Rob Shanahan Neil Peart Photo

Photographer and Drummer Rob Shanahan Reflects on His Friendship with Neil Peart

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This article originally appeared on Minnesota Drummer.

By: Paul Rogne

Minnesota native and drummer/photographer Rob Shanahan has made a name for himself throughout the music world as a rock photographer. 

Rob is responsible for many iconic photos you may have seen in CD sleeves, advertisement, music promotions, and more. 

His skills as a photographer has allowed him to work with many of the world’s most iconic artists, often working with his subjects multiple times and sometimes developing friendships, as in the case of Rob and Neil Peart.

I asked Rob a few questions about his friendship with Neil and what it was like working with the iconic drummer. Although not a Minnesotan, Neil’s impact on so many drummers globally allows many to feel a personal connection to him. 

The shock of his passing is still reverberating across the world and the drumming community.  Many feel they have lost a mentor and a true legend.

MND: Rob, you have taken so many iconic photos of Neil and over the years became a friend of his.  When did your journey with him begin?

Rob: My journey with Neil began the moment he first appeared on my radar, around 1976. I was 10 years old and was just starting to play the drums. In 1981, I bought Moving Pictures and off I went. Years later, I finally got the call to photograph him. This would’ve been around 2005.

MND: In your formative years, was Neil a serious inspiration?

Rob: Absolutely.

MND: What was your first meeting like?  How did you feel to work with one of your inspirations?

Rob: When meeting and working with icons for the first time, it’s a combination of complete bliss and sheer terror. I arrived early to set up and prepare. He soon walked in asking, “whose ‘56 Chevy was parked outside?” It was mine, and this was the immediate ice breaker I needed. We went outside to check out his ‘69 Jaguar, which was parked next to my car. Then it was just two guys talking cars. That was the beginning.

MND: Did he put you at ease?

Rob: Immediately. Neil was completely unassuming, generous and incredibly mild mannered.

MND: You posted a memory of Neil on Facebook where you talked about your in-depth conversations. What would you talk about?

Rob: We found out we had a lot in common: our mutual love of photography, writing, traveling, cars, nature, and hockey! So many things. I remember him telling me in great detail about watching a bird build a nest in a tree outside his window.

And the more he watched, the more intrigued he became. It became an obsession. He watched this nest for a week as the mother built the nest, laid her eggs, fed the baby birds, until they eventually flew away.

It was a moving story about a small bird told by a big man with an incredibly rich baritone voice. He would write about stuff like this all the time on his web blog.

MND: Can you separate the man from the icon?  What was he like as a person, and as a friend to you?

Rob: A few years ago when my dad was visiting from MN, I brought him along to my photo shoots for a few weeks. One of them was with Neil (another was with Ringo). It was really cool introducing my idols to my dad, who bought me my first drum kit.

And Neil was extremely kind and gracious. My dad watched in amazement as Neil played this incredible drum groove with mallets on a 5-piece DW drum kit. Neil later wrote about it on his web blog, titled Autumn Serenade. My dad has some of this session on video!

Neil Playing with Mallets
Photos from the session where Neil played with mallets on a DW set.

MND: It would be fun to get an idea on what it was like to work with Neil.  What is a typical session like? Is the set ready to be shot and you are just waiting for the artist?

Rob: I’d have everything ready to go by the time Neil arrived, and usually shoot less than 30 photographs. Sometimes just 10 or less. I’d know right away when I’d have “the shot” and Neil really appreciated that.

Most of the time we were talking about our latest car adventure, or a new camera, or his latest and greatest drum kit.

Neil Peart Hockey Kit
Neil Peart, RUSH 2010

MND: One of your well-known photos is of Neil with his DW hockey-themed drum set. What was this session like?  Was he a big fan of hockey?

Neil Peart Hockey Kit

Rob: Yeah that was a cool shoot, and DW created one hell of an amazing drum kit. I’m a big hockey fan. One of my best friends is Luc Robitaille (NHL All Star and now LA Kings president) and I know what that kit meant to Neil, to the hockey world, and to DW.

It was an incredible honor for me to do that shoot. Years later, when I was on tour with Roger Hodgson (Supertramp singer) I had a day off in Toronto, so my wife flew in and we walked the city. Of course, when in Toronto you have to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame.

And to my surprise, there on display was the drum kit and a HUGE print of my photo with Neil on the wall behind. It was an incredible feeling to see my work with one of my idols in the Hall of Fame.

MND: How many times have you worked with him throughout the years?

Rob: Maybe eight or so photo shoots, but I’d also come visit when he was rehearsing at DW for the next tour. A few DW guys and I would sit outside the Drum Channel production studio where he’d rehearse and just listen.

He’d play along to the songs, but the music was in his in-ear monitors, so we would only hear the drums. It was bliss.

MND: What is your most memorable session or time with Neil?

Rob: Every second with him was memorable and a complete honor.

MND: What is one of your favorite overall memories of Neil?

Rob: When I asked him if he’d write something for my book VOLUME 1. He did and it’s beautiful. Very gracious of him.

MND: When was the last time you talked with him?

Rob: On the last tour, when RUSH was in the Twin Cities, I reached out to Neil to ask if he was doing a meet and greet. My brother TJ, also a drummer, was dying to meet him. He said he doesn’t do meet and greets but asked if my brother would like a ticket “upgrade”.

So Neil had tickets at Will Call for my brother, who enjoyed the show from 10th row dead center on the floor. THAT was Neil. What a guy.

MND: Is there anything additional you’d like share about Neil?

Rob: I will miss my friend and I’ll always remember how this gentle giant of a man taught me that humility and finding your place of Zen is the ultimate reward.

We are all humans, and being kind to one another, being open to the world, and just being present, is extremely powerful and the secret to wonderful things. 

Visit Rob Shanahan’s website to see his exquisite photographs and purchase his book of many of these photographs.

Rob’s biography from his website:  Rob Shanahan’s photographs have appeared in numerous international ad campaigns, galleries, records, books, and magazines around the globe. Rob is also embracing his new gig as a keynote speaker.

He is getting rave reviews and looks forward to many more events. Rob has appeared nationwide on many television and radio shows, and is continually speaking at seminars, photography schools, and corporate events.

VOLUME 1  is his first published collection of music photographs, with foreword by Ringo Starr. This acclaimed collection is a who’s who of music icons and is sure to please both photography and music fans alike.

Rob got his first drum kit when he was ten and his first camera when he was thirteen and continues to make his dream of doing both professionally come true.

Rob plays drums with the Hollywood Stones, the premier Rolling Stones tribute band. His sensitivities as a musician has made him the first call photographer for many of the world’s top artists.

All Photos Copyright ROB SHANAHAN

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