that stretched for ten minutes, didn’t seem to stand a chance against the heavy-hitters of their day. While the group effortlessly combined different prog sections, their early years involved significant changes, including removing some dead weight with John Rutsey.

The Role of John Rutsey in Rush’s Formation

There’s a good case to be made that without John Rutsey, there wouldn’t have been any band called Rush at all. When playing various backyard-style gigs throughout Canada, Rutsey’s group, which he had with Alex Lifeson, was short a bass player when Geddy Lee walked in to play the four-string.

Although the three of them had great chemistry, they didn’t always see eye-to-eye. Most of the time, Rush let their music do the talking, but in the early promotional spots of the group performing, Rutsey was the emcee, engaging the crowd between songs and hyping them up.

Rush’s Self-Titled Record and Rutsey’s Influence

Compared to the group’s later prog outings, their self-titled record is simpler than what they would become known for. Instead of long songs with varied time signatures, the album risked being lost in the shuffle if not for the massive closer ‘Working Man’. This straight-ahead approach was Rutsey’s vision, which wasn’t what Lifeson and Lee wanted anymore.

As they gained traction, Lifeson recalled that Rutsey became more uncomfortable with the direction the band was headed. In “Beyond the Lighted Stage,” he said, “I don’t think John really felt comfortable with what was happening. He was a much more straight-ahead rock guy. He was more into Bad Company, whereas Gedd and I were more into Yes and Genesis and bands like that.”

Health Issues and Rutsey’s Departure

Aside from musical differences, Rutsey also had lingering health issues. Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, he knew that committing to a tour would jeopardize his health, leading him to gracefully bow out of the group.

For Rush, losing Rutsey was like losing a best friend from high school. However, they found Neil Peart, who became the answer to their prayers. Peart played with the strength of John Bonham while writing lyrics and developing concepts that defined Rush’s career as prog giants.

Rutsey’s Legacy in Rush’s History

While it’s easy to view the debut album as a sophomoric attempt at hard rock, Rutsey’s performance remains a great time capsule of what Rush was like in the early years. There’s a certain innocence in those songs, but the band was always destined for greater things.

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