Mean Mean Stride: The Drums Of Neil Peart
High-pitched toms slimmed down for Counterparts
Living In The Limelight
What is considered by many to be Rush’s true breakthrough period came in the early ’80s with Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. It was here that we saw his preferred drum brand change from Slingerland to Tama (Superstars, done to the same previous specs, and “Vibrafibed”), though Peart remained a staunch Zildjian cymbal man.
“I recall that Slingerland was starting to falter around then,” Peart explains of the drum company change, “in terms of parts and service, and also seemed to be ’headless’ — for example, no one from the company ever contacted me personally about any kind of endorsement, or invited me to get involved with the product in any way. Their drums still sounded pretty good, but the hardware was antiquated and fragile, especially compared to the sturdy stands and mounts coming from the Japanese companies at the time. Tama made a good-sounding set of drums, and their people were very eager to please, so I decided to try them.”
In what would be the first of many moves toward having not just a large kit, but an elegant-looking kit, Peart had the drums stained to match some Chinese furniture he had at home. “Yes, a dark rosewood effect,” he recalls, “created by mixing stains and inks. That was the first time I went for a custom finish, and the first time I used brass-plated hardware too.”
For Moving Pictures, brass timbales went wood, and the tympanum was replaced with two single-headed Tama gong bass drums, sized 20" x 14" and 22" x 14". It was for the 1982 album Signals that an interesting shift occurred with Peart’s kit. Not in terms of sizes, and not necessarily in terms of finish — Candy Apple Red with brass hardware (the man likes his red) — but in terms of shell makeup. Peart’s next drums were a prototype of what would become Tama’s flagship line, the thin-shelled Artstars. “During the mixing of our second live album Exit, Stage Left,” he explains, “in the summer of 1981, I was hanging around Le Studio in Quebec with not much to do. They had an old set of English Hayman drums kicking around that had formerly belonged to Corky Laing from Mountain, and I started restoring them — taking apart each tension casing and cleaning and lubricating them, drum by drum, polishing the rims and hardware, and putting on new heads. When I put them together, they had a wonderfully resonant sound that seemed to be due to the thinness of the shells. Thinking about that concept, I related it to violins or acoustic guitars, or the sounding board on a piano, and Tama agreed to experiment with a shell design along those lines. That became the Artstar line.”
It took a year to design the Test For Echo kit
Red Alert, Red Alert
An even more dramatic shift occurred for 1983’s Grace Under Pressure. Most of the percussion was retired in favor of an electronic drum set that included four red Simmons pads using a Simmons SDS-Vdrum module for sound generation, a Simmons Clap Trap, Shark trigger pedals, an 18" x 14" Tama bass drum, a 14" x 5.5" Slingerland snare, and a host of Zildjian cymbals (16" and 18" A Crashes, 22" Ping Ride, 13" New Beat hi-hats), and a 19" Wuhan China. To help make room, the timbale pair was cut in half, leaving one 13" metal timbale.
“Up to that time,” he says of the electronic kit adoption, “I had been following what people like Bill Bruford and Terry Bozzio were doing with electronics, and it also happened that the material we were writing at the time was influenced by the stylistic developments in electronic music.p>“Wanting to make use of all that, but not willing to sacrifice any of my acoustic drums, I had the ’brainstorm’ of creating a satellite kit behind me and turning around to play it. I didn’t think electronic bass drums, snares, or cymbals were up to the job at that time, so I used the acoustic ones combined with an array of pads and triggers, some of which I was also able to reach from the front kit.
“Between rehearsing and recording Grace Under Pressure, we played a five-night stint at Radio City Music Hall. By that time I had already incorporated the electronics into that first 360-degree setup, but didn’t have the rotating riser yet, so I had to play those songs facing the back of the stage.”
Things were kicked up a notch for Power Windows, as Peart started triggering samples from EPROM chips, which were loaded into the analog-digital hybrid Simmons SDS-7 module.
“With that ’Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory,’” he says, “I was able to make true samples for the first time, burning chips with specific sounds I liked, and triggering them through the Simmons pads. Although it was very primitive technology, it did allow me to use ’found sounds’ (like the clinking 50-pence coins in the intro to ’The Big Money’), or even create my own sounds — by, for example, combining acoustic sounds with vocalized drum sounds, also used in ’The Big Money.’”