100 most influential drummers of all time
3rd May 2011 | 10:52
Warren 'Baby' Dodds
Welcome to the 100 most influential drummers of all time. A celebration of the players that have shaped the drumming world and inspired future generations to take the art to new levels.
The list was put together by Rhythm magazine, its expert contributors, and over 50 world-class drummers - many of whom appear in this rundown.
So sit back, grab a stick to twirl and click through to see - in roughly age order - the drummers with the most enduring legacies, and 500 of their most essential tracks to download. First up: the inimitable Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds…
Dodds was the first important drummer of New Orleans jazz - master of the traps and percussion effects, the infectious tap dancing style, the press roll beat before hi-hats and ride cymbals came along. He was widely considered to be the first major player of our instrument, he directly influenced Chick, Gene and Buddy.
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band: Dipper Mouth Blues
Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers: Beale Street Blues
Louis Armstrong with King Oliver’s Jazz Band: Sobbin’ Blues
Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers: Wild Man Blues
Sidney Bechet Quartet ‘live’ drum solo: China Boy
Genre: Big Band swing
William Alexander Greer gave tremendous ‘lift’ and subtle swing to the Duke Ellington Orchestra from the early 1920s until his departure in 1951. His snare drum backbeat on Cotton Tail and other 1940 classic recordings was exemplary. Greer used percussion effects but rarely soloed, preferring instead to drive the band.
Duke Ellington Orchestra: Cotton Tail; Ko-Ko; Conga Brava; Harlem Air-Shaft; Take The A Train
'Papa' Jo Jones
Surely the most suave, elegant cat ever to grace the drums. It’s impossible to watch Jo without smiling. His taste, his purring swing and melodic solos are pure joy. He formed the first true rhythm section in Count Basie’s Orchestra and was the original and greatest artist of the hi-hat.
Lester Young: Lullaby Of Birdland
Count Basie and his Orchestra: One O’Clock Jump; Rockin’ The Blues
Jo Jones: Liza; Caravan
William Henry 'Chick' Webb
William Henry ‘Chick’ Webb was the first virtuoso of jazz drumming and pioneer of the big band swing movement with his own acclaimed orchestra. Gene Krupa famously bowed to Webb’s greater mastery and Buddy Rich borrowed heavily from Webb’s musical innovations. Rather cruelly, Webb was afflicted by tuberculosis of the spine and died at the age of just 34.
Chick Webb Orchestra: Liza (All the Clouds ‘ll Roll Away), Harlem Congo, Spinnin’ The Webb, Stomping at the Savoy, T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)
Superman, a drumming God, the Mozart of the drums. For nearly 70 years Buddy has been acclaimed as the world’s most naturally talented kit drummer. More than two decades after his death today’s leading drummers queue up to pay homage, to achieve a lifetime’s dream of ‘depping’ in his jazz orchestra.
Building on the early triumphs of Chick Webb, Jo Jones and Gene Krupa, Buddy made a quantum leap to a whole different level of virtuosity, the like of which has never been surpassed. In big bands and small, as a soloist and accompanist, he is simply the best.
Buddy Rich Big Band: West Side Story Medley; Channel One Suite
New Blues Buddy Rich: Brainwashed; The Monster
Kenneth ‘Klook’ Clarke originally played for dancers in nightclubs, giving him a great sense of time. In the early 1940s he pioneered a revolutionary new jazz style that switched time keeping to the ride cymbal. His left hand snare drum independence and bass drum accents became the basis of bebop.
Charlie Christian: Swing To Bop
Kenny Clarke: Now’s The Time
Miles Davis Jazz Giants: Airegin
Clarke-Boland Big Band: Milkshake
The most precise and musical of the beboppers, Max Roach demanded equal respect for the drummer as musician. With Kenny Clarke he transferred the pulse to the ride cymbal, then mastered previously unheard of tempos and four-limb coordination. His solos always closely followed the song structure, his melodicism extending to genuine, top-notch drum set compositions.
Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker: Salt Peanuts
Ellington, Mingus and Roach: Money Jungle
Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool
Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes; Drums Unlimited
While Kenny Clarke and Max Roach-led be-bop, Blakey, with his relentless, earthy, bluesy, African vibe, was the powerhouse behind ‘hard bop’. Bop genius Dizzy Gillespie described Blakey as the ‘volcano’. Art devoted his life to jazz, which he memorably described as,"the only truly original American art form".
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers: A Night In Tunisia; The Drum Thunder Suite; Blues March; Quicksilver; Lou’s Blues
Genre: Jazz, rock, sessions, TV, film
Back in the 1950s earl Palmer played on the hits of Little Richard and Eddie Cochran, timeless records which define rock ‘n’ roll. Before Earl, drummers played shuffles or swing, but earl straightened out the eighth notes and then emphasised the backbeat. That’s right - he just about invented modern rock drumming!
