What inspired you to play guitar?
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. [laughs]
What was your first guitar?
My parents got me a $25 Kent steel-string acoustic guitar when I was around 12. The following Christmas my parents bought me a Conora electric guitar. It looked almost like a Gretsch. It cost $59, and my mom still has it.
Were you inspired by any particular guitarist?
The Beach Boys had a really cool guitar sound. I also liked the guitarists in the Searchers and the Dave Clark Five. Then Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend hit, and it turned the guitar world on its ear. The more I got into playing guitar, the more I enjoyed music and the broader my listening became. The instrument itself became important to me, and I started messing around with classical guitar and took classical lessons.
What was the first song you learned who to play?
The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The songs starts off with the three most important chords—E, A and D—and I learned them. I learned the lead line, as well.
Do you remember your first gig?
Yeah. In September 1968, Rush played for around 20 people at a small hall in a church basement. We played songs like “Spoonful,” “Fire” and “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and got paid $10. Then we went to a nearby deli and ordered Cokes and French fries, and started planning our future.
What was your most memorable gig?
Probably the 2002 show we played in São Paulo, Brazil, during the Rush in Rio tour. It was before an audience of 60,000, the largest number of people we ever played for. It was pouring rain, and the huge crowd was singing along to our songs. It was really amazing, because people don’t even speak English there.
What advice do you have for guitarists?
Do it because you love it, and never give up. It’s great to be able to do it for your entire life. I’ve been playing for 40 years, and I love it more than ever. When I sit down and play guitar, I melt into the instrument. I can play for hours by myself. Playing guitar has given me such a wonderful life, and I’m grateful for it.
FROM THE ARCHIVE: Guitar World asks Rush’s Alex Lifeson some tough questions.