When I was a kid, not only was Neil Peart my favorite drummer, I thought he was the best drummer in the world. No question. Indisputable. No one could tell me anyone was better. But what was that based on?
As you may have noticed, my theme generally in my writing has mostly a rock slant. That’s because I grew up listening mostly to what today we call classic rock. Of course there were (and are) many great jazz and Latin drummers, and in other genres, but I listened to what my older brother listened to, and that was rock: Kiss, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, and the like. My absolute favorite drummer at the time was Peter Criss. I loved Kiss! And since we were four boys, you guessed it, we each were a different member of the band (ironically, I wasn’t Criss, I was someone else, and I ain’t sayin’ who!). To me, Peter Criss was the best drummer in the world! But what was that based on?
Peter Criss; Neil Peart – why the change in opinion? I loved Kiss. They could do no wrong. Peter Criss (or the band, I don’t remember) won awards of some kind, so since they were my favorite band, he must’ve been the best drummer! Wasn’t too hard for me to figure out. Little did I know that there was a particular drummer named Buddy Rich who could play circles around, oh I don’t know, everybody! My cousin’s husband, who was a drummer himself, tried to explain that to me, but I would have none of it. I guess I was too young and naïve to reason.
So one day, one of my brother’s friends asks me who I like. I said Kiss. He laughed a little, then said, “Here, listen to this tape, then let me know what you think.” It was Moving Pictures from Rush, 1981. Well I listened, and right there, with all due respect to Kiss, that chapter of my musical taste was closed. Rush blew me away, and the drumming: who was that? I’d never heard anything like it. He was so technically precise, and it wasn’t just about patterns and fills. It seemed like the drumming told a story of its own, like if every single note, every strike, was deliberate. Guess who I thought the best drummer in the world was now?
Around this time I started to pay a little more attention to other drummers, but mainly just to compare them to Peart. To me, there was no comparison. I guess I was a little stubborn! I would find it amazing that anyone spoke of their favorite in the same breath as Peart. I asked a girl in high school who I knew liked the drums who she thought was the best drummer (expecting her to say Neil Peart, of course). She said Stewart Copeland! She had some explaining to do! As much as she tried, I was not convinced. She did mentioned that she loved his hi-hat work (which is quite amazing, needless to say), but it wasn’t enough for me.
I asked a high school buddy of mine the same question and he said Alex Van Halen. Now I liked Alex a lot, but to me, he wasn’t Neil Peart.
I started to realize something, however. There wasn’t really a way for me to explain, or even justify, who the best drummer in the world is. It was looking more and more like, people were equating best drummer to favorite drummer. This is obviously not the same thing, but it goes to show that the terms ‘best’ and ‘favorite’ are often confused. And it tends to occur more in the younger audience than in the older.
I learned that whoever moves you to play, or to listen intently to every nuance, could qualify as the best drummer, but to the listener only. If that drummer made you want to play to the utmost best of your ability, inspire you to try new things, that could qualify as the best drummer in the world, but again, only to the listener. If you just love drums for listening only and not to play, whatever drummer (probably mostly jazz in this case) made you listen in awe and ‘move’ you, that could qualify as the best drummer in the world, but again, only to that listener. ‘Favorite’ drummer applies much better than does ‘best’ drummer.
Well I’m older now, and my tastes are expanding. Neil Peart continues to be my favorite drummer. But is he the best? Well in my book, there’s no such thing. In the future I’ll go into detail as to why he’s my favorite drummer and how his playing has influenced my playing, but suffice it to say that he is an excellent all-around creative drummer. Not just technique, but letting the drums speak for themselves, not just for timekeeping or the occasional fill. Steve Smith has crept up to be my number two (or maybe 1b to Neil’s 1a), for different reasons altogether.
So who’s the best drummer in the world? Last chance scenario could be who most drummers consider to be the best, and the name that usually comes up as the best drummer of all time is the aforementioned Buddy Rich. Arguably. But unfortunately, he’s no longer with us. So the question will remain – always.*
*Please read the follow-up to this article, "Passion for Our Favorite Drummer"