The world of music suffered a terrible loss when Neil Peart passed on. As a member of the rock band Rush, Peart cemented his reputation as one of the greatest drummers in music history. However, his legacy extends way past his drum kit. We here at Factinate have assembled these facts about Peart in tribute to his memory.
Neil Peart Facts
1. Farm Boy
Neil Peart was born on September 12, 1952 in Hamilton, in the Canadian province of Ontario. Believe it or not, the man who would become a rock god had humble, home-grown beginnings as a farm boy. Peart spent the first and formative years of his life growing up on the outskirts of Hamilton at his family’s farm in Hagersville.
2. Not an OG
Most people forget this fact, but Peart was not the original drummer of Rush even though he gained fame with them. The original Rush lineup had John Rutsey on drums, but he only played on their debut album before he left the band due to health issues and creative differences. Luckily, all this paved the way for Peart to shine.
3. What, Like It’s Hard?
In 1974, Peart finally got his big chance to join Rush. His audition story is beyond hilarious. Members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson both remember that the drummer showed up to the big gig in shorts and his beat-up old Ford Pinto, with his drums bizarrely stored in garbage cans. Uh, what? Is it any surprise then that Peart thought the audition went horribly? Still, he got lucky again: Peart hit it off with Lee and Lifeson, and they hired him.
4. Class Is in Session
Fittingly, one of Peart’s rock nicknames was “The Professor,” in part because of his academic, thoughtful personality. As Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl put it in his reminisces on the drummer, “He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”
5. The Chameleon of Rock
One of the biggest things that made Peart such a fascinating drummer was his ability to adapt and evolve without alienating his fans. By his own admission, he became more experimental over the years (we’ll go more into that) and even his classic songs changed whenever the band played them again. He just couldn’t keep to one style.
6. Art Imitating Life
Growing up, Peart was a painfully introverted child—and it had devastating consequences for the young boy. Some of his more extroverted peers dismissed him as “stuck up” and “conceited,” when he was really just shy. Peart turned these experiences into art, and this outsider’s perspective on adolescence later inspired his Rush song “Subdivisions.”
7. Right Into the Deep End
Peart’s first-ever performance with the band Rush was an enormous event. They opened for Manfred Mann and Uriah Heep at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, in front of 11,000 people, in 1974. Incredibly, at the time Peart had only been with the band for two weeks! Let’s just say I would not be ready to show my stuff on stage at that point.
8. Skating Through
Peart actually turned to drumming because of crushing childhood disappointment. He was never physically gifted, and suffered from weak ankles. This meant he couldn’t skate or play hockey, which in Canada is a huge social no-no. Peart admitted that his lack of ability sadly made him a huge “social pariah,” but it did allow him to focus on drumming instead.
9. Going South
As a touring musician, Peart met people from all walks of life, but one of his friendships was the most bizarre. Peart got close with none other than Trey Parker and Matt Stone, AKA the mad men behind South Park. They even made an animated sequence as an intro for Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” which featured the iconic South Park characters Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, and Stan.
10. My Heroes!
Even though he was a legendary drummer himself, Peart had his own musical icons. Among his idols were Keith Moon from the Who and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.
11. Drumming up Controversy
Damian Chazelle’s music drama film Whiplash follows a young jazz drummer. Well, Peart hated it. He was disgusted with the film’s portrayal of jazz drumming, particularly the idea that jazz drummers frequently bleed. As he said, “There’s a Band-Aid on my finger right now—yeah, I bleed. But jazz drumming, no, there is no bleeding.”
12. The Lord of the Sings
Peart was an incredible drummer, but few casual fans know his other massive contribution to the band. Aside from drumming, Peart was also the main lyricist for Rush, and he wrote most of their classic, enduring songs. Peart’s love of fantasy literature like Lord of the Rings also helped define the band’s sound and feel.
13. Open Dialogue
Geddy Lee is famously the frontman of Rush, but Peart had more influence on Lee’s singing than people know. According to an interview Peart gave, he regularly gave Lee advice on how he should sing his lyrics, and often changed lines to more suit his voice. Peart joked that Lee never minded the advice, and often asked for his two cents on the matter!
14. That’s the Wrong Way!
As a teen, Peart wasn’t able to afford replacing his drumsticks, so their tips would break off on him mid-performance. Instead, he adapted an ingenious workaround: He taught himself to play with the butt ends of the sticks instead. He continued this habit for years into his tenure with Rush, putting other skillful drummers to shame.
15. Hulking out
According to Peart himself, he had one terrifying motivator for his drumming: rage. Almost every time he got into the music, he tapped into a dark, animalistic part of his personality. Then one day, he took it too far. While recording Rush’s 1976 live album All the World’s a Stage, Peart got so furious, he actually broke his snare drum.
16. Friends to the End
One of the most famous and heart-warming aspects of Rush is that all three band members have remained close friends through almost their entire lives. Lee and Lifeson were even high school friends, and they all got along to Peart’s dying day. Peart loved laughing at Lifeson’s jokes, and went on record calling him “the funniest man in the world.”
