Neil Peart
Peart performing in 2008
Peart performing in 2008
Background information
Birth nameNeil Ellwood Peart
Born(1952-09-12)September 12, 1952
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
DiedJanuary 7, 2020(2020-01-07) (aged 67)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • author
Instruments
Years active1968–2015[1]
Labels
Associated acts
Websiteneilpeart.net

Neil Ellwood Peart OC (/pɪərt/; September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020) was a Canadian musician, songwriter, and author, best known as the drummer and primary lyricist of the rock band Rush. Peart earned numerous awards for his musical performances, including an induction into the Modern Drummer Readers Poll Hall of Fame in 1983, making him the youngest person ever so honoured.[3] His drumming was renowned for its technical proficiency and his live performances for their exacting nature and stamina.

Peart was born in Hamilton, Ontario,[4] and grew up in Port Dalhousie (now part of St. Catharines). During adolescence, he floated between regional bands in pursuit of a career as a full-time drummer. After a discouraging stint in England to concentrate on his music, Peart returned home, where he joined Rush, a Toronto band, in mid-1974, six years after its formation. They released nineteen studio albums, with ten exceeding a million copies sold in the United States. Billboard ranks the band third for the "most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band".[A] Early in his career, Peart's performance style was deeply rooted in hard rock. He drew most of his inspiration from drummers such as Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and John Bonham, players who were at the forefront of the British hard rock scene.[6][7] As time passed, he began to emulate jazz and big band musicians Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. In 1994, Peart became a friend and pupil of jazz instructor Freddie Gruber.[8][9] It was during this time that Peart decided to revamp his playing style by incorporating jazz and swing components.[7][10]

In addition to serving as Rush's primary lyricist, Peart published several memoirs about his travels. His lyrics for Rush addressed universal themes and diverse subjects including science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy, as well as secular, humanitarian, and libertarian themes. Peart wrote a total of seven nonfiction books focused on his travels and personal stories.

On December 7, 2015, Peart announced his retirement from music in an interview with Drumhead Magazine,[11] though bandmate Geddy Lee insisted Peart was quoted out of context, and suggested Peart was "simply taking a break".[12] However, in January 2018, bandmate Alex Lifeson confirmed that Rush was retiring due to Peart's health issues.[13] During his last years Peart lived in Santa Monica, California with his wife, Carrie Nuttall, and daughter. After a three and a half year illness,[14] Peart died of glioblastoma on January 7, 2020, at age 67.[15]

Biography

Early childhood

Peart was born on September 12, 1952, to Glen and Betty Peart and lived his early years on his family's farm in Hagersville,[16] on the outskirts of Hamilton. The first child of four,[17] his brother Danny and sisters Judy and Nancy were born after the family moved to St. Catharines when Peart was two years old. At this time his father became parts manager for Dalziel Equipment, an International Harvester farm machinery dealer. In 1956 the family moved to the Port Dalhousie area of the town. Peart attended Gracefield School and later Lakeport Secondary School, and described his childhood as happy and says he experienced a warm family life. By early adolescence he became interested in music and acquired a transistor radio, which he would use to tune into pop music stations broadcasting from Toronto, Hamilton, Welland, Ontario and Buffalo, New York.[16]

His first exposure to musical training came in the form of piano lessons, which he later said in his instructional video A Work in Progress did not have much impact on him.[9] He had a penchant for drumming on various objects around the house with a pair of chopsticks, so for his thirteenth birthday his parents bought him a pair of drum sticks, a practice drum, and some lessons, with the promise that if he stuck with it for a year they would buy him a kit.[16]

His parents bought him a drum kit for his fourteenth birthday and he began taking lessons from Don George at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music.[16] His stage debut took place that year at the school's Christmas pageant in St. Johns Anglican Church Hall in Port Dalhousie. His next appearance was at Lakeport High School with his first group, The Eternal Triangle. This performance contained an original number titled "LSD Forever". At this show he performed his first solo.[16]

