Rock drummer

Born: September 12, 1952;

Died: January 7, 2020.

NEIL Peart, who has died aged 67, was a Canadian musician and writer. Although also a prolific lyricist, it was as the drummer in the Canadian rock group Rush that he earned a lasting reputation as one of the most skilled players of the instrument of his day. To fellow drummers in particular, and to fans of the distinctive brand of progressive rock and metal which Rush – a band which sold 40 million albums internationally – played, he was a heroic and distinctive figure.

Peart was that rarest of players – a drummer who had elevated his craft to the point that his sound was not just an integral part of his band’s lengthy live shows, but often the lead element. With roots and influences in both the great rock drummers (such as Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, Cream’s Ginger Baker and Genesis’s Phil Collins) and jazz players including Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, his performing style combined both vivid technical proficiency and showmanship.

Tending to use the thick end of his drumsticks to play, lending a deeper sound, Peart took to playing a specially-designed ‘360-degree drumkit’ – a set of drums and cymbals which entirely enveloped his drum stool in a circle – upon a drum riser which rotated during shows. Playing his instrument with virtuoso style, he also operated an array of effects pedals which set off samples of other instruments, and his drum solo was a much-awaited feature of a Rush show, welcomed as though it were a greatest hit in its own right.

Yet despite their monumental success, Rush were never a greatest hits band in the traditional sense, and the mainstream pop listener might struggle to identify more than a song or two of theirs; in the UK, the distinctive, open, AC/DC-like riff of The Spirit of Radio reached the top twenty in 1980, while their biggest US hit was 1982’s New World Man ( number 21 in the Billboard chart).

Rather, their success was better evidenced by their decades-long string of perennially successful albums; much like their British contemporaries, Pink Floyd, Rush were a group best suited to the more mature and expansive format of the long-player. Peart was not an original member of Rush, joining fellow core members Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee in July 1974, after the release of that year’s self-titled debut album, and before the group’s first US tour, following a successful audition to replaced departed original drummer John Rutsey.

From that point Peart, Lifeson and Lee were the classic and immutable Rush line-up, and Peart’s songwriting and often science fiction-influenced lyrics were at the heart of their success. Introducing elements of progressive, reggae, new wave and electronic production to their baseline sound, eleven of the thirteen Rush albums released between 1980’s Permanent Waves and 2012’s final record Clockwork Angels – following which the band disbanded due to Peart’s ill-health – were UK top ten records, with similar successes occurring in North America.

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1952, Neil Ellwood Peart was the eldest child of four born to Glen and Betty Peart. He had a comfortable upbringing on the family’s farm just outside Hamilton, taking up drums as a teenager and playing in school and local bands while taking up odd jobs, including selling tractor parts for his father.

He briefly lived in London in an attempt to make it as a musician, although he was unsuccessful and returned home; while in the city, however, Peart did develop a youthful interest in the Objectivist writings of Ayn Rand, whose books – at odds with the liberal attitudes of most rock music of the time – were an influence on the early Rush songs, Anthem and 2112.

In later life Peart also became an author, penning a number of biographical non-fiction books on music, travel and motorcycles, beginning with The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa (1996) In 2002 he published The Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, telling of his extended North American road-trip he undertook to recover from the deaths of his daughter, Selena, in a 1997 road crash, and of his common-law wife, Jacqueline, of cancer, some months later.

Peart retired from Rush due to tendinitis in 2015, although it was later revealed that he was also fighting glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, from which he died in Santa Monica, California. He is survived by his wife, the photographer Carrie Nuttall, and their daughter Olivia.