Some debates will simply never be settled and the passion behind these discussions is what makes rock and metal such a unique entity. In a retrospective conversation celebrating the 40th anniversary of Rush’s Moving Pictures album, drumming superstar Mike Portnoy explained why he feels Neil Peart is the ‘greatest drummer of all time’ over Led Zeppelin’s equally legendary John Bonham.
The subject was broached in a four-way Zoom conversation (hosted by Consequence of Sound’s Heavy Consequence) between Portnoy, Halestorm’s Arejay Hale, Anthrax’s Charlie Benante and Periphery’s Matt Halpern as they discussed everything they love about the historic Rush release.
Bonham had died just one year prior to the release of Moving Pictures, which can sharpen perspective when surveying the landscape of rock and metal drumming in 1981.
“I think John Bonham has been universally acclaimed as one of the greatest of all time, and deservingly so — he really, really is deserving of that,” credited Portnoy (transcription via Blabbermouth)
“But with all due respect, his entire recording career only lasted 11 years,” Portnoy continued, “and he’s also now been gone for, what, I guess 40 years. So there is something to be said for his place in drumming history because he’s been gone for so long.”
He then pointed out that Peart’s career spanned a full four decades and he only passed last year, which can cloud perspective and is presumably why Portnoy said that ultimately “time will tell,” regarding who could rightfully be crowned the better of the two.
“It’s ridiculous to even have to choose between the two,” the drumming icon confessed, “because they both brought so much to the drum world and they both left behind such an incredible legacy. But I think the fact that Neil’s drumming career was 40 years long and gave us 40 years of music and drumming to listen to and reflect on, I think, to me, that puts him ahead of John.”
Reaffirming his stance, Portnoy said concretely, “I think [Peart is] the greatest of all time — I really do. And I think he’s only been gone a year, so it’s hard to really see how that’s gonna be felt five, 10, 20 years from now. But I think he will go down in history as the greatest rock drummer of all time — I really do.”
Obviously, it is difficult to compare the reactions to the deaths of both Bonham and Peart, as Peart died in the digital age where news spreads instantaneously and everyone can make their opinion heard, available for all to see.
Portnoy noted of Peart that his death “impacted everybody beyond drummers,” citing social media feeds were, for weeks on end, dominated with stories and mentions of Peart and his wide-ranging influence not just as a drummer, but as a lyricist and general philosophical nature.
“It was similar to when Eddie Van Halen died last year as well,” added Portnoy, recollecting another gigantic loss in the world of music.
“And Eddie is a similar type of player in the guitar world; Eddie was what a lot of people consider the greatest of all time — up there with [Jimi] Hendrix — and the same here with Neil up there with Bonham. And the fact that they both went in the same year, but both of their deaths — Eddie and Neil — just went beyond just their respective instruments. The whole world was hit by it and affected by it,” Portnoy concluded.
Watch the full discussion below.
In September of last year, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich was called in during an airing of The Howard Stern Show to settle the very same debate, in which he selected Bonham over Peart as the greatest to ever play the drums.
Panel Discussion: Rush’s Moving Pictures