What makes a great drummer is a subject that divides musicians and fans alike: there will always be arguments over whether technical skill should preside over feel, or whether a classy sense of restraint is more desirable than flashy showmanship. As such, it’s nigh-on impossible to construct a definitive list of the best drummers in the world… but we have tried.
Almost inevitably, rock drummers dominate our 100 best drummers of all time, but some jazz musicians, including, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Shelly Manne and Gene Krupa, have been included, while another important jazz drummer even made it into our Top 10. (Their identity will be revealed later.)
While you’re reading, listen to our Best Drummers playlist here.
As well as iconic names from some of the biggest bands in the world, we’ve made way for some of the most in-demand session drummers of all time, among them Steve Gadd and the late legends Jeff Porcaro and Hal Blaine. But there will, no doubt, be omissions. (“How could they ignore ‘Stumpy’ Pepys!?”) If you think there are, you can always suggest your best drummers of all time in the comments section below.
For now, however, cue drum roll… Here is our guide to the 100 best drummers in music history.
Best Rock Drummers: 100 Legendary Sticksmen You Need To Know
100: Les Binks
Northern Ireland-born drummer Les Binks is best known for his time with Judas Priest, after he joined them on their 1977 world tour, following a spell with Eric Burdon. He brought a complicated, jazz-tinged style to the band and starred on their studio albums Stained Class (co-writing the song ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’) and Killing Machine, as well as a live album from Japan, Unleashed In The East. Binks was still going strong in his late 60s. In 2018, the drummer performed classic Judas Priest songs live with a new band called Les Binks’ Priesthood.
Check out: ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’
99: Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes’s nickname, Snap Crackle, was supposedly an onomatopoeic approximation of his snare drum sound. Haynes began as a hard bop drummer in the early 50s before demonstrating that he could play any kind of jazz, even avant-garde, with panache. His collaborations read like a Who’s Who of modern jazz and include albums with Art Farmer, Sonny Stitt, Michel Petrucciani and Freddie Hubbard. He was still playing in his 90s.
Check out: ‘Snap Crackle’
98: Karen Carpenter
Though Karen Carpenter is known as the sweet-voiced singer of Carpenters hits such as ‘Please Mr Postman’, her first musical career was playing jazz drums, the instrument she played in the original Richard Carpenter Trio. In a 1975 Playboy magazine readers’ poll, Carpenter was voted the best rock drummer of the year – edging out Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, The Who’s Keith Moon and The Beatles’ Ringo Starr. “I am both humbled and embarrassed at this tremendous recognition,” she said during a TV interview. “I heard that John Bonham is quite upset. I hope he is not mad at me, as I had nothing to do with the poll.” She then played the drums and sang a fine version of Zeppelin’s ‘Babe, I’m Going To Leave You’.
Check out: ‘All Of My Life’
97: Meg White
Meg White, who has won four Grammys, got into professional drumming almost by accident in the mid-90s when she stepped behind a drum kit and started thumping out a primal beat behind her husband Jack White’s guitar playing. White quickly sensed that the combination of his talent and his wife’s primitive style was a winning formula. The White Stripes were born, and Meg was acclaimed as one of rock music’s most compelling stickswoman.
Check out: ‘Suzy Lee’
96: Tony Allen
Self-taught Nigerian native Tony Allen’s driving, polyrhythmic style formed the bedrock of ‘Afrobeat’: the breathtaking fusion of funk, calypso, traditional Nigerian rhythms and the bebop of American drummer Art Blakey he pioneered alongside visionary multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti in Africa ’70. This forward-thinking West African outfit recorded a wealth of material, including landmark titles such as Gentlemen and Zombie during the ’60s and ’70s, while in his latter days, Allen occupied the drum stool for Damon Albarn’s The Good, The Bad & The Queen and recorded several highly-regarded titles for Blue Note.
Check out: ‘Zombie’
95: Kenny Clarke
Pittsburgh-born Kenny Clarke, who was nicknamed Klook, was a founding member of The Modern Jazz Quartet, and one of the musicians who could have claimed to have helped start bebop in the mid-40s. His hallmark was introducing syncopated accents on the bass drum while beating out a propulsive cymbal beat to maintain a swing groove. Clarke helped lay down the template for modern jazz drumming.
Check out: ‘The Golden Eight’
94: Christian Vander
French drummer Christian Vander is renowned for his intense, idiosyncratic style, developed in the 70s as the leader of the prog rock band Magma. He has cited John Coltrane’s drummer Elvin Jones as a formative influence. Vander was also known for his piano playing and his falsetto scat singing. In recent years he has played with his own trio and quartet.
Check out: ‘Zombies (Ghost Dance)’
93: Giovanni Hidalgo
Salsa-style drumming is sometimes overlooked, but one of the best rhythmic technicians is Puerto Rican drummer Giovanni Hidalgo. His speed is remarkable, whether playing numerous conga drums or sharp-toned timbales. In 1992, Hidalgo was hired as an adjunct professor at Berklee College Of Music, in Boston, teaching rhythm methods in Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, reggae, African and jazz styles. Hidalgo, who has played with Art Blakey, Paul Simon and Steve Gadd, won a Grammy for his contribution to the album Planet Drum.
Check out: ‘Island Groove’
92: Brian Blade
Brian Blade, who is highly respected by modern jazz musicians, came to prominence with albums for Kenny Garrett and Joshua Redman. His own band, The Brian Blade Fellowship, has released a couple of impressive albums on Blue Note Records, each with a distinct country music atmosphere due to the unusual use of pedal steel guitar. Blade has also recorded for Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, and has worked with Wayne Shorter’s quartet.
Check out: ‘Red River Revel’
91: Dave Clark
London-born Dave Clark started work as a stuntman – appearing in more than 100 films – before buying himself a drum kit and learning to play. After playing in a few skiffle bands, he formed his own unit, The Dave Clark Five. The band had a succession of hit singles between 1964 and 1970, sold more than 100 million records and starred in a hit film. Though he wasn’t technically brilliant, his energetic style influenced pop music. “If The Beatles ever looked over their shoulders, it was not the Stones they saw. They saw The Dave Clark Five,” said Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of The Rolling Stones.
Check out: ‘Glad All Over’
90: Dave Weckl
As well as being an important educator, Missouri-born drummer Dave Weckl, who was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall Of Fame in 2000, has appeared with numerous top stars, including Madonna, George Benson and Paul Simon. Some of his finest work was with Chick Corea Elektric Band, with whom he played from 1985 to 1991. Weckl was also a key part of the GRP All-Star Big Band. In recent years he has released records as The Dave Weckl Band.
Check out: ‘Festival De Ritmo’
89: James Gadson
James Gadson first came to notice with The Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band in the 60s. He was later snapped up by Bill Withers, before becoming one of the West Coast’s most prolific session players. His superb steady tempo and feel for the music is evident on his work with Jackson 5, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye.
Check out: ‘Let’s Get It On’
88: Phil Rudd
Eric Singer of KISS praised Phil Rudd as “the heart and soul of AC/DC”. Rudd learned his trade with Melbourne bands such as Buster Brown And The Coloured Balls, before joining up with the Australian hard rock giants in 1975. In his first spell, he played with AC/DC until 1983, and again from 1994 to 2015. His life was sometimes controversial off stage, but in live shows and in his studio work, his consistency and unshakeable backbeat was a major feature of classics such as ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock’n’Roll)’, ‘TNT’ and ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’.