Peart got a job in Lakeside Park, in Port Dalhousie on the shores of Lake Ontario, which later inspired a song of the same name on the Rush album Caress of Steel.[18] He worked on the Bubble Game and Ball Toss, but his tendency to take it easy when business was slack resulted in his termination. By his late teens, Peart had played in local bands such as Mumblin' Sumpthin', the Majority, and JR Flood. These bands practiced in basement recreation rooms and garages and played church halls, high schools, and skating rinks in towns across Southern Ontario such as Mitchell, Seaforth, and Elmira. They also played in the northern Ontario city of Timmins. Tuesday nights were filled with jam sessions at the Niagara Theatre Centre.[16]

Early career

At eighteen years old after struggling to achieve success as a drummer in Canada, Peart travelled to London, England, hoping to further his career as a professional musician.[8] Despite playing in several bands and picking up occasional session work, he was forced to support himself by selling jewelry at a shop called The Great Frog on Carnaby Street.[19][20]

While in London, he came across the writings of novelist and Objectivist Ayn Rand. Rand's writings became a significant early philosophical influence on Peart, as he found many of her writings on individualism and Objectivism inspiring. References to Rand's philosophy can be found in his early lyrics, most notably "Anthem" from 1975's Fly by Night and "2112" from 1976's 2112.[21]

After eighteen months Peart became disillusioned by his lack of progress in the music business; he placed his aspiration of becoming a professional musician on hold and returned to Canada.[8] Upon returning to St. Catharines, he worked for his father selling tractor parts at Dalziel Equipment.[22]

Joining Rush

After returning to Canada, Peart was recruited to play drums for a St. Catharines band known as Hush, who played on the Southern Ontario bar circuit.[8] Soon after, a mutual acquaintance convinced Peart to audition for the Toronto-based band Rush, which needed a replacement for its original drummer John Rutsey. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson oversaw the audition. His future bandmates describe his arrival that day as somewhat humorous, as he arrived in shorts, driving a battered old Ford Pinto with his drums stored in trashcans. Peart felt the entire audition was a complete disaster.[8] While Lee and Peart hit it off on a personal level (both sharing similar tastes in books and music), Lifeson had a less favourable impression of Peart.[8]

After some discussion between Lee and Lifeson, Peart officially joined the band on July 29, 1974, two weeks before the group's first US tour.[23] Peart procured a silver Slingerland kit which he played at his first gig with the band, opening for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann's Earth Band in front of over 11,000 people at the Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 14, 1974.[24]

Peart soon settled into his new position, also becoming the band's primary lyricist. Before joining Rush he had written few songs, but, with the other members largely uninterested in writing lyrics, Peart's previously underutilized writing became as noticed as his musicianship.[25] The band was working hard to establish themselves as a recording act, and Peart, along with the rest of the band, began to undertake extensive touring.

His first recording with the band, 1975's Fly by Night, was fairly successful, winning the Juno Award for most promising new act,[26] but the follow-up, Caress of Steel, for which the band had high hopes, was greeted with hostility by both fans and critics.[27] In response to this negative reception, most of which was aimed at the B side-spanning epic "The Fountain of Lamneth", Peart responded by penning "2112" on their next album of the same name in 1976. The album, despite record company indifference, became their breakthrough and gained a following in the United States.[28] The supporting tour culminated in a three-night stand at Massey Hall in Toronto, a venue Peart had dreamed of playing in his days on the Southern Ontario bar circuit and where he was introduced as "The Professor on the drum kit" by Lee.[29]

Peart returned to England for Rush's Northern European Tour and the band stayed in the United Kingdom to record the next album, 1977's A Farewell to Kings in Rockfield Studios in Wales. They returned to Rockfield to record the follow-up, Hemispheres, in 1978, which they wrote entirely in the studio. The recording of five studio albums in four years, coupled with as many as 300 gigs a year, convinced the band to take a different approach thereafter. Peart has described his time in the band up to this point as "a dark tunnel".[30]

Playing style reinvention

In 1992, Peart was invited by Buddy Rich's daughter, Cathy Rich, to play at the Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert in New York City. Peart accepted and performed for the first time with the Buddy Rich Big Band. Peart remarked that he had little time to rehearse, and noted that he was embarrassed to find the band played a different arrangement of the song than the one he had learned.[31] Feeling that his performance left much to be desired, Peart decided to produce and play on two Buddy Rich tribute albums titled Burning for Buddy: A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Rich in 1994 and 1997 in order to regain his aplomb.

