Ian Grandy Interveiw: Rush’s First Roadie

By Skip Daly.

Ian Grandy

Ian Grandy at home in Ontarior, Canada (2009) - Photo credit: Paul Grandy

With the recent March release of Rush’s latest release, Retrospective 3: 1998 – 2009, it made sense to track down someone who had been on that journey with the band. We found Ian Grandy, Rush’s first roadie and he proved generous with his time and memories.

From the early days in 1969, Ian Grandy worked with the band Rush and did what needed to be done to help keep things running smooth, until his departure in 1983. As the road crew grew, he settled into his role as front-of-house sound engineer, finally transitioning to the role of security chief shortly before leaving the organization.

When Ian and I first began talking, he would share old war stories of his road dog days with the band. But, over time our conversations became more like one between two friends. Our talks would weave stories about our families and kids, about as often as we talked “Rush.”

Around Christmas time 2008, a package arrived in the mail at my home. I was touched to see that he’d sent me his old tour pass from the Moving Pictures tour, along with a medallion commemorating a sold-out four night stand in Chicago. I admit that the nod to our friendship might not excite most people. Even my own wife teased me with, “What could you get for them on Ebay?” But, we’re talking about a priceless treasure for a longtime fan like me.

Ian had a front-row seat and an all-access pass to Rush’s meteoric rise to fame, from playing weaty high school gyms to selling out massive arenas. I hope you enjoy his inside stories from those early days in the band’s careeer.

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Skip Daly: By all accounts, you were the very first crew member for Rush. How, where, and when did you first meet & get to know the Rush guys?

Ian Grandy: I knew John (Rutsey) and Alex (Lifeson) because they had been in a basement band called “The Projection” with my brother Al. Alex (Lifeson) was lead guitar because he could play the lead break from “Louie Louie”. They played songs like “For Your Love” by the Yardbirds and “Hungry” by Paul Revere and The Raiders. This would have been about 1967. John and Al had been in 4th grade at St. Paschals, while I was in 6th grade. Anyway, I knew they were playing as “Rush” in 1968. In early January of 1969, I broke up with a girl that I was crazy about and, for something to do, I helped them with the equipment when they played at the “Coff-in”, which was a church drop-in center for teens (I still drive by the place – St. Theodore of Canterbury, http://www.sttheo.ca). When Rush started doing sort of “real gigs”, Geddy asked me if I wanted to be their roadie (for no pay). All of us except John were still in school. My alternative to working for them was to go to college and become an accountant, so for sure working for a rock band seemed a hell of a lot cooler than that. Understand though that it’s all one-step-at-a-time, gig by gig, rehearsal by rehearsal. The big break for Rush and the Toronto bar scene came when the legal drinking age dropped from 21 to 18 (now 19) on January 1, 1971. It was like when the Beatles played for weeks at a time in Germany. So much time to fill, so songs would come and go, and you’re playing them again and again. We were a big band on that circuit and filled the bars, leading you to think you could actually make a living doing this.

Check Out GI’s Interview With Rush Guitarist Alex Lifeson

St. Theodore of Canterbury, site of “The Coff-in”, and Rush’s first ever gig (Sept, 1968)

St. Theodore of Canterbury, site of “The Coff-in”, and Rush’s first ever gig (Sept, 1968)

Skip: Was Ray Danniels (Rush’s long-time manager) already in the picture when you started working with the band, or did management come on board later?

Ian: Ray was from a town called Waterdown, and I guess he always wanted to manage bands. He was hanging around from about May, 1969, and you have to realize he was only 17 at the time. Anyway, he had his agency at the time, Universal Sound, which had a couple of bands, like “Fear”, in addition to Rush. There was no bar scene yet for rock bands, so it was a matter of playing high schools and beach houses. He put on a Hadrian show during a brief period of time when Geddy was gone from the band (Hadrian was John, Alex, Joe (“Fish”) Perna, and Lindy Young), sometime around June, 1969.

