Well, damn. I'm sitting here a few hours after hearing that my drumming idol, Neil Peart, has passed away today (January 10, 2020) due to glioblastoma, or brain cancer. I'm actually writing this with blurry eyes because he made more of an impact on my life than my father did.
Besides writing lyrics for Rush, Neil also wrote books and had a blog about riding his motorcycle between gigs for the band. Instead of taking the tour bus, many times he would let folks know when and where to meet up and ride along.
A lifelong science fiction fan, he and Kevin J. Anderson co-wrote the book version of his Clockwork Angels lyrics.
I've had the opportunity to see Rush three times and something always prevented me from going. I felt like it was a curse until Kevin and his lovely wife (and fellow author), Rebecca Moesta, invited me to see the Clockwork Angels tour when it hit Denver, Colorado. I'll just say it was worth the wait.
Neil was an exceptionally skilled drummer who loved to learn more. After three decades with the band he was still taking lessons with older professionals to increase his already awesome skills. The epitome of professionalism and humbleness. He and Clem Burke (of Blondie fame) were my contemporary idols when I played drums for years.
Neil was preceded in death by his first wife and one of his daughters, who passed away while driving back to attend college.
Vic Salazar and Peter Erskine wrote a nice history and memorial:
Neil Peart (pronounced "Peert" not "Pert")
September 12, 1952 - January 7, 2020
Devastated by the news of the passing of legendary drummer and one of my biggest influences, Neil Peart. Neil died on Tuesday in Santa Monica after succumbing to brain cancer. He is survived by his wife Carrie and daughter, Olivia Louise.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, since 1974, Neil Peart was the drummer and principal lyricist for the Canadian progressive rock band RUSH.
Neil grew up in Port Dalhousie, Ontario (now part of St. Catharines). He was interested in music early on and had a penchant for drumming on various objects around the house with a pair of chopsticks. On his 13th birthday, his parents bought him a pair of drumsticks, a practice drum and some lessons, with the promise that if he stuck with it for a year, they would buy him a kit. True to their promise, his parents bought him a drum kit for his 14th birthday.
During adolescence, Neil floated between regional bands in pursuit of a career as a full-time drummer. At the age of 18 after struggling to achieve success as a drummer in Canada, Neil travelled to London, England, hoping to further his career as a professional musician. After eighteen months of dead-end musical gigs, and disillusioned by his lack of progress in the music business, Neil placed his aspiration of becoming a professional musician on hold and returned to Canada to work for his father selling tractor parts at a farm machinery dealer.
After returning to Canada, a mutual acquaintance convinced Neil to audition for the Toronto-based band, Rush, who needed a replacement for their original drummer John Rutsey. Bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Geddy Lee and guitartist 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.
Said Geddy, "My first impression was that he was kinda goofy." Alex had a similar assessment: "I remember thinking, 'God, he’s not nearly cool enough to be in this band.'" Despite Geddy's and Alex's lack of initial enthusiasm, their preconceived notions of Neil soon changed once he sat down behind his kit to play. Said Alex, "And then he started playing, and he pounded the crap out of those drums. He played like Keith Moon and John Bonham at the same time."
According to Geddy, “On the day that Neil auditioned, we had five guys in – three before Neil and one after. The last guy had come a long way, a two-hour drive, and it was a very uncomfortable situation having him audition after Neil, because Neil was so fucking good. This poor guy had written charts and was playing our songs to charts. We were going through the motions. It was really awkward. I’m looking at Alex and Alex is looking at me. We were embarrassed for this guy because we were both so excited by Neil’s playing. There was no denying that Neil was the man.” Interestingly, Neil thought his audition didn't go that well.
Neil officially joined Rush on July 29, 1974, two weeks before the group's first U.S. tour. Neil played his first gig with the band, opening for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann, in front of over 11,000 people at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 14, 1974. In December of the same year, Neil and his bandmates entered the studio to record Rush's second studio album (and Neil's first with the band), "Fly By Night." At this point, Neil also became the band's main lyricist.
After Rush completed their "Test for Echo Tour" in July 1997, the group entered a five-year hiatus following the personal tragedies in Neil's life, losing his daughter Selena in August 1997 and wife Jackie in June 1998. During this hiatus, Neil used the time to mourn and reflect while he traveled extensively throughout North and Central America on his BMW motorcycle, covering 55,000 miles. Eventually he decided to return to the band and wrote the book, "Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road," as a chronicle of his geographical and emotional journey.
In 2015 to celebrate their 40 years together, Neil and Rush embarked on their "R40 LIVE Tour" highlighting four decades of the band’s music. The band visited 34 cities throughout North America beginning May 8th in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and finishing August 1st in Los Angeles, California.
Rush was a band completely removed from the mainstream music scene yet remain one of the most popular and influential rock bands in the world. It is a dichotomy that has fueled the group from the very beginning and has placed them in a very special class of their own. Rush's sales position them third behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums by a rock band. Since 1978, they had been playing arena sized venues. Since 1996, Rush had not toured with (nor needed) an opening act, choosing to bill their shows as "An Evening With Rush." In 2013, Neil and Rush were (FINALLY!) inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In addition to being a musician, Neil wrote seven non-fiction books, "The Masked Rider: Traveling in West Africa", "Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road", "Traveling Music: The Soundtrack to My Life and Times", "Roadshow: Landscape With Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle", "Far and Away: A Prize Every Time", "Far and Near: On Days Like These", and "Far and Wide: Bring That Horizon to Me!" "Ghost Rider" was nominated for a Canadian Literary award in 2003. In all, his books have sold over 100,000 copies. He had also written many articles for Modern Drummer Magazine and other periodicals.
In his spare time, Neil rode BMW motorcycles, drove fast cars, snowshoed, bird watched, and hiked. His favorite drink after a concert or a long day on the road was The Macallan. A couple of Neil's nicknames were "Pratt" and "The Professor."
Like Buddy Rich and The Beatles' Ringo Starr, Neil Peart is one of the most influential drummers in history. His contributions to his band made him so integral, he was literally irreplaceable. Without Neil, there could be no Rush.
In 2014, Neil Peart was voted one of "The 50 Greatest Drummers of All Time" by the readers of Modern Drummer Magazine coming in #3 behind Led Zeppelin's John Bonham and the legendary Buddy Rich. In 2016, he also made Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Drummers of All Time."
I still have fond memories of seeing Rush perform here in Chicago during there "Permanent Waves" tour back on April 4, 1980 at The International Amphitheatre on South Halsted Street. It was my first time seeing Neil and the band live. I've since seen them on every subsequent tour, including their last show in Chicago on June 12, 2015.
Neil Peart played Drum Workshop Inc. (DW Drums) Drums, Pedals & Hardware, SABIAN Cymbals, Promark Drumsticks, Drumheads consisting of "an ever changing variety of DW and Remo’s", GON BOPS Cowbells, Roland Electronic Pads mounted in DW shells, an Alternate Mode Inc. malletKAT Express, Century Mallet Orchestra Chimes, and a custom-built Dauz Drums trigger pad with a tricolor target head painted as a reference to the band The Who.
Other than his throne base, all of Neil's cymbal and snare drum stands did not utilize a tripod base. Instead they simply screwed right into his drum riser for an ultra clutter-free look. Neil had been "tripod-less" since Rush's 1984 "Grace Under Pressure" tour.
"What is a master but a master student? And if that's true, then there's a responsibility on you to keep getting better and to explore avenues of your profession."
- Neil Peart
"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 Peart's name.
Rest in peace brother."