While producing the first Buddy Rich tribute album, Peart was struck by the tremendous improvement in ex-Journey drummer Steve Smith's playing, and asked him his "secret". Smith responded he had been studying with drum teacher Freddie Gruber.[32]

In early 2007, Peart and Cathy Rich again began discussing yet another Buddy tribute concert. At the recommendation of bassist Jeff Berlin, Peart decided to once again augment his swing style with formal drum lessons, this time under the tutelage of another pupil of Freddie Gruber, Peter Erskine, himself an instructor of Steve Smith.[31] On October 18, 2008, Peart once again performed at the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom.[33] The concert has since been released on DVD.

Family tragedy and recovery

On August 10, 1997, soon after the conclusion of Rush's Test for Echo Tour, Peart's first daughter (and, at the time, his only child) Selena Taylor, 19, was killed in a single-car crash on Highway 401 near the town of Brighton, Ontario. His common-law wife of 23 years, Jacqueline Taylor, succumbed to cancer 10 months later on June 20, 1998. Peart attributes her death to the result of a "broken heart" and called it "a slow suicide by apathy. She just didn't care."[34]

In his book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, Peart wrote that he told his bandmates at Selena's funeral, "consider me retired".[34] Peart took a long sabbatical to mourn and reflect, and travelled extensively throughout North and Central America on his motorcycle, covering 88,000 km (55,000 mi). After his journey, Peart decided to return to the band. Peart wrote the book as a chronicle of his geographical and emotional journey.

Peart was introduced to photographer Carrie Nuttall in Los Angeles by long-time Rush photographer Andrew MacNaughtan. They married on September 9, 2000. In early 2001, Peart announced to his bandmates that he was ready to return to recording and performing. The product of the band's return was the 2002 album Vapor Trails. At the start of the ensuing tour in support of the album, it was decided amongst the band members that Peart would not take part in the daily grind of press interviews and "meet and greet" sessions upon their arrival in a new city that typically monopolize a touring band's daily schedule. Peart has always shied away from these types of in-person encounters, and it was decided that exposing him to a lengthy stream of questions about the tragic events of his life was not necessary.[35][36][37]

After the release of Vapor Trails and his reunion with bandmates, Peart returned to work as a full-time musician. In the June 2009 edition of Peart's website's News, Weather, and Sports, titled "Under the Marine Layer", he announced that he and Nuttall were expecting their first child.[38] Olivia Louise Peart was born later that year.[39]

In the mid-2010s, Peart acquired U.S. citizenship.[40]

Retirement

Peart announced his retirement in an interview in December 2015:

Lately Olivia has been introducing me to new friends at school as 'My dad—He's a retired drummer.' True to say—funny to hear. And it does not pain me to realize that, like all athletes, there comes a time to ... take yourself out of the game. I would rather set it aside than face the predicament described in our song "Losing It" ...[11]

Peart had been suffering from chronic tendinitis and shoulder problems.[41] In January 2018, Alex Lifeson confirmed that Rush is "basically done".[13] Peart remained friends with his former bandmates.[42]

Death

Peart died from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, on January 7, 2020, in Santa Monica, California.[43] He had been diagnosed three and a half years earlier, and the illness was a closely guarded secret in Peart's inner circle until his death. His family made the announcement on January 10.[43]

From the official Rush website:

It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and band mate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans and media alike understandably respect the family's need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil's name.[44]

Peart's death was widely lamented by fans and fellow musicians alike, who considered it a substantial loss for popular music.[45][46]

Musicianship

Style and influences

Peart (right, behind Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee) performing with Rush

