How Rush’s New Drummer Neil Peart Helped Spark ‘Fly by Night’ Art
Neil Peart made his drumming and lyric-writing debut with Rush's second LP, 1975's Fly by Night. He also took on another, less famous role: conceptualizing its bold cover image.
"One of the first lyrics I submitted to [guitarist] Alex [Lifeson] and [bassist] Geddy [Lee] was 'Fly by Night,' and when the time came to make our first album together, we decided that was a good title," Peart wrote in the introduction to The Complete Tour Books 1977-2004. "As a bird lover since childhood, I remembered an illustration of a snowy owl swooping down toward the viewer with fierce eyes, and I suggested an image like that for the cover, maybe with the northern lights in the background."
The prog-rock trio was still a few months away from hiring art director Hugh Syme, who'd contribute to every subsequent Rush LP, starting with their follow-up, Caress of Steel. That temporary role fell to Jim Ladwig and AGI Chicago, with the visual crew rounded out by designer Joe Kotleba and painter Eraldo Carugati — the latter of whom later worked on the four Kiss solo albums from 1978.
Together they brought Peart's simplistic idea to life. But the drummer still had to do the early legwork.
"It fell to me to talk on the phone to the record company artist in Chicago and try to describe this picture in words," Peart recalled. "In the same way that writing those few lyrics for the band would lead to me becoming the band's chief wordsmith, that phone conversation led to me becoming the 'graphic arts supervisor.'"
The cover isn't a major work in the Rush catalog — far from the intricate, often philosophical designs Syme would cook up in the late '70s. But that owl's eerily yellow eyes added a hint of mystery to Fly by Night, mirroring the album's gradual evolution from pure hard-rock into a proggier, more imaginative sound.