The electric bass's legacy after some 70 years in production is one of service and sacrifice. The earliest versions of the instrument provided welcome reprieve to itinerant jazzman who was breaking his back lugging an unwieldy upright to gigs.
In a more modern context, the instrument has been holding rhythm sections together for decades, bringing the thump and bridging the sonic gap between lead and percussion instruments.
One of the world's foremost bassists Lee is out to extoll the beauty of the bass guitar with his new Big Beautiful Book of Bass, which is a "compendium of the rare, iconic and most importantly, weird" instruments that have given rock music its big bottom over the last 60 or so years.
Lee, who is a connoisseur of many things besides the bass, went headlong into the history of his instrument as Rush's end drew near. Despite being one of the world's most recognizable bassists for several decades, during his heyday Lee only ever owned a handful of four-strings.
That changed after Rush's final tour (and we do mean final) in 2015. With the help of his longtime guitar tech John "Skully" McIntosh, Lee started a bass collection that quickly ballooned to nearly 260 instruments by the time he completed his book this year.
"It sort of speaks to my insanity," Lee tells Q104.3 New York's Out of the Box with Jonathan Clarke. "For me, the bass was a tool for most of my career. I only wanted to use basses that fit into my idea of the sound I wanted to achieve. It was a sound that served my identity as a bass player."
To that point, some of Lee's most prized pieces are instruments that were put to work over many years, not neglected for posterity's sake just to maintain their good looks. One such bass is a 1961 Fender Precision Bass that was owned by The Who's John Entwistle.
He says it's one of the only basses he has with a famous name attached to it (other than his own road worn basses). The other gem of Lee's collection is a pair of 1964 Fender Jazz Basses in decoder red.
"One spent its life under a bed, it's barely been played; it's pristine," he explains. "And the other one pictured beside it I found in Ireland, and it was owned by a single bass player who played in his own Irish show band for 45 years. And when I open the case of that, the first thing that comes out is the smell of cigarettes and beer. And that thing has war wounds, and oh my god, it took my tech, Skully, weeks to clean that thing up and make it playable. But when you see the two side-by-side, it really tells such a wonderful story."
Lee's collection is less about the basses themselves and more about the stories contained within them. With each new piece he acquired for the book, he dove further down the history of music in the 20th century until he came to realize how little has been written about it.
"I felt also that there's a lot books out there about guitars and vintage guitars and collecting guitars, but I felt the like the books on bass were a bit meager and didn't really show the love that I felt the bass deserved. So I wanted to make a beautiful book — that's why that title is what it is. I didn't want it to be that big, but I got carried away."
For the book, Lee interviewed also some fellow bass disciples, who also have a part in rock and roll history. People like former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, longtime Ozzy Osbourne studio bassist and collaborator Bob Daisley, Metallica's Robert Trujillo, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and others.
Lee says it was important to represent the perspective and the experience of the rock bassist over the past 50 years or so.
"The interview portion really is a way of bringing these instruments to life, to remind people that it's not just wood, metal and plastic. They're bringers of joy; they brought a living to these people. They're a way of these artists to express themselves. So I think it really helps the context of what people are looking at when they flip through the book."
See the full interview above!
Get more information on Geddy Lee's Big Beautiful Book of Bass here!
And of course you can follow Lee on his appropriately-named Instagram account, @geddyimages.
And it couldn't hurt to listen to "Limelight" right now, so here you go: