Judas Priest‘s Scott Travis was more a fan of the late Neil Peart than a friend, but that doesn’t diminish the Rush drummer’s impact on Travis’ own playing and approach to the instrument. Gearing up for Priest’s 50th anniversary tour — and a hoped-for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Travis spoke to Billboard about more than 40 years of being a Peart admirer.
I first saw (Rush) on the All the World’s a Stage tour in 1977 in Norfolk (Va.), where I’m from. It was Derringer with Vinnie Appice on the drums, which was killer back then, Rush, who I’d never heard of in my life, and then Kansas. I got my mom to take me to the concert and she dropped me off. I’m in the audience by myself, trying to find friends. Derringer played their set and I liked it, and then I see them bring this drum kit on stage: it was on a platform, literally strapped to a platform, not a riser, and the kit was Slingerland, mostly chromes but the concert toms — the six-, eight-, 10-, 12-inch — were gold. So it was half a gold kit, half silver, and it just looked killer. I’m like, “What is that?” I’d never seen that many drums assembled on one drum riser. I went, “Okay, I’ve got to see this.”
And then of course they came out and just literally blew me away. So the very next day I told my mom, “You’ve got to take me to the department store.” I didn’t know what records they had out, even, but I bought All the World’s a Stage, the double live album, the real vinyl album. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to see an artist and then the next day went and bought their product — and I would’ve done it that night if the store was open. And of course I wore that album out nine ways to Sunday. I got the cassette and when the CD came out I got the CD. Now I have all their stuff on my iPod, digitized and whatnot.
I actually met him a million years ago, on the (late-’70s) Hemispheres tour. I was a teenager living in Virginia and he walked up the ramp from the buses and myself and a couple of other dude friends were huge Rush fans and we had seen the concert. He was walking towards the tour bus and this was thankfully long before everybody had a camera in their back pocket, and I just walked up to him and said, “Man, I just want to tell you I think you’re great,” something like that. It was very brief. I literally shook his hand and walked away and left him alone.
I actually respected the fact he was kind of invisible and he wanted his personal life to stay separate from his media life, if you will, or music life, ’cause as we know nowadays everybody wants everything about them to be known and documented and filmed — the Kardashian effect. Of course (Peart) was the antithesis of that.
I’m a self-taught drummer, so over the years I played along with all those Rush records up in my mother’s attic where I used to practice. I played along to All the World’s a Stage so many times, and every record that came out after that. I think (Peart) just had a very unique drumming sensibility. He was, to me, a rock drummer, which I loved, but he would incorporate the different time signatures and everything. I have to be honest; I wasn’t a big (Terry) Bozzio fan or Bill Bruford from yes or Billy Cobham — all great, phenomenal drummers but I was like, “Eh, you’re kind of losing me, dude.” To me, Neil was the perfect blend of Bonhamy heavy, but then he would throw in the technical part that just made you go, “Oh, that’s every clever. I never thought of playing the high-hat with my left hand, even though you’re a right-handed drummer, or keeping your right hand on the ride cymbal.” But it wasn’t overkill; It wasn’t too much bonehead rock or what they call four on the floor, and it wasn’t overly technical. It was just a perfect combination, which was really remarkable.
For me he’s No. 1, and I remember we used to get angry because Rush fans, we all felt like, “Man, this is OUR band,” y’know? They weren’t commercially successful and radio didn’t touch them for awhile, but they were a great band and they came to my little podunk town once a year to play and that always made them more special to us fans. They were our peeps. And I used to buy all the drum magazines and they pretty much ignored Neil for years. He wasn’t even on the cover and I’m like, “What’s going on? What does this guy have to do — light his hair on fire and then do a solo?” Then of course, as years go by he was finally recognized and more appreciated, so maybe that’s why this feels like such a loss, too. They were the underdogs of rock music who finally got their due.