The 19-year-old died in a car accident in August 1997, leading to a lengthy hiatus for the prog-rock trio. Though they weren’t confident they’d play again, a meeting with the former Led Zeppelin frontman gave them renewed clarity.
“[Jimmy] Page and Plant were touring [their 1998 album] Walking Into Clarksdale, and they came to Toronto,” Lee told Classic Rock in the magazine’s new issue, highlighting the duo’s July 4, 1998, show at Molson Amphitheatre. “Someone kept calling our office saying they were Robert Plant and they needed to speak to me. No one believed it, but turns out it was him.”
Noting that Rush “were not in a good place” following Selena’s death, Lee said he called the singer back and was invited to their Toronto show.
“I was pretty down in the dumps at that point. And he said, ‘No, come to the show, we’ll talk,’” he said. “He understood what was going on with the band. I remember him saying: ‘You’ve got to rejoin life, and sooner is better than later. So get your ass down here.’ So I called Alex [Lifeson] up and said we’re going to see Page and Plant.” (Plant lost his five-year-old son Karac to a stomach virus in 1977.)
“And they were totally awesome,” Lee added. “They were so nice. There’s nothing better than meeting someone you admire for so many years and so many reasons and finding out they’re true gents.”
The late ’90s were particularly challenging for Peart, whose common-law wife Jackie died of cancer in June 1998. The drummer subsequently drove across North America by motorcycle, documenting his travels in the 2002 memoir Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Rush did reconvene in early 2001 to record what became their 17th studio LP, Vapor Trails.
In the Classic Rock interview, Lee also opened up about Led Zeppelin’s influence on Rush in their early days. Upon hearing the hard-rock band’s first record, Lee said Rush “wanted to be them instantly.”