Peart's drumming skill and technique are well-regarded by fans, fellow musicians, and music journalists.[47][48] His influences were eclectic, ranging from Pete Thomas, John Bonham, Michael Giles, Ginger Baker, Phil Collins, Chris Sharrock, Steve Gadd, Stewart Copeland,[49] Michael Shrieve[50][51] and Keith Moon, to fusion and jazz drummers Billy Cobham, Buddy Rich, Bill Bruford and Gene Krupa.[52][7][53] The Who was the first group that inspired him to write songs and play the drums.[54] Peart is distinguished for playing "butt-end out", reversing stick orientation for greater impact and increased rimshot capacity. "When I was starting out", Peart said, "if I broke the tips off my sticks I couldn't afford to buy new ones, so I would just turn them around and use the other end. I got used to it, and continue to use the heavy end of lighter sticks – it gives me a solid impact, but with less 'dead weight' to sling around."[55]

Peart had long played matched grip but shifted to traditional as part of his style reinvention in the mid-1990s under the tutelage of jazz coach Freddie Gruber.[8] He played traditional grip throughout his first instructional DVD A Work in Progress and on Rush's Test for Echo studio album. Peart went back to using primarily matched, though he continued to switch to traditional at times when playing songs from Test for Echo and during moments when traditional grip felt more appropriate, such as during the rudimental snare drum section of his drum solo. He discussed the details of these switches in the DVD Anatomy of a Drum Solo.[7]

Variety wrote: "Widely considered one of the most innovative drummers in rock history, Peart was famous for his state-of-the-art drum kits – more than 40 different drums were not out of the norm – precise playing style and on stage showmanship."[56]

USA Today's writers compared him favorably to other top shelf rock drummers. He was "considered one of the best rock drummers of all time, alongside John Bonham of Led Zeppelin; Ringo Starr of The Beatles; Keith Moon of The Who; Ginger Baker of Cream and Stewart Copeland of The Police."[57] Being "known for his technical proficiency", the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame inducted him in 1983.[58]

Music critic Amanda Petrusich in The New Yorker wrote: "Watching Peart play the drums gave the impression that he might possess several phantom limbs. The sound was merciless."[5]

Equipment

Neil Peart and his 360-degree drumkit

With Rush, Peart played Slingerland, Tama, Ludwig, and Drum Workshop drums, in that order.[59]

Peart played Zildjian A-series cymbals and Wuhan china cymbals until the early 2000s when he switched to Paragon, a line created for him by Sabian.[59][60] In concert starting in 1984 on the Grace Under Pressure Tour, Peart used an elaborate 360-degree drum kit that would rotate as he played different sections of the kit.[61]

During the late 1970s, Peart augmented his acoustic setup with diverse percussion instruments, including orchestra bells, tubular bells, wind chimes, crotales, timbales, timpani, gong, temple blocks, bell tree, triangle, and melodic cowbells.[59] From the mid-1980s, Peart replaced several of these pieces with MIDI trigger pads. This was done in order to trigger sounds sampled from various pieces of acoustic percussion that would otherwise consume far too much stage area. Some purely electronic non-instrumental sounds were also used. One classic MIDI pad used is the Malletkat Express, which is a two-octave electronic MIDI device that resembles a xylophone or piano. The Malletkat Express is composed of rubber pads for the "keys" so that any stick can be used. Beginning with 1984's Grace Under Pressure, he used Simmons electronic drums in conjunction with Akai digital samplers.[59] Peart performed several songs primarily using the electronic portion of his drum kit. (e.g. "Red Sector A", "Closer to the Heart" on A Show of Hands and "Mystic Rhythms" on R30.)

Shortly after making the choice to include electronic drums and triggers, Peart added what became another trademark of his kit: a rotating drum riser.[59] During live Rush shows, the riser allowed Peart to swap the prominent portions of the kit (traditional acoustic in front, electronic in back). A staple of Peart's live drum solos was the in-performance rotation-and-swap of the front and back kits as part of the solo, a special effect that provided a symbolic transition of drum styles within the solo.[62]

Neil Peart began incorporating electronic drums with 1984's Grace Under Pressure

In the early 2000s, Peart began taking full advantage of the advances in electronic drum technology, primarily incorporating Roland V-Drums and continued use of samplers with his existing set of acoustic percussion. His digitally-sampled library of both traditional and exotic sounds expanded over the years with his music.[63]

In April 2006, Peart took delivery of his third DW set, configured similarly to the R30 set, in a Tobacco Sunburst finish over curly maple exterior ply, with chrome hardware. He referred to this set, which he used primarily in Los Angeles, as the "West Coast kit". Besides using it on recordings with Vertical Horizon, he played it while composing parts for Rush's album, Snakes & Arrows. It featured a custom 23-inch bass drum; all other sizes remained the same as the R30 kit.[64]

On March 20, 2007 Peart revealed that Drum Workshop prepared a new set of red-painted DW maple shells with black hardware and gold "Snakes & Arrows" logos for him to play on the Snakes & Arrows Tour.[65]

Peart also designed his own signature series drumstick with Pro-Mark, the Promark PW747W, Neil Peart Signature drumsticks, made of Japanese white oak.[66]

During the 2010–11 Time Machine Tour Peart used a new DW kit which was outfitted with copper-plated hardware and time machine designs to match the tour's steampunk themes. Matching Paragon cymbals with clock imagery were also used.[63]

Solos

Peart was noted for his distinctive in-concert drum solos,[67] characterized by exotic percussion instruments[68] and long, intricate passages in odd time signatures.[48][69][70] His complex arrangements sometimes result in complete separation of upper- and lower-limb patterns; an ostinato dubbed "The Waltz" is a typical example.[71] His solos were featured on every live album released by the band. On the early live albums (All the World's a Stage & Exit... Stage Left), the drum solo was included as part of a song. On all subsequent live albums through Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland, the drum solo has been included as a separate track. The Clockwork Angels Tour album includes three short solos instead of a single long one: two interludes played during other songs and one standalone. Similarly, the R40 Live album includes two short solos performed as interludes.

Peart's instructional DVD Anatomy of a Drum Solo is an in-depth examination of how he constructs a solo that is musical rather than indulgent, using his solo from the 2004 R30 30th anniversary tour as an example.[7]

Lyrics

Peart was the main lyricist for Rush. Literature heavily influenced his writings.[72] In his early days with Rush, much of his lyrical output was influenced by fantasy, science fiction, mythology, and philosophy.[73]

The 1980 album Permanent Waves saw Peart cease to use fantasy and mythological themes. 1981's Moving Pictures showed that Peart was still interested in heroic, mythological figures, but now placed firmly in a modern, realistic context. The song "Limelight" from the same album is an autobiographical account of Peart's reservations regarding his own popularity and the pressures with fame. From Permanent Waves onward, most of Peart's lyrics began to revolve around social, emotional, and humanitarian issues, usually from an objective standpoint and employing the use of metaphors and symbolic representation.[73]

1984's Grace Under Pressure strung together such despondent topics as the Holocaust ("Red Sector A") and the death of close friends ("Afterimage").[74] Starting with 1987's Hold Your Fire and including 1989's Presto, 1991's Roll the Bones, and 1993's Counterparts, Peart would continue to explore diverse lyrical motifs, even addressing the topic of love and relationships,[75] ("Open Secrets", "Ghost of a Chance", "Speed of Love", "Cold Fire", "Alien Shore") a subject which he purposefully avoided in the past, out of fear of using clichés.[76] 2002's Vapor Trails was heavily devoted to Peart's personal issues, along with other humanitarian topics such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks ("Peaceable Kingdom"). The album Snakes & Arrows dealt primarily and vociferously with Peart's opinions regarding faith and religion.[77]

The song "2112" focuses on the struggle of an individual against the collectivist forces of a totalitarian state. This became the band's breakthrough release, but also brought unexpected criticism, mainly because of the credit of inspiration Peart gave to Ayn Rand in the liner notes. "There was a remarkable backlash, especially from the English press, this being the late seventies, when collectivism was still in style, especially among journalists", Peart said. "They were calling us 'Junior fascists' and 'Hitler lovers'. It was a total shock to me".[78]

