The 30 Best Drummers of All Time

From rock n’ roll master blasters to the jazz and funk geniuses, there are many great drummers who shaped music history.

The question of what makes a great drummer has always been an issue of discussion among musicians and fans. Some care about technical skills, while simplicity and feel are more important for others.

Whatever the case, everyone will agree that each of the drummers here on this list played a vital role throughout music history with their unique approaches.

1. John Bonham

Led Zeppelin’s very-own John “Bonzo” Bonham is widely considered to be one of the best drummers of all time. His unique style and skillset influenced an entire generation of drummers. Bonham was known for his power, precision, and speed, making him a true force to be reckoned with behind the kit.

Musicians all over the world were inspired by him, leading many to believe he was not only the best drummer of rock but one of the best musicians in history. His unique technique of utilizing every aspect of the drum kit, cacophonous echoey bursts, and thunderous grooves were instantly recognizable.

His performance on “Moby Dick” demonstrates Bonham’s talent through his solo, which is known as one of the best drum solos ever played.

2. Buddy Rich

Jazz music would not be the same without the one and only, Buddy Rich. He quickly made a name for himself as a virtuoso drummer with his signature style and sound. It comes as no shock that Gene Krupa said that he is “the greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath”.

Rich was known for his impeccable timing, groove, and touch. He could replicate any sound he heard and was a master of improvisation. His speed and power were unrivaled, making him one of the most technically proficient drummers.

3. Neil Peart

As the drummer of Rush, Neil Peart is one of the most well-known and respected rock drummers of all time. He is a highly technical drummer, utilizing a variety of techniques to create his signature sound.

Peart is known for his use of prog-influenced odd time signatures, which are often found in Rush’s songs. His original style contains flams, triplets, and extreme dynamics inspired by a variety of genres like jazz, reggae, and Latin music. Other than being a drummer, Peart is also a prolific writer, contributing many of Rush’s lyrics and writing about his life and travels.

4. Gavin Harrison

Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison is a modern-day drumming legend. He is known for his polyrhythmic, odd-time signature-based approach to playing the drums. He likes trying new things, an example is that he removed his splash cymbals on his drum set because he isn’t interested in using them.

Harrison’s unique style has garnered him much respect in the drumming community. Coming from a jazz background, he seamlessly blends various genres like rock, pop, and metal into his playing.

5. Stewart Copeland

Reggae-rock band The Police would not be the same without Stewart Copeland’s signature sound. Starting the drums when he was 12, it was clear that he was destined to be a drummer. Copeland is known for his use of space and dynamic contrast in his playing. He often uses odd time signatures, which can be heard in The Police’s hits “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle.”

He often uses reggae influences, like the skank beat. He also highlights ride bells and hi-hat grooves, maintains the reggae-ish accents, and mixes them with rocky sequences. He usually uses cross-stick sounds and melodic tom partitions whenever he plays. Despite being left-handed, it doesn’t affect his talent in using the right-hand-oriented drum kit.

6. Keith Moon

The Who’s drummer is known for his destructive, unpredictable, and eccentric drumming style. He brings the energy to The Who with his chaotic and crazy fills. Being a pioneer drummer for using double bass drums on his drum kit, he loved emphasizing the tom and cymbal to create odd beats and fills which set their live performances apart from other bands.

In addition, destroying the drum kit at the end of their shows only adds up to their anarchic and rebellious image.

7. Phil Collins

Phil Collins’ early experimentation with the 80s reverb drum sounds and mixing 90s beats has been a huge advantage for the progressive rock band Genesis. Being the inventor of the reverb drum sound in the 80s, Collins is one of the most influential and notable drummers on the music scene. With his prominent drum tones, he was one of the early users of electronic drums and beats.

Other than being a drum prodigy, he’s also a singer, songwriter, record producer, and actor. Try listening to “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” to witness complex time signatures and his astounding hand techniques.

8. Ginger Baker

Jazz-infused time signatures and heavy rock sound would always point to Ginger Baker. Being the favorite drummer of Eric Clapton, he’s shown mastery in lengthy drum solos, double bass, and heavy metal way of drumming. Needless to say, he was a huge inspiration to many drummers.

Being a drummer for Cream and Blind Faith, he’s shown his skills in playing the blues. His unique approach to the drums can be heard on the drum solo track “Toad” and other songs like “Crossroads” and “Sunshine of Your Love.”

9. Terry Bozzio

An underrated gem, this drummer of the rock band Frank Zappa can play amazing complex drum solos with odd polyrhythms such as 5-7 that the audience will have a hard time tapping to the beats and will be left fixated with his talent.

