NEIL PEART (Rush) – The End of a Drumming Era (0dayrox tribute)
The death of virtuoso drummer and lyricist NEIL PEART last January 7th, marked indeed “The End of a Drumming Era”. We’ve lost a true music icon who transcended genres and reinvented drums more times than had to be possible for a human being in contemporary music. Today, let’s remember him by taking a look at “The Professor” most celebrated recordings, and some rarities as well.
In 1974, Neil Peart joined Rush. As a young drummer, not much was expected of him yet as he hasn’t really fully shown the world the monster-drummer that he would become.
Peart developed his talents with the great Canadian act into a flamboyant yet precise style that paid homage to his hero, The Who’s Keith Moon, while expanding the technical and imaginative possibilities of his instrument.
While in Rush, Peart had the opportunity to master his other talent – writing impressive lyrics. He became the main lyricist for the band since nor Geddy Lee, nor Alex Lifeson really cared about doing it.
At first, he used mythological, fantasy, and sci-fi topics in his lyrics. But as time passed, he focused more on down to earth things, while also touching upon philosophical and existential matters from time to time.
He didn’t get much of critical acclaim for his lyrics. But try and tell that to a fan who grew up listening to them and learning every word by heart, and you’ll see what happens.
Although many successful drummers never really evolve, hitting their pinnacle and staying there, Peart was a different kind of musician.
He never stopped learning, always trying to outdo himself on every new record. With a wide spectrum of styles and genres that influenced him, he tried to pick the best from all the different types of music he enjoyed. From jazz to classic rock, Peart incorporated everything into his playing, constantly reinventing himself and pushing his legacy even further.
We decided to start this tribute compilation with “Subdivisions”, from 1982’s ‘Signals’ Rush album. And we did it on purpose because this song, while a fan favorite, it’s considered by the critics too much simple for ‘Rush standards’.
Haha… I laugh out loud… just listen carefullly…
You might hear it 100 times before you realize what’s going on just underneath the surface: that Neil Peart, the band’s brilliantly obsessive supergenius of a drummer, has gone to the trouble of crafting a different drum part for every single verse on this ‘simple song’.
He starts the first one (“Sprawling on the fringes of the city…”) with a humble backbeat. Then, as Lee sings “in geometric order…” he switches to a busier, more lopsided pattern that almost seems to stumble along. The second time around (“Growing up it all seems so one-sided…”), he begins with a spare four-on-the-four bass-drum pulse, then moves (“Opinions all provided…”) to a kind of cyborg James Brown beat — devilishly syncopated and weirdly funky.
The variations continue from there: verse three (“Drawn like moths, we drift into the city…”) features a cramped pattern interrupted by a weird, jutting fill, while verse four (“Some will sell their dreams for small desires …”) gallops away on a triumphant, slamming snare-kick groove.
Excuse the expression… but the man is a [email protected] genius.
“Freewill” is another song not so much regarded from Rush’s catalog, but if you want to hear some classic Peart work, this is perfect. Of course you can’t miss Neal’s tour the force on “YYZ”, and his impressive work on “Jacob’s Ladder” or “La Villa Strangiato” (a delight for drum aficionados).
And yes, “Tom Sawyer”: we’ve all heard this one so many times on classic rock radio that its greatness might almost come across as commonplace by now. But it’s truly anything but common. It’s a master at the height of his game. During his monster fill in the middle of the song, he takes a microsecond-long detour from his innumerable tom-toms to slam out an offbeat cymbal accent.
While Neil Peart wasn’t much of a collaborator, preferring to play only with his bandmates, he did form a friendship with an American rock band Vertical Horizon. He did some guest drumming on two of their albums, every time putting his own recognizable sound over something simpler than what he was used to, allowing his fans to see a different side of his genius.
Just check out “Instamatic”, from Vertical Horizon’s 2013 album ‘Echoes from the Underground’.
Also of interest is his collaboration with bass guitar player Jeff Berlin on his very rare (even more this CD press) 1985 album “Champion”. Peart’s played on the very good title track, alongside other greats like guitarist Scott Henderson and Ronnie Montrose doing backing vocals, and on other track titled “Marabi”.
An we have of course two “Drum Solo”, one with Rush from an unknown date, and other recorded for a TV Show in 2011 where Neil plays some different things he usually did.
By the time Peart recorded his first album with Rush in 1975, the cornerstones of modern rock drumming had all been firmly laid down, mostly by British players taking cues from American R&B and jazz.
For an aspiring drummer, there were many ways you could go: you could dig into a feel-good backbeat like Ringo or Charlie; you could gleefully trample the riff like Moon; you could channel the fluidity and fire of big band and bebop like Ginger, Mitch, Ian Paice, or Bill Ward; you could dial both the muscle and the funk way, way up like Bonham; or you could stylishly reconcile technicality and groove like Collins and Bruford.
As different as they were, one thing all these players had in common was a fundamental looseness behind the kit. They all, in their own way, swung hard.
Peart was different. He always was steely and determined, almost grim. His playing rocks, without question, but it is a rock born out of concentration rather than abandon. He idolized Keith Moon, but in terms of approach, their basic philosophies of drumming, the two might as well have been playing different instruments.
Peart was not about feeling his way through the music; his approach was to get it all perfect ahead of time and execute pre-written, essentially unchanging parts with flair and excellence, almost more like a classical percussionist.
Neil Peart was a drummer’s drummer, however, he wasn’t a ‘cold virtuoso’; all his fills and lyrics reach you with emotion. Beloved by his peers as well, he won prizes in Modern Drummer’s annual readers’ poll 38 times, and was a formative influence on countless young players. He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason.
There’s a before and after in popular music drumming with Neal Peart. An era ended… what’s next?
Whatever happens, Neal Peart’s music will remain immortal forever, and it won’t be forgotten but enjoyed by generations to come.
01 – Rush – Subdivisions
02 – Jeff Berlin – Champion (feat Neil Peart)
03 – Rush – Drum Solo (Live – Remastered Radio Recording)
04 – Rush – Freewill
05 – Rush – YYZ (Live In Canada 1980)
06 – Rush – Time Stand Still
07 – Neil Peart – Drum Solo (TV Show 2011)
08 – Rush – Tom Sawyer (Live In Canada 1980)
09 – Vertical Horizon – Instamatic (feat Neil Peart)
10 – Rush – Jacob’s Ladder
11 – Rush – La Villa Strangiato
12 – Jeff Berlin – Marabi (feat Neil Peart)
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