Neil Peart

Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the iconic Canadian progressive rock band Rush, passed away on January 7 at the age of sixty-seven after a battle with brain cancer.

Peart experienced immeasurable success throughout his forty-plus-year tenure with Rush. The group released twenty-four gold albums (for 500,000 units sold), fourteen of which went platinum (1,000,000), and three of which went multi-platinum. A brief summary of the band’s honors includes induction into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame; numerous Grammy nominations; nine Juno music awards; and an admission into the Officers of the Order of Canada, Canada’s second-highest sovereign honor. In 1983, at the age of thirty, Peart became the youngest drummer to be inducted into the Modern Drummer Readers Poll Hall of Fame. And in 2014, MD’s readers ranked Peart third best among the top fifty greatest drummers of all time—behind only Buddy Rich and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.

It’s easy to see why Peart ranks so highly among the legends. His playing on Rush songs like “Free Will,” “Limelight,” and “Subdivisions” inspired generations of drummers to pick up the sticks. He was a master at making odd time signatures feel right at home on an FM dial. And while Peart didn’t invent the rock drum solo, he certainly refined and expanded the art over the years touring with Rush. Devotees pore over the evolution of “the Professor”’s elaborate live drum setups. And even those who’ve never sat down at a kit found themselves air-drumming to Peart’s parts.

Neil Peart was born on September 12, 1952, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He started playing drums as a child after picking up a pair of chopsticks and banging on his sister’s playpen. When he was thirteen his parents enrolled him in drum lessons. At eighteen he moved to England to pursue music, but left two years later to return to Toronto. In 1974, after playing part-time in various local bands, Peart auditioned for Rush. The next forty years yielded dozens of albums, live performance videos, sold-out shows, and tens of millions of albums sold. The drummer took a hiatus from the group after tragically losing his first daughter, Selena, in 1997, and then his first wife, Jacqueline, in 1998. Peart returned to the band in 2002 after remarrying, and continued playing until his retirement in 2015.

An avid motorcyclist, Peart was known to ride his bike alongside the Rush tour bus from venue to venue, and the drummer’s passion for literature inspired him to author seven nonfiction books about his travels and life. In 1994 he produced Burning for Buddy, a tribute album to Buddy Rich (a second volume came out in 1997), and throughout his career he contributed to numerous educational books and DVDs. With Rush, Peart’s philanthropy pursuits included fighting cancer and other diseases, advocating for human rights, and raising funds for disaster relief and music education.

Peart’s deep, thorough, and intellectual insight into drumming and life in general has graced the pages of MD dozens of times since he first appeared on the magazine’s cover, in 1980. So perhaps it’s no surprise to find, in a 1984 MD feature, this response to a question about what he thought his purpose in life was: “You can ask those questions, but what’s the point? The point is I’m here and making the best use of it. Why am I spending my life in this particular manner? Most times that tends to be a combination of circumstances and drive. The fact that I wanted to be a successful drummer was by no means a guarantee that I was going to be. But circumstances happened to rule that I turned out to be one.”

He certainly did.

Peart was survived by his wife, Carrie, and daughter, Olivia. Modern Drummer will be presenting a tribute issue to him in the near future.