Check out: ‘Let There Be Rock’
87: Tony Thompson
Tony Thompson made his name laying down some memorable disco grooves for Chic in the 70s, on brilliant hits such as ‘We Are Family’ and ‘Le Freak’. The New York musician, whose mother was from Trinidad, was only 48 when he died of cancer in 2003. He leaves a legacy of great drumming, including playing on Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted To Love’ and Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’.
Check out: ‘Good Times’
86: Greg Errico
Drummer and record producer Greg Errico had a varied career, playing with musicians as diverse as jazz-fusion group Weather Report, David Bowie, Santana and Grateful Dead. He made his lasting reputation, though, as the drummer for Sly & The Family Stone, helping the band create their superb blend of soul, funk and psychedelic rock. He’s a drummer known for his flawless syncopation and dance-friendly grooves.
Check out: ‘Dance To The Music’
85: Harvey Mason
Harvey Mason is one of the most highly-prized modern session drummers. His skilful use of tumbling tom-tom fills, hi-hat cymbals, snare and bass drums earned him the respect of his peers, and he has won the Modern Drummer magazine’s studio poll four times. He has featured on recordings by Barbra Streisand, James Brown, Mary J Blige, Herbie Hancock, Frank Sinatra and John Legend, and played with the London Symphony Orchestra. His versatility is such that he is equally at home appearing on country music albums with Chet Atkins and jazz albums with Blue Note greats such as Bobby Hutcherson or Donald Byrd.
Check out: ‘Chameleon’
84: Max Weinberg
After the massive success of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA album, the singer and guitarist paid tribute to drummer Max Weinberg. “Max was the best thing on the record,” The Boss said. The snare drum on the title track is a good example of the skill of the New Jersey musician’s inventiveness. Weinberg later became the bandleader for The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien. He is also the father of Slipknot drummer Jay Weinberg.
Check out: ‘Thunder Road’
83: Chico Hamilton
Chico Hamilton took part in the first recordings by The Gerry Mulligan Quartet, representative of a career of experimentation. The Chico Hamilton Quintet released their first album in 1955 and it was an instant success. Two years later, the band played a pivotal role in the plot of the movie The Sweet Smell Of Success, in which one of the main characters is supposedly the quintet’s guitarist. In 1965, Hamilton composed and conducted the music for Roman Polanski’s film Repulsion. Hamilton continued to lead bands of varying styles and instrumentation into the 21st Century; only Art Blakey surpassed his record for discovering and nurturing young talent. Hamilton’s own playing was notable for his ability to colour his music with different tonal shades.
Check out: ‘Mr Jo Jones’
82: Alan Wren
Another significant modern drummer is Manchester-born Alan “Reni” Wren. His complex, off-beat rhythms were influential in creating the blend of indie and dance music which formed much of the Madchester sound of the early 90s, and his virtuoso drumming was a key factor in the popularity of The Stone Roses. After leaving the band in 1995, he fronted The Rub from 1998 to 2001. He returned to The Stone Roses for a reunion in 2012.
Check out: ‘I Am The Resurrection’
81: Joe Morello
Drummer Joe Morello helped Dave Brubeck’s band reach new heights as they experimented with odd and uneven metres. Morello became well-versed in playing unusual time signatures, and his drum solo on Brubeck’s signature track, ‘Take Five’, is a masterclass in playing in 5/4 time. Morello, who suffered from partial vision since childhood, also excelled on ‘Blue Rondo À La Turk’. In later life, Morello became an in-demand teacher whose students included Danny Gottlieb, one of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band members.
Check out: ‘Take Five’
80: Eric Carr
Eric Carr, who was born Paul Charles Caravello, was only 41 when he died of cancer in 1991. Carr joined KISS in 1980, after founding member Peter Criss left the group, and established his reputation as one of the first hard-hitting drummers to adopt a highly reverberated and low-tuned snare drum sound. He made a significant contribution to the band, recording eight albums with them, starting with The Elders, in 1981, and finishing with Hot In The Shade, in 1989.
Check out: ‘War Machine’
79: Dennis Davis
Dennis Davis, who died in April 2016, was known for his versatility, which was no surprise given that he was tutored by bebop legends Max Roach and Elvin Jones. As well as shining with jazz outfits such as Clark Terry’s Big Band and Roy Ayers, he also made his mark in the rock world, including his iconic work on David Bowie’s “Heroes” album. “Listen to the drum breaks on ‘Blackout’… he had a conga drum as part of his set up and he made it sound like two musicians were playing drums and congas,” said producer Tony Visconti. As well as working regularly with Bowie, who praised the drummer for his “subtle tempo”, Davis also played on several Stevie Wonder albums, including Hotter Than July and the double-album soundtrack Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants.
Check out: ‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’
78: Glenn Kotche
Illinois-born drummer Glenn Kotche is highly regarded as an energetic, imaginative percussionist, the rhythmic anchor for popular rock band Wilco. As well as his work with the Grammy-winning band from Chicago, Kotche had also appeared on recordings by Andrew Bird, Edith Frost, Neil Finn and Radiohead’s Phil Selway. His solo career has been experimental. On Next (2002), he explored improvised rhythms on prepared drum kit installations. “When I play with Wilco, it’s more than just laying down a beat,” he said. “I’m thinking in terms of colours and textures.”
Check out: ‘Wishful Thinking’
77: Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste
Zigaboo Modeliste’s style was steeped in the second-line tradition of his native New Orleans. He is best known as a founding member of The Meters and helped create a new style of funk drumming on records such as ‘Cissy Strut’ and ‘Just Kissed My Baby’. He had a big influence on rock band Little Feat and worked with artists as varied as Prince, Dr John, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood (The Meters sometimes opened for The Rolling Stones). Modeliste has been called “The Godfather Of Groove” and his grooves appear in hundreds of hip-hop samples.
Check out: ‘Cissy Strut’
76: John Densmore
As a teenager, John Densmore became enamoured with jazz and tried to play in the style of the great Elvin Jones. The Los Angeles-born musician, who studied under Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, moved towards rock and is now best known as the drummer of The Doors, appearing on every recording made by the Jim Morrison-fronted band. In 2010, Modern Drummer magazine hailed Densmore’s ride cymbal work as some of the most distinctive in classic rock. After The Doors, he continued working with rock bands for a time but later concentrated on dance, acting and on writing film scores.
Check out: ‘LA Woman’
75: Russ Kunkel
Pittsburgh-born Russ Kunkel’s subtle drumming has made him a go-to musician for leading stars of acoustic-based music, including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne and James Taylor. Kunkel’s lyrical playing and relaxed groove has been a key part of albums such as Taylor’s Sweet Baby James and Mitchell’s Blue. He has also played with Bob Dylan, Bee Gees, Linda Ronstadt and Simon & Garfunkel. “I listen. I try to understand the singer’s point of view and see if I can enhance it, as opposed to thinking, I’m the drummer, so I play a beat and everyone follows,” said Kunkel. “Sometimes I don’t even hear a place for drums on a song. Maybe it just needs some motion, but not necessarily a whole kit. Joni Mitchell’s ‘Carey’ was like that – just a simple conga part.”
