Exploring the Touring History of Rush: Exclusive Interview
Rush remained fiercely dedicated to their collective cause and to one another -- from Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson's first show with Neil Peart on Aug. 14, 1974, in Pittsburgh through the final concert they played together on Aug. 1, 2015, at the Forum in Los Angeles.
Across all of those years through many tours and albums, the music of Rush helped to similarly inspire fans, who would then form their own bonds of friendship. Skip Daly and Eric Hansen are two of those fans, and the circumstances that brought them together as collaborators are a bit hazy, with the amount of years that are now in the rear-view mirror.
"It was probably on the National Midnight Star," Hansen says, recalling an electronic fan newsletter that was once an important resource for Rush news and discussion. "It was the early days of the internet, for sure," he says. "I don’t quite remember exactly when we got to know each other online and started trading cassette tapes or whatever we did back in the day," Daly adds with a laugh, "but Rush fans always chatted with each other."
In the late ‘90s, Hansen launched the Power Windows fan site, initially as a portal to provide Rush wallpaper images for use on computer desktops. In the two decades that followed, the website became an important resource and archive of both articles and tour dates.
It also helped plant a seed for the project that Daly and Hansen eventually spent close to a decade working on together: Wandering the Face of the Earth, their new book, tackles the mammoth task of documenting close to five decades of road work by Rush. Mixing tour dates, statistics and set lists with rare photos, newspaper reports and both exclusive and archival interviews, the 471-page book is notable for offering a particularly deep look at the trio's earliest years between 1968-74.
Daly and Hansen researched the book with the support and blessing of Rush and their management team. In the following interview, conducted before the recent death of drummer Peart, the pair tells UCR about the experience.
How did the idea of doing this book first begin to take shape?
Eric Hansen: It all started really when Beyond the Lighted Stage, the Rush documentary, was released in 2010. When that movie first came out and even leading into that movie before it came out, I had the Power Windows website and back at that time, I had a pretty extensive tour date listing. Skip and I would talk, whenever something new would come up [as far as] what we used to call a “lost tour date,” he would always send something along to me whenever he found it – and he was a frequent collaborator.
When the documentary came out, within the first 15 minutes of the documentary, there’s a lot of memorabilia from early lost tour dates, which we later found out came out of Geddy Lee’s personal collection. Of course, Skip and I were giddy, because all of these lost tour dates, we realized: “Hey, these have never been seen before.” We started taking screen captures and adding a lot of that to the website. About that time, we started talking about, “Hey, there’s an interest here. We’re not the only ones that have an interest in these lost tour dates and Rush’s touring history." That was really the genesis for the book.
Watch Clips From Rush's 'Beyond the Lighted Stage'
What were some of the aspects or eras of the band that you felt like hadn’t been appropriately explored prior to now?
Hansen: The early days.
Skip Daly: Yeah, for me, it was definitely the pre-’74 years when they were a bar band playing the high schools and the bars around Ontario. Personally, that was a big interest for me, just because nobody knew much about that era. Eric and I would talk about this from time to time, whatever band I get into – and Rush isn’t the only one. But if there’s any band that I’m a fan of, I tend to go kind of deep into it and I get really curious, particularly about those formative years of what made the band what it is.
You know, no band ever expects necessarily to go on and play stadiums and be this huge act. But they all start out somewhere, banging around in a garage and playing little bars, so it always interested me, just to know where they came from. Even back in that early era, I would imagine that it must have been quite a thing to see. Because there must have been something different. There must have been some spark of what they’d become. That combined with the fact that that stuff wasn’t really well documented and there wasn’t much known about it, that was an intriguing era for me to try to flesh out.
Hansen: No band that starts out ever thinks they’re going to be around for 40-plus years. They definitely did not keep records for probably about the first seven or eight years, really. Around ‘76 is when we started finding some actual record keeping. There’s a whole period of months during 1977 when there was nothing. There was no official record taken.
Daly: Not to correct you, Eric, but they had some stuff. There were definitely some PDFs that we got from [Rush manager/producer] Pegi [Cecconi] from ‘74, ‘75 and ‘76, but it was very spotty. There was some stuff, but there were a lot of gaps. But then pre-1974, I think, from some of the first conversations with Pegi Cecconi and others in their management, they were not scoffing, but they were skeptical that we would be able to even come up with much prior to ‘74. Just because whatever records they would have had back in the day, contracts and such, they just didn’t have them anymore. That stuff, from their perspective, they were just running a business. And what business keeps their records beyond the old magical seven years or whatever it is that’s required for tax purposes? And they also had moved offices several times over the years, so I’m sure a lot of stuff got pitched.
Their original booking agency was no longer in business, so a lot of those records were just gone. Frankly, as much as the marketing guys like to tout this book as “it’s every single show they ever played,” I mean, it’s really not. It’s probably, with all due humility, it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s about the best anyone could probably do. We did try to get creative and we even went into things like, I thought about contacting the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada, because we had information, there was somewhere where these guys talked about how they had joined the union back in the early days when they were playing bars. So, that kind of clicked and it was like, “Huh, I wonder if they’d have any records?” They had some interesting records on early bar dates that nobody had found before. So, we did try to go as deep as we could, but the fact of the matter is that there’s some stuff that still is just kind of lost to the mist of time.
Beyond that, what was the overall process of filling in the gaps?
Daly: It was a lot of research. It was research combined with trying to think creatively and outside of the box a little bit about where hadn’t people looked before. We also had, as Eric mentioned, he had a decent skeleton from the years of work that he had done on his own site, having that tour list out there. Fans would send information in and a lot of that kept going on as we worked on the project. You know, nothing this huge happens in a vacuum. There’s a ton of fans out there that were enthusiastic about sending us information, and we had kind of a small core of fans that were even the next level of enthusiastic.
There’s one guy in particular that was going to libraries on our behalf and looking [things] up. We’d look at the date listing and he’d be like, “Oh, there’s a gap here in the dates you guys are missing, and I’m going to be in that city next week.” He would pop into the library and go through microfilm and send us [information]. Having a sense that there was probably a date somewhere in this month, he would look for either advertisements or else a review after the concert.
Hansen: You could tell from the routing of the tour where they must have played and if a tour date didn’t exist at that time, there probably was one that hadn’t been unearthed yet.
Daly: So, there was some of that. And obviously, that’s not the most efficient way to go about it, but when we had little gaps and stuff, we had people that would be willing to help out, which was nice. And also, frankly, a lot of those libraries were really nice. Eric and I would sometimes call them or email them and say, “Hey, we’re looking for this, is there somebody there that can pull it?” We met a lot of nice librarians through the course of the project. We did have people that would go through microfilm for us and send us scans and information.
Hansen: Especially when we’re calling those small towns in Canada. We’d frequently come across a librarian that was a fan of the band and was happy to help.
Watch Rush Perform 'Anthem' in 1976
Skip, as I was getting ready for this interview, one of the first things I randomly came across was an interview you did back in 2009 with Ian Grandy, Rush’s first roadie. That made me wonder if there were encounters like that one that helped to plant the seeds that there were a lot of stories worth telling. Because that’s another really interesting aspect of this book, the fact that you guys got so many of the people that had been associated with them over the years to add their stories to the fabric of this whole story.
Daly: That’s absolutely true, and it’s funny that you mentioned that interview and Ian specifically – because that absolutely was a big catalyst for me. I mean, Eric and I knew each other at that point. It was before the documentary came out that he spoke about, and I think that was maybe the last piece of it that really kind of kicked us in the ass to go ahead and do it. But absolutely, from speaking with Ian and a lot of the stuff in that first interview, it was kind of like the book was almost a natural thing to do after that, because it quickly became apparent he had a lot of great stories. In terms of speaking more broadly to a lot of the crew, both the historical past guys as well as the guys who were still on their crew at that point, that didn’t really happen too much until later – after we had the genesis of the project.
We really wanted it to be official and sanctioned for a lot of reasons. One is just because it felt right. But also, it quickly became apparent that it was the only way to go about it. The crew guys, not just the guys that still worked for them, but even the guys who hadn’t worked for them in years, they were all fiercely loyal and they were very polite whenever I would run into any of these guys or speak to them – but you know, they wanted for the book, in order to speak with us, they wanted to see that [we] had the approval to do this. They were still that loyal to the band.
They wanted to make sure that it was sanctioned and that it wasn’t just a couple of guys trying to dig up dirt. That really came about later on, after the first couple of years of finally getting approval from their management. We had to do a whole proof of concept before that, because we had to have something to present to say: “This is kind of what we want to do.” It was a bit hectic upfront trying to figure out: There was a lot of work just to even kind of pitch it, I guess.
Hansen: I just want to add one thing. Getting back to Ian, his memory of actual dates is uncanny. He would have a story and he would kind of remember the city when a certain story happened and sure enough, after we did our research, he provided the actual date or within the same weekend of when a story happened – and we’re talking 40-to-45 years ago. So, it was uncanny, his memory. Unfortunately, he was only around for the first one-third of the touring history. A lot of the stories he might have had from later on, we of course didn’t get to enjoy any of those because he left the band in the early '80s.
Daly: I would echo what Eric just said. He has an amazing memory. And yeah, he wasn’t around for the later years, but the other great thing about him is that he was literally one of the only one or two or three guys that was around in the early, early days. You go back to ‘69 or ‘70 or ‘71 and it really was just Ian and maybe one other guy outside of the band who would really be able to speak to much of that era. So, having him so supportive of the project and so willing to put up with us for all of those years, it really helped us flesh that stuff out with a lot of great stories. And to Eric’s other point, Ian also was really good about if he didn’t remember something. He wouldn’t just throw something at us. He’d say, “I’m not sure about that.”
A lot of the other guys, bless their heart, you would interview other people and they would kind of say, “I think it was this,” but they wouldn’t give you a sense of, “Well, are you sure? What’s the percentage on that?” He was always very clear, which sometimes it helps to know what they don’t remember too – you know, when you’re trying to put the puzzle together.
One of the key things that right away helps to legitimize this book before you even crack the cover is the fact that the band and their management got involved. Talk about the process of landing their support.
Daly: It was at least 18 months, if not a solid two years from when we sort of said in mid-2010, “Hey, let’s do this,” and then started working on putting something together. I think from that point, it was probably a solid year and a half to two years before we finally got the “Okay, we’re cool with you guys working on it.” You know, not, “We’re cool with it coming out,” because we didn’t have anything finished at that point, but it was just, “Okay, here’s a letter saying we’re okay with you developing this.” Up until that point, it was kind of working on a draft and we couldn’t get any data from them yet, because we didn’t have the official approval. We couldn’t interview any crew yet, because we didn’t have the official approval.
So, it was really kind of taking Eric’s date listing, doing a bit of research and just trying to put that into some kind of format. Eventually, we had enough that we submitted it as a Version 1 draft manuscript, just as a proof of concept. And then it was hurry up and wait, and kind of check in every couple of months with their management to say: “Hey, are they cool with it?” We spent probably a year and a half to two years hearing one of two things back – either, “well, they’re too busy at work right now, you know, they’re getting ready for a tour”; or else, “Well, they’re on a break right now; they’re on vacation, I can’t bother them.” We cycled through iterations of that for almost two years before finally we just caught them at the magic moment, and we heard back: “Yeah, they’re cool with it. What do you need from us?”
At that point, we had two things. We got a letter saying, “Hey, this is sanctioned and they’re working on this with our blessing. It’s okay to talk to them,” so we could take that and go to crew guys. The second thing that we got was that they sent us the records that they had, which was basically some PDF documents that were the best they had in terms of records at this point, which was a lot better than nothing. We tended to use that as the gold source when there were questions. But there definitely were gaps.
Was there ever the thought in the back of your head that you guys could get to a certain point on this project, and they could just squash it and it would not come out?
Daly: Oh yeah. Multiple times. There were some times that it felt like that. You know, we’d be sitting here, kind of looking at each other, as people look at each other through the internet. You’d be saying to yourself, have we wasted a ton of time here? It was definitely a concern a lot of times along the way. But you know, it’s funny how you also take something to a certain point and it almost feels like: “Well, if I was going to bail on this, I should have done it before now. At some point, you just keep going and keep hoping for the best and try to do good work. Honestly, until I held the damn thing in my hands, you kind of have to go into that mode of protecting yourself and not getting hopes up too much. But yeah, it definitely felt like that at times along the way.
Watch Rush's Video for 'Half the World'
Did you have access to any unreleased concert recordings from the band’s archives to help verify the set lists and other details?
Daly: No, I wish. That would have been fun. I mean, honestly there’s so much out there bootleg-wise and what isn’t out there bootleg-wise, I’m not sure the band has. Especially if we’re talking about the early eras, the pre-1980 [time], really. I’m not sure that there’s much that they have that isn’t out there. I mean, I’m sure that there are some things, but nothing that I would think would get into what you’re talking about, back in the days of swapping the set list out night after night. I think that kind of stuff probably ended sometime around 1977. So, before ‘77, I don’t get the sense that they really have all that much.
But no, we did not have access to whatever there is. That would have been nice. And particularly, I have always been fascinated by the notion of whether or not in their closet somewhere, they might have recordings stashed away from the high-school bar days. I think that stuff would be really interesting to hear. Especially since they were playing songs back then that nobody’s heard that were never recorded. But I don’t know. No, we didn’t have access and no, I’m not personally aware of anything that exists that would have been useful in that regard.
Hansen: There was an interview with Alex, I don’t know, about eight or nine years ago, where they were cleaning out the vault and they found some tapes from their early days. But he had no idea what was on those tapes.
Daly: That was the interview I did with him, actually, Eric. [Laughs.]
