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Rush drummer Neil Peart

Neil Peart (1952–2020), legendary drummer for Rush

by Linnea Crowther

Neil Peart was the drummer and primary lyricist for classic progressive rock band Rush. Known for his technical proficiency and his elaborate drum kit, he is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock drummers in history. The youngest person ever inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame — he was in his early 30s when he received the honor — Peart inspired deep loyalty from his fans for his intelligent, inventive lyrics and his dedication to his craft. Some of the Rush songs most notable for Peart’s playing are “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” and “YYZ.” Peart was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with his bandmates, and he was voted Best Rock Drummer by Modern Drummer readers every year from 1980 to 1986, as well as in 2006 and 2008.

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Died: January 7, 2020 (Who else died on January 7?)


Details of death: Died in Santa Monica, California of brain cancer at the age of 67.

Video gallery: Neil Peart and Rush’s Greatest Songs

Peart’s style: Peart’s drumming was a marvel to watch and hear as he presided from behind his 360-degree drum kit. That kit varied in size but sometimes topped 40 different components, though it usually settled somewhere in the 30s. He played it with an unmatched precision — and with his drumsticks turned backwards, with the butt ends out. And lest anyone think he was phoning it in after years with Rush, Peart completely reinvented his playing style midway through his career. Having played with a matched grip since he got his first drum kit at 14, Peart began studying with jazz drummer Freddie Gruber in the mid-1990s and adopted the traditional grip. His playing became more fluid under his new style, and it was a shift that was easy to spot if you’d been following the drummer for years — but his immense technical skill was still there, and so was the heart he put into his playing.

Notable quote: “All this machinery / Making modern music / Can still be open-hearted / Not so coldly charted / It’s really just a question of your honesty” —From “The Spirit of Radio”

What people said about him: “Oh man… Neil Peart. Every drummer just ran to their kit to bust out Tom Sawyer. His dedication and RE-dedication to his craft is a lesson in always improving. Never be complacent. You can ALWAYS be better. R.I.P.” —Patrick Wilson, drummer for Weezer

“It is unbelievably sad to hear that my favorite drummer of all time, Neil Peart, has left us. Very hard to find words to properly express the level of inspiration & influence he had on so many musicians. He will forever remain at the top of my list. Farewell to a true king.” —Musician King Diamond

“All the bands I’ve ever been in wanted to cover Rush. This guy was the reason we never could. True master of his instrument.” —Twitter user @danieljsparrow

“I can’t believe we lost Neil Peart. Just gutted. The only guy who made a whole arena do an air drumroll all at once. RIP Neil Peart, thanks for it all.” —Jonathan Gallant, bassist for rock band Billy Talent

“Neil Peart was the Michael Jordan of drumming. Talented beyond belief. Technically perfect. Style all his own. My first concert was Rush. Bought a drum set weeks later. Like so many other drummers, he inspired me to play. Rush on repeat this weekend.” —Twitter user @mep

Full obituary: The New York Times

Related lives:

  • Freddie Gruber (1927–2011), jazz drummer and teacher helped Peart reinvent his style
  • Ginger Baker (1939–2019), influential drummer for Cream
  • John Bonham (1948–1980), legendary Led Zeppelin drummer

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