Today we will tell you about one of our favorite drummers - "The Professor" Neil Peart.
(Photo: Fin Costello)
Neil Peart was born on September 12, 1952, in Hagersville, Ontario, Canada, located southwest of downtown Toronto. He was the eldest of four brothers.
He began to take an interest in music through a radio transistor that was tuned to regional stations in Toronto Canada and Buffalo USA.
The first instrument he ever played was the piano, but he did not really connect to it and knew that it was not the instrument he wanted to play.
His interest in drums came from his uncle Richard who was a member of an R&B band. At first, Peart would play on his knees, with chopsticks all over the house. He was sucked into it so hard and would scatter drummer magazines on his bed and drum on them.
His parents saw his longing for drums and bought him a small, basic set for his 13th birthday. They sent him to learn to play with the promise that if he persisted for a year they would buy him a more professional set. Neil of course was very serious about learning the drums and got the professional set as promised.
By this time his parents had already seen how talented he is, and decided to send him to classes at the "Peninsula College of Music in British Columbia", where he became a professional. But this was not enough for Neil who continued to practice at home for hours long, listening to the great drummers he admired and trying to emulate them. Neil founded his drum lessons with occasional jobs.
Neil Peart made his debut performance at the age of 14, in school.
He later switched between different local bands, including "Mumblin' Sumpthin", "the Majority", and "JR Flood".
At the age of 18, Peart flew to London, hoping to succeed musically there. During his stay in London, Peart was exposed, among other things, to the writings of the Jewish writer Ayn Rand, whose philosophy greatly influenced him.
After 18 months in London without any progress, Neil returned to Canada and started working in the family business with his father, selling spare parts for tractors. during this time he joins a local band called "Hush".
At the same time, John Rutsey, the original drummer of "Rush" was ending his career in the band since he could not keep up with the demanding pace of the performances, partly because of diabetes he suffered from.
Bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson were trying to find a drummer to replace John Rutsey. One day comes a skinny guy with shorts and a short haircut to the auditions. He got out of a Ford Pinto car, took out a tiny drum set, parts of which were stored in boxes, and assembled it slowly and comfortably in front of them. Alex Lifeson remembered Neil did not make a good impression on him and he thought he did not fit the band's rock style.
As Neil began to play the jaws of his two fellow musicians fell out of their mouths, they heard the strengths and virtuosity of Keith Moon and John Bonham in his drumming and were shocked by his abilities. He played insanely and perfectly and of course, they immediately got him into the band.
The Day Neil Peart Joined Rush was 29/7/1974. It was Geddy Lee's birthday and Peart was then 21. Neil had exactly two weeks before the band's tour in the US and he had to quickly learn all the material ahead of the pre-planned tour.
Peart's first performance with "Rush" was in Pittsburgh on August 14, 1974. It was a warm-up show for the bands "Manfred Mann" and "Uriah Heep", in front of 11,000 people.
Peart's entry into the band brought with it not only an excellent drummer, but also an intelligent guy who knew how to write unconventional lyrics. He was an avid reading enthusiast and knew how to express himself in very high words. So, it was decided that Peart would be in charge of the lyrics while Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee would write the music. Peart's amazing writing and articulation words even earned him the nickname "The Professor".
Peart pushed the band forward and forced Geddy and Alex to challenge themselves musically. Without him, the band might still have remained in bluesy hard rock. It happened because of his dominant, very powerful, and yet smart and intelligent drumming style. But it happened mostly because of his writing abilities. How do words affect music, you ask? then when you write about topics of Tolkien and Ian Rand it's clear that music can not be within the regular framework of a chorus-verse. When writing in high language on philosophical things it is difficult to accompany them with a melody built on a 4/4 rhythm.
You can hear the change that Peart brought with him already on his first album with the band "Fly By Night" from 1975. He pulled the band in the progressive direction, when also in this album which is mostly hard rock and blues he managed to produce the mini piece "By-Tor & the Snow Dog" Which lasts 8:37 minutes.