Check out: ‘Running On Empty’
74: Bernard Purdie
When you create a move that other drummers copy – as Bernard Purdie did with “The Purdie Shuffle” – then you know you are influential. The American drummer, who was nicknamed Pretty Purdie, created his move on Steely Dan’s ‘Home At Last’, from their 1977 album, Aja. Purdie, one of 15 children, started playing drums by banging on his mother’s pots and pans as a toddler, and said he knew he wanted to be a drummer. “He always had some unique stylistic thing that you would never imagine in advance and that nobody else would do,” said Steely Dan’s Walter Becker. He toured and recorded with the greats of 60s soul, funk and jazz, including James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Louis Armstrong. In all, Purdie can be heard on more than 4,000 records.
Check out: ‘Home At Last’
73: Fred Below
Former army recruit Fred Below learned jazz drumming in Chicago at The Roy C Knapp School Of Percussion. But he became a major player in the electrified Chicago blues movement of the 50s and 60s as the staff drummer at Chess Records, where he recorded with Elmore James, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Etta James and Bo Diddley. His style became hugely imitated. Below said that touring Africa with Junior Wells in 1967 for the State Department was the best experience of his career. “I was in drumming country,” Below said, “and I had my eyes, ears and fingers all ready to learn any kind of thing I could pick up.”
Check out: ‘(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man’
72: Sonny Payne
Sonny Payne had drumming in his blood – his father was Wild Bill Davis’ drummer – and he played with Erskine Hawkins’ big band before getting his break in 1954, when he joined Count Basie’s band. He stayed with Basie for more than ten years of constant touring and recording. He was admired by Frank Sinatra, who requested that Payne sit in on drums whenever he sang with Basie in the 60s. Payne, who died in 1979, brought a profound sense of rhythmic swagger and panache to his playing.
Check out: ‘One O’Clock Jump’
71: Roger Hawkins
Roger Hawkins was a key member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who were affectionately known as The Swampers. Hawkins was a superb technician, with no ego, and he adapted his personal style to the needs of different musicians. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge (Hawkins played on ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’) were among those who benefitted. When Paul Simon wanted something special for ‘Kodachrome’, Hawkins found the right sound by beating on a tape box.
Check out: ‘Chain Of Fools’
70: Jimmy Cobb
Jimmy Cobb had stints with John Coltrane and was an in-demand jazz session musician, working for Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery and Joe Henderson. Cobb also famously drummed for Miles Davis, appearing on the trumpeter’s groundbreaking 1959 album, Kind Of Blue. Cobb’s drumming was powerful and sensitive, and he knew how to swing with style.
Check out: ‘Tribute To Brownie’
69: Bobby Elliott
The English drummer Robert Hartley Elliott was born in Burnley on 8 December 1941. Best known for his work with The Hollies, he is considered one of the finest pop drummers of that era and particularly inspired Charlie Watts. Elliott, who was known for his flamboyant playing and use of clever snare rolls, said the drummer that he hero-worshipped was jazz great Gene Krupa.
Check out: ‘Just One Look’
68: Tony Royster Jr
Though German-born Tony Royster, Jr, is largely known for some of his work as a session musician for hip-hop stars – among them stadium-filling artists such as Jay Z – he is a talented and versatile drummer. Royster has played R&B, pop, rock, Latin and jazz, and backed musicians as diverse as Norah Jones and Eminem. He broke on to the music scene aged 12 with an attention-grabbing drum solo at the 1997 Modern Drummer Festival and is known for his speedy hand- and foot-work. He played at President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball in 2009 and has also received the prestigious Louis Armstrong Jazz Award.
Check out: ‘Caravan’
67: Al Jackson, Jr
As the drummer in Booker T And The MGs, the house band of the Memphis-based Stax/Volt record label, Al Jackson, Jr, was the man behind the impressive steady beats that underlay some of the best soul recordings of the 60s, including Eddie Floyd’s ‘Knock On Wood’, Otis Redding’s ‘Shake’, Sam & Dave’s ‘Soul Man’ and Wilson Pickett’s ‘In the Midnight Hour’. Jackson died in 1975, when he was shot in the chest during a fracas with his wife in their Memphis home.
Check out: ‘Green Onions’
66: Art Taylor
New Yorker Arthur S Taylor, Jr, was one of the finest jazz drummers of the 50s. He worked with saxophonist Jackie McLean and then started recording with Coleman Hawkins in 1950, before working steadily with pianist Bud Powell in 1952. By the end of the decade he had become one of the great masters of accompaniment. After working for Prestige and Blue Note Records, including on sessions with Donald Byrd, he moved to Europe and wrote a book about drumming, Notes And Tones.
Check out: ‘Giant Steps’
65: Maureen Tucker
New York drummer Maureen Ann “Moe” Tucker, who was born on 26 August 1944, made her name with the cutting-edge rock band The Velvet Underground. As well as being a pioneering female rock drummer, she broke ground with her standing position, minimalist kit and preference for mallets over sticks. At some early gigs, she even used metal garbage cans after her drum kit was stolen. Tucker also sang and played guitar, saying once of her solo career: “When I do shows, I prefer to be playing guitar. I started trying to play guitar way before I started to play drums.” She influenced a generation of young drummers, including Caroline McKay, former member of Mercury Prize-nominated group Glasvegas.
Check out: ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’
64: Honey Lantree
Another drummer who could also play guitar and sing was Honey Lantree, who made her name in the 60s with The Honeycombs, playing alongside elder brother John (bass guitar). The pulsating 4/4 rhythm that Lantree, who died in December 2018, laid down on ‘Have I The Right?’ helped make the song one of the big hits of the decade.
Check out: ‘Have I the Right?’
63: Gavin Harrison
For Gavin Harrison, drumming is all about the groove. The English musician, who first toured as a 19-year-old with progressive rock band Renaissance, has written three books on drumming: Rhythmic Illusions, Rhythmic Perspectives and Rhythmic Designs. Harrison has played with Iggy Pop, Dave Stewart, Tom Robinson and jazz and folk bassist Danny Thompson, the former musical partner of John Martyn. He is, however, best known for playing with the British prog rock bands Porcupine Tree and King Crimson.
Check out: ‘Start Of Something Beautiful’
62: Buddy Miles
Buddy Miles was a member of Jimi Hendrix’s Band Of Gypsys from 1969 until Hendrix’s death in 1970 (he also played on two tracks on Hendrix’s influential Electric Ladyland album in 1968). He learned to play drums in his father’s jazz band, The Bebops (George Miles, Sr, had played upright bass with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon). During his career, Miles played on more than 70 albums, and played with Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and Muddy Waters. The Nebraska-born drummer was a flamboyant personality on stage, holding audiences spellbound with his stars-and-stripes shirts, high-brushed Afro hairstyle, large frame and wide smile. In a troubled later life, he was sent to San Quentin prison. With characteristic style, he started a jailhouse band.
Check out: ‘Them Changes’
61: Levon Helm
As a six-year-old, Mark Lavon Helm saw Bill Monroe And His Bluegrass Boys and decided right then that he wanted to be a musician. The Arkansas-born (and renamed) Levon Helm achieved worldwide fame as drummer and singer for The Band. As well as his soulful voice, Helm’s creative drumming style was a strong point on many of their great recordings, including ‘The Weight’ and ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. The Grammy-winning musician has also had a successful acting career that included playing Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Check out: ‘Up On Cripple Creek’
60: Tony Meehan
Tony Meehan, who died in 2005, was a founding member and the original drummer of The Shadows, who were a popular instrumental group in their own right, as well as backing band for Cliff Richard. Meehan’s distinctive drumming formed the backbone of The Shadows’ style and influenced a generation of younger musicians. Their 1960 hit ‘Apache’ was No.1 in the UK charts for six weeks and helped established the group as one of the most important bands of the early 60s. Meehan’s powerful and disciplined drumming can be heard on several other Shadows hits, including ‘Kon Tiki’. In 1961, he left the band and went to work at Decca Records in their A&R department. His replacement was the excellent Brian Bennett.
