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Music Rush’s bassist Geddy Lee gets personal about the instrument in his Big Beautiful Book of Bass

Geddy Lee celebrates the bass in his new book Big Beautiful Book of Bass.

HarperCollins

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It doesn’t get the attention and glory that the electric six-string does, but without the electric bass, rock 'n’ roll loses its roll. With the handsome coffee-table tome Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass, Geddy Lee of the legendary-but-now-retired progressive rock trio Rush celebrates the under-regarded instrument and his own substantial collection of them. Lee spoke to The Globe and Mail recently about the book, a passion project that consumed two years of his life.

Photographing 250 instruments is a big task. The advantage we had over other beautiful guitar books out there is that we were able to have all these instruments under one roof. Richard Sibbald, who did the photography, and I worked closely together. My wife gave him a part of the house to transform into a proper photo studio. He was up there for at least eight months, on and off, shooting. He ended up with about 26,000 images, which we cut down to about a thousand for the final book.

The project was similar to putting together a documentary. I worked closely with my co-writer Daniel Richler on this. We did research together. We ironed out every phrase together. Obviously he wanted it to be in my voice. So I did the writing, and he would supply the wordsmanship to help me express myself correctly.

Then, of course, you have the whole design phase, where we worked very closely with Harper Collins in New York and an independent designer, Paul Kepple, from Philadelphia. It was very hands on. I’m a pretty opinionated guy. I had a vision in mind, and so we went back and forth for months, making sure we were happy with it, by their standards and by my standards.

I’m a collector by nature, and I document my madness in the book about the various things I’ve become passionate about. But I wasn’t really a collector of bass guitars initially. They were tools for me to help me develop my own identity as a bass player, with his own bass sound. I only focused on instruments that would achieve that goal for me.

When I actually did start collecting bass guitars, I looked at it very differently. I was learning about the evolution of the instrument. I began to realize that the bass was an underappreciated musical invention. Take the bass away from many of our favourite pop songs and rock songs and we lose a layer of melody. We lose the glue that very often holds a rhythm section together. There are so many things a bass guitar can do for a song, that unless you’re a bass player or someone focused on the nether regions of a song, you miss that. So, I thought there’s nothing out there in the world of books that spoke to that. First, that spoke to how beautiful these pieces of mid-century art can be. Secondly, this was an opportunity to review the importance of the instrument in the terms of how rock 'n' roll grew up.

The first interview I did was the toughest. It was in a London restaurant with [former Rolling Stones bassist] Bill Wyman. He’s a fascinating cat, and he wants to talk about all his interests. We sat down for a few hours, and I learned so much about the guy. But he didn’t want to talk about bass guitars – not so interesting for him. So, I had to keep bringing him back into the whole point of why I was there with him.

[Led Zeppelin bassist] John Paul Jones was a consummate gentleman and very considerate. He came to my flat in London and he wouldn’t even let me pay for his taxi. And he schlepped his basses himself.

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This project introduced me to a wider world, and gave me some communication with people I naturally have so much community with. This magnificent obsession of mine has taken up a good part of the last two years. Now that I’ve finished the book, and once I finish what I like to refer to as my shameless promotion tour, then I will get more serious about using these beautiful instruments that I’ve been squirrelling away.

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