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Styx’s Todd Sucherman Remembers ‘Wildly Intelligent Intellect’ Neil Peart


Styx drummer Todd Sucherman’s phone began blowing up on Jan. 10 and hadn’t stopped throughout the weekend as other drummers, musician pals, family and friends called to talk about the death of Rush’s Neil Peart. Like so many, Peart’s influence runs deep for Sucherman — whose credits also include Spinal Tap, Brian Wilson, Peter Cetera and bandmates Lawrence Gowan and Tommy Shaw — and the two also had one memorable meeting back in the fall of 2009.  

I was very fortunate to be the youngest in a musical family and have brothers that were musicians, five and seven years older than me, respectively, and my father was a drummer. Growing up in a musical household like that there could be Count Basie coming from one room, Led Zeppelin coming from another room, Mozart coming from another room, Miles Davis coming from another room, all kinds of different genres of music. And one day 2112 appeared in the house somehow, probably through one of my older brothers, and that obviously captivated my interest because I’d never really heard anything like that, this dystopian, 20-minute storyline. The entire thing was entirely unique.

Neil Peart of Rush at the Civic Center in Springfield, Massachusetts on Dec. 9, 1976.

Rush Drummer Neil Peart Dies at 67

The thing that was a thread through Neil’s playing through his whole career is it just simply sounded cool. Neil somehow had this thing: what he played not only grabbed the attention of musicians but people who didn’t know anything about music. It just sounded cool. Like I say about any great musician, and in this case it remains to be true, the hardest thing that anybody can try to achieve on any respective instrument is to have your own voice, your own recognizable voice, and he had that in spades with his drumming and also with his literary voice, whether it was his books or lyrics.

No one wrote like him, sort of before or now. Clearly a wildly intelligent intellect. It’s one thing to be one third of a band in the capacity of playing any instrument, in his case the drums. To also be a lyricist who reached so many people, taught so many people as if he was some sort of shaman or sage, that really gets to the heart of the matter and is part of why I think there’s such an outpouring for the man who touched their lives because it went beyond music. It went into literature and stories and feelings and emotions that really affected people through the decades.

Neil sculpted and toiled over his part. He built his drum parts to every song the way an architect would build a building and then he would play them the exact same way or very close to the exact same way every night through the years, whereas some musicians would strive to never repeat themselves or to play it fresh every night, whether you’re talking in the context of improvisational jazz or a jam band, for lack of another term. The way he composed his lyrics, he composed his drum parts I think in a very similar manner. I think that’s why he took his time between records constructing them precisely how he wanted to not only show them to the world but also perform them through the years. To continue that way you have to be so proud and so sure of yourself that this is how it is and this is how it’s going to be.

I met Neil Peart once. I had flown to L.A. to work on Brian Wilson‘s Gershwin record in December 2009, and he was recording the Hockey Night in Canada theme. Jimmy Johnson [Styx’s guitar tech and Peart’s childhood friend] invited me, and Chris Stankee, our Sabian cymbal artist rep, introduced us. [Peart] was completely warm and unassuming and was more interested in speaking to me and finding out what I was up to than what he was doing. He wanted to know about the Brian Wilson record and the arrangements and how it was going to work. It was fairly quick and fairly surreal, but my big takeaway was he was a warm, caring, considerate human being.

I felt we could have stood there for quite some time having a lovely conversation, but I’m also very aware of my surroundings and after a while it became very clear to me that the entire room of people… were all sort of standing there looking at their watches waiting for Neil and I to finish our conversation. It appeared to me that he did not care about holding up the proceedings, but I did because I didn’t want to be the annoying individual and the person that really didn’t belong there as the clock was running.

So I was the one that actually wrapped up the conversation because I felt the vibe of those 30 people wanting to get to work, so I finally looked at him and said, “Well, I suppose I should let you guys get down to business,” and we snapped a picture and said goodbye, and he went to work and I went to the studio next door and I got to work.

I wish there had been more time. I wish there’d been another time we could’ve sat and had a meal together or something, but it was not to be. But I’m so happy my one meeting with him was so charming, and to have a picture of myself with him and the Stanley Cup and a bagel with a couple bites out of it is a cherished memory for me now.

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