Skip: What were some of the early Rush gigs like? Can you share any stories or amusing anecdotes?

Ian: Well, how about Rush at 999 Queen Street. I don’t believe it’s there anymore, but for years 999 Queen Street was an insane asylum. The guys belonged to the musician’s union, and there was an older guard of people who ran the union and its elections. I was never there, but John used to keep me updated. Anyway, there was a big to-do because the guys who held the key to the ballot box and counted the votes were also the guys running for office, which kind of stunk. There were a couple of loud meetings that ended up as the “rock guys” against those “older guys”. As “punishment” for John speaking up, Rush was obligated to do a “trust fund” gig (for the one and only time) at this insane asylum. The union could assign you a gig for which you were only paid “scale” (which I think was around $125 for three musicians).

So, Liam Birt [ed: Rush’s second roadie, Birt still works for the band today as Tour Manager] and I drive to the hospital and report in at the desk. I remember sitting there and a patient goes stalking by like a big bird, out the front door he goes, and we were like “Is anybody going to stop this guy?!”. Anyway, they take us by these ten foot high barricaded doors, and you’re thinking “Who the heck is kept in there?” We get to a padded & locked door, knock on it, and a slot opens so they can eyeball us before opening it. As they open it, a guy who looked like half of his head has been melted tries to get out, and they tackle him to the ground. Ok, so we get to this room, and I then make the mistake of asking where we should set up. Four different guys came up and all of them point in a different spot. Liam and I looked at each other, and made our own decision. The band gets there and the “crowd” is led in – maybe 60 people, including one who thought he was Elvis. The most pathetic were about seven old ladies who they put right in front of the P.A. speakers, and they sat there unblinking and almost catatonic, and seemed totally unaware. I couldn’t help thinking that these were probably somebody’s mom, and what a sad way to end up. Anyway, the band plays and some of these folks dance. At the time, Rush was doing a version of the old Wilbur Harrison song “Kansas City”. They get to the line “they got some crazy little women there and I’m gonna get me one”, and the five of us (band and crew) are trying not to laugh too much as Geddy skips over the word “crazy”.

Check Out GI’s Review of the Rush Documentary “Beyond the Lighted Stage”

It wasn’t that big a deal, but anytime the subject of “weird gigs” came up we held the trump card with 999 Queen. No one in Toronto could ever top that one.

An extremely rare photo of Hadrian in 1969. L-R: Joe Perna, a 15 year-old Alex Lifeson, John Rutsey, and Lindy Young

Skip: Do you recall a movie from 1973 called “Come On Children”, featuring one “Alex Zivojinovich”? There’s also an “Alan Dunikowsky” in there. I recall reading in the book “Visions” that the band was hanging out at his house when they “first heard the first Led Zeppelin record”. Is that the same guy?

Ian: Wow, I haven’t heard about that for a long, long time. It’s been years since anyone’s brought that film up. I remember Alex doing that film and the main problem they had was that there wasn’t enough conflict between the kids. I volunteered to stay for a few days and cause a bunch of shit, to liven it up some, but I only said that as a joke. And yes, that’s the same Al Dunikowsky. If it was 1973 (somehow I think more like 1970?), then we would have been gigging a lot, so I’m not sure about that date. I had no idea that film still existed…wow.

Skip: There isn’t a lot known about John Rutsey. He obviously left the band fairly early on, in the summer of 1974. What was John like? How much of an influence did he have on the band’s songwriting and sound in the early days? Is it true that he really acted as the “front-man” at live performances, talking to the crowd between songs, etc?