Check out: ‘Apache’
59: DJ Fontana
DJ Fontana was a rock’n’roll pioneer and Elvis Presley’s first – and longtime – drummer. He met Presley on Louisiana Hayride, a popular and influential radio and TV country-music programme. “Presley wasn’t playing rock’n’roll until DJ put the backbeat into it,” said Levon Helm in 2004. Fontana admired big-band drummers such as Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, but he himself went on to influence other drummers that came after him, including Ringo Starr. Fontana was renowned for his power, speed and steadiness. He played on early Presley Sun Records hits such as ‘Hound Dog’ and also appeared on the “comeback” Christmas TV special of 1968. In 2000, he played on Paul McCartney’s cover of an early Presley hit, ‘That’s All Right’.
Check out: ‘Jailhouse Rock’
58: Papa Jo Jones
Papa Jo Jones was renowned as an innovative drummer in the swing era and was a core member of Count Basie’s band from 1935-48. Jones was ahead of his time in using a steady four-beat rhythm on cymbal, and during the 50s he performed with Lester Young and was part of the Jazz At The Philharmonic touring jam sessions. Later, he led his own small groups. He made regular appearances in films of the time, including Jammin’ The Blues (1944) and Born To Swing (1973).
Check out: ‘Jumpin’ At The Woodside’
57: Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones was a renowned member of The John Coltrane Quartet. His powerful, complex playing helped changed the role of the drummer in jazz groups and influenced a generation of rockers, including The Doors, Grateful Dead and Santana.
Check out: ‘Mr Jones’
56: Carlton Barrett
Carlton Barrett, who was murdered in 1987, at the age of 36, remains an influential figure in the world of drumming, for his work with reggae star Bob Marley from 1970 to 1981. Barrett, who built his first set of drums from empty paint tins, helped popularise Jamaican beats, such as steppers and one-drop. His laidback grooves were an essential part of Marley’s sound.
Check out: ‘Jammin’’
55: Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne was 64 when he died of a heart attack at his ranch. At that point, he had been at the forefront of jazz for more than 40 years and played on more than 1,000 records. Manne played with the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman bands and went on to play at his own influential Hollywood nightclub (Shelly’s Manne Hole) and with several small combos. As a composer, he wrote the score for the Daktari TV series and the films Young Billy Young and Trial Of The Catonsville Nine. Manne also advised Frank Sinatra on drumming technique for his role in the movie The Man With The Golden Arm.
Check out: ‘Flip’
54: Buddy Harmon
After establishing his reputation as the house drummer for The Grand Old Opry, Buddy Harmon helped define the Nashville sound, becoming one of the most influential country music musicians of the 20th Century. His rhythmic signature can be heard on thousands of recordings by stars such as Elvis Presley (‘Little Sister’), Johnny Cash (‘Ring Of Fire’) and Simon & Garfunkel (‘The Boxer’). He played on an estimated 18,000 recordings, many of them major hits, such as Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’. Harmon, who admired jazz drummer Gene Krupa, showed versatility and imagination, and his powerful 4/4 drumming helped make Roy Orbison’s ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ memorable, as did his deft brushwork on Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’. He was a talented bass player, too, and played that instrument on Ringo Starr’s 1970 country album, Beaucoups Of Blues.
Check out: ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’
53: Earl Palmer
In 2000, Earl Palmer became one of the first session musicians to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The New Orleans-born musician’s powerful and creative drumming helped partially define the sound of early rock’n’roll; between 1949 and 1956 he played on hit records by Fats Domino (‘The Fat Man’), Lloyd Price (‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’), Smiley Lewis (‘I Hear You Knocking’) and Little Richard (‘Tutti Frutti’, ‘Long Tall Sally’). After moving to Los Angeles, Palmer worked on movies. His distinctive backbeat can be heard on iconic records such as Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ and Ritchie Valens’ ‘La Bamba’.
Check out: ‘Tutti Frutti’
52: Jim Keltner
Jim Keltner is one of the most in-demand session drummers of the modern era. The Oklahoma-born musician started out as a jazz drummer but went on to play on thousands of records of all types, including John Lennon’s Imagine and both Traveling Wilburys albums. He’s played on records by Tom Petty, Harry Nilsson, Bee Gees, Pink Floyd, Randy Newman, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Pretenders and Oasis, and was hailed by Ry Cooder as a master of interpreting subtle music. “He reacts to everything that’s going on in the music,” said Leon Russell. Keltner also played on Bob Dylan’s album Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, which includes the song ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’. “That session was a monumental one for me because it was such a touching song, it was the first time I actually cried when I was playing,” said Keltner.
Check out: ‘Jealous Guy’
51: Louie Bellson
Duke Ellington once described Louie Bellson (who was sometimes credited on albums as “Louis Bellson”) as “the world’s greatest drummer”. In a career that began when he was 18, Bellson moved from big bands to small groups and back again, and served as musical director for his first wife, the singer Pearl Bailey. His drumming was one of the driving forces in the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Duke Ellington and (briefly) Count Basie. He was a showman who displayed finesse in his playing style.
Check out: ‘Sunshine Swing’
50: Jeff Porcaro
Jeff Porcaro, who was only 38 when he died, on 5 August 1992, was a founder member of Toto and an in-demand session musician. Drumming was in the blood of the son of the acclaimed Hollywood percussionist. He left school at 17 to tour with Sonny And Cher, and went on to play on records by dozens of leading stars, including Diana Ross, Etta James, Elton John, Robert Palmer and Bruce Springsteen. His work with Toto shows why he was considered one of the best 20th-century American “groove” players – able to create excitement while playing a simple beat. He was always modest and when asked about drumming technique used to tell fans to listen to Jim Keltner.
Check out: ‘Rosanna’
49: Gene Krupa
When he was part of Benny Goodman’s orchestra in the 30s, Gene Krupa changed the status of the jazz drummer, elevating him from being a timekeeper to a soloist. His flamboyant performances in concerts, as he flailed away at his snare drum, tom‐toms and cymbals, made him a star. His showmanship reached its peak with ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, a tune by Louis Prima, which the Goodman band began playing early in 1936. Krupa later led his own successful band with Anita O’Day as a vocalist and Roy Eldridge on trumpet. He was 64 when he died in New York in 1973.
Check out: ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’
48: Steve Smith
Steve Smith, who was born on 21 August 1954, in Whitman, Massachusetts, is best known as a member of the rock band Journey. Smith studied music in Boston at Berklee College Of Music from 1972-76 and began life as a professional musician in the Lin Biviano Big Band. He played with jazz-fusion bands until he joined Journey in 1978, leaving eight years later to pursue his original passion, jazz, and develop his career as a session player. Over the past 40 years, Smith has played with such diverse artists as Michael Brecker, Ahmad Jamal, Bryan Adams, Mariah Carey and Savage Garden. Smith is known for his explosive solos and intricate timekeeping. In 2016, Steve re-joined Journey, touring with the band for the first time in 32 years.
