3. Drum solo influences: 1960s and 1970s

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Even though he had been playing drum solos with Rush for many years (and had even recorded one on All the World's a Stage), the multi-platinum success of Moving Pictures guaranteed that more people would hear Peart's drum solo in "YYZ" on Exit...Stage Left. Clocking in at just 3-1/2 minutes, the solo in "YYZ" was a masterpiece—the rare drum performance that entertained both drummers and non-drummers.

Peart explained his approach in his article "The Art of Soloing" in Modern Drummer:

I like to think that my solo is constructed like a song or a story, in that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Over the years, I have developed a changing arrangement of rhythmic and dynamic steps, much as a writer must do. Thus the bridges and transitional sections are organized and fixed, while the individual sections themselves are loosely structured with some repeating passages. However, basically the parts are off the top of my head. There is always improvisation, and always room to stretch out when I feel particularly strong or rambunctious. (Modern Drummer, 1983).

On this page you'll find some of the drummers who guided Peart on his journey to becoming the most admired modern practitioner of the drum solo. 

Early drum solo influences

Peart's first drum solo influences were the drummers performing around Southern Ontario. In an article for Rhythm, Peart wrote about two drummers in particular, Skip Prokop with the band Lighthouse, and Jerry Mercer with Mashmakhan:

I count myself lucky to have learned to play in the mid-'60s, and—of all places—in Southern Ontario. It is true that compared to now, it was hard to "see" live music (rare on television, and no instructional DVDs, websites, or apps). However, on the plus side, there were so many bands around in that time and place, and they were remarkably "musicianly". (Seems the only word.) Pretty well every drummer performed a solo, and I noticed some things. There were drummers I liked a lot when they played with their bands, but not on their own. They would have the technique, all right, but, I realise now, no sense of phrasing, structure, dynamics, tension and release, or telling a story. All I knew at the time was that while I admired their drumming, I didn't enjoy their solos.

Other soloists of the time were brilliant and inspirational. Two unforgettable Canadian examples were Skip Prokop with Lighthouse, and Jerry Mercer with Mashmakhan. Skip was a brilliant technician—a champion rudimental drummer, I recall—and delivered a superbly musical solo, while Jerry's live solo in "Letter From Zambia" had all the primal power and drama the title suggests, and seemed to tell a story. Decades later, their influence remains in my ideal of what a solo ought to be. (Rhythm, March 2014)

In Anatomy of a Drum Solo, Peart named more local drummers and bands that influenced his approach to soloing, including:

  • Leigh Ashford: drummer Dave Cairns
  • Nucleus: drummer Danny Taylor
  • The Mandela: drummer Whitey Glan
  • The Yeoman (drummer not named)
  • The Checkmates (drummer not named)

In an article entitled "Ten Influential Canadian Drummers" for the book The Top 100 Canadian Albums, Peart wrote about Garry Paterson and Jerry Mercer:

Garry Peterson of The Guess Who came into my life twice early on: first, seeing him play at the Caledonia Fair around the summer of 1965, just before I started playing drums; then again in 1970, when my band, JR. Flood, played an outdoor festival at Brock University in St. Catharines. The festival was headlined by The Guess Who and Mashmakhan, whose drummer, Jerry Mercer, was also an early influence, especially in soloing. That night I watched from the back of the huge crowd as Jerry played a solo in "Letter From Zambia", an African-influenced piece, with dark polyrhythms (l also recall Jerry incorporating short blasts on a whistle held in his mouth), and it was one of the most original drum solos I had heard up to that time. Jerry and I crossed paths again in later years, when he was with April Wine, and they played a few shows with Rush. In fact, my present drum tech, Lorne Wheaton, once worked for Jerry, too. (The Top 100 Canadian Albums)

To learn more about the history of this music scene, check out Paul Miil's excellent documentary, The Big Story of Small Potatoes: Niagara's Rock Music History: 1964-1974. (For another film that focuses on Peart, from the perspective of those who knew him before he joined Rush, see Origin of Neil Peart: St. Catharines Epoch B4 Rush.)

