Ready to get inspired? This list includes some of the best rock drummers ever. Each of them brought their own unique approach to the drum set and will continue to inspire countless upcoming drummers around the world.
Who are the best rock drummers that have left a lasting impression and influence on the genre?
Of course, rock is a very wide-spanning collection of sub-genres, and we certainly cannot claim that this is a definitive list!
There are countless amazing rock drummers that did not make it onto this list, but we had to do our best to list out 10 rock drummers that we think deserve special mention because of their great individual contributions to rock drumming.
It’s incredibly inspiring to watch the performances of some of the best rock drummers that ever lived.
1. Neil Peart – Rush
A creative genius with such technical proficiency that his fans often called him “the Professor”.
Neil Peart‘s musicianship was derived from a solid foundation of theory and technique that reflected his immense understanding and control of drumming.
In his long-standing career as the full-time drummer of Rush, Peart was known for his use of flams, triplets, and dynamic playing in which he ‘milked’ unthinkable tones from the cymbals.
His lively playing style also included elements of jazz and swing due to his association with drummers such as Freddie Gruber, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich.
A lesser-known fact is that Peart authored 7 nonfiction memoirs recounting his travels and personal anecdotes. Neil Pert was also a lyrical genius who penned most of the lyrics for Rush’s albums. His writing attended the themes of sci-fi, fantasy, and philosophy.
2. John Bonham – Led Zeppelin
Bonham is a drummer of rhythmic sophistication, unrestrained passion, and vivid ideas. While he is the undisputed king of rock drumming, Bonham is often declared as the best drummer of all time.
His blinding speed, thunderous projection, and never-dying love for triplets make him stand out.
He never shied away from using every part of the drum kit and could throw in a tasty fill in the smallest of spaces. Many of his contemporaries call him the most innovative and original drummer to have ever existed.
There is no doubt that Bonham’s playing was distinctive and it is very easy to identify his style and sound.
Almost all notable Led Zep concerts feature a ‘Moby Dick Drum Solo’ that lasted well over 15 minutes and featured every imaginable part of the kit, especially the floor tom and cymbals.
As an Englishman from that era, Bonham too endorsed Ludwig kits for most of his career. He coupled them with Paiste cymbals and Remo drum heads.
3. Keith Moon – The Who
In his halcyon days, Moon’s was in a league of his own. He was a destructive force on the stage with The Who, a band of virtuosos that was famous for its drive, momentum, and verve.
His style is characterized as energetic, meaty, and brimming with a raw passion that is synonymous with rock ‘n roll.
He was intrepid and unapologetic about his unstinting use of tom-toms and cymbal crashes in his beats and fills.
In the latter days of The Who, his drum kit had more than tripled in real estate and he was among the first few drummers who regularly used two bass drums in live performance.
Most of his career belongs to The Who, but he did, on occasion, work with Jeff Beck, John Lennon, and members of Led Zepplin.
Alongside guitarist Pete Townshend, Moon would often destroy his drum kit as a post-gig stage gimmick that he fondly called “auto-destructive art’.
4. Ian Paice – Deep Purple
Ian Paice is part of Deep Purple’s original lineup and the only surviving active member of the band today. Deep Purple’s guitarist, Steve Morse, described Piace as “a heavy-handed Ringo”.
He plays a left-handed Ludwig kit with a match-grip to produce roaring tones and lightning-fast fills.
His drumming is powerful, edgy, and fearless, as it should be in a rock setup. He was famous for his single bass pedal speed and superior control of his leading bass foot.
Many drummers have been inspired by his wild single & double-stroke rolls and dazzling cross-rhythmic triplets.
Paice has played with an incredulous list of genre mega stars like Gary Moore, Velvet Underground, Jeff Beck, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and White Snake.
Nevertheless, his best work and undeniable groove are most evident in his work with Deep Purple, one of the greatest acts of the genre.
5. Dave Grohl – Nirvana/Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana and currently fronts Foo Fighters as a vocalist/guitarist.
On occasion, he has donned the avatar of a drummer to play for Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, and Tony Iommi among others.
He is an equally distinguished lyricist, guitarist, and songwriter – truly a complete package.
As a drummer, Dave ‘Louder is Better’ Grohl was heavily influenced by Ian Piace and Jon Bonham.
It should be apparent then that he is as explosive with equally laudable speed, technique, and a highly developed drumming ability.
As a youngster, Grohl would practice single-stroke rolls on his pillow because he didn’t own a practice kit.
This lead to his aggressive and ‘machine-gun’ single-stroke rolls that can be found in his drumming.
