Remembering Rush’s Neil Peart, One of the Greatest Drummers of All Time

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the band Rush, has died after a quiet, three-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer. He was 67.

Peart joined singer/bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson in 1974, replacing founding drummer John Rutsey ahead of the band’s first U.S. tour. “He was one of the goofiest-looking guys I’d ever seen,” Lee told the Guardian in a 2018 interview. “Then he sat down behind this kit and pummelled the drums—and us. As far as I was concerned, he was hired from the minute he started playing.”

Peart quickly became renowned for his meticulous, technical virtuosity and splashy performance style, which both channelled his hero, Keith Moon, and made him a hugely innovative force all his own. Drawing on a variety of influences from jazz and big band to hard rock, Peart’s supersonic fills bellowed triumphantly through classic songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “The Body Electric.”

Impeccable, too, was the effortless way he navigated around a wildly elaborate drum kit that, along with the traditional percussion parts, included gongs, chimes, and cymbals. He continued to take formal lessons late into his career, emphasizing his fixed dedication to the search for excellence and the refining of his craft.

As such, Peart was widely regarded among rock music’s greatest percussionists, particularly by fellow musicians. Stewart Copeland, the former drummer for the Police, once called Peart “the most air-drummed-to-drummer of all time.” Peart also served as inspiration for many artists, including Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl who helped induct Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

As a lyricist, Peart was wonderfully thoughtful and imaginative, often contemplating science fiction, mythology, and philosophy in his prose. On 1980’s “The Spirit of Radio,” he called music “a gift beyond price”—an indispensable worth that, to be sure, can also describe Peart’s important and enduring contributions to rock.