Fats Domino: I’m Walkin’
Little Richard: Tutti Frutti; Lucille
Eddie Cochran: Summertime Blues
The Righteous Brothers: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
A true pioneer DJ fontana started his professional career as the house drummer for the Louisiana Hayride radio show. Playing with a young upstart called Elvis Presley, Fontana single-handedly transformed the R’n’B shuffle into the rocking backbeat that shook the world. He was the original rock’n’roll drummer.
Elvis Presley: Jailhouse Rock; Hound Dog; Heartbreak Hotel; Blue Suede Shoes; King Creole
Genre: Jazz and blues
The electrified Chicago blues of the 1950s and 1960s was the foundation on which bands from The Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin based their riffs, feel and attitude. The pioneering blues drummers are still poorly recognised. Below, a trained jazz drummer, was one of the most skilful, important and influential.
Little Walter: Mean Old World
Muddy Waters: (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man
John Lee Hooker: One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
Howlin’ Wolf (live): Don’t Laugh At Me
Chuck Berry: School Days
After cutting his teeth as the house drummer for the Grand Old Opry, Buddy Harmon defined the Nashville sound by playing on an estimated 18,000 recording sessions beginning in 1951. He was vital in creating a place for the drums in country music with his smooth shuffle and matchless feel.
Roy Orbison: Pretty Woman
Elvis Presley: Little Sister
Johnny Cash: Ring Of Fire
Roger Miller: King Of The Road
Patsy Cline: Crazy
The original, the most inspirational of all, Gene thrust the kit drummer into the limelight in massive fashion, dominating the screen in several Hollywood movies. Totally mesmerising, he sparked the fashion for crowd-pleasing drum solos that has never really gone away, despite the best efforts of mean spirited music journalists.
Gene is remembered as a showman and - as with Keith Moon - sometimes this has obscured the fact that he was a great swinging drummer and a terrifically musical accompanist. He was also an innovator, responsible for shaping the modern drum kit with tunable double-headed toms, virtually unchanged up to today.
Benny Goodman: Tiger Rag; Swing, Swing, Swing
Gene Krupa Orchestra: Drum Boogie; No Name Drive; Lover
Italian-American renaissance man, Louie is not only one of the greatest ever drummers, but also a composer, bandleader, poet and the sweetest bloke alive. A total good-guy genius. He was the first with double bass drums, two decades before Keith Moon and his drum features with Duke Ellington’s orchestra are legendary.
The Duke Ellington Orchestra: Skin Deep; The Hawk Talks
Harold Farberman: Concerto for Jazz Drummer
Louie Bellson: Black Brown And Beige
Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson: Are You Ready For This?
Genre: Jazz and sessions
Ronnie was the best-loved big band drummer Britain ever produced. His style was economical, clean and dynamic with a perfect swing. He was also a top session drummer gracing records by Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield. He famously played animal on The Muppet Show, sparring with Buddy Rich.
The Ted Heath Orchestra: Hawaiian War Chant; Kings Cross Climax; Concerto For Verrell; Flying Home
Tom Jones: It’s Not Unusual
Elvin was probably the most exciting, innovative and passionate drummer of all. His relentless, circular style took the driving 4/4 of swing and bebop and turned it into a maelstrom of tumbling triplets. He sprayed beats poly-rhythmically all over the kit, showing a degree of ‘coordinated independence’. His four limbs and all elements of the kit seemed to carry equal weight and importance.
His playing, famously with John Coltrane, superficially appeared chaotic. Yet Elvin was always in control - jazz as the highest form of art.
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme, Part 1: Acknowledgment; Afro-Blue
John Coltrane Quartet: Chasin’ The Trane
Philly Joe and Elvin Jones: Beau-Ty
Larry Young: Monk’s Dream
Genre: modern jazz
Revered big band and small group drummer, Seamen spanned the bop to rock eras. Phil’s charismatic ‘American’ feel sparkled in a range of settings, from the Jack Parnell Orchestra to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Couriers. A major influence on Ginger Baker, Phil played with Ginger’s airforce as well as backing US stars Stan Getz and Zoot Sims.
Jack Parnell Orchestra: The Champ; Skin Deep; The Hawk Talk
Tony Lee Trio: Can’t Buy Me Love
Ginger Baker’s Airforce: Toad
Fusing European classical with cool jazz, Dave Brubeck’s Quartet topped world charts in 1959 with Take Five, a jazz single in 5/4 time which also featured a drum solo. Beat that! Joe’s fabulous technique made him a jazz great, while his mastery of odd time signatures inspired every later prog rock and fusion drummer.
