The 30 Best Drummers of All Time
When it comes to the best drummers of all time, it is quite a difficult task to single out just a few. There are countless of drummers who have made their mark in music industry, with their lightning speed, complex rhythms, or by their sheer influence and mark on music alone.
I have taken on the challenge and compiled a list of the 30 best drummers of all time. This list includes some of the most influential drummers and takes into account their skills, influence, and work over the years.
1. John Bonham
A drummer who changed rock drumming forever. A legend. John “Bonzo” Bonham of Led Zeppelin is one of the most influential drummers in the entire world. He is most noticeably known for his triplets, fast kick, and amazing dynamics.
Not only did John Bohnam have amazing technique, but he was also quick around the drum set. He is still a big influence and idol to a lot of young drummers who aspire to become great drummers.
Bonham died on September 25, 1980, at the age of 32 while preparing for a tour. Soon after, Led Zeppelin disbanded. But it is, without a doubt, that his influence is felt in music even today.
2. Buddy Rich
A lot of fans and musicians say that Bernard “Buddy” Rich is the best drummer of all time. Buddy Rich was a songwriter, bandleader, and one of the most influential drummers in the world.
His playing was mostly comprised of super complex patterns, improvisations, and lightning-fast fills. As a jazz drummer, he influenced a lot of rock drummers and still continues to do so. If you’re not familiar with his music, this drum solo from the concert of the Americas will convince you of his amazing technique.
3. Neil Peart
Neil Peart is mostly known for his remarkable drumming with the band Rush. He is also one of the most technical and accurate drummers in rock history. When you see Neil Peart and his 360-degree grandiose drum set composed of more than 30 pieces, you cannot help yourself but wonder what he might strike and come up with next.
His unique playing style has influences from many different genres such as reggae, Latin, swing, and jazz. Often playing in odd time signatures, along with amazing drum fills, his drumming is so unique and of great significance to a lot of musicians.
4. Gavin Harrison
Gavin Harrison has established a reputation as one of the most exciting drummers in the world as a member of The Pineapple Thief, Porcupine Tree, and King Crimson. He is one of the best modern prog drummers.
Gavin has also released two instructional drum books entitled Rhythmic Perspectives and Rhythmic Illusions. With an active career of over 40 years, Harrison shows no signs of stopping and cementing his mark on music.
5. Stewart Copeland
The Police is without a doubt the most popular reggae-rock band in history. The heart of The Police’s sound and feel was Copeland’s jazzy grooves with off-beat syncopated playing technique.
Stewart Copeland constantly mixed reggae-style accents and embellishments with rocky beats. He also frequently employs cross-stick sounds and melodic tom divisions.
After the Police disbanded, Copeland established a career composing soundtracks for movies, television, ballets, operas, and games.
6. Keith Moon
Keith Moon, with his disruptive, unpredictable, and erratic drumming technique, is unquestionably one of the best rock & roll drummers of all time. With his frenetic, hectic, and insane fills, he is the driving force behind The Who.
He was among the first drummers to use double bass drums on stage. He enjoyed experimenting with toms and cymbals, generating unusual beats and fills while guiding the band like an orchestra chef.
7. Phil Collins
Phil Collins is one of the most influential and famous drummers and musicians, with 150 million records sold worldwide. He didn’t only leave a mark in the drumming world but the music world as well. His very successful solo career, his career in Genesis as well as his involvement in Brand X are all gems for music as a whole.
Phil Collins is well-known for his amazing drum tones, in addition to his amazing drum abilities and technique. He was an early adopter of electronic drums and sounds. He used the Roland CR-78 as well as the Roland TR-808 with Genesis, which revolutionized percussion production approaches.
8. Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker is a rock drummer who helped redefine the role of the drums and become a superstar in the process. Mr. Baker gained global attention for his refined but aggressive approach to the drums when he joined the enormously famous British band Cream in 1966, alongside guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce.
Blind Faith is a second project Ginger Baker was a part of alongside Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton. “Beware of Mr. Baker” is a 2012 American documentary about the legend that was Ginger Baker.
9. Terry Bozzio
Terry Bozzio is an amazing drummer, mostly known for being the drummer of Frank Zappa during the 70s and playing with the prog rock band Missing Persons during the 80s.
He has established a distinct jazz and world-fusion approach that lifts the drums from a simple background beat to a creative driving force. Bozzio, in essence, is shattering every conventional assumption about drums. He has even invented new instruments as a result of his technique.
