1952 – Rush drummer Neal Peart is born this day

Neil Peart of Rush

1952 – Rush drummer Neal Peart is born this day in rock Awesome history!

Neil Peart (pronounced /?p??rt/) OC, (born Neil Ellwood Peart, September 12, 1952, Hamilton, Ontario) is a Canadian musician and author. He is best-known as the drummer and lyricist for the rock band Rush.

Peart grew up in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Canada (now part of St. Catharines) working the occasional odd job. However, his true ambition was to become a professional musician. During adolescence, he floated from regional band to regional band and dropped out of high school to pursue a career as a full-time drummer. After a discouraging stint in England to concentrate on his music, Peart returned home, where he joined local Toronto band Rush in the summer of 1974.

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 and John Bonham, players who were at the forefront of the British hard rock scene.

In addition to being a musician, Peart is also a prolific writer, having published several memoirs about his travels. Peart is also Rush’s primary lyricist. In writing lyrics for Rush, Peart addressed universal themes and diverse subject matter including science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy, as well as secular, humanitarian and libertarian themes. In contrast, his books have been focused on his personal experiences.

Life and career

Early life

Neil Peart was born on his family’s farm in Hagersville,

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. He had a penchant for drumming on various objects around the house with a pair of chopsticks, so for his 13th birthday, his parents bought him a pair of drum sticks, a practice pad and some lessons, with the promise that if he stuck with it for a year, they would buy him a kit.

His parents bought him a drum kit for his 14th birthday and he began taking lessons from Don George at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music.

Peart got a job in Lakeside Park, a fairground on the shores of Lake Ontario, which later inspired a song of the same name on the Rush album Caress of Steel.

Career prior to joining Rush

At eighteen years of age, after struggling to achieve success as a drummer in Canada, Peart traveled to London hoping to further his career as a professional musician.

While in London he came across the writings of novelist and objectivist Ayn Rand. Rand’s writings became a significant philosophical influence on Peart, as he found many of her treatises to individualism and Objectivism inspiring. References to Rand’s philosophy can be found in his lyrics, most notably “Anthem” from 1975’s Fly By Night and “2112” from the 1976 Rush album, 2112.

After eighteen months of dead-end musical gigs, and disillusioned by his lack of progress in the music business, Peart placed his aspiration of becoming a professional musician on hold and returned to Canada. Upon returning to St. Catharines, he worked for his father selling tractor parts at Dalziel Equipment.

Joining Rush

After returning to Canada, Peart was recruited to play drums for the St. Catharines band Hush, who played on the South Ontario bar circuit.

Peart officially joined the band on July 29, 1974, two weeks before the group’s first US tour. Peart procured a silver Slingerland kit which he played at his first gig with the band, opening for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann in front of over 11,000 people at the Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 14, 1974.

Early career with Rush

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. The band was still finding its feet as a recording act, and Peart, along with the rest of the band, now had to learn to live from a suitcase.

His first recording with the band, 1975’s Fly by Night, was fairly successful, winning the Juno Award for most promising new act,

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.”

From this point on, Peart’s career was near exclusively with Rush:

Family tragedy & continuing on

Soon after the culmination of Rush’s Test For Echo Tour on July 4, 1997, Peart’s daughter and only child, 19-year-old Selena Taylor, was killed in a single-car accident on Highway 401 near the town of Brighton, Ontario on August 10. His common-law wife of 22 years, Jacqueline Taylor, succumbed to cancer only 10 months later on June 20, 1998. Peart, however, maintains that her death was the result of a “broken heart” and called it “a slow suicide by apathy. She just didn’t care.”

In his book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, Peart writes of how he had told his bandmates at Selena’s funeral, “consider me retired.” Peart took a hiatus to mourn and reflect, during which time he traveled extensively throughout North America on his BMW motorcycle, covering 88,000 km (55,000 miles). After his journey ended, Peart decided to return to the band. Peart wrote Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road as a chronicle of his geographical and emotional journey.

