Neil Peart on Max Roach's M'BOOM

Scott K Fish

Silver Member
Neil Peart on Max Roach's M'BOOM

SKF NOTE: This is the last of my Trading Fours exchanges with Neil Peart. My friend and music writer par excellence, Chip Stern, had a very good, albeit short-lived, idea for a drummer's magazine. I did some writing for Chip's magazine, but I don't know that any of it saw the light of day.

Chip Stern

Leonard Feather had a longstanding Down Beat magazine feature called Blindfold Test. Feather’s concept: play a handful of unannounced recordings for a musician and get their objective reaction.

Chip used the Blindfold Test concept, calling it Trading Fours, as part of his drummer magazine.

Recently I found an August 1989 manuscript of a Trading Fours I did with Neil Peart. I think this exchange took place in Neil's home.

This YouTube version of M'BOOM's Epistrophy below is the same arrangement I played Neil, but not the same cut. The cut Neil listened to is on M'BOOM's first album -- recorded in the studio.


Song Title: Epistrophy. Percussionists: Max Roach, Joe Chambers, Omar Clay, Kenyatte Abdur-Rahman, Fred King, Ray Mantilla, Warren Smith, Freddie Waits. Album Name: M'BOOM. Columbia IC 34267. Released: 1980.


Neil Peart: Here's the kind of music that I can understand why people want to make it, but I can't understand why anyone would ever want to listen to it (laughs).

Scott K Fish: Why do you think people would want to make this type of music?

NP: Oh, it would be a lot of fun. Just for that reason alone. If you were down in the basement, a couple of guys with their vibes and drumset and tympani could have a good time! I'm trying to think of every human circumstance under which music can contribute to the mood. And I can't quite find the one for that (laughs). Unless it's while you're smashing up your house.

SKF: Do you have any idea who it was?

NP: No.

SKF: That's Max Roach's percussion ensemble M'BOOM.

NP: Ah! I almost said that, but I thought it was too Western. I thought their idea was to incorporate traditional African.

SKF: This was a Thelonious Monk composition. Epistrophy. The neat part was Warren Smith playing the melody and improvising on tympani.

NP: I listen to it and I smile because I think that would be a lot of fun to do. But, then I smile because: Who wants to listen to it (laughs)? It's like the answer to the question that nobody asked. That's my favorite quote lately.

Scott K Fish Blog: Life Beyond the Cymbals


Platinum Member
How cool is it that you got to talk to all these great musicians, even visiting them at their homes? That's just fantastic.

These short exchanges with Neil paint a very clear picture to me of why had so much trouble with this music. He hasn't listened to much of it, and it doesn't speak to him. He keeps zeroing in on imperfections. That's how he thinks of music, that things need to be orderly and perfect. He makes token remarks about how the imperfections are good, but it comes across like he's saying it because he's supposed to, not because he really believes it.

I'm on record as a huge Neil fan, but I do wonder why he tried so hard to "get" this music later in his career when he just doesn't seem to have any passion for it. Maybe it was just a challenge he couldn't pass up. But if you don't live and breathe it, you're never going to attain greatness playing it.


Gold Member
I expect that working on music one does not normally play is not to get great at it, but to add more to your overall abilities. Just a thought.


Senior Member
To answer Neil's question, the answer is: me. Repeatedly. Near-obsessively for about six months, at one point in my life.

Come to think of it, many years ago I played M'Boom for my bandmates on tour, and it became a staple of our listening rotation. At one point the bassist exclaimed, 'It's like the music I've been looking for.'

I guess the most surprising part is that Neil, himself, would not be one of the people listening. Now that's strange enough for a music lover, but it strikes me as downright bizarre for a drummer.