Of all the idiotic things to say...
Dave Grohl, of the FOO FIGHTERS and formerly NIRVANA, was asked such a monumentally idiotic question recently by - guess who! - someone from Rolling Stone magazine that I have to ask whether or not the "journalist" in question even likes rock music:
Dave Grohl used to be a drummer and now he is a guitarist and lead singer. Since I do not listen to Gen-X grunge music (to be clear, I listen to a lot of Gen-X bands - just not grunge bands, which I do not consider to be "music" in any way, shape, or form), I cannot claim to have any idea whether he is any good as either a guitarist or a singer. There is, like, one FOO FIGHTERS song that I actually like - and it is not particularly good when compared with some of the really awesome stuff that I listen to.
After all, as I may have said a time or ten before - my taste in music is exquisite.
(Movies... not so much.)
Anyway, the point is - anyone who thinks that Dave Grohl would be an adequate substitute for THE GREATEST GODDAMN DRUMMER WHO EVER LIVED is smoking something so strong that it is likely banned in every civilised nation on Earth - and also in Jamaica.
Neal Peart's drumming is not merely technical or hard-hitting. It is propulsive, concussive, impossibly complicated, and yet amazingly musical. He has a real knack for letting the music move and breathe even as it rides what seems to be an unstoppable wave of rhythmic support. His drumming technique, which as far as I can tell was originally mostly self-taught, has evolved and grown over the years, because Neil Peart himself is never truly satisfied with his own skills.
In that respect, he is a true autodidact. He spent years perfecting his craft, honing his skills to the point of near-metronomic precision by playing along with click-tracks, until he was basically as steady and dependable as any Swiss watch. But he was still not satisfied with his skills, and after filming a tribute to the late Buddy Rich, Burning for Buddy, in which he felt that his drumming left much to be desired (!!!!!), he went to study jazz-style drumming under legendary teacher Freddie Gruber.
If you listen carefully, you can hear and feel the results of that evolution by comparing the drumming from the RUSH albums Counterparts and Test for Echo.
The former is undeniably excellent. The drumming is spot-on, as it always is - we're talking about RUSH, they have never, ever made a truly bad album. (Even Caress of Steel, clunker that it was, has its good moments.)
But the latter... Oh, my word. Test for Echo has some of the most complex, polyrhythmic, difficult, and yet musically brilliant drumming that I've ever heard.
Neil Peart does what only a very select crowd of drummers can do - he knows how to play his drums the way that lead guitarists play their guitars, while still keeping time and providing rhythmic base for the music.
I cannot think of too many other drummers who can do this: Nicko McBrain, of course; Marco Minneman; Jaska Raatikainen of CHILDREN OF BODOM and Peter Wildoer of DARKANE and James Labrie's solo band, maybe; Aquiles Priester, formerly of ANGRA and now part of HANGAR and a few other bands; the two Mikes, Portnoy and Mangini, from DREAM THEATER, naturally; and, without question, the Holy Trinity of Buddy Rich, Keith Moon, and John Bonham.
But even out of that trinity, probably only Keith Moon comes anywhere close to Neil Peart's sheer versatility and skill.
Honestly, it seems like Neil can play anything. His jazz-rock fusion technique really came into its own in the albums following his return from his time away from music, as he grieved for his tragic and terrible losses in his personal life. His work on Vapor Trails, Snakes and Arrows, and the last RUSH album, Clockwork Angels, proved time and again that he is quite simply the greatest drummer ever.
Unfortunately, he is quite definitely retired now. He has made it perfectly clear that he has no intention of ever getting back on the road to do another tour. (GOTT VERDAMMT...)
So... who can step up and fill his shoes?
That is a very difficult call.
Cozy Powell is dead. (Again - dammit.)
Mike Portnoy is great, don't get me wrong - but he ain't no Neil Peart.
Nicko McBrain is a real contender, but he has always considered double-bass drumming to be "un-drummerish", which rules him out of the contest. His single-foot technique is incredibly fast, and he can hit the bass drum faster with one foot than a lot of other (shitty) drummers - *cough Lars Ulrich cough* - but he still is not as good as Neil Peart with his sheer power and versatility and command of double-bass drumming.
Marco Minneman absolutely has the technical chops - nobody who watched his audition for DREAM THEATER could ever question that. But he isn't really a rock drummer - and makes absolutely no pretence about trying to be one.
There are a number of great heavy metal drummers who could, in theory, come close to Neil Peart's level - Bobby Jarzombek, for instance, or Dave Lombardo, or Jason Bittner, or especially Gene Hoglan. But the problem is that metal drumming, while extremely technical and demanding, isn't quite as "rounded" as other forms. And with respect to Gene Hoglan - don't get me wrong, he's THE MAN when it comes to impossibly fast hyper-blast-beats. He's known as "The Atomic Clock" for a reason. But his style of drumming is extremely fast, brutal, and "thrashy" - whereas Neil's style of drumming suits a much wider variety of tastes.
Iain Paice used to be a contender - remember his drumming back in the day for DEEP PURPLE? I still get goosebumps listening to "Fireball" and "Space Truckin'", such is the quality and complexity of his drumming. In his heyday he may well have been the "roundest" drummer out there - because his roots were in big-band drumming, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa were his heroes. But he has very sadly let himself slide quite a bit, to the point where these days, his drumming is slow, sedate, and pretty tame. (Also, he is over 70, so there is that to consider. But he's been going on a downward trend in terms of drumming speed and technique since I first saw DEEP PURPLE play live in Singapore back in 2002, and that was 15 years ago.)
Pretty much any drummer who ever played with Frank Zappa could probably be considered - Terry Bozzio and Vinnie Colaiuta, for instance, are just insanely gifted. I had the privilege of seeing Bozzio play live with Dweezil Zappa on two separate live gigs with ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA - which was pretty badass.
There are some session drummers who come to mind as well. Steve Gadd, for instance, is right up there in terms of precision, timing, skill, power, and technical ability. Neil Peart himself considers Gaddsy to be one of the best drummers ever - it was Gadd's demonstrable leap forward in terms of skill that inspired Neil to seek out Freddie Gruber and change his own drumming style. And given the sheer number of different people and projects with which Gaddsy has played, NOBODY can question his versatility or virtuosity as a drummer.
Simon Phillips comes up as a possibility, since he played on the classic JUDAS PRIEST album Sin After Sin at the age of just 19, and did an absolutely phenomenal job before Les Binks came along and took over the permanent drummer's seat for Stained Class. And he has had a truly stellar career as a guest musician and touring member of various bands - especially TOTO, of course.
But if you go through all of the names out there, it seems that precisely one name comes to mind in the modern rock scene who can come anywhere close to Neil Peart's stature as a drummer:
Danny Carey of TOOL.
Now, to be clear, I'm not a fan of TOOL myself. Never much cared for their music, never really listened to it.
But there is absolutely no question that Danny Carey is a freakin' BEAST behind the kit:
Holy shizzlesticks, but he's something else.
Neil Peart may very well be retired, to the great loss of music lovers and drummers everywhere. But rest assured, there is another great drummer waiting in the wings to take up the torch and show everyone else how to really play.