Later drum solo influences

In Anatomy of a Drum Solo, Peart explained how he learned from two types of drummers: those who were good at soloing, as well as drummers who were more active in songs:

By the late Sixties, there were a few rock bands putting drum solos on their records, usually live albums like Ginger Baker with Cream, Carmine Appice with Vanilla Fudge, Ian Paice with Deep Purple, Bobby Columby with Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Danny Seraphine with Chicago, John Bonham with Led Zeppelin, Carl Palmer with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Michael Shrieve with Santana. I learned from all of them. There were also drummers like Keith Moon... actually, there were no drummers like Keith Moon. But Keith Moon always said he didn't like drum solos. I tended to think he played everything he knew or wanted in the songs, what would he ever play in a solo? Mitch Mitchell was a very active drummer that way, too, as was Michael Giles with King Crimson, Phil Collins with Genesis and Brand X, Bill Bruford with Yes and his various solo projects, all of them were so expressive in their ensemble playing that it seemed they had already expressed everything they had to say. But I was strongly influenced by those drummers, too, and their ideas and attitudes became part of my approach to soloing.  

Later, he breaks down the specific influences displayed in his A Show of Hands drum solo.    

In many ways, my drum solo remains an ever-changing tribute to all the drummers that I have ever appreciated. You don't have to listen too hard to hear me emulate Gene Krupa's tom-tom rhythms, Buddy Rich's driving snare work, Michael Giles's intricate syncopations, Keith Moon's explosive fluidity, or John Bonham's "big foot" triplets. They were all so great." (Anatomy of a Drum Solo video)

Gene Krupa

Michael Giles

Keith Moon

John Bonham

In Anatomy of a Drum Solo, Peart described how Bonham's "big-foot triplets" led directly to his double-bass quadruplets:

When I was starting out, very young, John Bonham and Led Zeppelin were new in those olden days, and John Bonham did always the big triplets with his giant bass drum. I had two little bass drums at the time, so I just added those in and had kind of four-beat triplets as my variation on it. And then over the years I found many ways to develop that, to apply it to songs outside of the solo.

Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker certainly opened the floodgates with "Toad" — the vehicle for my own first solos. (Rhythm, March 2014)

Carmine Appice - Vanilla Fudge

In this video from 1975, you can hear many ideas that are echoed in Peart's early drum solos. In particular, at the 2:15 mark listen for a pattern between the snare and bass that Peart borrowed and updated to make his own. Also note Appice's use of a gong to end his solo.

Bobby Columby - Blood, Sweat, & Tears


Danny Seraphine - Chicago

Michael Shrieve - Santana

In an interview with Michael Shrieve in 2012, Peart used the opportunity to tell Shrieve how his playing on the first few Santana albums had influenced him.

I was in early cover bands growing up in the mid- to late-60s when the first Santana album came out at just the right time. And the style that you really is pioneered, that you adapted from those beautiful (jazz) sources into those first few Santana albums, and moved me (then)—and the famous Woodstock solo, of course. But I started doing that, playing a solo, in "Soul Sacrifice," in the band I was in, with the snares off… (Interview with Neil Peart by Michael Shrieve, 2012)

Cowbell melodies

Peart said in Anatomy of a Drum Solo that the cowbell melodies "introduced into the solo ... take away from the seriousness and the bombast and the constant assault that a drum solo can be."

The same cowbell motif shows up on Peart's first three recorded solos on All the World's a Stage, Exit...Stage Left, and A Show of Hands. By the time Peart got to Different Stages (on the Test for Echo tour), he added new cowbell melodies.  

The cowbell figure in his solo during the 30th Anniversary tour was inspired by Chico Marx playing the piano with this knuckles. Peart also used the "Call to the Post" horse-racing theme on cowbells and tom-toms.


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