17. I Love You, Neil
The buddy comedy I Love You, Man features Paul Rudd and Jason Segel as Rush superfans. Following Peart’s passing, both Segel and Rudd gave heartfelt tributes to the drummer and recounted their time meeting him. As Rudd said, “Being the greatest drummer on the planet was only a part of Neil. He was a thunderbolt of a human being, and he’ll live forever.”
18. Fail, Fail Again
We all like to think of our rock legends as infallible. But in 1992, Peart suffered a huge embarrassment. Cathy Rich, the daughter of jazz drumming icon Buddy Rich, invited Peart to play a memorial concert for her father. Except, when Peart got on stage, he was underprepared. He hadn’t even studied the right song arrangement, and it was a total disaster.
19. Time to Burn Rubber
The members of Rush were certainly no strangers to parties and adventure, but one of Peart’s habits terrified even them. Peart loved his motorcycle, and insisted on riding it to almost every stop when they were on tour. Geddy Lee admitted this was “nerve-wracking, especially for our manager,” and they all feared he’d end up on the side of the road. As you’ll see, they weren’t wrong…
20. Out With a Bang
Peart’s final album with Rush was 2012’s Clockwork Angels. Classic Rock hailed the work as “Rush’s best release in 30 years.”
21. From Rock to Jazz
In the late 1990s, Peart noticed that Steve Smith, who used to be the drummer for Journey, had suddenly improved his playing. Peart demanded to know Smith’s secret—and what he told him changed his drumming forever. Smith had been working under jazz drumming instructor Freddie Gruber. The results were undeniable, and Peart quickly enlisted Gruber himself.
22. Let’s Not Get Too Crazy
Even though they’ve more than earned their reputation as nerdy rock and rollers, Rush were in the thick of the 1970s music party scene, and certainly had their fair share of antics. However, the band members credit each other with keeping Rush grounded as a group—besides, as Peart once confessed, alcohol and other substances don’t really agree with him.
23. Oh Captain, My Captain!
When an interviewer once asked him what the most gratifying part of playing music was, Peart replied that he was most touched when other artists named him as an inspiration. One of his personal high points was discovering that renowned musician Jeff Buckley greatly admired Rush’s music. For Peart, inspiring people was “the absolute highest goal” of his career.
24. The Canadian Invasion
When Peart was 18, he was so fed up with his lack of success in Canada that he moved to England, hoping that might lead to stardom. It ended in disaster. While he did play some music, he was forced to work in a jewelry store to make ends meet. After over a year without a breakthrough, Peart called it quits and went back home.
25. Trailing Behind
The Canadian smash-hit comedy series Trailer Park Boys features a 2003 episode with an appearance by Rush member Alex Lifeson. The same episode is named “Closer to the Heart” after a song that Peart wrote with a friend. Furthermore, Mike Smith, who played Bubbles in the show, later performed alongside Rush while in character as Bubbles.
26. Under Construction
Under Freddie Gruber’s wing, Peart greatly expanded his sound and drumming style, even as he and Rush were busy recording music for the album Test for Echo. Peart wanted to preserve the process that both he and the band were going through, so he produced a behind-the-scenes documentary titled A Work in Progress to showcase his evolution.
27. Small Incident, Big Secret
In September 2010, Peart was travelling to his next show via motorcycle when he got into an accident. His motorcycle slid on a patch of asphalt, and he suffered from a limp for two days afterward. But that’s not even the worst part. Terrified that his insurance company would forbid him from riding from then on, Peart told absolutely no one about the accident for years.
28. I’m Ready for My Closeup
In true Neil Peart fashion, Clockwork Angels was later adapted into a science fiction novel by Kevin J. Anderson, who was a close friend of Peart’s. Needless to say, the drummer was over the moon about the novelization, and also spent the rest of his life hoping that someone would adapt Clockwork Angels into an experimental film. Who knows what the future holds…
29. Be Good to Each Other
In the wake of Peart’s passing, his family has urged fans in mourning to express their condolences by donating to a charity. Given Peart’s history of supporting charities in his lifetime, we can imagine he would approve of that humanitarian wish.
30. Cat’s in the Cradle
A homebody at heart, Peart despised having to spend so much time away from his family while on tour. In 2017, Peart lamented that it was “too easy to get caught up in the tedious day-to-day stuff and miss the miracle that’s unfolding before you.” Peart was quick to point out how blessed he was, but while he knew it was a good life, “it has a price.”
31. First of Their Name
In 1997, Peart and his Rush bandmates found themselves inducted into the esteemed class of the Officers of the Order of Canada. This is the highest honor that the Canadian government can grant to any civilian, and Rush’s members were the first musicians to ever receive the titles. Not bad for some regular canucks.
32. The Fans Giving Back
Once in an interview, a journalist asked Peart if he preferred fans singing his lyrics or fans air-drumming to his beats. His answer might surprise you. According to Peart, it was people singing that meant the most to him, even if he wasn’t the one saying them. As he put it, “All these people singing along with Geddy, they’re singing my words.”