Ian: John was one of three brothers – Bill, Mike, and John. His father, Howard Rutsey, had been a crime reporter for the old Toronto Telegram and had died of a heart attack before I knew John. John and my brother, Al, were in 4th grade together. I don’t know exactly how they got together, but my brother was in “The Projection” with John, Alex (Lifeson) Zivojinovich (“Son Of Life” in Yugoslavian), Bill Fitzgerald, and “Doc” Cooper in 1967. If they played actual gigs, it would have been at parties and I don’t know where else. John was the guy who would bug everyone to practice, and I think thought of himself as a “rock and roller”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There would have been no “Rush” without John. He never had any kind of job during that time, living at home with his mom (Eva). Anyway, John led the guys as far as being “glam rockers”, with really flashy jackets and pants, and 8 inch high boots. One time, he was speaking to me at the Gasworks and I said “Didn’t we used to be the same height (5’8”)?” He laughed and said “Well, maybe a long time ago!”

Skip: Rush went through several line-up changes during the 1968-1973 period. Folks like Lindy Young, Mitch Bossi, and Joe Perna all came and went. What memories do you have of this period, in terms of the lineup changes?

Ian: They called Joe Perna “Fish” because “Perna” sounds somewhat like “Piranha”. I remember standing in his parent’s driveway with John, and out comes Joe’s (very Italian) dad. Joe says “Listen to this”, and then says to his dad: “Dad, I’m telling you the Beatles don’t have any other jobs except being musicians.” And his dad, in a thick Italian accent, says “oh, come on, they’ve got regular jobs too.” Joe turned to us and said “See, this is what I have to listen to!”

Anyway, I think it was pretty much right after that [ed: summer, 1969] that they got Geddy back, and Lindy quit. We called Lindy “Limbo”, as he was a nervous type, but a great person and an excellent player of piano/organ and guitar. He could also hold his end up on vocals. After he left, there were times when, as the only roadie, I needed some help with back-to-back gigs 500 miles apart, and he and my girlfriend would be roadies for a day.

Mitch Bossi was added as a second guitar player for maybe six months of mostly bar gigs.

A very rare shot of Rush performing live with John Rutsey on drums. Date/location unknown.

Skip: Do you remember anything about Neil Peart’s audition?

Ian: We had American gigs lined up and no drummer. We were set up at a rehearsal place and three drummers tried out. The first guy was nowhere, the second guy was a guy they knew and liked but I think all of us knew he wasn’t good enough. Then this guy Neil shows up. Geddy looks at me and says “He’s a greaseball”, because Neil had what came to be called his “submariner” hair style (apparently there is a comic book character named that whose hairstyle reminded Alex & Geddy of what Neil had). Neil had this small, funky, grey drum kit and set it up himself. They proceeded to jam for about forty minutes and I recorded it as best I could with three microphones. After that, Geddy asked me was this guy as good as they thought he was, and I couldn’t do anything but agree because I don’t think I had ever seen/heard anyone play like he did. They talked together by themselves for quite a while and presto – we had a new drummer. Looking back I’d have to say that worked out pretty well.

Skip: After John left the band, he maintained a fairly low profile. Supposedly he went into body building, and kept in touch with Alex to a degree (up until the late 80s). Did you keep in touch with John? Do you know anything about his post-Rush activities?

Ian: I didn’t see John for a year or so after he left, but eventually started to play golf with him, his brother Mike (“Choke”) Rutsey, and Gary (“Doc”) Cooper, as we had before and yeah, he’d been in the gym and was more muscular than he’d ever been. I was happy that he was into something healthy as we’d been friends inside the band and outside as well.

Skip: From books that have been written about the band, Rush fans know of some songs from the early days like “Slaughterhouse”, “Run Willie Run”, “Tale”, and others that were never officially recorded/released. Do you remember any of these early songs? Do any recordings exist of them, even just recordings from live shows? Do you remember recording, or anyone else recording, the band at any of the pre-1974 shows?