Check out: ‘Any Way You Want It’
47: Hal Blaine
Massachusetts was also the state where Hal Blaine was born, on 5 February 1929. Grammy-winning Blaine can lay claim to being one of the most prolific drummers in rock’n’roll history. He guested on 35,000 tracks, including 150 singles that made the Billboard Top 10. He drummed on many Elvis Presley film soundtracks during the 60s, and was also a key component of Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” production, which yielded classics such as ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’. He also played on some classic Beach Boys hits, including ‘Good Vibrations’, and on a number of sessions with Glen Campbell (watch him discuss his friendship with Glen in this uDiscover interview). Blaine was an innovative musician – “My set always had 12 drums, which no one had ever heard of, and it really was a major change,” he said, and it enabled him to achieve a bigger spectrum of sound. Unlike most drummers of the time, Blaine said he tuned his drums down to normal, mid-range, rather than keeping them at a high range. He passed away on 11 March 2019, at the age of 90, leaving behind a legacy that will be impossible to beat.
Check out: ‘Good Vibrations’
46: Max Roach
When Max Roach died in August 2007, at the age of 83, he was saluted as one of the most creative and influential percussionists in the history of jazz. Roach, who started out on the piano, changed instruments when his father bought him a drum kit at 12. He made his recording debut at 19, in a band led by Coleman Hawkins, and his groundbreaking work with Charlie Parker in the 40s showed off his amazing sense of form, allied to an impeccable technique and mastery of tempo. Roach was also the drummer in Dizzy Gillespie’s first big band and went on to make his own career as bandleader, forming a quintet with the young trumpeter Clifford Brown which is regarded as one of the finest small bands of the 20th Century. He was active in the civil-rights movement of the 60s and later held a teaching post at the University Of Massachusetts.
Check out: ‘I’ll Remember April’
45: Topper Headon
Nicholas Headon, who was known as Topper because of his resemblance to the cartoon character Mickey Monkey from Topper, was born in Bromley, Kent, on 30 May 1955. He made his name as the drummer of the punk rock band The Clash, joining them in 1977 and staying for five years, until drug problems forced him out. The energy in his playing helped songs such as ‘I Fought The Law’ became hugely popular, and his style, which emphasised a simple bass-snare up-down beat, accompanied by hi-hat flourishes, was highly distinctive. After leaving The Clash, he played with Big Audio Dynamite and, in 1985, released a cover version of the Gene Krupa instrumental ‘Drumming Man’ as a single.
Check out: ‘Train In Vain’
44: Steve Gadd
Steve Gadd has laid down some iconic drum tracks, including ‘Aja’, ‘Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover’ and ‘Nite Sprite’, and has influenced a generation of drummers. Born in Rochester, New York, on 9 April 1945, Gadd started drumming at the age of seven and sat in with Dizzy Gillespie by the time he was 11. He is so popular in Japan that they still sell transcriptions of his drum solos. He has played regularly with Chick Corea, who said, “Every drummer wants to play like Gadd because he plays perfect. He has brought orchestral and compositional thinking to the drum kit while at the same time having a great imagination and a great ability to swing.”
Check out: ‘Chick’s Chums’
43: Art Blakey
Drummer and bandleader Art Blakey, who was 71 when he died, on 16 October 1990, was one of the most influential figures in jazz for more than four decades. He was known for his epic solos, layering on textures while controlling the dynamics and showing a true ability to improvise. “Art was an original,” said Max Roach. “He’s the only drummer whose time I recognise immediately. And his signature style was amazing; we used to call him ‘Thunder’. Art was the perhaps the best at maintaining independence with all four limbs. He was doing it before anybody was.”
As a bandleader, Blakey hired and nurtured a huge cast of great jazz musicians, including the trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis; the saxophonists Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter; and the pianists Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons. Marsalis said Blakey was influential in the way he integrated the drums into small-group arrangements “of building the ensemble, where the drums were more orchestrated”.
Check out: ‘The Drum Thunder Suite’
42: Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford, who was born on 17 May 1949, in Sevenoaks, Kent, gained a reputation as a skilful and sensitive drummer as part of the rock band Yes in the late 60s. He later played in King Crimson and toured with Genesis. Bruford retired from performing in 2009 but went on to run record labels and gain a PhD in music from the University Of Surrey. He once said that it was jazz drummers who had shaped his development, including the “elegant style of Max Roach”. He paid special tribute to Art Blakey’s ability to “make a drum kit sound so personal”.
Check out: ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’
41: Travis Barker
Californian Travis Barker, who was born on 14 November 1975, is a producer and songwriter best known as the drummer for rock band blink-182. He has also played with Transplants, Box Car Racer, DJ-AM and TRV$DJam, and was described by Rolling Stone magazine as “punk’s first superstar drummer”. Praised for his power and versatility as a drummer, Barker also founded a clothing company. In October 2018, he was cleared to perform again after blood clots in both arms had caused him to temporarily stop playing the drums.
Check out: ‘Let’s Go’
40: Nicko McBrain
Londoner Michael “Nicko” McBrain, who was born on 5 June 1952, decided he wanted to be a drummer as a boy after watching Joe Morello perform on television with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. McBrain’s drumming has been a vital element of Iron Maiden’s sound since 1983’s Piece Of Mind album, writing the drum parts for the band’s songs. “Nicko always had the chops and the technique, but in Maiden he really exploded, to the point where a lot of stuff we did after he joined was then founded on his playing, all those busy patterns he does, displaying tremendous technique,” said guitarist Adrian Smith. One of his quirks is that he sometimes plays barefoot. In 1991, McBrain made an instructional drum video called ‘Rhythms Of The Beast’.
Check out: ‘Where Eagles Dare’
39: Alan White
Not to be confused with the Oasis drummer of the same name, Alan White was born on 14 June 1949 and was one of the mainstays of the progressive rock band Yes, after joining them in 1972. He had earlier played with Plastic Ono Band after John Lennon invited him to join; White played on the song ‘Imagine’. His varied career has seen him play with George Harrison, Ginger Baker and Joe Cocker, and he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. White was an excellent timekeeper as drummer and good at giving direction to a song’s arrangement. “Louie Bellson’s bass drum always turned me on; the control and technique. I don’t think any of the others mastered it as well as he did,” said White. “I concentrate on bass drum work a lot. I went to two bass drums just for a while and I realised that I can nearly do as much with one as the effect you can get with two.” White is also an accomplished pianist.
Check out: ‘The Gates Of Delirium’
38: Simon Phillips
Londoner Simon Phillips, who was born on 6 February 1957, became Toto’s drummer in 1992 after the death of Jeff Porcaro (who sits at No.50 on our list). Phillips is a technically gifted drummer who was introduced to music by his musician father, Sid Phillips. He has toured and recorded with some of the leading rock musicians of the modern era, including Mick Jagger, The Who, Jeff Beck, Roxy Music and The Pretenders. He moved to America in 1992 to play with Toto and later recorded his own albums, including Protocol in 1988. He has also worked as arranger, producer and engineer.
Check out: ‘Manganese’
37: Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham, who was born on 16 May 1944, is a Panamanian jazz musician who started playing with pianist Horace Silver and then came to prominence in the 60s with trumpeter Miles Davis and then the New York jazz-fusion outfit The Mahavishnu Orchestra. He was one of the first drummers to combine jazz, funk and rock. In recent years, he began teaching drums online at the Billy Cobham School Of Drums.
