September 12, 2009

The Neil Peart Influence, Part 1: How I Got Into Neil, and Why I Revere Him So Much

Today is the birthday of Rush drummer Neil Peart. Happy Birthday!!

Many great drummers from past to present have inspired me to become a better drummer and musician. But no one else has inspired and influenced me more and in a life-changing way than Neil Peart. He is, and will always be, my biggest drumming hero; my number one drummer of all time. He not only influenced me as a drummer and musician. The man is a genius; an intellectual, a philosopher, a writer, a traveller... a brilliant and worldly human being with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a never-ending pursuit for learning.

Many of my long-time friends are familiar with my reverence for Neil Peart.
Some of you might wonder how a drummer like me, who is currently grooving with an R&B band on a regular basis and playing mainstream music for a living, was moved by one of the greatest rock drummers ever.
I first discovered Neil Peart and Rush back in high school. I was around 14. One day in school, I was hanging out during breaktime when I saw my friend and fellow drummer Rommell Garcia, and he's got this cassette tape in his shirt pocket. Out of curiosity, I asked what he had there, and it was Rush's 1989 live album, A Show Of Hands. That was the first time I saw a hardcopy Rush album. I was already reading Modern Drummer that time, and I've seen those old Ludwig and Zildjian ads with Neil on it, and he was praised so much by his contemporaries and mentioned frequently in the magazine (and they still do up to this day). I also recall a Neil Peart reply to one Ask A Pro inquiry, and I remember how long and detailed and convincing his response was. So, I was like, I have to check out this Neil Peart guy. I borrowed Rommell's tape, then listened to it at home after school.

From that moment on, life and drumming were never the same again.

Yes, I've become one of them; a Peart disciple; one of those thousands of drummers all over the world whose life was changed and enriched after hearing Neil and Rush for the first time. It must be some kind of Neil Peart obsession phase or syndrome, which I'm sure many drummers can relate with. I instantly became a fan, and got hooked to his crafty, muscular, and very creative drumming. After listening to A Show Of Hands for the first time, that was it! Going through the first few songs in the live album - The Big Money, Subdivisions, Marathon... plus numerous rewinds to recall those incredible drum parts... It was magic for me. I made a duplicate of that cassette tape, then studied it for hours and hours.

And the obsession continues. After that, I tried to look for all the Rush recordings I can find (their albums are pretty much hard to find on this side of the world). I went through my magazines and looked for any Peart-related article. I went through their recordings one by one... Moving Pictures, Permanent Waves, 2112... And the list goes on. I also got a video copy of A Show Of Hands, thanks to my buddy Michael Ong (guitarist of Fuseboxx). That was the first Rush/Peart video I've ever watched, and thanks to that, it became visually easier for me to figure out the things he played on his massive wrap-around double bass drumkit. The power, precision and craftsmanship of his drumming is phenomenal; not to mention, his integration of electronics and percussion instruments in his elaborate set-up. Seeing his Rhythm Method drum solo on video also took my Peart studies to another level, finally seeing how he did his famous solo. That time, the cross-sticking between the snare and floor tom was the killer for me. It took me all summer long figuring it out and trying to play it on my kit.

Up to this day, I still follow Rush and Neil Peart. Rush's newer albums may have mellowed by Rush standards, as compared to the more aggressive and exploratory nature of their classic 70's and 80's recordings. But the magic is still there, and they never fail to amaze me. I recently listened to their latest live recording, Snakes and Arrows Live, and they still sound so incredibly heavy, after over three decades of touring and thousands of concerts. Rush's music and Neil's drumming is timeless.

I recently got my October 2009 Modern Drummer, and it has this feature on Neil, titled "Reasons To Love Neil Peart". I am shocked that author Adam Budofsky confessed in the article that he "never loved Neil Peart", meaning, he never went through a Rush/Neil Peart obsession phase. I thought it was funny. But out of curiosity, and in order to confront his "Neil problem", he went through his research for this article, to cite the importance of Neil Peart in the art of drumming. He also invited 30 drummers who served as "panels of Neil experts", which is amazing because these drummers come from all different fields and styles of music, from jazz to R&B to metal. It goes to show that Neil's influence transcends musical boundaries; Neil's not just a rock drummer's drummer.

"Reasons To Love Neil Peart" noted 15 reasons/points on why Neil Peart is revered by many drummers. Here's my take on each of those 15 reasons...

1. Inspiration
Neil Peart's intense passion for drumming, music and life is infectious. Drumming-wise, his style has set a new standard, and has generated so much excitement to many drummers.

2. Precision and Consistency
Rush is known for replicating their recordings in their live shows, and it's amazing that after all these years, Neil is still very solid and consistent. Show after show, he is precise and consistent with his signature drum grooves and fills. And I agree, that's a hard thing to do.

3. Rising Above Technique
Neil is a technical drummer. But what I really admire the most is how creative he is in using his technique to make their music better and more meaningful. The rhythms and fills he created, it really fits the music of Rush.

4. Sound
Neil's drumkit sounds compliment his playing style. Personally, I don't prefer high tunings on toms. But according to the article, Neil tunes his toms very high (essentially in bebop range), which leads to an exciting, unique, and aggressive sound. I agree that it works very well on Rush's recordings and concerts. Neil's toms are very clear and articulate; one can hear the notes and identify which tom he's playing. Adding to his drum sounds are his signature Sabian Paragon cymbals, which has the presence, clarity, and cutting power that can match his drum sounds.

5. Ability To Garner Respect, Even From Non-Fans
Whether you're a Rush/Neil fan or not, Neil is very well-respected in many aspects. Everything he does, whatever he plays, writes, thinks, or stands for, he does it with dignity and conviction.

6. Expertise At Handling Odd Meters
My first odd meter lessons were Soundgarden, which brought me an understanding of how these are used in songs. Then, when I discovered Neil and Rush, they took my odd meter schooling to the next level. The best example is Limelight, where Neil smoothly shifts between 7, 6, 3, and 4 throughout the song. Other examples of notable Rush songs with multiple meter changes are Jacob's Ladder (from Permanent Waves), Subdivisions (from Signals), and Freeze (from Vapor Trails). I also dig how Neil mathematically breaks down or plays around time. Examples are the "7/4 War Furor" section (3:54) of By-Tor And The Snow Dog (from Fly By Night), and the 7/8 instrumental sections of Tom Sawyer (from Moving Pictures). Thanks to Neil and Rush, when I moved on to Dream Theater, Tool, Porcupine Tree, and other modern progressive groups who heavily use odd meters, I can already "get it".

7. Elaborate And Impeccably Designed Kit Setups
For me, Neil is the ultimate "poster" drummer. I enjoy looking at photos of Neil with his massive and beautifully designed drumkits. Neil's drumkits are also among the most recognizable, especially his wrap-around kit mounted on a rotating octagonal stage. Neil's use of multiple percussion instruments such as crotales, tubular bells, cowbells and blocks are also noteworthy. Many drummers dream of having a drum set-up as impressive as Neil's. Some fanatics even duplicated Neil's set-up.

8. Desire For Self-Improvement
Neil considers himself as an endless apprentice of his chosen art form. Even if he's already among the greatest drummers in the world, successful, multi-awarded and well-respected, he's not the kind of person who will be easily contented, resting in his laurels. He has the endless desire to further improve himself. During the 90's, he went to master teacher Freddie Gruber for further lessons, which has significantly improved his sense of feel.

9. Drum Solos
Neil Peart is a master of the art of soloing. His innovative structured drum solos, a frequent highlight on Rush shows, continues to awe and inspire many drummers.

10. Precisely Orchestrated Parts
Neil has created some of the most memorable drum parts in rock music. His grooves and fills on classics such as Tom Sawyer, Limelight, and YYZ (all from Moving Pictures) have become integral parts of the songs. These songs won't sound the same without those exact signature drum parts.I also dig Neil's timely use of percussion instruments and effects cymbals. Fine examples of songs with well-orchestrated drum and percussion parts are Mystic Rhythms (from Power Windows) and Tai Shan (from Hold Your Fire).

11. Incorporation Of Electronics
Neil is among those great drummers who are in the forefront of electronic percussion technology. His integration of electronics in his set-up is relevant especially during Rush's "synthesizer years" in the 80's.

12. Hi-Hat Work
Whether incorporating it on fills or driving sixteenth notes, Neil's use of the hi-hat is noteworthy. Some fine examples of Neil's amazing hi-hat work are La Villa Strangiato (from Hemispheres), New World Man (from Signals), The Big Money (from Power Windows), and Prime Mover (from Hold Your Fire).

13. Support Of Other Players
Somehow, I see Neil as an ambassador of drumming. He is known to acknowledge or give credit to fellow drummers. Even if he's more of a private person and is seldom seen on drumming events, he is very supportive to the drumming community.

14. Burning For Buddy
Neil is responsible for producing Burning for Buddy, an all-star drumming tribute to the late great Buddy Rich. It's wonderful that Neil thought of organizing such a project to honor one of the greatest drummers who ever lived.

15. Elevation Of The Perception Of Drummers
Neil's impact on all of us drummers from different walks of life and fields of music is very significant. Neil has helped put drummers on the spotlight. He is continuing how Gene Krupa elevated the status of drummers as being the guys who "just hit things and make noises on the side." For me, Neil is a "thinking man's drummer". His care, intelligence, and worldliness (according to the article), plus his boldness, creativity, passion, and inner drive and desire brought the art of drumming to higher levels. Add his brilliance as a lyricist and writer & his zest for life, reflected from being a reader, philosopher, adventurer, traveller, motorcyclist, and cyclist. Neil Peart is one brilliant human being; simply one of the most inspiring individuals on earth.


All photos from

More Neil Peart blogs soon...

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