RIP Neil Peart – Traveling Invisible Highways


RIP Neil Peart – traveling invisible highways
Scott K. Fish, Special to the Piscataquis Observer • January 17, 2020

The news came through first at 7:12 pm; a voice message from friend Chip Stern, driving his taxi in Brooklyn, N.Y. But I hadn’t checked my phone.

At 9:30 p.m. Eileen received a text message from her daughter, Leanne: “Tell Scott I’m sorry to hear about Neil Peart.”

“What happened to Neil?” Eileen asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Neil Peart and I first met in 1982. He was a famous drummer and lyricist with the rock band Rush. I was Managing Editor of the world’s most popular magazine for drummers, Modern Drummer (MD).

I liked Neil as a person, a human being. Had we met first in a diner, striking up conversation knowing nothing about each other, we would still have clicked. We remained friends much less because of what we did for a living, and much more because of our common interests in drumming, writing, politics, and life’s run-of-the-mill moments.

In 1982 Neil asked if MD was interested in coordinating a “Neil Peart Drum Giveaway” contest. I worked with Neil on the contest. Neil’s Tama Superstar drumset was beautiful and well-known. Neil gave away those 15 drums, seven cymbals, hardware, and drum cases delivered to the contest winner.

I was impressed Neil chose an essay contest. Contestants had to print or type 100 words or less on “Why I Would Like to Win Neil Peart’s Drums.”

The winner was announced through Neil’s “Dear Readers” letter, which began:

“Whose idea was this, anyway? Why didn’t somebody tell me how long it takes to read 4,625 letters [and choose] one winner?

“There were letters from every corner of the U.S., Alaska and Hawaii, every province of Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and even a girl in Borneo!”

I interviewed Neil several times for MD cover stories and MD’s 10th Anniversary issue.

Starting in the mid-1980s my life twisted 180-degrees. I was no longer part of the drumming world as writer or performer. I moved to Connecticut, then Maine. It was sometimes years between letters, but Neil and I kept in touch.

He was so methodical. When obsessed about something — “hopefully in less than a psychological disturbing way,” Neil told one interviewer — he went all in. Touring with Rush was time spent mostly traveling and waiting to perform. Neil’s filled his time reading — a voracious reader and student of classic and contemporary writers.

Neil started riding his bicycle show to show, filling pocket notebooks along the way with ideas, observations; discovering enthusiasm and talent for travel writing.

The bike became a red BMW touring motorcycle. Neil published six travel journals. “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road” is his most popular. It’s about an awful time in Neil’s life, a time when we were not in touch. Within one year, Neil’s 19-year old daughter, Selena, was killed in a car crash; his wife, Jackie, died from cancer.

I first heard about Selena and Jackie three years after the fact. Stunned, among all my emotions I felt regret over not reaching out to Neil at the time. If he still thought of me at all, he must think very poorly of a so-called friend who was MIA during this unimaginable time.

I spent years trying to reconnect with an on-the-move Neil. No one, not even Modern Drummer, could help me get a letter to Neil. Finally, in year 2014, a woman at Rush’s management office helped me. Soon I had an email from Neil himself. That was a happy day.

My last note to Neil, unanswered, was August 18, 2018: “You’ve been on my mind recently. No special reason. Hope you and your family are enjoying life. All’s well here.”

January 10 I learned Neil was struggling in 2018 with the brain cancer that took his life.

Prayers for Neil’s daughter and wife. And prayers for Neil who, I’m sure, is taking notes traveling invisible highways.


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Remembering Eric Gravatt and Weather Report

SKF NOTE: I found this photo of drummer Eric Gravatt in the first issue of Different Drummer magazine dated September 1973, which was launched by Harry Abraham. The issues I have are mostly full of jazz record reviews with some short feature stories mixed in.

The Gravatt photo was included in a short piece on Weather Report which was, at the time, made up of Gravatt, percussionist Dom Um Romao, bassist Miroslav Vitous, keyboardist Joe Zawinul, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

According to Drummerworld, Gravatt “has played with many of the greatest musicians and bands of jazz including Woody Shaw, Howard Roberts, Albert Ayler, Sonny Fortune, Kenny Dorham, Gary Bartz and more. Gravatt’s career attracted worldwide attention while he played with Weather Report, beginning with 1972’s I Sing The Body Electric. After the making of the group’s 1973’s Sweetnighter he decided to leave Weather Report and joined the group Natural Life in 1974.”

Eric Gravatt is also the drummer on Weather Report’s Live in Tokyo (1972) album.

In the early 1970s I was intrigued by Gravatt’s drum setup; the compact set with his ride cymbal stand raised high, and the ride cymbal adjusted almost vertically. Of course, I tried using my ride cymbal configured that way, but gave it up almost immediately. Playing that way was too much work. Based on recent concert videos on Drummerworld, Gravatt kept his ride cymbal that way.

The first self-titled Weather Report album (1971) presented a listening challenge. My recollection is, billed as a jazz album, there was no jazz in my experience with which to compare this music. My first step to really hearing Weather Report’s music was to stop looking for a comparison. Then I had to listen as objectively as possible. Some of the music I liked, some I didn’t.

