Neil Peart, the drummer and primary lyricist for the rock band Rush, who was recognized as one of the most dynamic and influential drummers of the rock era with this steady drive and polyrhythmic eruptions during his four decades with the group, died Jan. 7 in Santa Monica, California. He was 67.
His bandmates, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, announced his death on Twitter, noting that the cause was glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.
For more than 45 years, Peart maintained the heartbeat of Rush, one of the most enduring and beloved groups in a genre that came to be known as progressive rock. Beginning as a blues-influenced rock band in 1968, Rush evolved through the years, borrowing elements of heavy metal and punk music to create a distinctive style that won millions of devoted followers. Peart became the drummer for Rush in 1974.
The band, originally formed in Canada, had few Top 40 hits, but its dozens of albums - 14 of which were certified platinum - have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. The group's live concerts routinely attracted sellout crowds, and Rush was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
Rolling Stone magazine named Peart the fourth-greatest rock drummer in history, citing "a stunning unity of brains and brawn" in his performing style.
Among the group's most significant albums are "Moving Pictures," which reached No. 3 on the Billboard album chart and has sold nearly 5 million copies since its release in 1981.
"When punk and New Wave came," Peart told Rolling Stone, "we were young enough to gently incorporate it into our music, rather than getting reactionary about it - like other musicians who I heard saying, 'What are we supposed to do now, forget how to play?' We were fans enough to go, 'Oh, we want that too.' And by 'Moving Pictures,' we nailed it, learning how to be seamlessly complex and to compact a large arrangement into a concise statement."
"Moving Pictures" contained perhaps Rush's best-known tune, "Tom Sawyer," for which Peart wrote the lyrics, which begin:
- - -
A modern-day warrior
Mean, mean stride
Today's Tom Sawyer
Mean, mean pride
- - -
Peart's drum fills in "Tom Sawyer" and other tunes were considered models of rock invention and - despite his crashing attack - subtlety. Highlights of Rush concerts included extended solos by Peart, in which he built dramatically structured percussion compositions, using every part of his extensive drum set and playing until his audience reached a state of near-ecstasy.
"Neil is the most air-drummed-to drummer of all time," former Police drummer Stewart Copeland told Rolling Stone in 2015. "Neil pushes that band, which has a lot of musicality, a lot of ideas crammed into every eight bars - but he keeps the throb, which is the important thing."