Published on October 14th, 1994 | by Gerry Galipault


Doing right by Buddy: Rush’s Neil Peart pays tribute to a drumming legend

Singer Geddy Lee and his wife are happily immersed in parenthood, while his Rush bandmate – drummer Neil Peart – has been busy with a baby of his own.

During down time away from the Canadian power-rock trio, Peart assembled some of today’s greatest drummers to perform big-band arrangements in a tribute to late drummer/bandleader Buddy Rich.

As producer of “Burning For Buddy: A Tribute to Buddy Rich, Vol. 1” (on Atlantic Records), Peart found himself in a completely alien environment.

“It has been such a positive experience, even though the recording wasn’t the greatest two weeks of my life,” Peart said in a recent phone interview. “As difficult and stressful as it was, and being the leader and the diplomat and sometimes I felt like I was going to have a heart attack or a stroke, still the people I came in contact with and the magic that we created I will enjoy, I’m sure, forever.”

The guest list was a who’s who of drummers. Among them: Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson), Billy Cobham (Miles Davis, Quincy Jones), Omar Hakim (Weather Report), Simon Phillips (The Who, Peter Townshend), Ed Shaughnessy (Count Basie, Doc Severinsen), Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses, The Cult), Steve Ferrone (Average White Band), and – of course – Peart, considered by many the best rock drummer around.

Each drummer performed with the 15-piece Buddy Rich Big Band, recording – in Peart’s words – “entirely live off the floor” over two weeks at the Power Station in New York. The album’s first single is a big-band version of Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.”

The “Burning For Buddy” concept is a result of Peart’s disappointment over his performance in the Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert, organized by Rich’s daughter, Cathy, in 1991.

“I spent a lot of time preparing for it and rehearsing for it and trying to learn as much about the styles as I could and getting advice from drummers I knew,” he said. “My expectations were so high and I worked so hard to make it perfect that when situations beyond my control made it come off less than perfect, I was at first disappointed.

“But being a logical positivist, I turned it around and said, ‘Hey, we’ve just got to do it again and do it right and then I’ll be happy.’ Sure enough that was the panacea, and that’s been in my mind over the past several years. Making this record, for me, put that ghost to rest, playing big-band music under controlled circumstances.”

Like many his age and younger, the 42-year-old Peart was exposed to Rich solely from his regular appearances on “The Tonight Show.”

“He was (Johnny) Carson’s perfect foil,” he said. “He could come out and do an amazing performance with the band and a stunning drum solo and then come up and trade wisecracks with him.

“People have a misconception that I’m a longtime hero worshiper of Buddy Rich, that this fulfills some long, frustrated ambition. It’s really not like that. I only saw him on ‘The Tonight Show.’ I didn’t buy his records. I never saw him play. I never knew him.

“He was just the greatest drummer in the world, and that was that.”

Rich died in 1987.

Peart’s own fascination with drums began when he saw “The Gene Krupa Story,” the 1959 movie starring Sal Mineo as the drumming legend. His interests shifted to rock, inspired particularly Keith Moon of The Who and Mitch Mitchell of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Years later, he rediscovered his affinity for big bands.

There is no comparison, Peart said, between making “Burning For Buddy” and anything he’s ever done with Rush.

“Rush is a self-contained cottage industry, in the truest sense that we make ourselves happy all the time,” he said. “It’s not a democracy where two guys vote for their ideas and the other guy’s left out. Everybody has to be happy.

“The thing we do have in common with big-band music is that we really like a well-arranged structure within which to be free. All of us like to have a framework established beforehand, which is a hallmark of a big-band arrangement.”

Considering his own standing in the rock world, Peart doesn’t let the glowing adjectives go to his head.

“I know where I’ve learned everything, so I’m properly humble about it,” he said. “I just know that I’m a product of all that I’ve learned and that I stand on the shoulders of giants. I love that quote because it’s so real.

“Anything anyone might admire about what I do, I can pretty much tell them where I learned it, adapted it or was inspired by it. They all come from somewhere.”

BWF (before we forget): The second volume of “Burning For Buddy,” released in June 1997, featured the work of Kenny Aronoff, Bill Bruford and Simon Phillips.

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Gerry Galipault debuted Pause & Play online in October 1997. Since then, it has become the definitive place for CD-release dates — with a worldwide audience.

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