Written by Michael Oshust
A drummers drummer ...
Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns
When you think of the world's greatest drummers, a handful of greats come to mind, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Buddy Rich, Neil Peart, and Ginger Baker.
Every drummer has a signature that makes them unique to the audience. For example, The Police sound the way they do because of Stewart Copeland's use of space, subtlety, and aggression. He's undoubtedly the primary drummer least interested in playing the snare, and his signature parts involve intricate hi-hat patterns.
When anyone thinks of Neil Peart, they think of progressive rock. What Neil Peart is known for is his precise and meticulously plotted percussion anyone has ever heard or seen.
Neil Peart got a drum kit for his fourteenth birthday, and he began taking lessons from Don George at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music. He drew most of his inspiration from drummers such as Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and John Bonham, players who were at the forefront of the British hard rock scene in the late '60s and early '70s. As time passed, he began to emulate jazz and Big Band musicians Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.
When Neil Peart auditioned for Rush in 1974, his bandmates heard a driving rock sound similar to Keith Moon. In reality, Peart's playing was the opposite of Keith Moon.
As Rush grew a following in the mid-to-late '70s, Neil Peart revealed himself as both an obsessive craftsman and a wildly ambitious artist. Neil Peart was not afraid to experiment with new sounds and using orchestra bells, temple blocks, tubular bells, wind chimes, timbales, crotales, gong, bell trees, triangles, and timpani to flesh out his baroque parts for songs such as "Xanadu" and "The Trees."
As Rush progressed into the '80s, so did Peart's playing incorporating electronic percussion into songs. Shortly after choosing to include electronic drums and triggers, Neil Peart added what became another trademark of his kit: a rotating drum riser. Peart's live drum solos included a rotation-and-swap of the front and back drum kits as part of the drum solo, and that it provided both a symbolic transition of drum styles within the drum solo.
From 1996 to 2002, Neil Peart used two hi-hats, nine cymbals, nine toms, two snares, twelve electronic drums, and two cowbells on stage.
Neil Peart received numerous awards for his musical performances, including an induction into the Modern Drummer Readers Poll Hall of Fame in 1983, making him the youngest person ever so honored. He became a member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 alongside his bandmates in Rush.
On November 18, 2013, Alex Lifeson said the band had committed to taking a year off, following the completion of the world tour in support of the album Clockwork Angels.
On January 22, 2015, Rush officially announced the Rush R40 Tour, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Peart's membership in the band. The tour started on May 8 and wrapped up on August 1, 2015, in Los Angeles. On December 7, 2015, Neil Peart stated in an interview that he was retiring. Neil Peart had been suffering from chronic tendinitis and shoulder problems. In January 2018, Alex Lifeson confirmed that Rush is "basically done."
Neil Ellwood Peart passed away from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, on January 7, 2020, in Santa Monica, California. He had been diagnosed three and a half years earlier, and the illness was a closely-guarded secret in Peart's inner circle until his death. His family made the announcement on January 10, 2020.
Musicians react to Neil Peart's passing
Tommy Shaw of Styx
”So heartbreaking to hear that Neil Peart has left us. My deepest sympathies to Alex, Geddy and the entire RUSH family. His magnificent array of drums and his distinctive style made an indelible impression on millions of aspiring young drummers. There appeared to be no half measures with him unless they were ones written into the progressive arrangements of Rush songs.”
"Words can’t explain what this man meant to all us drummers !!!! I’m devastated ❤️ my thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends . JB"
Lars Ulrich of Metallica
"Thank you Neil.
Thank you for inspiring me and for all your help and advice along the way, especially in the early days when you took the time to talk to a young green Danish drummer about recording, gear and the possibilities that lay ahead...
Thank you for what you did for drummers all over the world with your passion, your approach, your principles and your unwavering commitment to the instrument!
Rest In Peace."
Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters
“Today, the world lost a true giant in the history of rock & roll. An inspiration to millions with an unmistakable sound who spawned generations of musicians (like myself) to pick up two sticks and chase a dream. A kind, thoughtful, brilliant man who ruled our radios and turntables not only with his drumming, but also his beautiful words…I still vividly remember my first listen of 2112 when I was young. It was the first time I really listened to a drummer. And since that day, music has never been the same. His power, precision, and composition was incomparable. He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”
Nancy Wilson of Heart
“So sad to learn Neil is gone. What a immense talent and influence on the course of rock music for all time. He was such a magical cornerstone in the Temple of Rush. Rush is forever timeless.”
"I met Neil a few times. I wasn't a close friend. But the times I did hang with him, he was really the nicest guy — one of the most polite, really genuine kind of people. And he was always nice to everyone that I've seen around him when I hung out with him… I was around 10 years before Neil, so I wasn't [sitting around and saying], 'I wanna learn these RUSH songs, practice RUSH songs.' But Neil told me that he listened to some of the stuff I did that was an influence on him. And that really hit home with me, because when I heard that 'Tom Sawyer' track, I said, 'Man, that is some great playing.' … So I really had a lot of respect for him just on that one track. And his history is ridiculous. So, God bless Neil. Rest in peace."
Geoff Tate of Queensryche
"Neil Peart changed drumming for many people and really exposed to drumming to people who hadn't thought about it before past keeping the beat. He was a musician's musician, an incredible lyricist and an all-around really nice guy. I had the good fortune and opportunity to hang out with him several times in my life and he was always a gentleman and treated everybody around him with respect and dignity. [He was] an exceptional man."
Alex Lifeson (L), Neil Peart and Geddy Lee (R) of Rush are inducted at the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Los Angeles April 18, 2013