On his second album with the band "Caress Of Steel, "he has already taken it one step further. He developed the idea of the long concept works and included in this ambitious album, not one, but two long epic musical pieces, the first "The Necromancer" - a three-part piece that spread over half of the first side of the album, and the second - "The Fountain of Lamneth", a work A six-parts that spread across the whole other side of the album.
The highlight came on the next album - "2112" whose lyrics were written by Peart. A 20-minute suite consisting of five parts. A fictional-dystopian science fiction story set in 2112 and based on the book "Anthem" by author Ian Rand. The album's Inner Sleeve combines the lyrics of the songs with other reading material that completes the full fabric of the story.
Peart's solos were an integral part of "Rush"'s performances and the audience came to see him with his marvelous playing. The first official recording of one such solo, is on the band's first live album "All the World's a Stage" from 1976. This amazing solo became a tradition when in all 40 years of the band's activity there was no performance without Peart drum solos, which from one tour to another, would put more and more percussion drums and pads into his drum set, until he reached a state where he would trigger sounds of Synthesizers.
In 1977, the band released "A Farewell to Kings", and with the desire to expand and develop musically, so did Peart's drum set which now included a variety of percussion instruments, from wind chimes to gong and tubular bells. One of the most prominent excerpts on the album is the mini-epic "Xanadu", which he wrote in detail under the influence of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Kobla Khan". A complex and dynamic section with a lot of rhythm changes in which Peart plays the role of a drummer and a percussionist.
In 1978, the band released their sixth studio album, "Hemispheres". The main work on this album "Cygnus X-1 Book 2: Hemispheres" is the second book in the work "Cygnus X-1" and a direct sequel to the first book located in the last track of "A Farewell to Kings" and called "Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage ". Peart's genius has managed to connect science fiction with Greek mythology in two pieces of work spread over two consecutive studio albums.
In the album "Permanent Waves" from 1980, Peart began to combine additional musical styles. The song "The Spirit of the Radio" was written by Peart as a tribute to everything that was good on the radio. "'The Spirit Of Radio' was actually written as a tribute to all that was good about radio," Peart said. The idea was to go through a wide variety of styles (Reggae, New Wave, Hard rock...), just like radio goes through a variety of styles, and Peart did it perfectly. Watch it via Drum Cam here:
The 1981 album "Moving Pictures" reveals Peart's genius, for his part in creating the instrumental piece "YYZ", which he based on Morse code that makes up the letters Y-Y-Z, which are the code of Pearson Airport in Toronto. Peart created the rhythm for the amazing instrumental based on the Morse code where the lines (-) are played using 8 notes and the dots (.) Are played using 16 notes, all at exceptional time signatures that lead the guitar, bass, and keyboards after them and not the other way around.
Later in the 1980s, Peart will not be afraid to experiment with electronic drums, and he will even begin to incorporate pads in his drum system that will activate various programs and sounds.
Peart will continue to experiment and challenge himself over the years, so for example, in the song "Territories" from the album "Power Windows" he played without a snare drum, in the album "Roll The Bones" he played with styles such as Funk and even some Rap and in the "Counterparts" album he was mainly influenced by the Grunge scene, but will play even in Jazzy style.
After the "Counterparts" tour, the band took a long break that lasted longer than expected. During this time Neil Peart began working on the tribute album to legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich - "Burning for Buddy" and took advantage of the break to specialize in jazz style playing, taking lessons from renowned drummer Freddie Gruber. The jazz lessons that Neil took made him change the whole perception of playing on the album "Test For Echo", when he played most of the songs on this album with a different stick grip, mostly known from jazz and called "traditional grip".
In August 1997, after the end of the "Test For Echo" album tour, Peart's 19-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. 10 months later, Peart's partner died of cancer. Peart said in his book "Ghost Rider" that at his daughter's funeral, he informed his friends, Geddy and Alex, that he was retiring from the band. Geddy and Alex gave Neil all the time he needed to recover from the tragedies that befell him. Peart underwent a difficult healing process that lasted several years. As part of the healing process, he crossed the U.S. on a motorcycle, for 14 months and 55,000 miles.
In 2001, Rush reunited and began working for the first time in years on a new material that would become the "Vapor Trails" album released in 2002. This album opens with "One Little Victory" and it is indeed a victory of Neil Peart, but not "small", when symbolically the song opens with an intro drum as a tribute to him.
Following the healing process on the motorcycle he developed a great love for it and from the tour of "Vapor Trails" on, he used to give up flights or band bus rides, in favor of riding on a motorcycle to the next performance location.
In 2012 the band released their last album "Clockwork Angels". Peart conceived the idea for a concept album that is completely "clockwise". The album includes 12 tracks that symbolize the 12 hours of the clock that appears on the album cover. The time on that clock is 9:12, which means 21:12, a kind of wink to the masterful album "2112" from 1976, and indeed this album was a kind of closure for the band, not only in terms of musical style, but mainly in terms of content that again deals with a science fiction story detailed by Peart for the album.
At the end of the tour that accompanied the album, Peart expressed to his friends his desire to retire from performances. The load on his body during the tours was huge and he feared that it would impair his level of playing. The band's performances last about 3 hours, which include complex and massive drumming and drum solos. This was very heavy on the body of a Peart who wanted to retire at the peak and spend time with his wife and little daughter after all the tragedies he went through. Alex and Gaddy had one last request, to go on one last grandiose tour. Alex Lifeson mentioned in detail the arthritis he suffers from which may also affect his playing, and begged for a final round. Peart agreed to a limited tour in the US only.
The tour included songs from all periods of the band. The performances lasted about 3 hours and began with the band's last record then returning in a reverse chronological order in time to the first record and finally a 16 -bar excerpt from the song "Garden Road" that the band recorded before the release of their debut album. During the shows, the band performed a song they had never performed live "Losing It" from the 1982 album "Signals" in which the lyrics of Peart speak of artists "losing it" and are no longer at their peak - a hint of Peart to the situation he is afraid of reaching.
Neil's last performance on stage was on August 1, 2015, when the "R40" tour ended. At the end of the show, Peart came down from his small on which his drum kit, in complete surprise, and joined his two friends for a final bow in front of the audience. It was a very unusual gesture that also surprised his two friends, as the shy Peart never got off the drum set to the front of the stage at the end of the performances and for almost 40 years waved to the audience behind his drum set at the end of the shows.
Later that year, Peart officially announced that he was retiring from music. Despite the announcement, there was hope that the band would reunite whenever there were for short tours or for an album, but in 2018 Alex Lifeson announced that Peart had indeed retired due to his health condition.
On January 10, 2020, Peart's family announced his death from violent brain cancer, on January 7, 2020, when he was only 67 years old. The announcement was received in utter shock by the music world. It turns out that Peart has been heroically battling the violent disease for three and a half years. He asked that his illness be kept secret and so it was, in interviews given by Geddy and Alex over the years they kept his privacy and didn't mention his illness to anyone.
Neil Peart was a huge drummer and a great lyricist who influenced an entire generation of drummers. Not for nothing did Mike Portnoy say that Peart is a God for him and he divides his life before and after Peart. Dave Grohl said Peart is a "whole other animal, another species of drummer"
Peart has released five DVD videos of drummer instruction like: "A Work in Progress" + "Anatomy of A Drum Solo" and "Taking Center Stage".
He has written 7 non-music books. In addition, he co-wrote science fiction books including the book that tells the story of the latest album "Clockwork Angles".
Peart came in fourth on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest drummers. It is his lowest place since there is no other list that he is not in the top three, not even lists of drummer magazines like "Modern Drummer" magazine where he is third.
A partial list of his awards and personal achievements, includes:
(Photo: Jesse Grant)
· Hall of Fame: 1983
· Best Rock Drummer: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 2006, 2008
· Best Multi-Percussionist: 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986
· Best Percussion Instrumentalist: 1982
· Best Instructional Video: 2006, for Anatomy of a Drum Solo
· Best Recorded Performance: in every Rush album Rush