Biographies - Neil Peart
Image Source: Neil Peart @ Andrew Olson.com
|Neil Peart |
|Born: September 12, 1952|
Canadian musician best known as the drummer for Rush (1974-present).
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. At the age of thirteen, Peart received his first drumkit and soon began rigorously practicing. During adolescence, he floated from regional band to regional band and eventually dropped out of high school in order to pursue his career as a full-time drummer. After a discouraging stint in England to concentrate on his music, Peart returned home, where he eventually joined local Toronto band Rush in the summer of 1974.
Early in his career, Pearts style of playing was deeply rooted in hard rock where 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. As time progressed however, he began to absorb the influence of Jazz and Big Band musicians such as Gene Krupa, and more recently, the late Buddy Rich. Peart is also one of the more recent pupils of jazz instructor, Freddie Gruber. In terms of music, Peart has received many awards (see below) for his recorded performances and is widely regarded for his technical proficiency and stamina. In terms of influence, he is one of the most important drummers in history.
In addition to his profession as a musician, Peart is also a prolific writer, being the author of several published travelogues and evidenced by his position as chief lyricist for Rush. Over the years, Peart has become known for an a personal writing style and a propensity for addressing diverse subject matter including science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy, as well as secular and humanitarian themes. His last name is pronounced \"Peert\", although many mispronounce it \"Pert\".
Peart was born on the family farm in Hagersville, on the outskirts of Hamilton. The first child of four, his brother Danny and sisters Judy and Nancy were born after the family moved to St. Catharines when Peart was two, where his father became parts manager for Dalziel Equipment, a farm machinery supplier. In 1956 the family moved to the Port Dalhousie area of the town. Peart attended Gracefield School, and described his childhood as happy and says he experienced a warm family life. By early adolescence he became interested in music and acquired a transistor radio which he would tune into pop music stations broadcasting from Toronto, Hamilton, Welland and Buffalo.
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 described it as \"that inevitable child\'s curse.\" He had a penchant for drumming on various objects around the house with a pair of chopsticks, so for his 12th 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\'d eventually buy him a kit.
His parents bought him a drum kit for his thirteenth birthday and he began taking lessons from Don George at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music. His stage debut took place that year at the school\'s Christmas pageant in St. Johns Anglican Church Hall, Port Delhousie. His next appearance was at Lakeport High School with his first group, The Eternal Triangle. This performance contained an original number entitled \"LSD forever.\" At this show he performed his first solo which garnered praise from fellow students.
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.\" He worked on the Bubble Game and Ball Toss, but his tendency to take it easy when business was slack resulted in his termination. By his late teens, Peart had played in local bands such as Mumblin’ Sumpthin’, the Majority, and JR Flood. These bands practiced in basement recreation rooms and garages and played church halls, high schools and roller rinks in towns across Southern Ontario such as Mitchell, Seaforth, Elmira and Timmins. Tuesday nights were filled with jam sessions at the Niagara Theatre Centre.
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. Despite playing in several bands and picking up occasional session work he was forced to support himself by selling trinkets to tourists in a souvenir shop called The Great Frog on Carnaby Street.
While in London he came across the writings of novelist and Objectivist Ayn Rand. Rand\'s writings became a significant ideological influence on the young drummer and he found many of her treatises to individualism and Objectivism inspiring. References to Rand\'s ideology can be found in his lyrics, most notably \"Anthem\" from 1975\'s Fly By Night and \"2112\" from the 1976 Rush album of the same name.
After eighteen months of dead-end musical gigs, disillusioned by his lack of progress in the music business, he 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. His time in London inspired the song \"Circumstances\" on the 1978 album Hemispheres. He speaks at length on his time in London in his book \"Traveling Music.\"
After returning to Canada, Peart was recruited to play drums for the St. Catharines outfit \"Hush\" who played on the South Ontario bar circuit. Soon after, a mutual acquaintance convinced Peart to audition for the Toronto-based band Rush, which needed a replacement for its original drummer John Rutsey. Lee and Lifeson oversaw the audition. His future band mates describe Peart\'s arrival that day as somewhat humorous as Peart arrived in shorts, driving a battered old car with his drums stored in trashcans. Peart felt the entire audition was a complete disaster. While Lee and Peart hit it off on a personal level (both sharing similar tastes in books and music), Lifeson had a less than favorable impression of Peart. After some discussion, Lee convinced Lifeson that Peart\'s maniacal British style of drumming, reminiscent of The Who\'s Keith Moon, was what the band needed.
