In a parallel universe, the perfect marriage between Rush and the late drummer Neil Peart never happened. It’s impossible to measure precisely how great his impact was on the band, but they were significantly better off with him in the group.
It was unfortunate circumstances which led to Rush needing another drummer. They had formed in 1968 with John Rutsey at the helm of their operation, and he played a pivotal role in establishing their early sound. It was never part of their plan to replace him, but his health difficulties prevented him from continuing with the band.
Rutsey suffered from diabetes, which eventually took his life in 2008, had grown apart from his bandmates musically and hated being on the road. However, his decision to depart couldn’t have come at a worse time. Rush were on the brink of making it, and losing their drummer threw a monumental spanner in the works.
His final show came in July 1974, at Centennial Hall in Ontario, and Rush now had to find a new drummer if they wanted to continue. Otherwise, the dream they’d spent years chasing would be over instantly. In truth, the latter wasn’t an option to Alex Lifeson or Geddy Lee, who were both determined to continue.
Peart had acquired a reputation in the local scene, and his name had made its way to the band. According to his father, Glen, the opportunity that arose took him by surprise; initially, he didn’t know what to do.
His family owned a farm equipment shop hence why Glen told this anecdote to the publication, Farm Equipment. He recalled: “Neil had joined a small local band playing only on weekends. Somehow, his reputation had gotten around. The White Corvette visit to our farm equipment dealership has been documented several times. After lunch when the two men left, I could tell that Neil was really tormented. He was certainly not himself.”
He continued: “When we locked the door, he came and sat in my office and unloaded. The two visitors were the managers of Rush, a band from Toronto that were about to hit the big time. They had signed a contract and their first tour was arranged but their drummer had just dropped a bomb on all their plans — for health reasons, he had been told not to travel. The managers wanted Neil to audition ASAP and, if successful, to join the other two guys and start to practice — immediately!”
Rather than taking the opportunity with both hands, Peart initially hesitated to audition because he didn’t want to leave the family business in the lurch. However, his father encouraged Neil to take the opportunity with both hands, and the drummer never looked back from that moment.
Glen added: “Neil was consumed with guilt because we were just coming into our busy season and he felt he was letting me down. I finally said, ‘Neil, this could be the chance of your life. We have to talk this over your mother when we get home, but I feel you have to do this. It could be a dream come true and if it doesn’t work out, there will still be a Parts Department that can use you!’ Obviously, Mom agreed with my thoughts and the rest is history!”
Neil would fit like a glove in the band, passed his audition with flying colours, and helped push them to dizzy new heights. Not only did he allow Lifeson and Lee to fulfil their potential, but they also gave him the platform to show off his ability on the world stage — a match made in heaven.