Alphonse Mouzon played drums on Weather Report. The follow-up albums, I Sing The Body Electric and Sweetnighter, were more get-at-able. If the first album was like traveling in a strange place wondering, “Where am I?,” Weather Report’s next two albums with Eric Gravatt on drums had many instances of recognizable territory.

Drummer Herschel Dwellingham plays drums on half of Sweetnighter‘s tracks. One blogger said of Dwellingham, “he’s the drummer that brought the funk” to Sweetnighter. Perhaps the musical territory I recognized in 1973 was most Herschel Dwellingham.

Still, I liked Gravatt’s approach to the drums. And this photo by Lee Tanner brings back some satisfying listening experiences.

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Playing Boring Songs Well

SKF NOTE: You’re a drummer working steady with a piano trio six nights a week in a club. The piano player is the leader, the main attraction. The trio has a steady repertoire the pianist updates sometimes.

You like playing the trio’s songs. They’re all either fun, challenging, or simply enjoyable to play as support for the pianist or bassist.

But there’s always one song you hate. It’s boring. You’ve played it so often you have nothing creative to give it anymore. (Drummer Ben Riley, who spent three years with Thelonious Monk, told one interview he hates playing, I think, “Blue Monk.”)

You have nights on the bandstand praying the bandleader won’t call the hated song. When a night ends without the hated song, a weight rises off your shoulders.

The real professional drummers suck it up; they block their reservations and “go on with the show.”

There’s no faking it, no phoning it in. Audiences can tell when musicians onstage are unfocused. Certainly fellow musicians can tell.

Playing boring songs well is one part of being a pro drummer.

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Jack DeJohnette with the Bill Evans Trio 1968

L-R: Eddie Gomez, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Evans

SKF NOTE: Listening for only the second time to the Bill Evans Trio “Another Time: The Hilversum Concert” with Eddie Gomez (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums). Evans is one of my “must have” musicians. No, I don’t own all of his albums, but I own quite a few and always enjoy and learn with each listen.

A Simple Matter of Conviction” was among my first Bill Evans album purchases. With Eddie Gomez (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums) — I love this date, and Shelly’s interaction with Bill is, for my ears, perfect.

Charlie Watts described his first Bill Evans Trio experience as one of listening to nobody keeping time, yet all the musicians knowing exactly where they are in the songs, and everyone’s swinging like gangbusters. Charlie was listening to Evans with Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motian (drums), but all Evans’s subsequent trios have followed that same concept.

Once I heard Shelly Manne with Evans I starting imagining Jack DeJohnette in the trio drum chair. And just like magic, I discovered Verve records in 1968 had released Bill Evans “At the Montreaux Jazz Festival” with DeJohnette and Gomez.

I need to listen to that album with year 2020 years. That it is a Grammy Award winner, I was not a major fan of this album. The fault, I suspect, is mine. So many times had I listened to my imaginary Evans/DeJohnette match up, I was unable to listen with open ears to the real thing.

Another Time: The Hilversum Concert” is much closer to the match up I had in mind. Both “Hilversum” and “Montreaux” were recorded in 1968. One reviewer said DeJohnette on “Montreaux” is propulsive and exploratory. To these ears, Jack on “Montreaux” plays too loud and busy. But again, my first and last listen to “Montreaux” was decades ago. I will listen again.

Hilversum” is wonderful. Jack plays great. He’s still exploratory and propulsive, but with a delicate touch. It’s more the trio is communicating with what I tell my 6.5 year old grandson is an inside voice. As I remember it, “Montreaux” sounds more like the musicians are yelling at each other from across a playground. Perhaps they were.

I just bought Bill Evans’s Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Black Forest” also with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette in 1968. This one’s a recording studio session. It should be instructive to listen and compare to “Hilversum” and “Montreaux.”

Whatever the outcome, Bill Evans albums are highly recommended listening for all drummers. Whether the drummer is Paul Motian, Shelly Manne, Larry Bunker, Joe LaBarbera, Jack DeJohnette, Philly Joe Jones, or others — the trio interaction is always top shelf.

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“Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark”

SKF NOTE: “Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark” by Tamara Saviano.

John Lee was a New Jersey photographer well established with country music performers. John later moved to Nashville. In 1980 or 1981, John first played me “Old No.1.”

That was my first time hearing Guy Clark and I was an instant fan. This bio gave me more insight into Guy Clark the man and musician. There’s always a chance a bio or autobio will disappoint, will knock the book subject down a peg or two — in the reader’s estimation.

That didn’t happen. Understanding more of what motivated Clark’s songwriting, how he wrote songs — fascinating.

Put it this way, after reading Tamara Saviano’s book I wanted to listen to more, not less, of Guy Clark’s songs.

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Max Roach – “Tears For Johannesburg and Triptych”

SKF NOTE: A 1960s clip of the pioneering Max Roach. Thank you to 3rd Street Jazz for the original post.

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