No Excuses: Words of the Prophets Take on the Rush Songbook

“Rush is the perfect band and Rush fans expect perfection,” said Bob Hester, lead vocalist of Words of the Prophets. “We take that truth very seriously.”


The Baltimore-based Rush tribute band has painstakingly honed a repertoire consisting of nearly 40 songs spanning 10 albums that includes some of the most musically complex compositions in all of rock music. 


“I will never get tired of playing Tom Sawyer because it’s always difficult to play right,” Rush drummer Neil Peart remarked in the 2010 documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, “and anytime I do play it right I feel good.” 


Words of the Prophets perform mainstays of the Rush catalog, including the entirety of both Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, as well as deep cuts ranging from Fly By Night’s “Anthem” to Presto’s “Show Don’t Tell.” 


They also tackle Hemisphere’s “La Villa Strangiato”—a nine-minute, 12-part epic that Rush bassist, keyboard player and vocalist Geddy Lee described as “a song where our ideas exceeded our ability to play them” in a 2018 interview with the Guardian. 


“When we first discussed forming the band, we agreed that we had to perform La Villa and perform it to a very, very high standard,” said Mitch Ford, drummer of Words of the Prophets. “Otherwise, why form the band at all?”


In addition to Hester and Ford, Words of the Prophets include Several Species veteran Chris Scholtes on guitar and his son Jonathan Scholtes on bass and keyboards. Each member of the band leans into the challenge of performing large swaths of the Rush songbook. 


“For me, this has been a seriously daunting musical task playing such intricate pieces with six- and twelve-string guitars, while triggering MIDI effects and playing keyboards with my feet,” said the elder Scholtes. “It’s fun to have that challenge and exciting when you put it all together,” he added.


The younger Scholtes, a highschooler, likewise revels in the challenge: “I got my first bass when I was in fifth grade, but hated it because most songs are boring to play. Then, in eighth grade, I heard “Vital Signs” and decided to learn the song. When I discovered how complicated and interesting it is, I went way deeper into the band’s discography.”


The difficulty of Rush’s music explains why Words of the Prophets have adopted an unconventional approach to building its repertoire. Whereas most bands work out songs as a unit, band members spend most of their time alone to learn and refine their individual parts. 


“Each of us will take these massive deep dives into three of four songs to make them practice-ready,” said the elder Scholtes. “We’ll then refine them further as a group to make them performance-ready.”  


Despite his age, the younger Scholtes may be the band’s most assertive member. He will recognize the need to tweak the tone of an instrument to match the original recording, for example, and urge the band to learn increasingly challenging material.  “He wants us to perform “Cygnus X-1, Book I” from A Farewell to Kings into “Cygnus X-1, Book II,” which is the first side of Hemispheres,” said his father. 


Ford and his bandmates find fulfillment in all areas of the Rush catalog: “One of the great things about being in this band is that there’s not a song that comes up that you’re not psyched to play. Even “Closer to the Heart,” which is a relatively simple song, is interesting and has a lot going on.”


When asked about Words of the Prophets’ live performances, Hester underscores the band’s commitment to exacting standards. “If you see a band cover Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and the lead singer can’t hit Steven Tyler’s high notes at the end of the song, then they simply shouldn’t cover the song,” he said.


“That’s our philosophy and we won’t cut corners because of a song’s difficulty,” he added. “This is Rush and there are no excuses.”