Peart officially joined the band on July 29, 1974, two weeks before the groups first US tour. Receiving an advance from their record company the band purchased new equipment. Peart bought a silver Slingerland kit which he played at his first gig with the band, warming up for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann in front of over 11,000 people at the Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 14.
Peart soon settled into his new position, also becoming the primary lyricist. Before joining Rush he had written few songs, but with the other members largely uninterested in writing lyrics, his previously underutilized talent 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, coming down after gigs watching cartoons in motel bedrooms and all night studio sessions.
His first recording with the band, \"Fly by Night,\" was fairly successful, winning the Juno Award for most promising new act, but the follow up, \"Caress of Steel,\" which the band had high hopes for, was greeted with hostility by both fans and critics. In response to this negative reception, most of which was aimed at the B side spanning epic \"The Fountain of Lamneth,\" Peart responded by penning the A side spanning epic \"2112,\" which despite record company indifference, became their million-selling breakthrough. The supporting tour culminated in a three night stand at Massey Hall in Toronto, a venue Peart had dreamed of playing in his days on the Southern Ontario bar circuit and where he was now introduced as \"The Professor on the drum kit.\"
Peart returned to England for the band\'s Northern European Tour and the band stayed in the United Kingdom to record the next album \"A Farewell to Kings\" in Rockfield Studios in Wales. They returned to Rockfield to record the follow up, Hemispheres, 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 long, dark tunnel.\"
On August 10, 1997, Peart\'s daughter and only child, 19-year-old Selena Taylor, was killed in a single-car accident somewhere between Ottawa and Toronto. His common-law wife of 22 years, Jaqueline 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 said he had told his bandmates at Selena\'s funeral \"consider me retired.\"  However, after a hiatus to mourn and reflect, including four separate trips around North America on his motorcycle that would eventually cover 55,000 miles (documented in Ghost Rider), he returned to the band. While visiting long-time Rush photographer Andrew MacNaughtan in Los Angeles, MacNaughtan would play matchmaker and introduce Peart to his future wife, photographer Carrie Nuttall. Peart married Nuttall on September 9, 2000 and rejoined his bandmates in early 2001.
With the 2002 release of the bands Vapor Trails album, Peart has returned to the business of performing live with his bandmates. At the start of the tour, 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 monopolize an immensely popular touring bands 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.
Peart is known for an extremely hard-hitting style that combines accuracy, precision, clarity, and complexity. His influences are eclectic, ranging from Led Zeppelins John Bonham, Steve Gadd, The Whos Keith Moon, to fusion and jazz drummers Billy Cobham, Buddy Rich, Bill Bruford and Gene Krupa. Peart is distinguished historically for playing \"butt-end out\", i.e. reversing stick orientation for greater impact and increased rim-shot capacity (for that reason, his long-time drum technician, Larry Allen, would file the tip-end of his sticks for gripping purposes).
Currently he plays both matched grip and traditional grip. He had long played just matched grip, however, he decided to shift to traditional as part of his play style reinvention in the mid-1990s under the tutelage of Jazz drummer Freddie Gruber. In his first instructional video \"A Work In Progress,\" Peart stated he had asked Gruber about the importance of this change, but Gruber dismissed it as irrelevant. Peart eventually opted to go with traditional grip as a part of his overall relearning process.
Pearts drumming is distinguished by an ability to shift effortlessly between standard and irregular time signatures, a facility of limb independence, ambidextrous cross-sticking patterns, and a skillful command of tonal and volume range. He is one of the few to use both standard and piccolo snare drums, emphasizes relatively small, high-pitched crashes, and plays tom-toms tuned to allow maximum sustain.
