TORONTO - Rush frontman Geddy Lee says music saved him in many respects as a youngster dealing with teenage angst and the death of his father.
"It was one of the first things I found that I was really good at doing," recalls the vocalist, bassist and keyboardist. "I was kind of a medium kid in every other aspect.
"I was kind of medium at school, nothing grabbed me in terms of education besides maybe English and history ... and I liked the graphic arts and things like that.
"But music was the first thing I found that I was good at picking up and expressing myself with."
Some people are simply born to be in the arts but it takes a good teacher to recognize, encourage and foster that in an engaging way, says Lee.
He and fellow Rush members Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart hope to inspire such educators as the sole sponsors of the 2016 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award.
This year's recipient is Don Bosse, a music teacher at Fredericton High School in the New Brunswick capital. He gets $10,000 plus a contribution to his school's music program and VIP treatment throughout JUNO Week, which kicks off March 28.
Rush surprised Bosse last week in Toronto, presenting him with his award while he was shopping for his attire for the Juno Awards.
"He was pretty freaked out," says Lee. "I think it's a really important award. People that toil away on a daily basis trying to inspire kids to follow their dream, I think that's a really important job."
Lee says he didn't have a teacher like Bosse growing up and he always felt there was a part of his musical education "that could have been so much more effective."
"Learning in school in that time was very rigid and very classical-oriented and you didn't have the kind of creativity that people like Don are bringing into the classroom," says Lee.
"I find that's what's so cool, when you go to some of these more contemporary and forward-thinking teachers, they're the ones that make a difference."
Instead, Lee and Lifeson, whom he met in junior high, jammed in the garage and basement.
"He was always a terrible influence on me," Lee says with a laugh. "But we liked music and we liked the same kind of music."
In what way was Lifeson a bad influence?
"In every possible way," chuckles Lee. "He was the first guy that got me to smoke a joint, so that was it. I was corrupted after that."
It was a high school guidance counsellor who helped Lee when his father died and made him realize that music was his calling. Lee eventually left school to pursue it full-time.
His mother was "extremely not pleased" when he left school, but she came around when she saw his bandmates on a local Canadian TV show.
"That was I think the first time she understood that I was an entertainer and not a lunatic," he says.
Such was the beginning of Rush, the pre-eminent prog-rock trio that's won 10 Juno Awards and sold over 40 million records worldwide. Last summer they wrapped their R40 tour and said it would "likely be their last major tour of this magnitude." (A publicist said questions about the band's touring future were off-limits in the recent chat with Lee.)
"Never did we imagine that we wouldn't be able to shake each other loose 40-plus years later," says Lee.