10. Clyde Stubblefield
Clyde Stubblefield, who created the foundations of the funk drumming style, is mostly known for playing with James Brown. Clyde’s creative playing style influenced a lot of genres, such as R&B, hip-hop, and jazz fusion.
His groovy beats and creative usage of the snare drum distinguish his playing style. Stubblefield became a legendary drummer due to his excellent rolling rhythms, cracking pops on the snare, and blistering use of the kick drum. His rhythms are frequently sampled in hip hop nowadays.
11. Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford, known as one of the finest progressive rock drummers, is a virtuoso drummer and percussionist who has played with renowned bands like Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson. He combines the technical characteristics of jazz with the dynamic and explosive energy of rock to create the sound of a “polymetric funk savant.”
With his masterful improvisations and great orchestral progressive drum tracks, he inspired a lot of drummers, such as Danny Carey, Mike Portnoy, and Chad Smith.
12. Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters’ front-man, is one of the most influential drummers of the 90s. Before creating the Foo Fighters, Dave was a drummer for Nirvana, where he gained immense popularity and a legendary status for his drumming skills.
He also played the most iconic drum intros and is a huge inspiration for a lot of young drummers. Even though he rarely plays drums now, he is still one of the most iconic rock drummers.
13. Mitch Mitchell
John Graham “Mitch” Mitchell is mostly known for his work in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He is one more drummer on this list that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the early 90s.
Mitch Mitchell’s playing was jazz-influenced, fast, and complex. He enjoyed playing several wonderful complex rudiment patterns in time with the song’s melodies and riffs. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 62 in 2008, but his legacy lives on.
14. Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr of The Beatles is one of the most influential drummers of all time. He is a highly dependable, incredibly steady drummer with a simple technique that popularized rock ‘n’ roll and influenced many drummers.
With his simple approach, Ringo Starr is widely regarded as a pop drummer. To appreciate Ringo Starr’s genius, listen to the isolated drum recordings of songs such as Rain, where his subtle, constant, and trustworthy drum performance can be heard.
15. Tony Williams
Tony Williams joined Miles Davis’s quintet. Even in his early performances and recordings with Davis, Williams demonstrated that he had not only mastered the jazz drumming language of his predecessors but that he was ready to take jazz drumming to the next level.
He was a big influence on many legendary drummers such as Terry Bozzio, Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, and many more. A lot of musicians consider Williams the first “fusion” drummer.
16. Danny Carey
Danny Carey of The Tool is one of the best modern-day progressive rock drummers. He has an unusual drumming technique centered on geometry, with awe-inspiring polyrhythmic, and odd-time signature drumming patterns.
Danny studied tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, extensively to improve hand coordination, as well as several drum rudiments with his feet to master double bass and hi-hat playing.
17. Charlie Watts
Charlie Watts was the unknown hero behind The Rolling Stones’ success, often remaining in the shadow of the luminaries Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. His outstanding whip-like drum beats and graceful and accurate playing style poured life into the band, allowing other members a lot of leeway.
Before Rolling Stones, Charlie started as a jazz drummer, which can be seen in his playing style. He didn’t usually use the hi-hat when he was grooving on the snare drum. This method produced a more isolated whip-like snare drum sound, giving his drum sound a distinct character.
18. Dave Weckl
Dave Weckl is one of the most accomplished jazz-fusion drummers. He is one of the most technical drummers that can effortlessly and perfectly play any genre. He mostly gained fame from being the leader of the Dave Weckl Band.
His playing style is distinctive because of the infectious grooves, memorable melodies, and complicated syncopated kicks with exceptional virtuosity. Dave has collaborated with many different artists, including Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Mike Stern, and Madonna.
19. Dave Lombardo
Dave Lombardo is the drummer and co-founder of the thrash metal band Slayer. He is known for his ultra-fast double-kick bass patterns. He is known as the “Godfather of the Double Bass,” and his playing style is aggressive and fast, with double-time heavy rhythms.
One thing that Dave mastered, while not many metal drummers have, is maintaining the dynamics while still being an aggressive and harsh drummer. A fun fact about Dave Lombardo is that he is left-handed but plays with a right-handed drum kit.
20. Chad Smith
Chad Smith is the man behind the funk-rock legends Red Hot Chili Peppers. He has a distinct playing style that falls in between John Bonham and Clyde Stubblefield, both of whom Smith idolizes.
Smith’s playing style is distinguished by his usage of ghost notes, heavy-hitting 4/4 rhythms, and non-straight eighth hi-hat patterns. He is without a doubt one of the most important drummers in late music history, with his funky and rough rhythms.