Regarding his seeming ideological fealty to Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, Peart said, "For a start, the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overstated. I am no one's disciple."[79] The lyrics of "Faithless" exhibit a life stance which has been closely identified with secular humanism. Peart explicitly discussed his religious views in The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa, in which he wrote: "I'm a linear thinking agnostic, but not an atheist, folks."[80]

In 2007, Peart was ranked No. 2 (after Sting) on the now defunct magazine Blender's list of "worst lyricists in rock".[81] In contrast, Allmusic called him "one of rock's most accomplished lyricists".[82]

Political views

For most of his career, Peart had never publicly identified with any political party or organization in Canada or the United States. Even so, his political and philosophical views have often been analyzed through his work with Rush and through other sources. In October 1993, shortly before that year's Canadian federal election, Peart appeared with then-Liberal Party leader Jean Chrétien in an interview broadcast in Canada on MuchMusic, but stated in that interview that he was an undecided voter.[83]

Peart has often been categorized as an Objectivist and an admirer of Ayn Rand. This is largely based on his work with Rush in the 1970s, particularly the song "Anthem" and the album 2112; the latter specifically credited Rand's work.[84] However, in his 1994 Rush Backstage Club Newsletter, while contending the "individual is paramount in matters of justice and liberty," Peart specifically distanced himself from a strictly Objectivist line.[85] In a June 2012 Rolling Stone interview, when asked if Rand's words still speak to him, Peart replied, "Oh, no. That was forty years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile."[86] Peart has also subscribed to a personal philosophy that he called "Tryism", which holds that anything one tries to attain will be attained if one tries hard enough.[87]

Although Peart was sometimes assumed to be a "Conservative" or "Republican" rock star,[88] he criticized the US Republican Party by stating that the philosophy of the party is "absolutely opposed to Christ's teachings."[89] In 2005, he described himself as a "left-leaning libertarian",[90] and is often cited as a libertarian celebrity.[91][92]

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Peart stated that he saw the US Democratic Party as the lesser evil: "For a person of my sensibility, you’re only left with the Democratic party."[49]

Peart was a member of the Canadian charity Artists Against Racism and worked with them on a radio public service announcement.[93]

Books

Nonfiction

Peart authored seven non-fiction books, the latest released in September 2016.

Peart's first book, titled The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa,[80] was written in 1996 about a month-long bicycling tour through Cameroon in November 1988. The book details Peart's travels through towns and villages with four fellow riders. The original had a limited print run, but after the critical and commercial success of Peart's second book, Masked Rider was re-issued by ECW Press and remains in print.[94][95]

After losing his wife and (at the time) only daughter, Peart embarked on a lengthy motorcycle road trip spanning North America. His experiences were penned in Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road.[34] Peart and the rest of the band were always able to keep his private life at a distance from his public image in Rush. However, Ghost Rider is a first-person narrative of Peart on the road on a BMW R1100GS motorcycle, in an effort to put his life back together as he embarked on an extensive journey.[96]

Years later, after his marriage to Nuttall, Peart took another road trip, this time by car. In his third book, Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times,[97] he reflects on his life, his career, his family, and music. As with his previous two books, it is a first-person narrative.

Three decades after Peart joined Rush, the band found itself on its 30th anniversary tour. Released in September 2006, Roadshow: Landscape with Drums – A Concert Tour by Motorcycle details the tour both from behind Neil's drumkit and on his BMW R1150GS and R1200GS motorcycles.[98]

Peart's next book, Far and Away: A Prize Every Time, was published by ECW Press in May 2011.[99] This book, which he worked on for two years, is formed around his traveling in North and South America. It tells how he found in a Brazilian town a unique combination of West African and Brazilian music.[100] In 2014, a follow-up book, Far and Near: On Days like These, was published by ECW. It covers travels in North America and Europe.[101] Another book, Far and Wide: Bring That Horizon to Me!, was published in 2016 and is based on his travels between stops on the R40 Live Tour of 2015.

Nonfiction works include: