BY NICOLAS GRIZZLE
Rush drummer Neil Peart has died at age 67. Reports are he passed away from brain cancer, and kept his illness secret from the public for three years. This is a sad day for drummers everywhere, but let’s remember his amazing work as an artist with memory.
For me, “Tom Sawyer” BLEW MY MIND when I first heard it as a teenager. This was before I played drums. Before I really knew what “odd time signatures” were. It was so badass, the drumming was so interesting; it was not just backing the band but really had something to say. And the drums sounded so, so good. Rush fully entrenched prog rock into my young soul, which was a huge part of what made me pursue drums.
Peart was an innovator. Imagine being on top of your game, in a world-renowned rock band, and taking it upon yourself to relearn how to play your own instrument in a new style. That’s what he did for his Buddy Rich project, where he gathered some of the world’s top drummers—himself included—to record a concert with The Buddy Rich Big Band. He studied with Freddie Gruber for a week in New York, and after 30 years of drumming Peart started practicing every day in his basement, took on traditional grip, and met with Gruber with every six months or so for checkups. There’s even a DVD about the making of the project (Burning For Buddy). Despite the misleading description in the video above, the drummer on “Cotton Tail” on this tribute is indeed Neil Peart.
It’s hard enough to make a catchy hook with melody, and Peart did it with rhythm. The unmistakable opening of “YYZ” has been is a pop culture staple. And who can resist air-drumming when Rush comes on the radio? It’s icon-level stuff. It’s the kind of star treatment that drummers don’t usually receive. And without Peart’s influence on the music world, drummers would have been even more pushed aside in band popularity dynamics.
As a drummer, Peart was more than a basher—he was a real student of the instrument. Funny, considering his nickname amongst drummers as The Professor. But the best professors are those who never stop learning, themselves. The following two videos show his depth as a drummer and as an artist. It’s a lot to take in, but bookmark this page and come back to finish when you have time. Neil may be gone, but his music and wisdom will live on. Thank you, Professor.