That Time Alex Lifeson Played Trumpet With Primus
It's no secret that the members of Rush love a good joke.
During their 1992 tour, a mysterious trumpet player joined opening band Primus onstage. It turned out to be guitarist Alex Lifeson, not exactly known for his trumpet-playing skills. Primus' Les Claypool confirms the Rush guitarist couldn't play the instrument.
Claypool details the incident with UCR and shares some information about an upcoming Primus documentary and why the band doesn't perform certain songs from its catalog. He also digs into some of his favorite memories growing up as a music fan.
The first Rush show you saw was at the Cow Palace in San Francisco during the Hemispheres tour. What are some of your other favorite concerts you got to see growing up?
I saw AC/DC at the Cow Palace on the Back in Black tour. Almost got crushed to death. But that was amazing. I saw Ozzy [Osbourne] there on Diary of a Madman. It was the first show with Randy Rhoads on that album. They only played for like 45 minutes, because something backstage caught on fire. There was a bunch of stuff that wasn’t working. The curtains wouldn’t even open, but it was still mind-blowing.
Was that the first time you saw AC/DC?
No, I saw them with Bon Scott at Day on the Green, back in the day. The AC/DC show, I had a friend who drank too much and he passed out before the show, down in the pit. This other friend of mine’s going, “We’ve got to take him out of here!” I was like, “Fuck that guy, I’m not [moving].” Because we were dead center, upfront. It’s like, I’m not leaving my spot. We worked our asses off to get this spot! Because he’s a jackass, I have to leave my spot? Screw that! So somebody else took him up, put him in the seats, and he sat in the seats the whole rest of the time.
I had a lot of friends back in the day that would break into their dad’s medicine cabinets, eat the pills, drink and end up passing out somewhere. We’d have to turn them on their side so they wouldn’t choke on their vomit. Shit like that. I never tolerated it. It always pissed me off that they would be that irresponsible. So, somebody fucking with my good position in the pit at AC/DC’s Back in Black show? Fuck that guy! He was kind of a showoff jackass anyway.
The Day on the Green shows were legendary. What was it like seeing AC/DC with Bon Scott?
I didn’t know much about them at the time. People were like, “Oooh, AC/DC!” and I’m like, “Who the hell is that?” I saw the show and I was like, “Holy mackerel!” It was incredible. It was a pretty spectacular bill. Ted Nugent was headlining, with Aerosmith, AC/DC, Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. St. Paradise, Ted Nugent’s backing band [was also on the bill]. I remember that there was a lot of vomit at Day on the Green. Those were the days when you’d all be in a big line queuing up somewhere and all of the sudden, the whole line would part because somebody just vomited on the ground and everybody scattered. Those were the days. Jack Daniel's and outdoor concerts, that’s what you did in the ‘70s.
Now that you've spent a good amount of time playing Rush's A Farewell to Kings live, what hits you about the record itself?
I just learned something yesterday. Alex said they did “Xanadu” in the first take. That’s the first take when they recorded it. They did one pass through, just to get tones, so the engineer could dial in tones. And then they did one pass and that was it. That’s amazing.
The Rush guys are known for their sense of humor. Were you a victim of any pranks?
You know, I tend not to remember things. But my son’s working on the Primus documentary right now. So he’s been going through hundreds and hundreds of videotapes. There was one the other day that I was watching. It was our last show with Rush on the last tour [we did with the band]. I can’t even remember what song we were playing, I think it was “Here Come the Bastards.” This guy comes onstage and does a trumpet solo. It was Alex! I didn’t even recognize him. He had a baseball cap on, and he put a big piece of black electrical tape on his lip to have a big mustache. He’s just doing a trumpet solo the whole time, and he can’t play trumpet, but he was going for it. It was pretty good.
Is there another Rush album you'd like to tackle in the future?
The whole thing started because we would always joke, “Oh, let’s play Hemispheres in its entirety.” If we were to do another one, I would assume that Hemispheres would be next, just so we can complete the Cygnus saga. But I don’t know. I can’t commit to that.
Is there a Rush song you never got to see live that you wanted to?
I don’t think so. I can’t think of anything. I have the big book [Wandering the Face of the Earth] of Rush set lists. It tells the capacity, how full it was. The ticket price. It’s amazing. So I’m looking through this thing, and there’s nothing on any of the set lists from that period [of A Farewell to Kings] that has “Madrigal” on it. I asked Geddy, “Did you guys ever play ‘Madrigal’? I don’t see it on any of these set lists.” He’s like, “No, I don’t think we ever played that one." So we play it — and it’s a very sensitive moment on the stage.
Was there anything that spelled out why it wasn’t in the set lists back then?
It’s just such a creamy little [love song]. I don’t know, it’s not the zippiest number of the set. But it’s a good breather. It’s a good [moment of] decompression, right before you start building for “Cygnus.” All of the sounds come in and, “In the constellation of Cygnus." It’s just a good little interlude to the fuckin’ onslaught that is “Cygnus” that comes at you after that.
Every band seems to have a song like that in the catalog.
I can speak as a Primus guy, there are songs that are really fun to play. It just feels good to play them. Like, for us, that was “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweakers.” It’s in almost every set list because it just feels good! But then “DMV,” we rarely play that one. Because a) it’s just so fuckin’ hard. I’m like, “What was I thinking back then?” And b) it’s just not as fun to play. You’ve got to kind of do some juggling. You’ve got to juggle too many balls to do that one. So that one doesn’t make the set list often. I’m sure that there are a lot of Primus songs that don’t really make the cut.
Is there one that you don’t play, along those lines, or one that you’ve never played from the Primus catalog that fans ask for a lot?
People do request “DMV” a lot because it was a single at one point. We get people requesting songs off of Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People. We just haven’t played it, mainly because it’s not on the radar. But we keep talking about it. Like, we didn’t play anything off Antipop forever. Now, we’ve been playing quite a few things off of Antipop. One of my favorites is “Eclectic Electric.” We’ve been playing the hell out of that one. But maybe for this next tour, we’ll start dipping into the Animals record. Because there’s some cool shit on there. There are some great drum parts on that record. We keep talking about it, but it’s like, “Well, we’ve gotta learn this Rush thing!”
When do you think the Primus documentary will be done?
It’s a massive undertaking. My son graduated [from college], and he has a gaming degree. He knows all of these 3D programs and all of these different things. He started getting into it and actually made a game with some friends. He’s like, “You know, I want to make films.” He started making all of these films during COVID. I don’t know if you saw that thing he did, it was me and Robert Trujillo. He’s done a few other things and he wants to get into filmmaking. He’s written a bunch of scripts. So I said, “Well, shit, why don’t you make the documentary?” So he’s literally been going through hundreds of hours of footage. He’s putting this thing together and working with a friend of ours who is a big producer. It’s going to be like a real thing.
Watch 'Precious Metals' With Les Claypool and Robert Trujillo