Hansen: Was that yours?
Daly: Yeah, that was the one for Guitar International in 2008 or something like that.
Hansen: He found some unlabeled tapes.
One of the shows that I looked up randomly was the Cleveland show from ‘96 on the Test for Echo tour and one of the footnotes there is regarding the debut of the “Half The World” film at that concert. The book has a lot of details like that of notable things that happened at these shows. For you guys, what were some of the more interesting things that you came across that were associated with particular shows?
Daly: There’s all kinds of funny, little quirky stories in there. It’s hard to know where to start. But yeah, again, we wanted it to be fun and part of it being fun – for me, anyway, and I think probably for Eric too, he can speak for himself, but it’s the little things like that. It’s the little stories and how you can tie it back. And then coupled with the fact that you realize that most people reading this book probably went to more than a couple of Rush shows over the years, right? So, for them to be able to look back at their gigs and see little notes like that, I thought that would be fun. We would try to kind of cram as much of that stuff in there as we reasonably could. It became quite fun to be able to find those moments that you could tie to specific dates like that. I mean, if you’re looking for a specific example, again, there are a ton.
One that pops to mind for some crazy reason right now is that I remember there was a gig on the Hemispheres tour where something happened and Geddy’s keyboard rig was off in the shop, and they had to play a gig somewhere in like, Phoenix or Salt Lake City or somewhere like that. They flew in and [keyboard tech] Tony Geranios, [who was nicknamed] Jack Secret, had arranged and had called whatever company it was at the time, Oberheim or whoever, and was trying to get a replacement keyboard to use for that night. Apparently, his particular rig at that point was kind of a fairly rare thing.
But they found a guy local to the gig, who had bought one from the company not too long ago, so they kind of matchmaked them and put them in touch with each other. Tony was able to get the guy on the phone and say, “Can we rent your keyboard for the gig?” [Laughs.] The guy brought it down and then they set it up and played it, and then at some point during the gig, the guy decides to try to just walk up on stage. Security came in and got the guy out of there or whatever, and it was just crazy stuff like that. So, there’s one for ya and that’s in the book somewhere, probably around, I think ‘79. But it’s little stuff like that. You know, if you were at that show, reading something like that, you’d probably go, “That’s crazy and cool.”
Hansen: You know, the thing that always struck me was all of the special guests that would come to the shows. Often in disguise, celebrities, fans of the band, they’d show up in disguise. We had quite a few stories like that. Another fact is that Geddy is an avid baseball follower, you know. They would schedule their warm-up tours to coincide with spring training down in Florida, so that he could go to as many ballgames as he could. There was one gig that I remember he invited an entire team backstage after the show. He told the crew, make sure you’ve got enough beer and shrimp for the entire team he had invited. They of course ran out after like 10 minutes.
Listen to Rush Perform 'Losing It' at Their Final Show
What’s the dream Rush gig you’d like to go back and see?
Hansen: So for me, the one that I’m kicking myself for missing is the final gig, which was Aug. 1, 2015. I knew it was going to be the last gig. They’d been talking about it, that it was the last gig. Even though they didn’t come out and say, “Hey, this is our final tour,” anybody that had been paying attention knew it was the final tour. I had been telling my wife for five years, hey, this could be the last tour, every time they toured. Well, this time I knew it, but she didn’t believe me – and Aug. 1 happens to be my anniversary.
So, I said, “Hey, for our anniversary, we can go see Rush’s final show!” And of course, I got shot down and you know, here we are four years later and she’s kind of saying: “Yeah, we should have gone to that final show.” It didn’t happen. I also wish I’d gone to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show. Every time I see the videos of that show, I get goosebumps. I just can’t imagine what it would have been like to have actually been there.
Daly: There’s so many good ones. I’ve got two or three myself that if I had a time machine, [I'd love to see]. One that I think would be interesting would to have been in that church basement, the first time that they played in public together. I think that would have been pretty fascinating. I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t, even at that early, early time, just some sense of a minor spark of what was to come. You know, like something different about these 16-year-old kids jamming their way through these cover tunes. That would have been pretty interesting to see.
And yeah, the final gig, I missed that as well. I wasn’t out in L.A. for that. I think that’s something that the whole fan base wishes they were at, you know? Another one that I missed, I saw them within a week or two, but I didn’t catch the very first show on the Vapor Trails tour in Hartford, Conn., in June of 2002 after the five-year hiatus due to Neil’s terrible tragedies. I think that by all accounts, that was a pretty emotional and amazing thing. At a fundamental human level, for somebody to manage to come back from something like that, and for them to return to the stage together as a band after that, I think that would have been incredible to witness.
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