Check out: ‘Feio’
36: Josh Freese
Josh Freese, born on Christmas Day in 1972, is one of the modern era’s most popular session drummers, as well as being a permanent member of The Vandals and Devo. He was the drummer for Guns N’ Roses from 1997 to 2000 and has also played saxophone on some recordings. After 2016 he began playing with Sting. “My drum set up never gets that crazy or out of the ordinary,” said Freese. “In the studio my drums are usually something really basic: a four-, five- or six-piece kit with lots of snare and cymbal choices.”
Check out: ‘Blood On Your Knuckles’
35: Vinnie Paul
Vinnie Paul, co-founder and drummer of the metal band Pantera, died of a heart condition on 22 June 2018 at the age of 54. The Texas-born musician started Pantera in 1981 with his brother, and the heavy metal band earned four Grammy nominations before disbanding in 2003 amid rumours of a rift. He was known for using triggered samples mixed with live-miked drums during shows on a kit that had a custom dragon finish modelled on the design of his hat.
Check out: ‘13 Steps To Nowhere’
34: Chad Smith
Chad Smith is the drummer with Red Hot Chili Peppers. Smith, who was born on 25 October 1961, joined the band in 1988. He said he learned his trade playing lots of clubs in Detroit. “Six nights a week, three sets a night. That was my schooling instead of going to university,” he said. He has also worked regularly with hard rock band Chickenfoot. Smith, who is known for the infectious beats in his playing, has also been an in-demand session musician, playing with The Dixie Chicks, Johnny Cash and The Avett Brothers.
Check out: ‘Give It Away’
33: Cozy Powell
The man born Colin Trevor Flooks, but known professionally as Cozy Powell, was only 50 when he died in a tragic car crash in April 1998. In a glittering career, he played with rock heavyweights Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Queen’s Brian May and Peter Green’s Splinter Group. In the mid-70s, he also scored three hits with tracks featuring his trademark thumping style. ‘Dance With the Devil’, ‘The Man In Black’ and ‘Na Na Na’ all featured his tour de force drum solos.
Check out: ‘Dance With The Devil’
32: Vinnie Colaiuta
Vincent Colaiuta, who was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, on 5 February 1956, attended Berklee College Of Music. His first big break came when he auditioned for Frank Zappa, joining his band in 1978 and becoming a key player on Zappa’s albums of that era. As a session musician he has worked with Joni Mitchell, Barbra Streisand, Chaka Khan and Jeff Beck. His is considered a versatile drummer and has worked in the jazz arena with stars such as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. In 1994, Colaiuta released a self-titled solo album.
Check out: ‘Joe’s Garage’
31: Amir “?uestlove” Thompson
Ahmir Khalib Thompson, who was born on 20 January 1971, in Philadelphia, is known professionally as Questlove (which he styles as ?uestlove). As well as his Grammy-winning drum work on records with The Roots, he is also known for his appearances with the band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where they are the regular in-house group. In recent years he has been a producer on the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.
Check out: ‘Thought @ Work’
30: Aynsley Dunbar
Aynsley Dunbar, who was born on 10 January 1946, in Liverpool, England, is a drummer who is confident working across a host of genres, including jazz, blues, fusion, rock and progressive rock. The records he has played on include 30 that have gone gold or platinum. His early work was with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and he has played with an incredible range of musicians, including Jeff Beck, blues musician Champion Jack Dupree, jazz musician Herbie Mann, John Lennon and Rod Stewart. In 2017, he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.
Check out: ‘Roadhouse Blues’
29: Janet Weiss
Janet Weiss, who was born on 24 September 1965, in Los Angeles, is best known as a member of Sleater-Kinney. She has also played with Quasi and cult indie band The Shins. Weiss is a powerful, inventive drummer who has helped break down some of the traditional barriers against female drummers. “Society traditionally doesn’t encourage women to be loud, primitive, aggressive. These properties are crucial in the drummer’s world – they cannot, and should not, be avoided,” she said.
Check out: ‘Mole City’
28: Carmine Appice
New Yorker Carmine Appice was born on 15 December 1946 and started out with psychedelic band Vanilla Fudge in the late 60s. He later joined Jeff Beck and Tim Bogert in the band Beck, Bogert & Appice. Appice, who said he was heavily influenced by Gene Krupa, worked with Rod Stewart and co-wrote the song ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ He later formed King Kobra for two Capitol albums in the 80s, a decade in which he played on the Pink Floyd record Momentary Lapse Of Reason. Appice also wrote the acclaimed book The Realistic Rock Drum Method, which sold nearly half a million copies.
Check out: ‘Young Turks’
27: Clyde Stubblefield
Clyde Stubblefield, who was 73 when he died, on 18 February 2017, had a huge influence on two eras of music – as the drummer in James Brown’s band and in the formative records of hip-hop. He joined Brown when he was just 17 and played on key tracks such as ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘Sex Machine’. He also played in the concert that Brown gave after the assassination of Martin Luther King. He was known for his rolling breakbeats, and his instrumental single ‘Funky Drummer’ was influential in the early 80s, when producers began to create hip-hop by looping copied fragments of music from other records. His solo features in ‘Fight The Power’ by Public Enemy and is believed to have been sampled on more than 1,400 different records. In 2014 he had to have a thumb amputated but he adapted a drumstick by fitting it with a thick handle from a maraca.
Check out: ‘Funky Drummer’
26: Matt Cameron
Matt Cameron was born on 28 November 1962 in San Diego. After an early career with Soundgarden (a band he later re-joined), he was invited on tour by Pearl Jam and became a permanent fixture in their band. He is a technically gifted player, known for his fast solos during live shows. In 2017, the year in which he cut his debut solo LP, Cavedweller, he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Check out: ‘Time Can’t Wait’
25: Michael Shrieve
San Francisco-born Michael Shrieve was chosen by Rolling Stone magazine’s readers as one of the Top 10 Drummers of All Time in 2017. Shrieve, born on 6 July 1949, was the original drummer for Santana and played on the first eight albums by the seminal group. This sophisticated drummer has played alongside artists in such diverse genres as rock, jazz, electronic, dance and world music, and was saluted for his groundbreaking use of electronic percussion when it was a new medium in the 70s. For the past 10 years he has been working on a personal project called Drums Of Compassion, on which he is composer, producer and drummer. Carlos Santana described him as “a visionary”.
Check out: ‘Aye Aye Aye’
24: Bill Ward
Bill Ward, who was born in Birmingham, England, on 5 May 1948, said that he was self-taught, learning about drumming from sitting on the stage next to Jim Capaldi of Deep Feeling. He said he also loved jazz and based his tuning on the model of Gene Krupa. He is best known as the original drummer of heavy metal band Black Sabbath and was noted for his innovative use of floor toms. “Without the jazz influence, the Black Sabbath drumming would be very different. The feels and jazz feels and rock feels were exactly, to me, what we needed,” said Ward. In recent years, after playing with a new band called Day Of Errors, he was forced to take a break from music because of heart problems.