Ian: As far as the band’s older songs, the three you mention were so far back in the band’s history that I wouldn’t believe anyone has recordings of them. Certainly, I do not and never did. We didn’t have any taping equipment in those early years. I do still remember some of the older songs, like “Sing Guitar”. On the “Feedback” album they did a few years ago, they did “Mr. Soul”, an old Buffalo Springfield song that they did in the bar days. Back then, they’d open the night with Suffragette City, by Bowie, and later in the night, when the ladies were a little drunk, girls would scream for them to play it again, and the dance floor would be rocking for that. You may have a recording with “Bad Boy”, by some group called The Beatles…I loved that song, and the guys rocked it good. We had regular friends who’d come out to the various bars to see us, and one of them, a friend of ours named Dave Donne, would always scream out for them to do “Wooly Bully”. One night, at Larry’s Hideaway, they plotted between sets and then came out, and John made like a front-man and I introduced them as “John Rutsey and The Pharaohs”, and indeed they did “Wooly Bully”, to the crowd’s delight. I know you’d kill someone for a recording of those days, but sadly I do not have any.

As for other older songs, I honestly don’t remember the others. Some of them died a natural death. A couple of times in later years, near the end of a tour, you’d be doing a shorter set in Europe, and one of another of the band would declare they were “done” with a certain song, and never wanted to play it again. Then, another would be like “fine, if we’re not playing that song, then I refuse to ever play this song again either.” I don’t know if people realize that bands get tired of songs.

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Skip: What is your all-time favorite Rush song?

Ian: My favorite Rush song would be a toss up between Subdivisions and YYZ. YYZ because with no vocals the band could just fly and, whether you like them or not, the boys can really play. YYZ is a powerful song. I think Subdivisions delivers the best message to the average kid listening, and I’ll include Something For Nothing in that too.

Skip: You were the band’s sound engineer from 1969 through 1980. Did you make it a point to record at least a show or two from every tour? How did you decide when to record the band?

Ian: There would be a lot more board tapes after I no longer did sound, because they made Jon Erickson record more regularly. So, sorry to pour water on your hopes, but if there are Rush tapes out there, then I don’t know squat about them.

Skip: The Caress Of Steel tour was, by all accounts, a bit of a “black hole” for the band, and there really is not much documentation of it. What memories do you have of that tour? Do you recall anything about what was played, and what wasn’t? Do you recall anything about the tour-ending show at Massey Hall (January 10, 1976)?

Ian: We were playing secondary markets like Laredo, TX and Joplin, MO with Ted Nugent, and we ourselves gave the tour different names like “The Down The Tubes Tour”, as well as the one I gave it which was “The Drive ‘Til You Die Tour”. As far as Massey Hall, please realize that in Toronto Massey Hall is an important, historic venue that we were thrilled to play. As far as a gig, it’s kind of primitive – no room for the road cases backstage, and a very basic dressing room. It’s got great acoustics, but very little room for a P.A. My girl Nancy (I wasn’t married yet) brought my mom to it. The lights go down and half of the place fires up a joint. My mom asks Nancy “What the heck is that smell?” Hey Mom – it’s rock and roll!

Skip: What’s the funniest thing you remember happening on tour?

Ian Grandy

Ian Grandy

Ian: This picture of me with the beer bottle was taken outside of Maple Leaf Gardens. It was taken by a driver of ours named George Hoadley with a Polaroid. George and I had a wonderful relationship. I broke his collar bone, not once, but twice, and when he suckered me from behind I smashed a beer bottle over his head. To his credit, when the band questioned him all three times he had the guts to admit that he had instigated every confrontation. Ah, fun on the road.”

I don’t have the greatest sense of humor and was always something of a serious person. I’m involved in karate, and at the dojo the instructor often tells us to “relax, take it easy and don’t go so hard”, and he looks right at me when he says that because he knows I have difficulty going easy. When I fight, I want to kill my opponent because that is what you are really trying to do. Having said that, we had a lot of fun on the road and laughed our asses off pretty much every day…

I have a stage pass from the “Moving Pictures” tour that features a giant turd in a toilet bowl as the picture. It was called “The Shit Pass” (for obvious reasons). Guys would come up to you and say that they’d lost their pass and needed another one – which was fine, only you’d see their girlfriend wearing their pass 20 minutes later. When you gave them “The Shit Pass” as a replacement, it was amazing how fast they’d find their original.

Also, the Canadian Music Awards are called “The Junos”. Geddy used to joke that he should win the “Jew Nose” award every single year…

Skip: You’re frequently credited in liner notes as “Major Ian Grandy”. Where did this “Major” nickname come from?

Ian: As you can imagine, with any touring act people end up with several nicknames. I was known as “The Kid” in high school, but didn’t have a lot of nicknames on the road. One of the things we would yap about doing was to make a war movie starring us. My assigned role was as an over-the-top Major good at yelling and getting my troops killed. I think if you look at older Rush albums, you’ll see they gave a name to everybody on the jacket…things like “Herns”, “Leebee”, “Slider”, and “The Green Shrav”. So, although I’d wear a Major’s insignia on my shoulder and the stage crews would refer to me as “Major”, no one on our crew actually called me that. Anyway, the band put it on a couple albums and it kind of stuck.

Skip: What was the biggest challenge, technical or otherwise, that you recall facing during your career with the band? What was the most difficult aspect of the job, and what was the most rewarding aspect of it?

Ian: The hardest thing to learn was to be able to see a soundboard for the first time, with one vocal channel here and another one way over there, and all the other instruments at various places on the board, and whatever drum mics the sound company gives you, and then within the first song mix it so that it sounds good. That’s pressure. Sometimes, the sound guys were cooperative and professional, and sometimes you’re just some stupid band that they have to put up with. I remember gigs where you’d pull it together and make it sound hot despite a surly sound crew, and then when they realized you knew what you were doing and that the band could fly, they’d tell you how much they’d love to work with you. The reason we stuck with National Sound for so long was partially because they took care of us on our first cross-country tour with Rory Gallagher in 1974. When we got bigger, we always treated our support acts well. The band would go and visit them in their dressing room, and the crew always tried to be good to the other roadies. I’d always give them full power on the P.A., figuring that hey, if the guy could out-mix me then I needed to get better. Consequently, other bands loved playing on tours with us because they’d often get soundchecks and ate side-by-side with us. The odd time, if they had three guys stuffed into the front seat of a truck, we’d get one of them to ride on our tour bus with us. Not a lot of crews were that nice to the other crew. Hey, the old expression “what comes around goes around” very much applied. You would never want to be working for anyone else, walk into a gig where you’re supporting, and have some guy you’d screwed see you and think it was revenge time. That actually did happen a couple times the other way, where a guy who’s screwed us showed up on our European tour to be on our sound crew, and was recognized and told “no”. As Shakespeare wrote, “revenge is a dish best served cold”…

Hotel Room assignment for Rush - band and crew - 1976, when there were only 8 people on the road, including the band. The author/artist here is Mr. Neil Peart. According to Ian, "This rooming list shows you what the band wanted, which was a cammaradarie between all of us, with the band and small crew rooming together." Special thanks to Skip Gildersleeve, a.k.a. "Slidel.")

Skip: Which of the band members did you tend to get along with the best, and why? Did you consider them all to be friends, or was it more of a boss/employee relationship? And, how did this dynamic evolve over time, as the band got bigger?

Ian: Well, I’ll just say that it was kind of weird that these two guys I’d known for years (i.e. Alex since he was eleven; Geddy since he was fifteen) became “rock and roll superstars” within a few years’ time…

Skip: By all accounts, things started changing in a big way as the band’s success grew (late 70s, early 80s). Did you find the increased fame and subsequent “circus” atmosphere (i.e. fans trying to gain access to the band, etc) to be difficult? Did you enjoy interacting with fans, or was it more of a nuisance?

