Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock band Rush, died in Santa Monica, Calif., according to Variety. He was 67. Peart was diagnosed with brain cancer 3 years ago, but hadn’t made it public.
“It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and bandmate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer,” Rush posted to their official Twitter page.
Peart was one of the most influential and experimental drummers in rock, mixing elements of jazz and Gene Kupra-style big band without losing the rocking spirit of The Who’s Keith Moon or Cream’s Ginger Baker. He laid down intricate patterns to Rush’s changing rhythms on a huge set. His lyrics told dystopian science fiction stories through the objectivist lens of Ayn Rand individualism.
Neal Peart was born on Sept. 12, 1952, grew up on his family’s farm in Hagersville, Ontario. He ditched piano lessons for chopsticks, which he banged around the house until his parents bought him drum sticks, a practice drum and drum lessons at age 13. He studied under Don George at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music when he was 14. His made his stage debut at the school’s Christmas pageant and he played his first solo at Lakeport High School with the band The Eternal Triangle.
Peart moved to London when he was 18 to pursue a career as a professional musician. He played in a few bands and did some studio session work while selling jewelry at a shop on Carnaby Street. When nothing panned out he returned to Canada and sold tractor parts at Dalziel Equipment with his father,
Peart auditioned to replace John Rutsey in Rush in July of 1974. The rock trio, which included Geddy Lee on bass, vocals and keyboards, and Alex Lifeson on guitar, formed in 1968 and were about to record their second album, Fly By Night. Peart wrote most of the lyrics and his intricate beats changed the sound of the band. Fly by Night, which came out in 1975, won Rush the Juno Award for most promising new act. Their next album Caress of Steel did not do as well and was torn apart by reviewers. The tour supporting the album was nicknamed “Down the Tubes Tour.”
Peart slammed back at the rock critics with the title song of the 1976 album 2112, which broke the band in the United States. The tour for the album culminated with a three-night run at Toronto’s Massey Hall. Rush’s next two albums, A Farewell to Kings (1977) and Hemispheres (1978), were recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales and moved the band into the prog rock stratosphere. Peart threw in a reggae upbeat for the 1980 album Permanent Waves, as the band further expanded their style in a nod to the times. The album included shorter, radio-friendly songs like “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill.” Permanent Waves become Rush’s first Top 5 album in the United States.
Rush’s 1982 album Signals added synthesizers to the band’s arsenal, while Peart continued to explore reggae and ska rhythms, and indulge in funk. The album spawned “New World Man,” the only single from the band to make the American top-40 pop charts. Power Windows (1985) and Hold Your Fire (1987) continued to feature Lee’s multi-layered synthesizer work. Presto (1989) and Roll the Bones (1991) brought the guitar back to the forefront, even as they allowed the band to further explore funk and mix in a little hip hop.
On Aug. 10, 1997, soon after the band’s Test for Echo Tour ended, Peart’s 19-year-old daughter, Selena, died in a car accident driving her university in Toronto. Five months later, Peart’s common-law wife Jackie was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died in June 1998. The band took a five-year hiatus. Peart travelled across North America on his BMW motorcycle, and turned the journey into the book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. He remarried in 2000 to photographer Carrie Nuttall.
The band reunited to write and record the Vapor Trails album in Toronto. The album came out in and in May 2002 and was the first Rush studio album in 27 years not to include keyboards or synthesizers. Ther final studio album Clockwork Angels was released on June 12, 2012 on Roadrunner Records. Rush retired from touring in 2015.
Peart was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1983. According to the RIAA, Rush is third behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band. Rush was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame On April 18, 2013.
Neil Peart is survived by his wife, Carrie, and their daughter, Olivia Louise Peart. The band suggested anyone wishing to express their condolences should make a donation to a cancer research group or charity in Peart’s name.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.
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