John Rutsey was born in Toronto, Canada in 1952 and started his career at an early age, still in the 60s, when he was a student at St. Patrick’s School, where he eventually met Gary Weinrib (Geddy Lee) and Alex Zivojinovich (Alex Lifeson), who were one year younger than him.
The trio formed Rush in 1968, which had other additional members in the following years when they were still performing at the bar circuit. But it was only Rutsey, Lifeson and Lee who were part of the band in 1974 when their self-titled debut album was released. It had praised tracks like “Working Man”, “Finding My Way” and “In The Mood”, which gave them a chance to even tour as the opening act for Kiss. But sadly Rutsey wasn’t able to continue as a member of the band during that same year.
The reason why the drummer John Rutsey was fired from Rush
The final performance of John Rutsey as a member of Rush happened on July 25, 1974 at Centennial Hall in London, Ontario, Canada. He was fired from the band especially due to the concern with his health, since he was diabetic and was drinking a lot on tour. As the former Rush manager Vic Wilson said in an interview for the documentary “Beyond The Lighted Stage” released in 2010, Rutsey was heartbroken to hear the news.
“John was not healthy. He had sugar diabetes and like any teenager, he liked to drink and whatever else. He was not taking care of himself. I took Geddy and Alex aside and Ray and I said ‘We have to replace John for his health. We can’t put him out there on that tour or we will bring him home in a box. So I discussed it with John, who of course, was heartbroken, but he understood. There was no saying that John wasn’t doing his job. It wasn’t for his ability to drum that he was let go. It was for health reasons,” the former manager said.
Lifeson also talked about how difficult it was for him to see Rutsey leave
“It was like coming to the end of high school. You’re with all your friends in high school and you think ‘oh yeah, we will know each other forever. Then everybody just goes in their own direction. And you never see those people again. It was a big deal, we had an American contract, we were going to the States. We only had less than a month to find somebody,” Alex Lifeson said.
The guitarist said in an interview with Rockline in 1989 that he used to see Rutsey quite often and that he became a bodybuilder. “John’s still around. I see John quite often. He gave up playing shortly after he left the band and went into body building. He competed on an amateur level for a while, doing that for a few years. And has sort of been in and out of that. But he still works out and I work out with him a few times a week at a local gym here, Gold’s here in Toronto,” Alex Lifeson said.
Rutsey passed away in 2008 at the age of 55 and at that time Rush released an official statement lamenting his death. “Our memories of the early years of Rush when John was in the band are very fond to us. Those years spent in our teens dreaming of one day doing what we continue to do decades later are special.”
“Although our paths diverged many years ago, we smile today, thinking back on those exciting times. Remembering John’s wonderful sense of humor and impeccable timing. He will be deeply missed by all he touched,” the band said.
Alex Lifeson believed they would have stayed together if Rush continued to be a local band
There were really no record companies in Canada in the early 70s and the Canadian groups really had to get a deal with American record companies if they really wanted the exposure to become a famous group. So even without a record deal, Rush decided to produce their own debut album. That record was eventually picked up by the Cleveland radio station WMMS and got played a lot by the DJ Donna Halper. Eventually Mercury Records heard about them and decided to sign the band. But as Alex Lifeson said in the Rush documentary “Beyond The Lighted Stage” (2010), Rutsey wasn’t really happy with that deal.
“(Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) We went from getting this offer, to getting an advance. (We were) buying equipment, everything was happening very quickly. I don’t think that John (Rutsey) really felt comfortable with what was happening. You know, we talked about musical differences and he was much more a straight ahead Rock kind of guy. He was more into Bad Company, whereas Geddy and I were more into Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd and bands like that. You know, if we stayed on the Toronto local circuit we probably would have stayed together and that would have been fine. But suddenly things were turning a page,” Alex Lifeson said.
According to Geddy, John Rutsey wasn’t an easy person to deal with
Rush’s vocalist, keyboardist and bassist told Classic Rock magazine in 2015 that Rutsey wasn’t an easy person to deal with. He wasn’t an open person and often didn’t share how he was feeling with him and Alex. He also recalled that Rutsey didn’t agree with the musical direction Rush had at the time.
“John was an odd gentleman. A difficult person, in the sense that he had a hard time dealing with himself. He was not a happy guy, and had demons that he wrestled with. And when you’re that kind of person it’s hard for you to deal with other people. There was a lot of conflict and secrecy in the band when John was in it.”
“We couldn’t really read him and he didn’t really care to share that much with us. And when Alex and I started pushing the music in a new direction, he eventually said: “I can’t get behind this.” That was the end,” Geddy Lee said.