Alex Lifeson

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Template:Use Canadian English Template:Use mdy dates Template:Infobox musical artist

Aleksandar Živojinović (Serbian Cyrillic: Aлександар Живојиновић, OC, born August 27, 1953) better known by his stage name Alex Lifeson, is a Canadian musician, best known as the guitarist of the Canadian rock band Rush. In the summer of 1968, Lifeson co-founded the band that would become Rush. Other co-founders are friend and drummer John Rutsey, bassist and lead vocalist Jeff Jones, and Jones's successor, current front man Geddy Lee a month later. Lifeson has been an integral member of the 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. Like the other members of Rush, Lifeson performs real-time on-stage triggering of sampled instruments, concurrently with his guitar playing.[1]

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 Orbit Room, a bar and restaurant located in Toronto, Canada, a painter, and a licensed aircraft pilot.[2]

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 honoured, as a group.[3]

He currently ranks 98th in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time and 3rd in the Guitar World Readers poll of 100 greatest guitarists.


Early life

Lifeson was born as Aleksandar Živojinović in Fernie, British Columbia, to Serbian immigrants, Nenad and Melanija Zivojinovich (from Serbian: Живојиновић, Živojinović), and raised in Toronto, Ontario.[2] His assumed stage name of "Lifeson" is a semi-literal translation of the name "Zivojinovich", which means "son of life" in Serbian.[4] 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 his adolescent years, he was influenced primarily by Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page,[5] Steve Hackett and Allan Holdsworth;[6] he explained in 2011 that "Clapton's solos seemed a little easier and more approachable. I remember sitting at my record player and moving the needle back and forth to get the solo in 'Spoonful.' But there was nothing I could do with Hendrix."[7] 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. This training lasted for roughly a year and a half.

Lifeson recalls what inspired him to play guitar in a 2008 interview:

My brother-in-law played flamenco guitar. He lent his guitar to me and I grew to like it. When you're a kid, you don't want to play an accordion because it would be too boring. But your parents might want you to play one, especially if you're from a Yugoslavian family like me.[8]

Lifeson's first girlfriend, Charlene, gave birth to their eldest son, Justin, in October 1970, and they married in 1975. Their second son, Adrian, was born two years later. Adrian is also involved in music, and performed on two tracks from Lifeson's 1996 solo project, Victor.


Alex Lifeson during the 2010–2011 Time Machine Tour, Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (May 27, 2011)

Lifeson's neighbour John Rutsey began experimenting on a rented drum kit. In early 1968, Lifeson and Rutsey formed The Projection, which eventually became Rush following the recruitment of original bassist and vocalist Jeff Jones. Geddy Lee assumed this role soon after.[9]

Instrumentally, Lifeson is regarded as a guitarist whose strengths and notability rely primarily on signature riffing, electronic effects and processing, unorthodox chord structures, and a copious arsenal of equipment used over the years.[10][11][12]

Rush was on hiatus for several years starting in 1997 owing to personal tragedies in Neil Peart's life, and Lifeson had not picked up a guitar for at least a year following those events.[13] However, after some work in his home studio and on various side projects, Lifeson returned to the studio with Rush to begin work on 2002's Vapor Trails. Vapor Trails is the first Rush album since the 1970s to lack keyboards—as such, Lifeson used over 50 different guitars in what Shawn Hammond of Guitar Player called "his most rabid and experimental playing ever." Geddy Lee was amenable to leaving keyboards off the album due in part to Lifeson's ongoing concern about their use. Lifeson's approach to the guitar tracks for the album eschewed traditional guitar riffs and solos in favour of "tonality and harmonic quality."[13]

During live performances, he is still responsible for cuing various guitar effects, the use of bass-pedal synthesizers, and backing vocals.


While the bulk of Lifeson's work in music has been with Rush, Lifeson's first major outside work was his solo project, Victor, released in 1996. Victor 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. The title track is from the W.H. Auden poem, also entitled "Victor." Both son Adrian and wife Charlene also contributed to the album. A followup album, possibly including vocals by Sarah McLachlan, was rumored in the late 90s, but was apparently scuttled due to Atlantic Records' lack of support for the first album, and as of 2013, nothing substantial has ever come of the project.[14]

Side projects

Lifeson has also contributed to a body of work outside of his involvement with the band in the form of instrumental contributions to other musical outfits. He made a guest appearance on the 1985 Platinum Blonde album Alien Shores 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 1995, he guested on two tracks on Tom Cochrane's Ragged Ass Road album and then in 1996 on I Mother Earth's "Like a Girl" from the Scenery and Fish album. In 1997 he appeared on the Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas album. Lifeson played "the Little Drummer Boy" which was released as track 9 on the album.[15] 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 to 2004). Lifeson made a guest appearance on the 2007 album Fear of a Blank Planet by UK progressive rock band, Porcupine Tree, contributing a solo during the song Anesthetize. He also appeared on the 2008 album Fly Paper by Detroit progressive rockers, Tiles. He plays on the track "Sacred and Mundane". Outside of band related endeavours, 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.

