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Neil Fucking Peart (And Other Amazing Drummers)

August 15, 2010

My mother signed me up for piano lessons when I was somewhere around 9 or 10 and, if my memory serves me correctly, it only took about two weeks until I got kicked out of the classes.

The simple fact is, the piano never interested me and I spent all my time at the music teacher’s house hanging out by his white Ludwig drum set. It wasn’t a big kit, just four or five drums and a few cymbals, but it was the coolest piece of musical gear I had ever seen up close. And it was loud.

What could be better?

Of course, my parents weren’t so keen on the idea of me learning to play the drums, which made it that much more appealing. After months of begging, they finally relented and took me to the local music store where I got my first pair of sticks and a practice pad, along with my first drum teacher.

For a kid who just wanted to sit down behind a kit, those early lessons were painful. I’d sit with my teacher and a snare drum running through the basic rudiments over and over again. Five stroke rolls. Seven stroke rolls. Nine stroke rolls. Flams. Parradiddles. Double parradiddles.

Basic, boring skills that I was expected to practice religiously. And I did — to a certain extent. I’d sit down to do my drills and slowly find myself trying to play along with the records I could hear coming through the wall of my sisters’ room. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, the Grateful Dead.

I kept taking lessons and, eventually, got my first kit… a used, black four-piece Ludwig set with some cheap cymbals. I loved it and would bang away those drums every afternoon after school. Sometimes I’d even practice the lessons I’d been given for the week. And, I got better.

My lessons continued and, by the time I was 13, I’d graduated to a better used kit… a five-piece Slingerland concert set and was regularly playing along with my favorite bands on my Walkman and, on occasion, some of my friends. We weren’t real bands in any sense of the word and we massacred almost everything we attempted to play. But we had fun.

While I continued to practice, play and improve, I also realized that I was never going to be great. Sure, I was good and could carry a beat, but I lacked the raw talent to ever be anything more than a bar band drummer. And, I was fine with that. I enjoyed playing and always had a good time behind the kit. Fame and fortune were for other folks.

Accepting my limitations also made me realize how incredibly good the truly talented players are. And I’m not talking about the vast majority of drummers (or other musicians) who have made successful careers for themselves over the years. I’m talking about the prodigies. The outliers. The players who make you sit there and go “What the fuck?”

I saw one of those players at the MGM Grand last night, when I snagged a last-minute ticket to see Rush. As a drummer, I’d always been in awe of Neil Peart and remember seeing him for my very first time back in 1983-1984 when Rush toured behind their Signals album. While I’ve listened to plenty of their music over the intervening 25 years, I never found my way back to another show until last night. And Peart (and the rest of the band) didn’t disappoint.

Rush took the stage at just after 8 PM and played a nearly three-hour long set that included a cover-to-cover performance of their classic Moving Pictures album. While there were plenty of highlights throughout the show, the drummer in me was blown away when, near the end of the main set, Peart broke into a ridiculous seven-minute long drum solo. How ridiculous, you ask? What if I tell you that he became his own brass band at the end? Like I said, ridiculous. And, while I don’t have the footage from last night, I did find a video that someone shot earlier in the tour.

Not bad, huh?

And, while Peart is amazing, his performance got me thinking about a couple of my other favorite drummers. Like Peart, both of these players are masters of polyrhythms and, quite simply, blow me away every time I see them on stage. And, since I shared a bit of Neil Peart with you, I figured, what the hell. So, for another amazing performance, check out Carter Beauford of the Dave Matthews Band.

And, finally, no list of my favorite drummers could ever be complete without another man who revolutionized the instrument… Stewart Copeland of the Police.

Of course, there are plenty of other incredible drummers out there, but for me, these three performers are the top three playing today. As for me? I recently bought myself a new kit and am enjoying playing in the anonymous confines of my apartment which, if I’m honest, is the only place I should ever perform.

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