Neil Peart, adored by many drummers and non-drummers alike, has been the subject of criticism for being the world’s most overrated drummer of all time.
In fact, it’s so bad that I’m almost afraid to state that I like him and enjoy his playing publicly for fear of scrutiny.
Could he be a bit overrated? Certainly. But I don’t think that we as drummers should associate ourselves with badmouthing someone simply because of their status in the world, especially when the one in question isn’t gloating.
I read one article recently that annoyed me recently. The author of the post had based their entire opinion of Neil Peart being overrated simply because of the music Rush made, and how he didn’t like it (I’m not going to link to them, but you can find it easily with Google).
The author of the piece was upset because Ian Worrall wrote a separate article on a list of his favorite 30 drummers; Neil Peart was number one on the list.
Now before going further, yes, Neil has been at the top of many lists, similar to John Bonham and Keith Moon.
I think these three are some of the last remaining big name drummers who rose to popularity in popular culture prior to social media.
Forums of critics
A simple Google search of the query “Neil Peart Overrated” brings you to a list of forums with users complaining about how Neil’s groove sucks or how he has no feel when he plays.
Now Neil might not be Steve Gadd, but that’s what makes him unique. There isn’t anyone who sounds similar to him.
Despite receiving a plethora of awards and honors from notable magazines like Modern Drummer and DRUM! magazine, this opinion still has manifested and most likely won’t recede.
Why is this?
Because he happened to be in a moderately popular band (in terms of mainstream culture) that featured drumming that was far beyond that of the standard rock drummer in terms of precision and prowess.
On albums, he’d use intricate drum fills (deemed unnecessary by drumming elites), poly-rhythms within different time signatures, and he even was distinguishable by his signature ride pattern.
Of course, that’s just scratching the surface.
Whining over a popularity contest
Being overrated really doesn’t mean much. If enough people know about you, chances are more people will talk about you.
In Neil’s case, he happens to be a very popular drummer outside of the niche that is drumming and drummers. He was able to transcend into popular culture, especially in Rush’s latter years.
No matter how much I love Dave Weckl or Bernard Purdie, there’s a good chance that none of my friends will have heard of them before. Is this bad? Of course not.
Let’s take a look at some of the criticism.
Neil peart sucks …at playing jazz!
This one did make me chuckle a little bit.
While I do love Neil and his playing, it is clear to myself and many others that jazz drumming was not his forte.
That being said, I do commend him for studying with many great teachers to learn jazz and for his honor to the art form.
The Burning For Buddy events were fantastic tributes to the one and only Buddy Rich.
It took a lot of gusto to get up on stage with his big band players and perform when it’s something you aren’t the most comfortable with.
There’s no groove
You don’t have to understand Rush to listen to Neil’s playing objectively.
There may not be groove with Neil in the sense of someone like Bernard Purdie, but again, these are two different styles of playing.
For the first twenty year’s of Neil’s career, there wasn’t a remote control spinning kit or loads of percussion samples; bells and whistles can’t be the only argument to make against his playing besides his groove.
Neil as a drummer, lyricist
Neil joined up with Rush on their second studio album. His playing was decent, but no where near where it would be just a few years later.
He has written and performed countless parts that have been emulated by drummers of all ages and skill levels. To say that he isn’t a gigantic inspiration to a whole generation of drummers would be an falsehood.
I personally love Rush lyrics. They resonate with me in a way simple pop music lyrics cannot. I like reading things that are interesting and provoke thought, not cookie-cutter ideas meant for simple minds.
Drum kit size
As Rush progressed creatively, so did Neil’s kit, in size. As the years went by, Neil began amassing extra pieces to his setup. There were cowbells, timbales, tubular bells, temple blocks, and much more.
Neil’s kit size has always been a point of contention between drummers. At one time, it was acceptable to have a big kit with lots of additional percussion. Today? Not so much.
The image above shows a visual representation of one of Neil’s drum kits from the early 80s. It was common for him to use percussion like concert toms, crotales, temple blocks, chimes, and gong drums.
Personally, I think bigger kits are awesome. I think it makes you far more unique as a drummer with different types of percussion. Thom Sonny Green, from Alt J, uses extra percussion with his kit and no cymbals.
Sure, his kit isn’t massive, but the unique quality is there. How boring is it to play the same setup countless other drummers have before you.
His charisma, pride, and integrity
There is a level of charisma that Neil emanates. You can tell that he is genuine and that he really did strive to always become a better drummer.
His sense of pride and integrity was also extremely inspiring to me as a young drummer.
I think that these three things trump his playing and technical ability altogether. They are the reasons I chose to learn from him and why I was initially so impressed with him as a drummer in a band.
You can’t say the same about the cocky arrogance of a guy like Tommy Lee.
Level of endurance
Whether you like him or not, Neil had incredible endurance. Being able to play three hours of Rush tunes each and every night could not have been easy.
I think this is partly why Neil had to retire from drumming. It’s a lot on one physically.
I think Neil certainly is a very popular drummer. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not.
He could in fact be overrated in the same sense that the Beatles are overrated.
We all clamor about drummers who are super talented who should make it.
“They’re the ones that should be in the spot light!” Not this guy or gal who can’t drum their way out of a cardboard box!”
That’s not how it’s ever worked or ever will. Neither is it fair. And unfortunately, it’s not all about talent, especially these days.
Hey there fellow drummer, thanks for reading the post. I’ve got a private Facebook group called Drum Junkies. It’s made up of people just like you and me who are sharing pictures of their drum kits, talking about industry trends, and sharing tips about drumming. I’d love for you to join! Here’s a link to the group; we’ll see you on the inside.