January 7, we lost we lost drummer Neil Peart of Rush. We look back on his work and share stories from fellow drummers Eric Singer of KISS and Burleigh Drummond of Ambrosia, bands who have shared the stage with Rush.
By Warren Kurtz
Neil Peart, photo by Jesse Grant, Getty Images
When Rush’s self-titled debut album was released in the U.S. in 1974, the Canadian trio consisted of Geddy Lee on bass and vocals, Alex Lifeson on guitar and John Rutsey on drums, who left for health reasons after the recording of the first album. “In the Mood” was a straight-ahead dance rocker and “Working Man” had received so much pre-release airplay on Cleveland’s WMMS FM radio, that WMMS was thanked on the back of the album when it was released, which helped to make Rush huge in the Greater Cleveland area, the home of future KISS drummer Eric Singer. Neil Peart replaced John Rutsey and his influence could be heard immediately on the trio’s second album Fly by Night featuring the title song as its single.
Eric Singer told Goldmine, “Losing Neil is a sad and huge loss for the drum and music community. I remember the bombastic machine gun drum fills all over ‘Fly by Night�� and remember seeing them open for KISS at the Akron Civic Theatre in 1975 and in 1977 at the Cleveland Public Hall, on their All the World’s a Stage tour, with Derringer and Max Webster as the supporting bands that evening. I was in the front row for both shows and have incredible memories of this incredible drummer.”
Rush’s highest charting single in the 1970s was “Closer to the Heart,” released in late 1977, which reached No. 76 in the U.S. and peaked at No. 13 in Toronto on the radio station CHUM.
The trio’s run in the U.S. Top 100 chart in the next decade began in 1980 with “The Spirit of Radio” followed by a pair of singles in 1981 from their album Moving Pictures, of which the second single, “Tom Sawyer,” did the best, reaching No. 44, and included Neil’s lyrics about Space Invaders.
The first single from Moving Pictures was “Limelight,” where Neil wrote about the struggles of dealing with stardom. Its flip side was the progressive jazz rock instrumental “YYZ” (Canadian pronunciation of “Why-Why-Zed”) which is the Toronto airport code, a place that felt like home to the band, coming back from extensive tours. Each member showcased their instrument on this composition, written by Geddy and Neil.
Flip side: YYZ
A side: Limelight
Top 100 debut: March 14, 1981
Peak position: No. 55
Rush’s sole U.S. Top 40 entry happened in October 1982 with “New World Man,” written by Geddy and Neil, from the album Signals. The single reached No. 21 in the U.S. and is the only Rush single to reach No. 1 on the CHUM chart, where it spent two weeks in the top spot.
Among the bands who shared the stage over the years was Ambrosia, who started as a progressive rock band in the mid-1970s, as Rush was beginning to make records. Ambrosia’s drummer, Burleigh Drummond, shared with Goldmine, “We had an arsenal of percussion in the studio and for our live shows. Years later we were opening for Rush and Neil said, ‘Look at my drum kit. I got that from you!’ What an honor it was learning that I inspired Neil, who inspired so many others.”
Rush has recorded many live albums over the years. The live collection that charted the highest in the U.S. and Canada this century is the 2008 double CD Snakes & Arrows Live which begins with “Limelight,” ends with “YYZ,” includes another popular flip side, “Freewill,” and contains “Tom Sawyer” and many more songs.
The 1999-2000 NBC television show Freaks and Geeks included the character Nick Andopolis, who was played by Jason Segel, as one of the high school freaks and a drummer whose hero was Neil Peart. Nick played in a band named Feedback.
Jason Segel on the right
In 2004, Rush used the Freaks and Geeks fictional band name Feedback as the title for an EP of the trio performing covers of classic rock songs. In the Feedback liner notes Neil stated, “I first heard many of these songs as cover tunes, played by local bands around St. Catharines, Ontario.” The collection includes another Canadian Neil’s composition “Mr. Soul,” a popular Buffalo Springfield flip side from Neil Young. Neil Peart played solidly on The Who’s “The Seeker” and brought intensity to Love’s “Seven and Seven Is.”
Neil Peart is survived by his wife, photographer Carrie Nuttall, and their daughter Olivia. Neil was 67.
Coming January 25 to goldminemag.com, Canadian guitarist Greg Fraser is interviewed about living fifteen minutes from where Neil Peart grew up and shares his positive comments on Neil. Greg looks back on his years with the Canadian band Brighton Rock, opening for another legendary Canadian rock trio Triumph, who credit Rush as paving the way for them, and discusses his new music with the Niagara Falls, Ontario band Storm Force.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.