Known as ‘The Professor’ of drums, Rush’s sorely departed, and ultimately legendary drummer Neil Peart, was still more than happy to take a lesson or two from his contemporaries. He gathered up the records of rock legends like books on a syllabus, proving he was perhaps the smartest drummer around. With a career that spanned over four decades, he had more than a few volumes too.
From legendary sticksman Keith Moon, perhaps the antithesis of Peart’s playing to the maestro Hal Blaine, Peart picked out some of the greats to be inspired by. Below, we’ve got a complete list of Neil Peart’s favourite drummer of all time; it makes for a truly inspiring list and one that acts as the perfect curriculum reading.
It’s hard to put into the context just how vital Neil Peart was to Rush and, by proxy, to the music industry as a whole. A man able to craft out and meticulously play some of the most complex drum fills the rock world has ever seen, was equally able to thrash through an entirely improvised set without missing a single beat and, in the meantime, interplay with his surroundings while always remaining tight as stretched leather on a fat biker’s backside.
Speaking to Modern Drummer in 1993, Peart once said, “One thing I have come to learn about influences is that although copying one style can never be original, copying many styles often is original… The best advice for someone who wants to develop an original style is: Don’t copy one drummer, copy twenty! I copied a hundred.”
We can’t bring you all of the hundred drummers and musicians that influenced Neil Peart but we can bring you a selection of his most favourite. When speaking in 2007, Peart said of gathering up influences along the way: “It will be understood, I hope, that the idea of being inspired by other drummers like that isn’t to ‘get ideas.’ It’s more about listening to great players and thinking to yourself, ‘That’s how good I want to be.’ You get fired up to try to raise your game.” Judging by the list, he certainly gathered up all the fire he needed.
Pulled together by Andrew Olson, we’re bringing you not only the perfect list of percussionists to peruse but also an educational playlist to get you into the rhythm of researching too. It’s a list jam-packed with incredible talent all of which deserves some extra attention.
“Gene Krupa was the first rock drummer in very many ways. Without Gene Krupa, there wouldn’t have been a Keith Moon,” and, it would seem, no Neil Peart too. Speaking to Zildjian in 2003, Peart went further to describe seeing such a powerhouse drummer. “The first time I remember feeling a desire to play the drums was while watching the movie The Gene Krupa Story, at the age of eleven or twelve,” remembers The Professor.
“I started beating on the furniture and my baby sister’s playpen with a pair of chopsticks, and for my thirteenth birthday,” recalled Peart, “my parents gave me drum lessons, a practice pad, and a pair of sticks. They said they wouldn’t buy me real drums until I showed that I was going to be serious about it for at least a year, and I used to arrange magazines across my bed to make fantasy arrays of drums and cymbals, then beat the covers off them!”
There is also, of course, room on the list for the influential jazz drummer Buddy Rich, who, we would bet, has influenced nearly all of your favourite drummers of all time. “I would often see Buddy Rich play on television, on the ‘Tonight’ show, but I would just shake my head—he seemed too far out of reach. As Gene (Krupa) said about Buddy, ‘There are all the great drummers in the world—and then there’s Buddy.'” Rich is widely regarded as one of the most inspirational percussionists ever and we strongly suggest you get to know the man as quickly as possible.
While Gene Krupa can be held accountable for the furious introduction of Keith Moon, The Who drummer can be widely seen as one of Peart’s major influences too, despite not possessing the same maniacal style. “It is certainly true that Keith Moon was one of the first drummers to get me really excited about rock drumming,” Peart told Modern Drummer. “His irreverent and maniacal personality, as expressed through his drumming, affected me greatly.”
For all those pointing out the vast differences in style between the two, it wasn’t something that went unnoticed by Peart himself, saying, “To me, he was the kind of drummer who did great things by accident rather than design. But the energy, expressiveness and innovation that he represented at the time was very important and great. It is ironic that I wanted to be in a band that played Who songs and, when I finally got into one, I discovered that I didn’t like playing drums like Keith Moon.” Moon was a unique proposition, and one can’t imagine much was transferred between the two, but Peart still had great admiration for Moon.
Another inclusion from a sixties mainstream act actually came from about six of them, the mercurial talent of Hal Blaine. In 2011, Peart told Gibson, “When I was growing up, I played along to the radio, so I played along to Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, The Association, and The Byrds, and I was really playing along to Hal Blaine. He played on all of those records and so many more. There was another drummer who said that he was shattered to find out that his six favourite drummers were all Hal Blaine.”
A stand out member of the sixties set was certainly Jimi Hendrix, and while he gathered up plaudits for his innovative style, Peart was attracted to his drummer Mitch Mitchell instead. “One Saturday morning during my drum lesson at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music in St. Catharines, Ontario,” Peart told Zildjian of his musical genesis. “I remember my teacher playing a record, then telling me, ‘this changes everything.’ It was Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? with Mitch Mitchell’s artful and innovative drumming.” Mitchell is often cited as one of the greatest despite his unquestionable talent and a huge influence on rock music, especially rock drumming.
Among the sixties clan, Peart has also picked out Cream’s iconic percussionist Ginger Baker as an unstoppable influence on his career. “His playing was revolutionary,” Peart told Rolling Stone in 2009, “extrovert, primal, and inventive. He set the bar for what rock drumming could be. I certainly emulated Ginger’s approaches to rhythm — his hard, flat, percussive sound was very innovative. Everyone who came after built on that foundation. Every rock drummer since has been influenced in some way by Ginger — even if they don’t know it.”
John Bonham may have begun in the sixties, but his rollicking performances with Led Zeppelin in the seventies captured Peart’s attention. He claimed: “When I was starting out, very young, John Bonham and Led Zeppelin were new in those olden days, and John Bonham did always the big triplets with his giant bass drum.” It’s an expected inclusion for any ‘favourite drummer’ list, and there are a few more to boot.
As well as Bonham, there are also spots for The Police’s Stewart Copeland, King Crimson’s Bill Bruford, Phill Collins, Freddie Gruber, Carl Palmer and more. It makes for one of the most comprehensive lists of influential drummers you’ll ever come across and now, with the perfect playlist to go with it too.
If it’s true that Neil Peart picked out his style from a range of hundreds, then we’d suggest the names below is the first place to begin. If you’re a keen drummer or like to bang your head to the beat, then the list below is pure bliss.
Neil Peart’s favourite drummers:
- Gene Krupa
- Buddy Rich
- Keith Moon
- Hal Blaine
- Mitch Mitchell
- Ginger Baker
- John Bonham
- Terry Bozzio
- Michael Giles
- Bill Bruford
- Stewart Copeland
- Carl Palmer
- Phil Collins
- Freddie Gruber
- Manu Katche
- Peter Erskine