With Rush, Peart has played Slingerland, Tama, Ludwig, and Drum Workshop (DW) drums, in that order. Historically he has played Zildjian \"A\" cymbals exclusively (save for various effect cymbals, like Wuhan China cymbals), switching only very recently to Paragon, a line created for him by Sabian. In concert, Peart uses an elaborate 360-degree drum kit, with a large acoustic set in front and electronic drums to the rear. During the late 1970s, Peart accessorized and augmented his acoustic setup with diverse percussion instruments including orchestra bells, tubular bells, wind chimes, crotales, timbales, tympani, gong, temple blocks, bell tree, triangle, and melodic cowbells. Since the mid-1980s, Peart has replaced several of these pieces with MIDI trigger pads. This was done in order to trigger sounds sampled from various pieces of acoustic percussion that would otherwise consume far too much stage area, such as a marimba, harp, temple blocks, triangles, glockenspiel, orchestra bells, tubular bells, and vibraslap. Some purely electronic, description-defying sounds are also used.
Peart is known for complicated, extremely technical drum solos containing odd time signatures, complex arrangements (sometimes total separation between upper and lower limb patterns), and exotic percussion instruments. These solos have been featured on every live album released by the band. On the early live albums (All the Worlds 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. All of Pearts drum solos include a basic framework of routines connected by sections of improvisation, leaving each performance unique. Each successive tour sees the solo more advanced, with some routines dropped in favour of newer, more complex ones.
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 and, as such, he has tackled a wide range of subjects. In his early days with Rush, much of his lyrical output was influenced by fantasy and science fiction literature (\"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 bands 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 even simply ideological fealty to Rands philosophy of Objectivism, Peart has sought to remind listeners of his eclecticism and independence in interviews. He did not, however, try to argue in defence of Rands views. \"For a start, the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overestimated. I am no ones disciple.\"
However, in a 1978 interview by Miles in the NME(4 March) he said \"We
e certainly devoted to individualism as the only concept that allows men to be happy, without somebody taking from somebody else. The thing for me about Ayn Rand is that her philosophy is the only one applicable to the world today – in every sense. If you take her ideas, then take them farther in your own mind, you can find answers to pretty well everything on an individual basis. Putting the individual as the first priority, everything can be made to work in a way that it can never be made to work under any other system.\"
The 1980 album Permanent Waves saw Peart cease to use fantasy literature or ancient mythology in his writing. His focus was now on integrity in music (\"The Spirit of Radio\") and in life (\"Natural Science\"), the rational against the superstitious (\"Freewill\"). \"Tom Sawyer\" from 1981s 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. \"Limelight\" sees him dealing with the pressures of fame; \"The Camera Eye\" contrasts New York and London with an outsiders view.
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 Rushs primary lyricist), through private letters and short travelogues sent out to a small circle of friends and family.
The Masked Rider: Cycling In West Africa
Written in 1996 about a month-long bicycling tour through Cameroon in November of 1988. Written in the first person, the book allows the reader to follow Peart through towns and villages, with four fellow riders. This was not Pearts first cycling tour, but it proves to be one of the most difficult. The original had a limited print run, but after the critical and commercial success of Neils second book, \"Masked Rider\" was re-issued (with slightly different cover art) and remains in print as of 2006.
Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road
Being as popular as Rush are, the tragedies that befell Peart over a ten month span were widely reported through the media. Peart and the rest of the band were always able to keep his private life at a distance from his public image in Rush (very much by choice). \"Ghost Rider\" is again a first-person narrative of Peart on the road, now on motorcycle, in an effort to put his life back together as he embarked on an extensive journey across North America.
Traveling Music: The Soundtrack Of My Life And Times
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 book follows Peart still carrying emotional scars, but building a new life. As with his previous two books, \"Traveling Music\" is a first-person account.
Roadshow: Landscape With Drums, A Concert Tour By Motorcycle
Thirty years after Peart joined Rush, the band found itself on its 30th anniversary tour. Released in September of 2006 (see Peart\'s Official Website), this book chronicles that tour both from behind Neils drumkit and on his motorcycle.