1. Early influences: Big Band (1950s)

Index | Next

Neil Peart's father, Glen Peart, provided the first major musical influence in his son's life. As Neil recounted in a 1995 Modern Drummer interview:

I grew up listening to big band jazz, which my father loved—Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and the great drummers who played with them. Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett always had great musicians, and drummers like Gene Krupa and Kenny Clare influenced me greatly—such disciplined exuberance.

The description "disciplined exuberance" could be applied to Peart's own style. And even though he didn't know it at the time, big band jazz would provide both a template for his drumming and musical touchstone that he would return to later in his life. This first rediscovery would happen during his stay in London, England, during the early 1970s:

As a teenager, naturally I rejected "my father's music" and turned exclusively to rock. However, once I was out on my own I began to "discover" the music for myself, and I would proudly write home to tell Dad I'd bought an Ellington or Sinatra record. I began to realize that the big-band era was a special time — when people listened to and danced to the best musicians playing the best music of the day. (Burning for Buddy press release)

Here are the big band jazz drummers who influenced Neil Peart:

Gene Krupa

The first time I remember feeling a desire to play the drums was while watching the movie The Gene Krupa Story, at the age of eleven or twelve. The film's dramatization of his life and Sal Mineo's portrayal managed to make the idea of being a drummer seem exciting, glamorous, elegant, and dangerous. I started beating on the furniture and my baby sister's playpen with a pair of chopsticks, and for my thirteenth birthday my parents gave me drum lessons, a practice pad, and a pair of sticks. They said they wouldn't buy me real drums until I showed that I was going to be serious about it for at least a year, and I used to arrange magazines across my bed to make fantasy arrays of drums and cymbals, then beat the covers off them! (Zildjian.com, January 2003)


In a 2015 interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Peart further explained Krupa's connection to rock drummers:

PEART: He was the first rock drummer in very many ways. Without Gene Krupa, there wouldn't have been a Keith Moon.

INSKEEP: But he was a jazz drummer, right? He was a big band drummer, wasn't he?

PEART: Big band drummer, he was the first drummer to command the spotlight and the first drummer to be celebrated for his solos 'cause they were very flamboyant. He did fundamentally easy things but always made them look spectacular.

Gene Krupa also influenced Peart's early choice of drumstick, which eventually led him to playing with the butt end of the stick:

Although I play with a good deal of force, the sticks (Pro-Mark 747s) are quite light so there's very little inertia to overcome. When I was first learning how to play, I used really thin Gene Krupa model drumsticks because he was my idol... I would break the tips and—of course—not be able to afford new ones. I used to tape them up as long as that lasted and then flip them over and use the other end. I soon became comfortable with that and as I moved into playing louder and harder with rock bands, using the butt end was the perfect way to get the force that I wanted without having to use big logs. And I still have the flexibility to play delicately, ghost notes, double stroke rolls and so on. (Rhythm, August 1988)

Asked by Rush fan Douglas Whelan in a DRUM! article (where the fans interviewed Peart) what he would have talked to Krupa about if he'd had the chance to meet him, Neil responded:

With Gene, I would have asked about Dave Tough—to me, somehow the most intriguing of the old-time drummers, and a contemporary and fellow Chicagoan of Gene's. Dave Tough was a frustrated poet, though he did publish one book, which I would love to find. He was beloved by other drummers, and the musicians he accompanied with consummate musicality and taste, but he felt drumming was beneath his higher calling. Those conflicts activated the demons that destroyed his career and, by age 40, laid him low. If you judge a person by how much he was loved, though, then Dave Tough was a truly gifted man. But like some other gifted-but-conflicted drummers, like Dennis Wilson and Keith Moon, perhaps he just didn’t know how much he was loved or felt unworthy of it. Sad, but it happens. (DRUM!, September 2013)

Here's a video of a drum battle between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich (with Sammy Davis, Jr.) (skip to about 2:31 for the drum battle). In an interview with drummer Michael Shrieve in 2012, Peart said of watching these two drummers together, "I love the way when you watch Gene Krupa/Buddy Rich side-by-side: Buddy does the impossible and makes it look easy. Gene’s doing easy stuff, and he makes it look impossible. That’s really the difference!"

Kenny Clare

"When I lived in England I went to see Tony Bennett at the London Palladium when I was eighteen, by choice, and loved the man. Kenny Clare was playing drums for him then. That was a case where age and generation didn't matter. Kenny Clare was one of the most exciting drummers I ever saw. Many of the big band drummers were like that. Sonny Payne had that quality. And obviously, Gene Krupa too. You couldn't help but be excited by them if you were a young drummer regardless of style or preference." (Modern Drummer, 1995)

Buddy Rich

Like the big band music his father played around the house, Buddy Rich's influence on Neil Peart's early drumming would be more indirect—providing inspiration for what was possible.

...I would often see Buddy Rich play on television, on the "Tonight" show, but I would just shake my head—he seemed too far out of reach. As Gene (Krupa) said about Buddy, "There are all the great drummers in the world—and then there's Buddy." It would be a long time before I even began to understand what I was seeing and hearing when Buddy played, but eventually I would know as well as anyone why he was so revered. (Zildjian.com, January 2003)

See Buddy Rich via Burning for Buddy for more about Rich's influence on Peart.

Back to Index | Next