His playing is all about passion and power without compromising dynamics. We wrote an entire article on Grohl’s musical journey that you can check out here.
6. Ginger Baker – Cream
Peter Baker is known to us as Ginger Baker, the drummer who played alongside Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce in the legendary rock band Cream.
Named ‘Ginger’ on account of his red hair, Peter hit the South London scene in the 1960s and formed Cream later that decade.
Cream only lasted for two years and throughout his career, Baker continued to burn through short runs with artists such as Hawkwind, Master of Reality, and Fela Kuti. After Cream, he started various supergroups like Blind Faith, Baker Gurvitz Army, and Ginger Baker Drum Choir before moving on to the next project.
In concerts, Baker never held back. He was flamboyant with the fills, generous with the showmanship, and always willing to dive into a lengthy but captivating drum solo. His drum set would sport two bass drums and a plethora of brass to accommodate his jazzy ride-cymbal pulse playing. Despite his massive influence on rock musicians, Baker claims he ‘never played rock’.
7. Danny Carey – Tool
The band Tool spans a few genres, one of which is progressive rock, so we think that’s enough for Danny Carey to the list of best rock drummers!
His playing is brimming with creative polyrhythms, odd-time signatures, and various tricks that express his superior technique and creative talents.
While he has the chops, skills, and technique to back up his claim to greatness, Carey is particularly celebrated for his rhythmic phrasing and ability to play insane odd-time signatures with polymetric figures. He attributes a lot of this to his study of the ‘tabla’ –an Indian percussion instrument – under tabla maestro Aloke Dutta to learn ‘taal’ and polyrhythms.
By his own account, Carey spent long hours practicing drum rudiments with his feet to improve his double bass playing and hi-hat playing. He also focused on four-way coordination as is evidenced by songs like Madhouse Clown.
If you’re looking for some amazing and complex drumming, then look to Danny Carey!
8. Mike Portnoy – Dream Theater
Michael ‘Mike’ Portnoy grew up in Long Island, New York. In his teens, Mike would listen to his father’s heavy metal collection that inspired him to become a self-taught drummer.
He was later awarded a full scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music. Portnoy met John Myung and Petrucci in Berklee and they formed ‘Majesty’ – the band that was later renamed to Dream Theatre.
His work with Dream Theatre showcased his extraordinary talent and technical prowess.
Portnoy’s chops are impressive and doled out with machine-like precision and superlative power.
He has won numerous awards and is one of the youngest musicians to be inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
Over the years, Portnoy has been a part of various acts like Flying Colors, The Winery Dogs, and Songs of Apollo. Portnoy quit Dream Theater in 2010, after two and a half decades, to pursue other avenues and ideas.
He currently plays for The Neal Morse Band
9. Ringo Starr – The Beatles
Sir Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr, was the British drummer for the The Beatles, one of the best-known bands in music history.
Besides drumming, Ringo has sustained a 50-year long career as a solo artist with multiple albums and tours since the Beatles split in the 70s.
Ringo is best known for his rock-solid backbeat and copious feel and technique. His passionate nature, excellent tom-work, and ability to elevate the ‘feel’ of a song won him a lot of praise in his career.
In his own words, he said “I’m an offbeat drummer with funny fills”. He was referring to his inability to play rolls on a right-handed kit because he was a southpaw.
Ironically, Ringo had auditioned for and played with several bands that failed to take off before he joined Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison.
10. Roger Taylor – Queen
Roger joined the Queen in 1969 and the band went on to become one of the best bands of all-time with hits like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Radio Gaga, and ‘We Are the Champions’.
Besides drumming, Taylor was a multi-instrumentalist (bass, guitars, keys) and he wrote lyrics, composed and sang various tracks on Queen’s albums.
Taylor was heavily inspired by John Bonham, Keith Moon, and Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience). His style was rife with jazz technique but also charged at the entire kit with a vicious attack when needed.
His timing, creativity, and fusion-meets-arena sound is uniquely brilliant.
As an Englishman, Taylor was bound to swear allegiance to Ludwig kits. He called them the “Rolls Royce” of drums and played the brand’s kit for the entirety of his career.
In 2003, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
If you aren’t aware, Taylor now regularly uploads ‘drum lessons’ to Instagram in the wake of the pandemic to help those in self-isolation.
This list does not follow a particular order as it isn’t intended to ‘rate’ these legends.
We’ve simply put the spotlight on ten of the best rock drummers that have left a lasting influence on the genre and continue to influence new generations with their creativity, technical ability, and unbridled passion.