Television and film appearances

Lifeson made his film debut as himself under his birth name in the 1972 Canadian documentary film Come on Children.[16]

In a 2003 episode of the Canadian mockumentary Trailer Park Boys, titled "Closer to the Heart", Lifeson plays a partly fictional version of himself. In the story, he is kidnapped by Ricky and held as punishment for his inability (or refusal) to provide the main characters with free tickets to a Rush concert. In the end of the episode, Alex reconciles with the characters, and performs a duet of "Closer to the Heart" with Bubbles at the trailer park. In 2006, Lifeson appeared in Trailer Park Boys: The Movie as a traffic cop in the opening scene and in 2009 he appeared in their follow up movie, Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day, as an undercover vice cop in drag.

In 2008, Lifeson and the rest of Rush played "Tom Sawyer" at the end of an episode of The Colbert Report. According to Colbert, this was their first appearance on American television as a band in 33 years.[17]

In 2009, he and the rest of the band appeared as themselves in the comedy I Love You, Man.[18]

The Naples incident

On New Year's Eve 2003, Lifeson, his son, and his daughter-in-law were arrested at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Naples, Florida.[19] Lifeson, after intervening in an altercation between his son and police, was accused of assaulting a sheriff's deputy in what was described as a drunken brawl. In addition to suffering a broken nose at the hands of the officers, Lifeson was tased six times. His son was also tased repeatedly.[20]

On April 21, 2005, Lifeson and his son agreed to a plea deal with the local prosecutor for the State's Attorney office to avoid jail time by pleading no contest to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest without violence.[21] As part of the plea agreement Lifeson and his son were each sentenced to 12 months of probation with the adjudication of that probation suspended. Lifeson acknowledged his subsequent legal action against both the Ritz-Carlton and the Collier County Sheriff's Department for "their incredibly discourteous, arrogant and aggressive behaviour of which I had never experienced in thirty years of travel."[22] Although both actions were initially dismissed in April 2007,[23] legal claims against the Ritz-Carlton were reinstated upon appeal, and ultimately settled out of court in August 2008, with Lifeson and his son agreeing to a confidential settlement from Ritz-Carlton.[24]

In his journal-based book Roadshow, Peart relates the band's perspective on the events of that New Year's Eve.

Guitar equipment

File:Alex Lifeson.jpg
Alex Lifeson playing his Gibson Les Paul in the 'Heritage Cherry Sunburst'. This guitar has been modified to incorporate a Floyd Rose tremolo.

In Rush's early career, Lifeson used a Gibson ES-335 for the first tour, and in 1976 bought a 1974 Gibson Les Paul; he used those two guitars until the late 1970s. He had a Fender Stratocaster with a Bill Lawrence humbucker and Floyd Rose vibrato bridge as backup "and for a different sound."[7] For the A Farewell to Kings sessions, Lifeson began using a Gibson EDS-1275 for songs like "Xanadu"{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} and his main guitar became a white Gibson ES-355.[7] During this period Lifeson used Hiwatt amplifiers.[25] He played a twelve-string Gibson B-45 on songs like "Closer to the Heart."[7]

From 1980 to 1986, Lifeson used four identically modified Stratocasters, all of them equipped with the Floyd Rose bridge. As a joke, he called these Hentor Sportscasters – a made-up name inspired by Peter Henderson's name, who was the producer of Grace Under Pressure.[26] He also played a Gibson Howard Roberts Fusion.[7] By 1987, Lifeson switched to Signature guitars (Canadian-made) which, while "awful to play—very uncomfortable--...had a particular sound I liked."[7] Lifeson primarily used PRS guitars in the later-half of the 1990 Presto tour, and again during the recording of Roll The Bones in 1990/1991.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} He would continue to play PRS for the next sixteen years through the recording and touring of Counterparts, Test for Echo and Vapor Trails as well as the R30 tour. The last few years, he said in 2011, he has "used Gibson almost exclusively. There's nothing like having a low-slung Les Paul over my shoulder" In early 2011, Gibson introduced the "Alex Lifeson Axcess", a guitar specially designed for him. These are custom made Les Pauls with Floyd Rose systems on both of them. He mentioned the process taking two years to design a perfect guitar. He used these two custom Les Pauls on the Time Machine Tour. These guitars are also available through Gibson, in a viceroy Brown or Crimson color. Lifeson used these two guitars heavily on the tour.[7] For the Clockwork Angels tour, Gibson built an Alex Lifeson Axcess model in black which became Lifeson's primary guitar for much of the show. For all acoustic work, he played one of his Axcess guitars using the piezo pick-ups; no acoustic guitars were used at all in the Clockwork Angels show.