While Peart was visiting long-time Rush photographer Andrew MacNaughtan in Los Angeles, MacNaughtan introduced Peart to his future wife, photographer Carrie Nuttall. 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 monopolise a touring band’s daily schedule. While Peart has always shied away from these types of in-person encounters, it was decided that having to needlessly expose him to an endless stream of questions about the tragic events of his life was quite unnecessary.

Since the release of Vapor Trails and reuniting with his fellow band mates, Peart has returned to work as a full-time musician. Rush has since released a cover EP, Feedback in June 2004 and their 18th studio album Snakes & Arrows in May 2007, which were supported by three additional tours in 2004, 2007, and 2008 respectively.


Style and influences
Peart (right) performing with Rush.

Peart is consistently ranked as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time by fans, fellow musicians, and magazines.

Peart had long played just matched grip, however, he decided to shift to traditional as part of his style reinvention in the mid-1990s under the tutelage of jazz coach Freddie Gruber. Shortly after the filming of his first instructional DVD A Work in Progress, Peart went back to using primarily matched, though he does switch back to traditional when playing songs from Test for Echo and during moments when he feels traditional grip is more appropriate, such as the rudimentary snare drum section of his drum solo, “The Floating Snare”. He discusses the details of these switches in the DVD Anatomy of a Drum Solo.

Neil Peart and his 360 degree drumkit

With Rush, Peart has played Slingerland, Tama, Ludwig, and Drum Workshop (DW) drums, in that order. In concert, Peart uses an elaborate 360-degree drum kit, with a large acoustic set in front and electronic drums to the rear.
Neil Peart began incorporating Simmons Electronic Drums beginning with 1984’s Grace Under Pressure
Neil Peart began incorporating Simmons Electronic Drums beginning with 1984’s Grace Under Pressure

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. Peart has 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 (video) and “Mystic Rhythms” on R30.) Peart’s drum solos also feature sections performed primarily on the electronic portion of his kit.

Shortly after making the choice to include electronic drums and triggers, Peart added what has become another trademark of his kit: his rotating drum riser. During live Rush shows, the automated rotating riser allows Peart to swap dynamically the prominent portions of the kit (“front”, traditional kit; and “back” electronic kit). A staple of Peart’s live drum solos has been the in-performance rotation-and-swap of the front and back kits as part of the solo itself. This special effect simultaneously provides a symbolic transition of drum styles within the solo, as well as providing a visual treat for the audience.

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. Peart’s digitally sampled library of both traditional and exotic sounds has grown over the years with his music.

In April 2006, Neil 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 refers to this set as the “West Coast kit”, as he uses it when he is in Los Angeles. Besides using it on recent recordings with Vertical Horizon, he played it while composing parts for Rush’s latest studio album, Snakes & Arrows. It features a custom 23″ bass drum, otherwise all sizes remain the same as the R30 kit.

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 Neil to play on the Snakes & Arrows Tour.


Peart is often regarded as one of the finest practitioners of the in-concert drum solo. These solos have been 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, the drum solo has been included on a separate track. His most recent instructional DVD, Anatomy of a Drum Solo, is an in-depth examination of how he constructs a solo. He uses his solo from the 2004 R30 30th anniversary tour as the basis for examination, along with other lectures and demonstrations on how to construct a drum solo that is musical instead of indulgent.


Peart is also the main lyricist for Rush. Literature has always heavily influenced his writings (“By-Tor and the Snow Dog”, “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage”, “The Necromancer”, “Xanadu”), mythology (“The Fountain of Lamneth”, “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres”) and philosophy (“Anthem”, “2112”, “Something for Nothing”); however, nearly as much would deal with real world or personal issues such as life on the road (“Fly by Night”, “Making Memories”), and lost innocence (“Lakeside Park”).

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 due to 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”.