33. Due South
Although Peart was a proud Canadian, he eventually moved to California and built a home there, getting his American citizenship shortly after.
34. Rock God to Husband
Even rock stars have to settle down. In 2000, Peart married American photographer Carrie Nuttall, and the happy newlyweds put down roots in California for good. In 2009, they even had a daughter named Olivia together. When Peart recently passed on, Carrie and Olivia were with him every step of the way at their home in Santa Monica.
35. Do It for the Fans
As a shy and quiet introvert, Peart was never a fan of meet-and-greets or even live shows. Way back in 1989, Peart even decided he was going to quit touring and only record on albums. However, he quickly changed his own mind. His reason? He came to realize that live performances were “the true test of a musician.”
36. A Good Cause
In 2003, Toronto was one of several worldwide locations bombarded by an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. That same year, the Canadian city held a relief benefit called SARStock. Peart attended and performed as part of Rush, playing alongside big band names like AC/DC and the Rolling Stones.
37. Just a Letter Away
Oddly enough, when Peart first auditioned for Rush, he was already playing for a band called, no joke, Hush. You can’t make up a coincidence like that!
38. Telling My Truth
Besides his work as a song lyricist, Peart was also an accomplished writer in other mediums. During his life, he wrote seven non-fiction books, which either focused on Peart’s travels, his emotional journeys, or his reflections on life and family.
39. Upper Echelon
For those who aren’t aware, Modern Drummer is a monthly music publication that focuses on—no surprise here—drummers and percussionists. But get this: In 1983, the magazine inducted a baby-faced, 29-year-old Peart into their Hall of Fame. He was the youngest person ever to get inducted, but you can’t say he didn’t deserve it.
40. Never Forget Your Roots
When Peart was growing up, R&B and soul music was especially popular. In fact, when Peart first began playing music in bands, he was performing R&B songs by James Brown and Otis Redding rather than rock music. Peart never fully abandoned these beginnings, however, and he brought that musical influence into Rush’s music.
41. Make up Your Mind
Though avid fans love Peart’s lyrics, he has had some crushing criticism through the years. In 2007, Allmusic named him “one of rock’s most accomplished lyricists”…except then, in the exact same year, Blender magazine called him the #2 worst lyricist in rock music. In case you’re wondering, Sting was #1 on that list.
42. In Good Company
Somehow, it took all the way until 2013 for Rush to make it into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other musicians who were inducted the same day as Peart and his bandmates included fellow music legends Randy Newman and Donna Summer, so at the very least Neil and the gang were in some excellent company.
43. That’s My Buddy
Still hurting from his less-than-stellar performance at the Buddy Rich memorial concert, Peart tried to make up for it by broadening his musical horizons and producing the special, two-volume album Burning for Buddy: A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Rich. As if that weren’t enough, the albums also come with a “making of” documentary.
44. Look at Him Go
Peart was infamous for his—let’s be honest—totally insane drum kit. Deadline once described it as “a sprawling kit that held dozens of drums, cymbals, chimes, bells, a gong and more.” Even better, at every live show Peart made sure to use every single one of those doo-dads in a single song, complete with a synchronized video.
45. One of Us
For Peart, one of the best parts of travelling the world on a motorcycle in between music gigs was all the pleasant encounters he’d have with people in cafes or truck stops—people who didn’t necessarily recognize the rock legend. While he was protective of his privacy, he appreciated the positive interactions with strangers, as it contributed to the “anonymity of [his] travels.”
46. How Long’s That Been the Law?
Peart used to have a riding partner to accompany him whenever he rode his motorcycle to the next stop on his tours: his best friend Brutus. In 1999, however, Brutus got into some deep trouble. Authorities caught him with substances, and they banned him from entering into the US for life. All of a sudden, Peart’s driving buddy was gone.
47. Taken Too Soon
August 10, 1997 was undoubtedly one of the worst days of Peart’s life. On this day, just after Peart had finished his Test for Echo tour with Rush, his 19-year-old daughter Selena Taylor got into a horrific accident on a highway in Brighton, Ontario. She didn’t survive the crash. Sadly, that was just the beginning of an absolute nightmare.
48. From Bad to Worse
As if that wasn’t enough for the bereaved Peart, he then lost his long-term partner and mother of his child, Jacqueline Taylor, just 10 months after the death of their daughter. Taylor succumbed to cancer on June 20, 1998. Yet Peart thought something else really ruined her: He later confessed that Jacqueline died of a “broken heart.”
49. Ghost Writer
Peart was so overcome by his daughter’s tragedy that he temporarily retired from Rush. Afterward, the drummer embarked on a long sabbatical where he traveled, rode his beloved motorcycles, and reflected on his life. Ultimately, he did return to Rush, and he wrote about his personal journey in his book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road.
50. Fallen Star
When Peart died on January 7, 2020 at the age of 67, his fans around the world were shocked. The truth about his end only became clear in the following days. For three and a half years, Peart had waged a long battle with brain cancer. For personal reasons, his cancer diagnosis was a closely guarded secret, and his family only revealed it upon his passing. Rest in Peace, Neil.