In 2005, Hughes & Kettner introduced an Alex Lifeson signature series amplifier; Lifeson donates his royalties from the sale of these signature models to UNICEF.[27]

In 2012, Lifeson abandoned his signature Triamps in favor for custom-built Omega Silver Jubilee clones and Mesa/Boogie Mark V heads. He still uses the Hughes & Kettner Coreblades.

For effects, Lifeson is known to use chorus, phase shifting, and flanging. Throughout his career, he has used well-known pedals such as the Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress flanger, the BOSS CE-1 chorus, the Dunlop crybaby wah, among others [8].

As of now, Lifeson has been using the Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx II as a main guitar processor with Rush.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}

Recently, Lifeson has made his signature acoustic guitar model with Paul Reed Smith. The guitar is currently available for private stock order.

Other instruments played

In addition to traditional stringed instruments such as acoustic and electric guitars, Lifeson has also played mandola, mandolin and bouzouki on recent Rush studio albums, including Test for Echo, Vapor Trails and Snakes & Arrows. During live Rush performances, Lifeson uses a MIDI controller that enables him to use his feet to trigger sounds from digital samplers, without taking his hands off his guitar. (Prior to this, Lifeson used Moog Taurus Bass Pedals before they were replaced by Korg MIDI pedals in the 1980s.) Lifeson and his bandmates share a desire to accurately depict songs from their albums when playing live performances. Toward this goal, beginning in the late 1980s the band equipped their live performances with a capacious rack of samplers. The band members use these samplers in real-time to recreate the sounds of non-traditional instruments, accompaniments, vocal harmonies, and other sound "events" that are familiarly heard on the studio versions of the songs. In live performances, the band members share duties throughout most songs, with each member triggering certain sounds with his available limbs, while playing his primary instrument(s).[1]



  • "Best Rock Talent" by Guitar for the Practicing Musician in 1983
  • "Best Rock Guitarist" by Guitar Player Magazine in 1984 and May 2008
  • Runner-up for "Best Rock Guitarist" in Guitar Player in 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986
  • Inducted into the Guitar for the Practicing Musician Hall of Fame, 1991
  • 1996 – Officer of the Order of Canada, along with bandmates Geddy Lee and Neil Peart
  • "Best Article" for "Different Strings" in Guitar Player (September issue).
  • Most Ferociously Brilliant Guitar Album (Snakes & Arrows) – Guitar Player Magazine, May 2008
  • 2013 - With Rush, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Rush Rolls Again", September 2002, OnStage Magazine
  2. 2.0 2.1 Template:Cite web
  3. "Rush highlights", MapleMusic (accessed May 23, 2007).
  4. Horizon to Horizon Rob Pagano's Rush Music Tribute Accessed October 7, 2007
  5. Alex Lifeson profile Epiphone Accessed March 31, 2006
  6. Guitar World Staff (2012-01-12). "60 Minutes with Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee of Rush". Guitar Player. New Bay Media. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Template:Cite news
  8. {{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}
  9. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}
  10. Alex Lifeson profile Dinosaur Rock God Accessed March 31, 2006
  11. Alex Lifeson minor overview Guitar Player Accessed July 16, 2007
  12. Alex Lifeson Archive Alex Lifeson Archive and equipment Accessed July 16, 2007
  13. 13.0 13.1 {{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}
  15. Alex Lifeson at AllMusic. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  16. Come on Children at the Internet Movie Database
  17. Colbert Nation: Rush – Wednesday July 16, 2008
  18. Manohla Dargis, Best Man Wanted. Must Be Rush Fan, The New York Times, March 20, 2009 (accessed March 31, 2009).
  19. Rush – Official Website [1] Accessed June 10, 2005
  20. YouTube [2] Accessed December 31, 2009.
  21. WBBH-TV 2, Naples (NBC) via YouTube [3] Accessed June 21, 2008.
  22. Rush – Official Website [4] Accessed June 10, 2005
  23. Billboard News [5] Accessed October 7, 2007
  24. Naples Daily News [6] Accessed August 22, 2008.
  25. [7]
  26. Grace Under Pressure Tourbook
  27. Template:Cite web

External links

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