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Alex Lifeson

Alex Lifeson, OC (born Aleksandar Živojinović on August 27, 1953 in Fernie, British Columbia), 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.

Biography

Early life

Lifeson was born Alexandar Zivojinovich 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", meaning "son of life". 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. It was 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.

Lifeson's first girlfriend, Charlene, gave birth to their eldest son, Justin, in October 1970, and they married in 1975. As of September 2008, they are still married, and have a 2nd son, Adrian, who is also involved in music and performed on two tracks from Lifeson's 1996 solo project, Victor.

Body of work

While the bulk of Lifeson's work in music has been with Rush (See Rush Discography), he has also contributed to a body of work outside of his involvement with the band in the form of movie/television 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). The Dexters' lead guitarist, Bernie LaBarge, nicknamed Alex "Big Al Dexter". 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.

Guitar 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 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.

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.

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 of his guitar. (Prior to this, Lifeson used Moog Taurus Bass Pedals before they were obsolesced and 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). It is with this technology that Lifeson and his bandmates are able to present their arrangements in a live setting with the level of complexity and fidelity that fans have come to expect, and without the need to resort to the use of backing tracks or employing an additional band member.

Television and film appearances

In a 2003 episode of the Canadian smash hit mockumentary Trailer Park Boys, titled "Closer to the Heart", Lifeson plays a 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 with Bubbles at the trailer park.

Lifeson appears in Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, as a traffic cop in the opening scene. He made his film debut as himself under his birth name in the 1972 Canadian documentary film Come on Children.

Lifeson, along with his bandmates, appeared on an episode of The Colbert Report in July 2008, where, at the end of the show, they performed "Tom Sawyer".

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. 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 tasered six times. His son Justin was also tasered repeatedly.

According to Justin's file in the Felony section of the Public Records database of Collier County, Florida, the judge determined that, based on the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses, including one of the police officers involved in the incident, that while the potential for violence existed, none was offered by Justin. 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. Upon successful completion of the probation, the matter is to be expunged from their records. In addition, they had to pay all court costs. In the fall of 2005, the court granted early dismissal from probation to both Lifeson and his son.

In his journal-based book Roadshow, Peart relates the band's perspective on the events of that New Years Eve. He also says the incident was and still is a traumatic event for Lifeson and his family.

Awards

  • "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 fellow 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

References

External links

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