The late Rush drummer, Neil Peart was unlike any other. A total rhythmic mastermind and the band’s primary lyricist, Peart existed in a realm of his own construction. A technically gifted musician, with a cerebral, dream-like way of writing lyrics, he was certainly an enigma. If one was to think of him, you’d instantly be met with an image of him sat behind a huge drum kit, donning his iconic tubeteika headpiece.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1952, by early adolescence, Peart had become keenly interested in music via a transistor radio that he had acquired. He tuned into popular music stations in the city’s of Toronto, Hamilton, Welland and Buffalo, and was totally enamoured with what he heard.
His first exposure to musical training did not start on the drums as one would imagine, rather, it came from piano lessons. However, this would not inspire the young Peart who found it boring, as he admitted in the 1997 instructional video, A Work in Progress.
Like a lot of drummers, Peart was constantly drumming on various objects around the house, with a particular penchant for using chopsticks as his aids. Subsequently, for his thirteenth birthday, his parents bought him a pair of actual drums sticks, a practice drum and some lessons with a local teacher. They reached an agreement: if Peart promised to stick at it for a year, they would buy him a full kit.
Given what we know now, by the time his fourteenth birthday rolled around, Peart had received the drum kit, and was taking regular lessons from Don George at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music. This was to be his first real foray into the world of drumming. Firstly, he started playing in bands for events at his school, before moving on to extra-curricular garage bands who played at a variety of venues across the local area, including skating rinks.
He then had a brief sojourn to London at eighteen, where he hoped to take off as a professional drummer. However, after eighteen months of becoming increasingly frustrated with his lack of opportunities, Peart returned to Canada. This proved to be a fateful decision that would change his life forever.
Upon returning to Canada, he was recruited to play the drums for a local band named J R Flood, regulars on the Southern Ontario bar circuit. Soon after, via a mutual acquaintance, Peart was persuaded to audition for a Toronto based rock band named Rush, who needed a swift replacement for their original drummer, Josh Rutsey.
It was none other than founding members frontman/bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson who oversaw the audition. Retrospectively, Peart’s arrival had been regarded as having a rather comedic value. He arrived in shorts, driving a battered Ford Pinto and had drums stored in metal bins.
Furthermore, although Lee and Peart immediately hit it off on a personal level, he felt that musically the audition was a disaster. Initially, Lifeson wasn’t convinced either. However, after a discussion Lee and Lifeson came to an agreement, Peart would be the band’s new drummer.
Retrospectively, Lee remembered the audition: “He comes in, this big goofy guy with a small drum kit with 18-inch bass drums. Alex and I were chuckling – we thought he was a hick from the country. And then he sat down behind his kit and pummeled the drums, and us. I’d never heard a drummer like that, someone with that power and dexterity. As far as I was concerned, he was hired from the minute he started playing.”
He officially joined on July 29, 1974, two weeks before their first US tour. The rest was history. Rush would embark on a long, sonic odyssey, releasing nineteen studio albums. Each of its three members would be hailed as legends in their respective musical disciplines and would inspire countless others to pick up an instrument.
Due to Rush’s iconic status as the king’s of prog-rock, Neil Peart would become known for his brilliant style that made use of a variety of percussive instruments including orchestra bells, tubular bells, wind chimes, crotales and timbales, to name but a few. He would also become a master of electronic percussive instruments as well, using samplers and MIDI trigger pads increasingly across the band’s career. Always innovative, he was nothing short of a pioneer.
Join us then, as we list five drummers who have been inspired by Neil Peart. With so many citing him as an influence, it has been tough to trim it down to so few. This is a varied account, showing his true prowess as a drummer with a large crossover appeal. Although he passed away in January 2020, Peart continues to live on through his dense back catalogue of work.
Five drummers Neil Peart inspired:
Instantly you might be surprised to see Red Hot Chili Peppers’ funk-rock master, Chad Smith, on the list. But when you think about it, Peart was one of the funkiest drummers to have ever lived, and across his nineteen studio outings, he locked in with Geddy Lee’s bass and gave us some iconic grooves. This is also a testament to Peart’s skill as could not be pigeonholed.
Of the drummer’s influence, after the band played their final show, in 2015 Smith said to writer Philip Wilding: “I spent my sophomore year of high school in the parking lot smoking weed and listening to (the Rush album) 2112.” He concluded: ”I do believe it’s a prerequisite for all rock drummers to go through a Neal Peart phase.” In the wake of Peart’s tragic passing in 2020, Smith Tweeted: “Farewell to a king”.
Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins is a hard-rocking maestro; there is no doubt about it. Embodying the spirit of John Bonham, he has also inspired a generation of young drummers through his pummelling yet groovy style. In 2013, Rush were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Hawkins and Dave Grohl. Of Peart’s influence, Hawkins announced: ”this guy spawned a generation of air-drummers… with his composition, craft and technique.”
Furthermore, in the wake of Peart’s passing, Hawkins paid tribute to him on 94.9 The Rock radio station. He opined: “There can never be another Neil Peart. No way. He had the craziest hands, and he just had such a unique thing.”
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is one of the most iconic drummers of the past 40 years. Without his incredible technique, many of today’s metal drummer’s would not exist, either directly or vicariously. Heavy metal’s original king of the double bass pedal has frequently shown his adoration for Peart. Ulrich would even become friends with Peart early on in his career, and the Canadian’s guiding influence played a big part in Ulrich really flourish as an iconic drummer in his own right.
Following the news of his friend’s death, Ulrich wrote on Instagram:
“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…”
Dave Grohl is the most iconic drummer of the last thirty years there is no argument. The drummer for Scream Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, amongst other ventures, Grohl is the modern embodiment of a rock star, and possibly the last of his kind. A hard-rocker at heart who has cultivated his own drumming style, it comes as little to no surprise that Neil Peart was an inspiration to him.
In his own statement following the drummer’s death, Grohl supported the sentiment that Peart was really our favourite drummer’s favourite drummer. He wrote that Peart was “an inspiration to millions with an unmistakable sound who spawned generations of musicians (like myself) to pick up two sticks and chase a dream”.
Like Chad Smith, Grohl also remembered the effect of Peart of Rush’s classic album 2112. He recalled: “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 were incomparable. He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”
No list of Neil Peart disciples would be complete without his 21st-century successor, former Dream Theatre drummer Mike Portnoy. The definition of a prog-rock drummer, Portnoy has at numerous points over the years shared his love for Peart.
He labelled Peart “one of my greatest heroes of all time”, and back in 2007 he even got to interview his idol. Showing the similarity between the two drummers Portnoy even said that throughout his career “there is no other drummer I have been compared to and asked about as much as Neil.” In February 2020, he simply called Peart “my hero”, which came as no surprise. All in all, Peart is clearly quite the legend and a highly influential one at that…