You might wanna hear Missing Person’s “Hopscotch” to witness Bozzio’s polyrhythmic skills. His dynamic approach to odd-time signatures and an unusual drum set will surely leave you speechless.

10. Clyde Stubblefield

Funky and brilliant drummer, Clyde Stubblefield, is the man behind James Brown’s famous beats. Another underrated drummer whose talent has inspired hip-hop music. He’s considered an innovator in funky drumming which heavily influenced R&B, hip-hop, and jazz. His talent in playing the snare drum is incomparable.

Stubblefield has played the drums for James Brown’s greatest hits such as “Cold Sweat,” “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and “Ain’t It Funky Now.” Clyde Stubblefield is a funky drummer that you shouldn’t miss.

11. Bill Bruford

Being known as an influential drummer in the progressive rock scene, Bruford is known as the percussion master and drummer who played for Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, and many more. He is popular due to his quirky rhythms, jazz & rock fusion, as well as making the drums play tunes when it is deemed impossible.

Bruford made “polymetric funk savant” where he makes great improvisations and polished orchestral drum tracks. Albums like “Lark’s Tongue In Aspic”, “Starless And Bible Black”, and “Red” would not have been possible without his signature sound.

12. Dave Grohl

Nirvana’s superb drummer, Dave Grohl, is now the vocalist and guitarist of the Foo Fighters. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Nirvana and as a solo artist. His background as a drummer for Nirvana helped the grunge band achieve mainstream success.

He is famous for his introductions that utilize flams and triplet-based fills. He likes to play loudly and decisively. His dynamics are maintained even when he’s fast with his single-stroke rolls. When you listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you will know what I’m talking about.

13. Mitch Mitchell

The master drummer of The Jimi Hendrix Experience has paved the rock scene with his jazz-rock fusion with his energetic drum style. His patterns, cymbal riding, and impressive snare work end up being a harmonious melody that will surely make your head bang.

Mitch Mitchell’s distinctive drumming style can be heard in popular Hendrix songs like “Hey Joe,” “Fire,” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2009.

14. Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr was the drummer of the popular band The Beatles and he’s celebrated for his uncomplicated but effective approach to pop music. He plays the drums to compliment the song and he’s known to play with high precision, not a single beat out of place!

Ringo Starr’s drumming style is horizontal swinging of his drumsticks and often glancing back and forth from the hi-hat which is known as an ‘unorthodox swing.’ He also aims to hit the middle part of the stick instead of the head which creates more sound without exerting too much energy.

His work can be heard in popular Beatles songs like “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Rain,” “In My Life,” and “Something.”

15. Tony Williams

As a jazz fusion pioneer, his work with rock stars made him one of the most influential drummers in the music world. With his notable collaborations with Miles Davis, Williams won Davis’ admiration which led him to be a part of the Second Great Quintet, a jazz band in America.

Having been inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, his skills are highly known for redefining jazz rhythms through metric modulation and polyrhythms. Tony Williams’ work as a drummer can be heard in popular Miles Davis songs like “Bitches Brew.”

16. Danny Carey

The Tool’s creative and progressive drummer Danny Carey is known for his amazing performance and skills as a drummer. He learned to play tabla, an Indian percussion instrument so that he’ll have better hand coordination and mastery of hi-hat and double-bass playing.

With his complex playing style that consists of odd time signatures and polyrhythms, Carey is truly a madman on the drums. His work can be heard in popular Tool songs like “Disposition” and “Push It.”

17. Charlie Watts

Having the steadiest hand in rock music, the drummer of The Rolling Stones is one of the reasons why this band reached commercial success. Starting as a jazz drummer, Watts is known for his whip-like snare drum hits and good posture. Playing his swings and shuffles perfectly, he also mastered jazz-ride patterns.

Watts is an excellent drummer who, despite having a small kit, can roll toms and crash cymbals without missing a beat. Even though he was an excellent drummer, he managed to keep things simple by avoiding drum machines, gongs, or double bass drums. You can hear his work in popular Rolling Stones songs like “Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up.”

18. Dave Weckl

A man of precision and master of coordination, Dave Weckl is known for his drumming style that involves a lot of technicalities. His polyrhythmic approach to the drums has made him one of the most influential jazz-fusion drummers in the world.

He is the leader of the Dave Weckl Band and was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2000. He has been a part of many albums over the years which stand to be a testament to his work and accomplishments.

19. Dave Lombardo

Thrash metal isn’t the same without the snares and beats of Dave Lombardo. He is the drummer of the popular band Slayer and he’s known for his aggressive playing style that uses a lot of double bass drums which led to him being named “The Godfather of Double bass.”