Check out: ‘Fairies Wear Boots’
23: Roger Taylor
Celebrated Queen drummer Roger Taylor is played by X-Men actor Ben Hardy in the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic. Taylor – not to be confused with the Duran Duran drummer of the same name – was born on 26 July 1949 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. As well as being a talented, powerhouse drummer, he is a singer and instrumentalist, and wrote Queen’s landmark hits ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘A Kind Of Magic’. He has also made five solo albums, starting with 1981’s Fun In Space. “Drumming came naturally to me – I always found it sublimely easy,” said Taylor.
Check out: ‘Radio Ga Ga’
22: Sheila E
Sheila Escovedo was inspired by her percussionist father, Pete Escovedo, and godfather Tito Puente, and said in her memoir, The Beat Of My Own Drum, that she was taught from childhood how to keep good time on a drum set. Born in Oakland, California, on 12 December 1957, she is known as “The Queen Of Percussion”. She started out with The George Duke Band and, as well as her solo albums, has played with Ringo Starr, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Ritchie, Diana Ross and Herbie Hancock. She also worked closely with Prince.
Check out: ‘The Glamorous Life’
21: Lars Ulrich
Denmark’s Lars Ulrich, who was born on Boxing Day in 1963, became a drummer after giving up a promising career as a professional tennis player. He is best known as the drummer and co-founder of the heavy metal band Metallica, a band he joined after answering an advert in a magazine. He was acclaimed as a pioneer of fast thrash drum beats, a sound that featured on many of Metallica’s early songs, such as ‘Metal Militia’, and his thunderous, complex drum patterns set the template for hard rock in the 80s. He has been knighted by the Danish government.
Check out: ‘Battery’
20: Tommy Aldridge
Tommy Aldridge, who was born on 15 August 1950, in Pearl, Mississippi, taught himself to play the drums after listening to albums by Cream, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. After working with Pat Travers, he made his name with bands such as Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy in the 70s. Aldridge is considered to have set the standard for double-bass rock drumming and has continued playing with Whitesnake into the 21st Century. He is a perfectionist who said, “I’m not a big fan of my own stuff. Once I have recorded something and then I go back and listen to it, I’m rarely pleased with it. That’s probably the way it is with most musicians. Give me 15 takes and I will want 30.”
Check out: ‘Burn’
19: Mike Portnoy
Mike Portnoy, who was born on 20 April 1967, and raised in Long Beach, New York, grew up immersed in music. “My father was a rock’n’roll disc jockey, so I was always surrounded by music constantly. I had this huge record collection when I was real young and loved The Beatles, and then, later on, KISS. It was inevitable that I’d become a musician.” He taught himself to play the drums and was later awarded a scholarship to attend Berklee College Of Music. He said his biggest influence was Rush drummer Neil Peart. The co-founder of the progressive rock band Dream Theater, Portnoy was particularly pleased to become the second youngest musician, after Peart, to be inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall Of Fame in 2004.
Check out: ‘The Mirror’
18: Alex Van Halen
Alex Van Halen, who was born in Amsterdam on 8 May 1953, was the son of Jan and Eugenia, both of whom were trained as classical pianists. After moving to America, he started a band with brother Eddie. After meeting David Lee Roth, they formed Mammoth. In 1974, the band’s name was changed to Van Halen and they released their debut album in 1978. The two brothers are the only members of Van Halen who have been in the band for its entire duration. Alex is a master of the snare drum and at live shows is known for his aggressive solos and stage pyrotechnics. He has cited jazz drummer Buddy Rich as a big influence on his playing.
Check out: ‘Respect The Wind’
17: Ian Paice
Ian Paice, who was born on 29 June 1948, in Nottingham, England, learned to play the drums by imitating the styles of jazz legends such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, which he heard on the radio. He got his first drum kit at 15 and decided that, being left handed, he needed to devise techniques that would fit the right-handed drum kits. After playing with various dance bands, he got his big break in 1968 when he helped form Deep Purple, and his brilliant playing has shone on songs such as ‘Stormbringer’ and on the live album Made In Japan. From 1979 to 1982, Paice worked with Whitesnake before joining The Gary Moore Band. He later returned to Deep Purple.
Check out: ‘The Mule’
16: Benny Benjamin
Benny Benjamin, one of Motown’s great drummers, was just 43 when he died of a stroke in April 1969. A key member of the collective of session musicians known as The Funk Brothers, he was known for his deft brushwork and explosive drum fills. Benjamin, who had a background in big-band jazz, was an essential part of Motown hits by The Temptations, The Miracles, Four Tops, The Supremes, Gladys Knight And The Pips, Martha And The Vandellas, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. “He had a distinctive knack for executing various rhythms all at the same time. He had a pulse, a steadiness, that kept the tempo better than a metronome,” said Motown founder Berry Gordy.
Check out: ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’
15: Carl Palmer
Carl Palmer has been described as “the consummate drummer’s drummer”. A brilliant technician, he was born in Birmingham, England, on 20 March 1950. He came from a musical family: his grandfather played the drums, his grandmother was a symphony violinist and his father had a dance band. He said his main influence was Gene Krupa. During a long career he has played with Atomic Rooster, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Asia and Emerson, Lake And Palmer. In the 21st Century he started his own Carl Palmer Band.
Check out: ‘Toccata’
14: Mitch Mitchell
Roger Taylor has described Mitch Mitchell as his early role model. “Listening to Mitch Mitchell, especially the early stuff with Jimi Hendrix, is just fantastic,” said the Queen drummer. Mitchell, who at first modelled his style on Max Roach, melded jazz and rock styles into what was to become known as “fusion”. His free and explosive technique made the drums a force in their own right. Mitchell unsuccessfully auditioned for Paul McCartney’s band Wings in 1974, but he went on to perform with various artists, including Jack Bruce and Jeff Beck, as well as undertaking lots of session work. In his last years, he was part of the Gypsy Sun Experience band, along with former Hendrix bassist Billy Cox and guitarist Gary Serkin. He died of natural causes, aged 61, on 12 November 2008
Check out: ‘Are You Experienced?’
13: Phil Collins
Phil Collins’ work as the drummer of Genesis has earned him the status as one of rock’s greatest drummers. Collins, who was born on 30 January 1951, in the London suburb of Chiswick, is also a popular singer, songwriter and record producer. He had a string of US Top 40 hits in the 80s, including ‘Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now’), and would sometimes play drums on records by musician friends, including on some by folk musician John Martyn. He said he was given his first drum when he was three. “I always remember drumming as being easy, but I did nothing else,” he said. “When other kids were out playing I was on the drums. I just wanted to make a career out of being a drummer.”
Check out: ‘Behind The Lines’
12: Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr, who was born Richard Starkey in Liverpool, on 7 July 1940, has had one of the most successful careers in music, gaining worldwide fame as the drummer for The Beatles. He occasionally sang on their albums, too, including on the song ‘Yellow Submarine’, and was a key part of their success. When he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Dave Grohl said: “Define ‘best drummer in the world’. Is it someone that’s technically proficient? Or is it someone that sits in the song with their own feel? Ringo was the king of feel.” After The Beatles broke up, Starr embarked upon a successful solo career, including his acclaimed third album, Ringo.
Check out: ‘Ticket To Ride’
11: Charlie Watts
Charlie Watts brought the sensibilities of a jazz drummer to rock music, and as The Rolling Stones’ drummer he is one of the most respected musicians in the world. Watts, who was born on 2 June 1941, in London, grew up loving Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and started out as a graphic artist. He combined his love of art and jazz by writing a book about Charlie Parker. After working with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, he was persuaded to join the fledgling Rolling Stones and played his first gig with the band at Ealing Blues Club. He has remained a key member of the Stones for over five decades, taking occasional breaks to work with his own jazz orchestra.
