Geddy Lee Remembers Neil Peart: "I've Never Met a Musician Like Him"
"One of the great joys of my life was playing in a rhythm section that consisted of only two people with that fellow"
Published Jan 29, 2021Earlier this month, surviving Rush members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson reflected on their final years with friend and bandmate Neil Peart, and Lee has now shared further thoughts about the revered drummer and lyricist in a new interview.
Speaking with Rolling Stone, Lee reflects on his relationship with Peart both as Rush's rhythm section and as the group's lyricist, one that began upon the drummer joining the band in the summer of 1974.
"The two of us really gravitated to each other," Lee shared of Peart. "We really were like-minded almost from the beginning. When he first came into the band, we were just getting to know each other, not only as people but rhythmically. He was ambitious and I was ambitious. He loved to be hyperactive. I loved to be hyperactive. So in a sense, it was a marriage made in heaven. We looked at each other very much as equal parts of a whole."
Lee called playing as a rhythm section with Peart "one of the great joys of my life...because we really jibed. We really were in sync," and shared that he was in awe of what Peart accomplished as both lyricist and instrumentalist "with regularity."
"I've never met a musician like him. He was a monster drummer of the highest magnitude," he said. "I've met some great musicians but I had the pleasure to watch him every night onstage and watch him improvise, as he got older, through his solos. When he became determined to add improvisation as part of his drum solo every night, that's a bold, brave step for him and the level of complexity that he functioned at. I don't know many other musicians that can function at that level."
Lee continued: "So for me, I was always trying to live up to his watermark, so to speak, because he pushed me. He would say the same thing about me, but of course, I always thought, 'No, no, I'm following you.' And he'd go, 'No, no, no. You're making me sound good. Here's all my rough edges.' So it was a partnership. But he awed me over and over again. He was relentless in the studio and he would play it as many times as required. Half the time, you'd be going, 'Well, that's a take, right?' And he would say, 'No. It wasn't a take.' Not for him.
"He was so incredibly demanding of himself and of course, you have to rise to that level. It just happens that way. It just becomes your band mantra when you see a guy working that hard. You work that hard."
Lee also spoke to their relationship as vocalist and lyricist, recalling how "in the early days we were just happy to get lyrics. So yeah, 'These sound OK. We'll do this kind of music with it.' We didn't think too much about it, and our biggest concern was, can we make a powerful song out of it? How is this going to work? We were making two records a year back then, so we didn't have a whole lot of time to sit back and go, 'Well, I think we should try six different versions of this.'
"But as time went on, we developed a rapport and a feel for each other and a consideration for each other. Neil, in terms of writing, became more and more considerate of what I had to do, of my job not just as a singer of words but as a shaper of melody, and someone who also had to express emotions. He was very sensitive to that, and always for many years, sat beside me in the control room when we listened back to vocals. If we talked about something that could be improved, he would rewrite it on the spot."
Lee expressed that while writing for Rush's later albums, Peart "pretty much gave me license to choose the bits of his lyric that moved me the most, that I felt I could write a melody to or arrange a song around. Even if it was four lines out of six stanzas, he would go back and he would rewrite the song around those four lines."
"Neil was a perfect example of a guy who checked his ego at the door," the frontman shared. "He was a proud guy, but at the same time he was a team guy in terms of Alex and me, and he really trusted, in the end, my opinion and my take on what I felt worked best for a Rush song and what didn't. Which is not to say we never had an argument. Certainly we would argue about a concept or if I had changed the meaning of a line or something that was really important to him, of course, we would work something out. But he turned into an incredible collaborator and a very considerate song partner as time went on."
Though they assuredly won't be released, Lee also shared that the rhythmic bond between Peart and himself led to full-album mixes of drums and bass only, "so that we could glory in the quirkiness of our rhythm section together...I haven't dug them out in years but somewhere I have our original bass and drums as did he."
You can read Lee's entire interview with Rolling Stone here.
Peart passed away in January 2020 following a battle with brain cancer. He was 67. A long-awaited tribute event for Peart was recently rescheduled due to COVID-19.