His work can be heard in popular Slayer songs like “Capture of Sin” and “Ghosts of War.” Still active today, with a career spanning over 40 years, Dave shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

20. Chad Smith

Drumming for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chad Smith has proved himself to be one of the best drummers in the world with his unique style that combines funk and rock. He’s also known for his high energy and lively personality which makes him a great performer on stage.

He has heavily emphasized the use of heaving hitting, ghost notes, and non-straight eight hi-hat patterns whenever he plays, making it his signature style. You can hear his work in popular Red Hot Chili Peppers songs like “Can’t Stop” and “Detroit.”

21. Bill Ward

The legendary drummer of Black Sabbath, Bill Ward is one of the pioneers of drumming in the heavy metal world.  His simple but effective style has made him one of the most influential and copied drummers of all time.

He is also influenced by jazz which allowed him to be exceptional in using cymbals and his kit in general. You can hear his work in popular Black Sabbath songs like “Iron Man” and “Paranoid.”

22. Alex Van Halen

A self-taught drummer and now, one of the best drummers in the history of music, Alex Van Halen is all snare and rock. He is the drummer and co-founder of the popular band, Van Halen. He’s known for his hard-hitting style and use of double bass drums which was popularized in the song “I’m The One” and has been used by many drummers since then.

He was always doing whatever the band required, whether it was rushing in fast or relaxing with precision and consistency. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and “Jump” are a few of the songs that prove Alex Van Halen’s skills as a drummer.

23. Mike Portnoy

Creativity and innovation in terms of drumming, that’s what Mike Portnoy is all about. He was the drummer of Dream Theater and is now a part of The Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo, and Flying Colors.

He is known for his odd-meter rhythms, complex drum solos, fast-paced frills, and beat patterns. As a musician who is inclined to write, he heavily took part in the band’s compositions.

24. Travis Barker

The eccentric drum playing is Travis Barker’s forte. He is the drummer of Blink-182 and is also a part of Transplants, Box Car Racer, and was associated with The Aquabats, +44, and more. 

He is considered one of the most influential punk rock drummers due to his work with Blink-182 where he combined the elements of hard rock and hip-hop. You can hear his work in popular Blink-182 songs like “All the Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?”

25. Tony Allen

This legendary drummer is one of the founders of the genre called afrobeat. Tony Allen is known for his stickwork and style. His African descent allowed him to develop a unique style that is a combination of Yoruba music, highlife, and jazz.

If you want proof of his testament to the drums, just check out his discography and be amazed at what he has accomplished.

26. Sheila E.

Sheila E. is a world-renowned drummer and actress. She is one of the industry’s most adaptable drummers, capable of playing drums and singing at the same time while standing!

Working with several Ringo tours, Sheila E.’s skills have been utilized by many artists like Beyonce, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, and Gloria Estefan. You can hear her work in popular songs like “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre.”

27. Mel Taylor

With a family who were already musicians, it didn’t take long for  Mel Taylor to develop a love and talent for music as well. He’s known for his work with The Ventures where he was the drummer.

His drumming style has been the traditional grip but over the years, he has upgraded his drum set from a 4-piece drum kit to several tom toms, crash cymbals, and double bass drums.

28. Jimmy Van Eaton

A drummer by heart,  Jimmy Van Eaton has been in the industry for a long time. He is known for his studio sessions at Sun Studio where he played with Jerry Lee Lewis, and some other recordings with Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, and Bill Justis.

His drumming style can be heard in Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” which was a huge success!

29. Taylor Hawkins

Taylor Hawkins was the drummer of Foo Fighters and was widely loved in the music world. His dynamic and powerful drumming can be heard in popular Foo Fighters songs like “You Oughta Know” and “Stacked Actors.”

30. Ian Paice

Speed and hand coordination in hitting the drums with finesse, that’s what Ian Paice is known for. He is the drummer of Deep Purple and has been since 1968. He is a laid-back yet magnificent drummer who employs speed and precision with the blast beat technique. His abilities on the single strokes and lightning-quick usage of the single kick pedal were unrivaled.

Not being too technical, he lets the beat speak for itself which earned him the title of being one of the best drummers ever.

Conclusion

The best drummers of all time share common qualities which are skills, experience, inspiration, and drive. They’ve influenced modern musicians by demonstrating an extensive range of styles and techniques on the drums. Whatever the genre may be, these established legends have left their mark – it’s now up to the new generation of artists to keep the beat going.

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Mike O'Connor

Drumming has been my passion for over 18 years. I play quite a few different genres and I really enjoy experimenting with hybrid kits that blend acoustic and electronic drums. I love all things drumming!

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