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(Credit: Matt Becker)

Music

The pre-rock influences that changed the life of Rush drummer Neil Peart

@TylerGolsen

Neil Peart brought in a diverse array of styles to Rush. Originally a three-piece blues-based hard rock outfit in the same vein as Cream or Blue Cheer, the Canadian band were angling for more complex and progressive arrangements when Peart auditioned to replace original drummer John Rutsey. Peart had remarkable time and precision, but it was clear who he was basing his style off of.

That would be The Who’s legendarily combustible drummer Keith Moon. “Keith Moon had a wonderful way of framing the vocals,” Peart explained in the bonus features to the band’s appearance on the Classic Albums programme. “You can hear that it’s apparent chaos, but it’s not at all, it’s a very carefully designed chaos that frames the essence of the song. And it’s something that I learned early on was to do that: to frame the vocals and occasionally come in and punch up them.”

But before Moon, Peart was absorbing influences from drummers that had nothing to do with rock music, namely jazz bandleader Gene Krupa. “My first inspiration I always say was Gene Krupa, because when I was 11 or 12, I saw the movie called The Gene Krupa Story. Sal Mineo actually played Gene Krupa in it, but he did a great job of miming Gene Krupa’s drumming. And it seemed so glamorous and exciting and dangerous: Gene Krupa gets arrested for marijuana in it,” Peart said with a sly smile.

“I started playing in ’65, at age 13, and I played along with the AM radio in those days,” Peart added. It was through the popular music of the day that Peart gained another key influence. “Many of us in my generation often joke that our six favourite drummers were all Hal Blaine, because when I was playing along to Simon & Garfunkel, or The Byrds, or The Association: all these bands, they were all Hal Blaine playing drums on them.”

“I had a little AM radio, and a four piece drum set on the radiator beside me. I had a plastic radio that I played along with. Then when I started buying records, that’s when the first records I bought were by The Who and Blue Cheer.” Peart also revealed that his early bands often played San Francisco-based rock, including The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, and Jefferson Airplane. But it was the supercharged drumming of Moon that made Peart into the powerhouse drummer he eventually became, even if he always carried a little bit of jazz with him into his arrangements.

Check out Peart explaining his early influences at the 8:46 mark in the video down below.