Check out: ‘Honky Tonk Women’
10: Terry Bozzio
Terry Bozzio, who was born on 27 December 1950, in San Francisco, said that after seeing Ringo Starr and The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show he begged his father for drum lessons. He said that many of the techniques he used throughout his career, including his snare hand technique, were learned from his first teacher, Chuck Brown. Bozzio started his career in garage bands and became famous for his work with the band Missing Persons and as a drummer for Frank Zappa, with whom he appeared on 26 albums. In 2014, Bozzio toured America playing solo dates with what he called “the world’s largest tuned drum and percussion set”.
Check out: ‘Baby Snakes’
9: Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl is widely credited with giving alt.rock its driving beat. Born on 14 January 1969 in Warren, Ohio, Grohl dropped out of high school to play with the group Scream before auditioning for Nirvana. After singer Kurt Cobain’s death, Grohl formed Foo Fighters. His drumming has been praised for his fills, using unexpected accents, breaks and syncopation in the snare. “The drums have to propel everything,” he said. Grohl once paid tribute to Melvins drummer Dale Crover, saying, “I still say to this day that he’s the best drummer in the world. There is no one who does what he does, and there’s no one who could. I get goosebumps when I hear his playing. He’s turned drumming on its side, and if I’d never heard Melvins, I probably would not be playing the drums, because he made me realise that there’s a lot more to drumming than most people hear.”
Check out: ‘Song For The Dead’
8: Dave Lombardo
Dave Lombardo, who was born in Havana, Cuba, on 16 February 1965, is best known as a founding member of thrash metal band Slayer. A powerhouse drummer, his innovative playing led DRUMMERWORLD magazine to describe him as “The Godfather Of Double Bass”. “Early Slayer albums such as Show No Mercy were all written for drums that needed to be heavy. The drums needed to be heavy and played hard and fast on those records,” said Lombardo. After leaving Slayer in 2013, he performed with a variety of bands, including Grip Inc, Testament, Suicidal Tendencies and Misfits.
Check out: ‘Haunting the Chapel’
7: Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland has been an accomplished producer and composer of soundtracks for movies and television, but he will always be remembered as the drummer for The Police, who achieved worldwide fame and chart-topping albums through the mid-80s (watch him talk to uDiscover about his time with the band). Copeland, who was born in Alexandria, Virginia, on 16 July 1952, began drum lessons at the age of 12 and got his start in the music business as a road manager for Curved Air, assuming drumming duties for the band in 1975. In 1977, Copeland founded The Police with Strontium 90 bandmate Sting. After the band separated, Copeland went on to win a Golden Globe for his score for the Francis Ford Coppola film Rumble Fish. His work with The Police was famed for its reggae-tinged rhythms and seemingly effortless cymbal work. “Arabic music is in my DNA, informed by Buddy Rich, Mitch Mitchell, Joe Morello,” said Copeland. “I love the sound of Joe Morello and ‘Take Five’… that sound of the drums, full, relaxed. Just letting the drums sing.”
Check out: ‘Message In A Bottle’
6: Danny Carey
Danny Carey, who was born on 10 May 1961, in Lawrence, Kansas, gained fame as the drummer for Grammy-winning progressive metal band Tool. He said he grew up on “jazz and crazy prog stuff”. As well as his work with Tool, he has also played on albums by ZAUM, Green Jellÿ, Pigface, Skinny Puppy, Adrian Belew of King Crimson, Carole King, Collide, The Wild Blue Yonder, Lusk and Melvins. Carey, who says he loved the jazz drumming of Steve Gadd, is a texturally and harmonically accomplished drummer. “Most drummers are quite content, I guess, to be a metronome, even though I know a lot of music doesn’t call for much more. It’s lucky for me that I can express myself however I want, and it’s a healthy position for me to be in,” he said.
Check out: ‘The Grudge’
5: Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich, who was 69 when he died in April 1987, was a self-taught drummer who played with Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey before starting his own band. He had an enormous, forceful, crisp energy in his playing and his powerful beat propelled any band he sat in with. “The whole music world owes something to Buddy Rich,” said Frank Sinatra. Rich played with many of the great jazz stars of the 20th Century and toured extensively with Jazz At The Philharmonic in the 40s and 50s, before forming his own band in the 60s. “When I was coming up in the 60s, Buddy was regarded as the greatest living drummer of the time,” Steve Smith said. “He has this perpetual place as the greatest drum-set virtuoso who ever lived, and that still stands up today. There’s something about Buddy’s visceral energy and natural technique, his swing, his feel, his musicianship, his high intensity and the way he could drive a band, the way he would play the music and raise the level of musicians around him.”
Check out: ‘9.20 Special’
4: Ginger Baker
Londoner Ginger Baker, who helped invent the rock power trio and reluctantly became the genre’s first star drummer, during a multi-faceted and always eventful career, was born on 19 August 1936. After some studio recordings with The Graham Bond Organisation, Baker joined Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton in Cream, in what would become known as rock’s first supergroup. He later played with Blind Faith. In more recent years, his band Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion, featuring James Brown’s and Van Morrison’s saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, has toured the UK and Europe. Baker, who said you had to be made to be a drummer, claimed that the secret of his drum work with Cream – and his skilful use of the hi-hats, tom-toms and cymbals – was the jazz-like improvisation he brought to their sound.
Check out: ‘Toad’
3: Neil Peart
Canadian drummer and songwriter Neil Peart was born on 12 September 1952 and, like so many of the drummers on this list, was inspired after watching The Gene Krupa Story. Following a spell working in his father’s business, Dalziel Equipment, and playing music part-time in local Ontario bands, he joined Rush in 1974, two weeks before the group’s first tour of America. The drummer was a major factor in their success. Rush have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and his sculptured drum solos have been a celebrated feature of their live shows. “To me, drum soloing is like doing a marathon and solving equations at the same time,” he said.
Check out: ‘Tom Sawyer’
2: Keith Moon
Londoner Keith Moon was only 31 when he died, of an overdose, in September 1978. The Who drummer, who also worked with Jimmy Page and John Lennon, had a reputation for wild behaviour, but was one of the most distinctive and influential drummers in the history of rock. Roger Daltrey said that Moon “just instinctively put drum fills in places that other people would never have thought of putting them”. Unlike most drummers, however, Moon didn’t like playing solos in concert. Asked once whether he was one of the world’s best drummers, he quipped: “I’m the greatest Keith Moon-type drummer in the world.”
Check out: ‘My Generation’
1: John Bonham
John Bonham, who died aged just 32, in September 1980, following a night of ferocious drinking, was another drummer in awe of the jazz masters. The English musician taught himself how to play by looking to greats such as Gene Krupa, Max Roach and Buddy Rich as inspirations. He was a magnificent drummer for Led Zeppelin, acclaimed for his speed, power, distinctive sound and touch, and his fast bass drumming. “John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn’t know what was going to happen next – like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff,” said Dave Grohl. “No one has come close to that since, and I don’t think anybody ever will. I think he will forever be the greatest drummer of all time.”
Check out: ‘When The Levee Breaks’
Looking for more? Discover the best female drummers of all time.