Skip to main content

5 reasons Neil Peart is the greatest drummer of all time

Neil Peart
(Image credit: Clayton Call / Getty)

It's official! You've selected Neil Peart as the Greatest Of All Time in our GOAT Hunt poll. 

The late Rush drummer trounced the competition, amassing over 50% of the entire vote alone. But what is it exactly that draws people to Neil Peart's playing? 

There are way more than five reasons, clearly, but below we're taking a look at just a few reasons that Peart is considered the greatest. 

1. He put the drums in the spotlight

When your bandmates are considered influential legends on their own instruments, it’s no small task to make your parts and improvisations stand out, but Neil Peart always found opportunities to do exactly that. 

From iconic fills such as the opening bars of The Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer to Neil’s full-blown live drum solos which captivated the audience with the use of every part of his kit rather than sending them to the bar. 

Neil’s solos were musical pieces in their own right, building in movements rather than a series of fills all joined together.

The gear!

Just as his playing never stopped evolving, neither did Neil’s quest for the ultimate sonic experience. The 80s were no stranger to massive drum kits, and while this became commonplace as ‘part of the show’ for plenty of stadium-filling bands, the Spinal Tap nature of over-the-top additions for the sake of visuals and theatre never applied to Neil. 

Yes, his drum kits were the size of a small stage, but nothing was there without purpose. Perhaps the culmination of this was Neil’s kit on the Time Machine tour: a 360-degree hybrid beast. Visually, the steampunk-styled kit is laced with copper hardware and cog inlays, complete with pressure gauges and industrial counterweights. 

But it was far from just being about the painstaking visual details, the entire set comprised of a mix of DW acoustic shells and Roland pads built into the same Time Machine-finished drum shells. 

As well as this, Neil had a wall of his signature Sabian Paragon cymbals, a Mallet Kat Express, two Roland XV 5080 samplers and a pair of Roland TD-20 modules. 

He’s your favourite drummer’s favourite drummer

Once a generation, someone comes along who captures the imagination of would-be musicians, and for many-a-rock legend who hit their teenage years in the 70s and 80s, that drummer was Neil Peart. 

What sets Neil Peart apart from other famous drummers at the time is that there’s so much to choose from in terms of influence, and it shows in the list of names who were influenced to play the drums because of Neil’s playing in Rush. 

From Mike Portnoy to Taylor Hawkins, Chad Smith to Lars Ulrich to name just a few, Neil’s playing made an instant connection with now-legendary drummers who all took something different from his playing, be it the progressive, the classic rock groove, the extended drum kit and jaw-dropping fills or a mixture of all of these things and more. 

But it’s not just the drummers who came after him whose respect Neil Peart gained, it was his contemporaries and heroes too. Stewart Copeland, Steve Gadd, Kenny Aronoff, Todd Sucherman, Carmine Appice… those are just a few of the names who counted Neil Peart as a friend. 

So, if you know what it feels like to air-drum to your favourite song, you’d better believe that your heroes do too, and they did it along to Neil Peart’s parts.

But he was way more than ‘just the drummer’

One of the clearest observations about Neil Peart was that while he was a groundbreaking drummer - and the results of our poll say he was the Greatest of All Time - he was much more than ‘just the drummer’. 

This is reflected in Neil’s approach as a musician: continuously striving to better his playing technique, sound, composition and improvisation, but also away from the drums. 

Introverted as a child, he found his outlet via drumming, and was famously Rush’s primary lyricist - even shaping the way Geddy Lee phrased the lyrics in Rush’s songs. The creativity didn’t stop with his music, penning seven non-fiction books while on various motorcycle tours, as well as writing short stories and a graphic novelisation of Rush’s Clockwork Angels album. 

What does that have to do with drumming? Arguably it doesn’t, but combined with Neil’s documentation of his drumming progress, it gives us a deeper view into the drumming GOAT’s personality. 

They called him The Professor, and his attention to detail, love for the instrument, reverence and respect towards his fan base not only shows why, but was the rarest of combinations.

He never stopped learning

“As a musician it's my responsibility to get better and if people are admiring the work I do then that's even more inspiration to improve and to take it up a notch.” Neil told us in 2011, “The hunger for improvement and exploration and all that really does derive from the acclaim. I know people give me that respect so I feel I have to earn it.” 

It was this level of responsibility to his craft and his fans that meant Neil never stopped striving to improve and discover new concepts behind the kit. He studied with Freddie Gruber to address his physical technique in the 90s, and later with legendary jazzer, Peter Erskine to help with his timing.

"I was going in there to the master and I told him at the time, 'As far as I'm concerned you're a surgeon and I'm a butcher.' He said, 'You're not a butcher!' I said, 'No, I'm a good butcher but I'd just like to get a little more surgery into it.' He helped me with that eloquence and time sense.”

"Peter had me start by playing quarter note ride beats. I had this thing from Freddie where I was doing a little flick of the wrist in between. Peter points, 'What's that?' I knew he studied with Freddie so I was kind of confused but I said, 'That's time keeping.' 

"He said, 'No,' he points to his heart, 'time keeping is here. Own the time.' It was an evolution I was able to bridge. Now I feel that flick of the wrist between each beat. I practised for six months just on the hi-hat alone with Peter.