Ian: You wouldn’t believe some of the crap you’d hear, like “this friend of mine was once the drummer for Rush!”, and it would work out that these guys would have been about six years old in 1969, when the band formed. But no – these people could not be convinced. Then you’d get people coming up to you and asking if you knew where Ian Grandy was because they were a “very good friend of his”. I’d always say “I have no idea where that asshole is”, and they’d get insulted that I’d dissed their “friend” Ian. One time, we were on tour and these two bimbos kept phoning my wife and telling her they’d “do anything” for me if I’d give them Geddy’s home phone number. Needless to say, my wife was pissed at me when I got home, and for once I was completely innocent. I changed to an unlisted phone number very shortly after that.

Incidentally, during the last karate tournament I coached at, some lady I’d never seen before approached me and in front of students told me she’d bet her friend that I was ‘Ian from Rush’, and that when she was 15 she’d had the biggest crush on me. Nice to hear, but come on. Of course, the kids are going “Who? Rush? Who the heck are they?” Some of them still kid me about that…

Skip: Are you still in touch with anyone you met from your time with the band? Would you ever go see a Rush show now?

Ian: When I worked for the band, I always thought it was kind of pathetic when old roadies would show up, and for that (and many other reasons) I would never go see Rush. At this point, I wouldn’t know the crew, and I’d be some relic from the past, so I’d never embarrass myself doing that. Anyway, I can’t imagine how many “old crew” there would be at this point…so I don’t blame the guys for being distant. Hey, once you’re no longer part of any organization, that’s that. If you’re in their position, everyone wants something from you, and so they have to protect themselves. It was like that in 1978, and I’m sure way worse in 2008.

Skip: Were you a fan of Rush’s music, or was it more a “job”? If so, are you still a fan, and have you followed anything that the band has done since you left the Rush organization?

Ian: I never listened to Rush at home when I did work for them and I don’t now. I am ignorant of their recordings since my time with them. I am still a music fan, although you couldn’t drag me to any concert, except maybe if Johnny Winter came around.

Skip: Is that you that can be seen in the opening of “Exit…Stage Left”, shepherding the band to the stage?

Ian: I’ve seen dumb things on the web that give me a “movie credit” for “Exit…Stage Left” for exactly what you saw. Yes, I was taking the band to the stage in Montreal (March, 1981). I would bring Neil up the back of stage and he’d be snuck into his kit and be ready before Ged and Alex were escorted to the stage. I would get near the dressing room and shout out ‘Ellwood!’ and he knew to go.

Skip: When did you stop working for the band?

Ian: My last date with the band was in Montreal, on April 9, 1983.

Skip: What are you doing these days? Do you have any regrets related to your time with Rush, or are you pretty content at this point about the past?

Ian: In my high school yearbook blurb, I listed my ambition as “being a roadie for Jimi Hendrix”, so I got to live a dream by being a roadie for fifteen years. At the same time, I remember meeting my wife (now ex) and baby daughter at the airport and, after being away 9 or 10 weeks, my little girl wasn’t sure who I was. That will rip your heart out. Anyway, when my time was over, I got a job and I’ve been here 25 years. As dull as that sounds, it’s fine with me. I am proud of the time I spent with Rush. I choose to think of the accomplishments and good times.

Retrospective 3 (1989 – 2008)

Rush "Retrospective 3 (1998 - 2008)

Rush "Retrospective 3 (1998 - 2008)

On March 3, Canadian rockers Rush released Restrospective 3 (1989-2008), a deluxe edition set chronicling their 20 years with Atlantic Records. The release covers the highlights of that period nicely, including the hits like “Dreamline” and “Driven”, as well as some of the better deeper cuts, like the beautiful title track from 1989′s “Presto,” a track that been surprisingly overlooked in the band’s live set. The release also includes new remixes of “One Little Victory” and “Earthshine”, from 2002′s “Vapor Trails”. An album often criticized for its production quality, but full of powerful tunes nonetheless, the remixes showcase those songs in a whole new light and make a compelling case for a remix of the entire album.

To round things off, the two-disc version of Retrospective 3 includes a bonus dvd featuring all of the band’s Atlantic-era videos, and some bonus live footage. It’s yet another “must-have” for Rush fans.

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