Weary of accusations of fascism or ideological fealty to Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, Peart has sought to remind listeners of his eclecticism and independence in interviews. He did not, however, try to argue in defense of Rand’s views:
“     For a start, the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overstated. I am no one’s disciple.     ”

The 1980 album Permanent Waves saw Peart cease to use fantasy literature or ancient mythology in his writing. 1981’s Moving Pictures showed that Peart was still interested in heroic, mythological figures, but would now place them firmly in a modern and reality based 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.

Opinions of Peart’s lyrics have always been divided. While fans have lauded them as thoughtful and intelligent, some critics have called them over-wrought and bombastic. For example, in 2007, he was voted #2 on Blender magazine’s list of “worst lyricists in rock”.


Peart is the author of four non-fiction books, the latest released in September of 2006. His growth as an author predates the published work by several years (not including his work as Rush’s primary lyricist), through private letters and short travelogues sent out to a small circle of friends and family. Peart’s first book, titled The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa,  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 Neil’s second book, Masked Rider was re-issued and remains in print as of 2006.

After losing his wife and only daughter, Peart penned Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road.  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 motorcycle, in an effort to put his life back together as he embarked on an extensive journey across North America.

Deciding to take a road trip, this time by car, Peart reflects on his life, his career, his family and the thing that ties them all together: Music. This is covered in Peart’s third book Traveling Music: The Soundtrack Of My Life And Times.  It follows Peart still carrying emotional scars, but building a new life. As with his previous two books, it is a first person narrative.

Thirty years 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 BMW R1200GS motorcycles.


Apart from Rush’s video releases as a band, Peart has released two instructional DVDs

* A Work in Progress. Miami, Florida: Warner Bros. Publications. 2002. ISBN 0757990290 Originally released on VHS in 1996 and re-released on DVD in 2002.
* Anatomy of A Drum Solo S.l.: Hudson Music: Distributed by Hal Leonard. 2005. ISBN 1423407008

Awards and honours

Peart has received the following awards in the Modern Drummer magazine reader’s poll:

* Hall of Fame: 1983

* Best Rock Drummer: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 2006, 2008 (won vote count, but ineligible*)
* Best Multi-Percussionist: 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986
* Best Percussion Instrumentalist: 1982
* Most Promising New Drummer: 1980
* Best All Around: 1986
* 1986 Honor Roll: Rock Drummer, Multi-Percussion

(* – As a member of the Honor Roll in these categories, he is no longer eligible for votes in the above categories.)

* Best Instructional Video: 2006, for Anatomy of A Drum Solo
* Best Drum Recording of the 1980s, 2007, for “YYZ” from Exit…Stage Left

* Best Recorded Performance:
o 1980: Permanent Waves
o 1981: Moving Pictures
o 1982: Exit…Stage Left
o 1983: Signals
o 1985: Grace Under Pressure
o 1986: Power Windows
o 1988: Hold Your Fire
o 1989: A Show of Hands
o 1990: Presto
o 1992: Roll the Bones
o 1993: Counterparts
o 1997: Test for Echo
o 1999: Different Stages
o 2002: Vapor Trails
o 2004: R30
o 2007: Snakes & Arrows

Peart has received the following awards from DRUM! magazine for 2007:

* Drummer of the Year
* Best Progressive Rock Drummer
* Best Live Performer
* Best DVD (Anatomy Of A Drum Solo)
* Best Drumming Album (Snakes & Arrows)

Peart received the following awards from DRUM! magazine for 2008:

* Drummer of the Year
* Best Progressive Rock Drummer (Runner-Up)
* Best Mainstream Pop Drummer (Runner-Up)
* Best Live Drumming Performer

Along with his bandmates Lee and Lifeson, Peart was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on May 9, 1996. The trio was the first rock band to be so honoured, as a group.


He portrayed himself in the 2007 film Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres, and performed the “Drum Solo of Life” in order to resurrect the character Meatwad after having his head blown apart by Master Shake. He hung around with a nefarious character known as Walter Mellon.

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