Few drummers command as much respect as Neil Peart. The late, great Rush percussionist may not be the most flashy of names in the business, in fact, he may not even break into some people’s list of five greatest. However, those in the know always pay tribute to ‘The Professor’ for his unbelievable precision and encyclopaedic knowledge of his instrument.
The video below sees Peart not only playing on his drums, which is always worth watching, but without the fuzz of Alex Lifeson guitar or the thundering rhythm of Geddy Lee, we can get an even closer look at just how good Peart is. The clip shows Peart performing Rush’s classic tune ‘Subdivisions’ – taken from their seminal 1982 album Signals – and perhaps, most importantly, Neil Peart absolutely motoring through his fills in a display of performance that few could match.
The song represented a seachange for the band. Following on from their landmark year, on Signals, the band would make a big jump and bring on keyboards for the very first time. It’s a moment that Peart remembers well on ‘Subdivisions’: “It was an important step for us, the first song written that was keyboard-based. The upside of that: people don’t realise is that it made Alex [Lifeson] and I the rhythm section.” He doesn’t disappoint in bringing the rhythm and delivers perhaps one of his finest moments on the kit for Rush, and there have been many.
Though Peart may not get the acclaim of Keith Moon, John Bonham or Ginger Baker, the drummer’s influence is huge. After Peart passed away in 2020, former Nirvana drummer, Dave Grohl led tributes saying: “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.”
Adding: “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.”
When asked by Rolling Stone in 2015 what he would say if an offer to replace Peart for a show did come his way, he replied: “I’d say ‘I’m not physically or musically capable, but thanks for the offer.’ Neil Peart, that’s a whole other animal, another species of drummer. I know the arrangements, but I’m like Meg White to Neil Peart,” continued Grohl.
The thing that set Peart apart from the rest of the rock drummers of the world is that he never disappointed his fans. Bonham and Moon were ferocious players but they had performances where they were not up to speed, even having shows where they completely capitulated in front of the audience. Peart, on the other hand, wasn’t just supremely gifted but reliable too. Even within a set as expansive as the prog-rock juggernauts, Rush, where tangents were encouraged and musical evolution was a central theme, Peart would deliver his fills with precision and power.
Below, we get the perfect example of this as Neil Peart delivers a drums only version of Rush song ‘Subdivisions’.