21. Bill Ward
Bill Ward of the heavy metal titans Black Sabbath was a pioneer of heavy metal drumming. His style may be regarded as forceful, dynamic, hefty, orchestrational, and loud. Ward discovered that his playing was at its finest when it showcased the other instrumentalists in Sabbath’s guitar-riff-centered songs.
Bill, along with Bonzo, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Moon, helped define the position of the drummer in a modern rock band, with his approach centered on the ideal blend of feel and technique.
22. Alex Van Halen
Alex Van Halen, known for his dynamic and strong drumming technique, is sometimes overlooked as a musician in the shadow of his brother, vocalist, and guitarist Eddie Van Halen. The warm tone of Van Halen’s snare drum, along with Eddie’s warm guitar tone, generated the distinctive “brown sound.”
His usage of tom-toms and hectic swing rhythms in songs like Hot For Teacher is the legendary partition that demonstrates his talent. He was constantly doing what the band required, whether it was fast or slow, with accuracy and consistency.
When his hand was fractured in four places during a gig in 1984, he attached the drumstick to his hand and performed with the same accuracy.
23. Mike Portnoy
Mike Portnoy is widely regarded as one of the greatest prog-rock drummers of all time, thanks in large part to his groundbreaking work with Dream Theater.
Many years later, after Dream Theater, he’s still regarded as one of the most outrageous and hardworking drummers on the scene today. He’s recorded over fifty albums and twenty-five videos, most of which he did with Dream Theater.
24. Travis Barker
Travis Barker of Blink-182 is one of the best punk drummers. With his quirky approach and outstanding stickwork, he elevated punk drumming to a new level. For the last 25 years, Travis has been one of the most influential drummers.
Travis is famous for playing marching rudiments with unusual accents on the snare drum that has somewhat become the Blink-182 signature bridge.
25. Tony Allen
Tony Allen, who co-created one of groove music’s most exquisite subgenres, Afrobeat, with vocalist/activist Fela Kuti, deserves a spot on the list of the best funk drummers of all time.
For almost four decades, he has honed a singular style that bursts with life, pulsates with rhythmic humor, and sends audiences into dance-party ecstasy.
26. Sheila E.
Sheila E. is a world-class drummer and percussionist who is best known for being Prince’s drummer. She also collaborated with some of the most successful and highly acclaimed musicians of all time, including Marvin Gaye, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, and Diana Ross.
With over 45 years in the music industry and an astounding drumming resume, Sheila E. is still a driving force in the music world.
27. Mel Taylor
The Venture’s Mel Taylor is one of the rare drummers that have made their name through hard work and dedication to improving the whole music industry. He toured and recorded with The Ventures from 1962 to 1996.
In the video linked above, you can see the genius playing and the showman that Mel used to be. The drum set was not enough, so he decided to play the bass guitar with his drumsticks.
28. Jimmy Van Eaton
Jimmy (J.M.) Van Eaton performed on a lot of Sun Records sessions in Memphis, adding that additional touch to many tracks. His collaboration with Jerry Lee Lewis was amazing; they played in perfect syncopation.
Despite working with a slew of one-off performers, he was also a semi-permanent member of Billy Lee Riley’s famed band, The Little Green Men.
29. Taylor Hawkins
Foo Fighter’s Taylor Hawkins performance was marked by superbly polished drum fills, airy verses based on staccato strikes, and a toothy grin that never left his face.
Hawkins formerly worked as the touring drummer for Alanis Morissette, as well as for the progressive experimental band Sylvia and his own solo project, Taylor Hawkins And The Coattail Riders.
30. Ian Paice
Deep Purple’s iconic drummer and co-founder Ian Paice is one of the most astounding musicians in rock history, despite not being the most technical drummer. Many rock and metal drummers were influenced by his amazing speed and outstanding hand-foot combinations.
The statement that he was the quickest player of his period can easily be supported by the video of Ian’s drum solo on The Mule. Ian Paice also had unrivaled single strokes and light-speed use of the single kick pedal.
Creating a list like this is almost an impossible job. Many talented drummers have left significant marks throughout their music careers. And most definitely, every musician will have their version of this kind of list, but there is no question that these 30 drummers are one of the most influential drummers in the industry.
John Bonham Featured Image (Top-Left) by: Dina Regine, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Keith Moon Featured Image (Bottom-Left) by: Keith_Moon_4_-The_Who-_1975.jpg: Jim Summariaderivative work: MachoCarioca, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Neil Peart Featured Image (Top-Right) by: Weatherman90 at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Gavin Harrison Featured Image (Bottom-Right) by: I, Lilly M, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons