I met (Peart) really through Metwalworks recording studios (in nearby Mississauga), Rush being in the studio at the same time as us on a few different occasions. It's no secret Neil was a very private guy, so we weren't buds or anything like that. But I have to say that never mind the fact he was such a great drummer -- I mean, such a great drummer -- but he was such a great gentleman. That's really what impresses you, I think. He was a big guy, too -- you got him behind those drums and you didn't see how physically imposing he was when you met him in person. He was a big guy, but he was such a gentle soul.
I chatted with him when he was at Metalworks various times. Like I said, he was such a quiet guy, but he was also very conversational. We could talk about drums or we could talk about almost anything. Neil was quite intellectual, and that's the way he was when you conversed with him. His face would light up in a conversation; he had one of those faces that was very expressive, and when he started to engage with you, you could see this kind of warmth that came out of him, and it wasn't fake. He would talk to you about music, he'd talk to you about politics, he'd talk to you about drums. He was very fond of reading, and often times when he was at Metalworks you'd see him reading a book.
The thing I felt about Neil was he was a rock star/non-rock star, if you know what I mean. He was a rock star but he had no pretensions. He was like your next-door neighbor, but just happened to be the drummer for Rush.
When we were touring we would cross paths with Rush all the time. We worked for the same promoters. We played the same buildings; we'd be playing some place in America, St. Louis or Cincinnati or wherever, and they'd be coming in a month or were there a month ago. The bands that were out at the time, like Ted Nugent and Blue Oyster Cult and Kiss and Journey and so on, you'd get a certain camaraderie with all those guys. But Rush was different because they were from our home town.
When I think about Neil's playing style, the first guys I think of are Ginger Baker, Keith Moon. I think of Mitch Mitchell, probably those three rock drummers. Neil's style was very drummer-take-all. He played the heck out of everything on his drums, right? So as opposed to the guys that evolved from the Levon Helm/John Bonham school, where you kind of lay back, the Keith Moons and Neil Pearts and the Ginger Bakers and the Mitch Mitchells went the reverse route and they filled all over the place and kind of drove the rhythm from in front instead of behind it. Neil would play a lot of what I would call "lead parts," and I always felt Rush's music was driven [by] the drums more so than other bands. You couldn't take your eyes off Neil, and you couldn't take your ears off of him, either. His rhythm just kind of permeated the band's musical signature.
He was just an incredible talent and in our era, certainly, one of the greatest players that's ever sat behind a kit of drums, no doubt about it. We all started as young guys, and I was absolutely amazed watching Neil's improvement as he kept playing, and the fact he never stopped improving. He would improve since I saw him a year earlier or two years earlier and I'd just go "Wow..." That's the essence of a phenomenal musician, the dedication to keep improving. He outdid himself. When it comes to dedication and hard work and underlying talent, nobody ever got the better of Neil out the drums, that's for sure.
I knew what was going on with Neil and I just kept it to myself. I guess perhaps because I didn't hear it from Alex (Lifeson), who's a good friend, there was always this thing in the back of my head where I was like, "Well, even though I got it from a credible source, hopefully it's not true." I was just holding out hope that maybe it was a misconstrued story or something but it was the truth... He was such a great guy, and everybody's going to miss him in the industry as a real gentleman. What more can you say, really?