Dave Brubeck Quartet: Take Five; It’s A Raggy Waltz; Blue Rondo A La Turk; Castillian Drums; Sounds Of The Loop
Genre: Big Band
One of Count basie’s most dynamic drummers, Payne was a dazzling showman who powered up the 1957 atomic Mr basie album. He was also a significant influence on rockers such as John Bonham and Nicko McBrain. Noted for a speedy bass drum foot, deft brushwork and snare rolls, Sonny frequently enthralled audiences with his show piece Old Man river.
Count Basie Orchestra: Whirly Birds; The Kid From Red Bank; Fantail; Cute; Ol’ Man River
Philly Joe Jones
Genre: modern jazz
Miles Davis once referred to him as "the fire that made things happen". Playing with Miles’ classic group in the late ‘50s - the same line-up that featured John Coltrane - Philly Joe proved a superb accompanist who anticipated every twist of a horn player’s mind. The telepathy between him and Miles alone ensured his place in the modern jazz drummers’ hall of fame.
Miles Davis Sextet: Blues No.2
Miles Davis Quintet: Billy Boy
Kenny Dorham: Philly Twist
Art Blakey: Wee Dot
Sonny Rollins: Tenor Madness
Genre: Big Band
Nicknamed ‘The Tailor’ Mel Lewis was a subtle, non-flashy player who supported rather than pushed such brash outfits as the Stan Kenton Orchestra and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band. Able to play fast tempos without tiring, Mel developed his own distinctive ‘sound’ using Turkish ride cymbals and wood shell Gretsch drums.
Stan Kenton Orchestra: Artistry Jumps; The Peanut Vendor; Lover; Eager Beaver
Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band: Blueport
Genre: Jazz, film, TV
Britain’s major pre-rock drumming star, Eric’s 1954 hit Oranges and Lemons thrust him reluctantly into the limelight. ever since, he’s fronted his own band, playing brilliant tuned percussion, timps and drums with flashing lights. Now performing well into his eighth decade, a freeman of the City of London, Eric’s a proper legend.
Eric Delaney: Oranges And Lemons; Big Noise From Winnetka; Rockin The Timps; Swingin’ The Blues; Bass Drum Boogie
Ringo inspired more youngsters by a mile to take up the drums than any other single drummer. What he did didn’t look that hard and he was obviously having a ball doing it. As rock got more complex through the ’60s it was routine to write off Ringo’s beats as easy and Ringo by implication as no great drummer, the one who got lucky. Many of us knew better.
Today his contribution and influence are widely recognised - the ultimate fat groove, perfect playing for the song, the idiosyncratic signature beats tied to the greatest rock tunes of all time.
The Beatles: Long Tall Sally; Rain; She Said, She Said; A Day In The Life; Something
Benny, together with Pistol Allen and Uriel Jones, were members of The Funk Brothers, the house band at Motown’s Detroit recording studio. Benjamin led the way in 1958, adapting his hard-swinging big band style to suit Berry Gordy’s pop sensibilities. The result was a new sound that had the whole world dancing in the streets.
Barrett Strong: Money (That’s What I Want)
The Contours: Do You Love Me
The Temptations: Get Ready
Martha And The Vandellas: (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave
The Miracles: The Tracks Of My Tears
The influence of Tony Meehan (and his equally classy Shadows replacement Brian Bennett) is quite incalculable. Those British drummers who went on to world fame took their lead from these two players. The teenage Tony was the very first British rock drummer to become a major star and he achieved it with great skill and style.
The Shadows: Apache; See You In My Drums (Tony Meehan)
The Shadows: Flingel Bunt; Little B (Brian Bennett)
Jet Harris and Tony Meehan: Diamonds
Often referred to as the father of modern jazz, Roy’s long career has included stints with many of the greats, notably Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny. Roy pioneered the flat ride cymbal and his crackling style has managed to sound modern seemingly forever and a day.
John Coltrane: One Down, One Up
Roy Haynes Trio: Shulie A Bop
Roy Haynes Quartet: Snap Crackle
Chick Corea: Samba Yantra
Pat Metheny: Solar
As drummer with The Wrecking Crew, the first wave of rock-savvy La session musicians, Hal dominated the LA studios of the ’60s and beyond. His list of credits runs to thousands and includes 40 No 1 hits. He also started the fashion for long rows of single headed toms in the late 1960s.
The Crystals: He’s A Rebel
The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations
The Byrds: Mr Tambourine Man
The Mamas And The Papas: Monday, Monday
Sonny And Cher: I Got You Babe
Al Jackson JR
Genre: Soul, R&B
As drummer in Booker T And The MGs, house band of the Memphis-based Stax/Volt label, Al Jackson provided the perfect rock steady beats behind the greatest sixties soul recordings - classics which are still pounded out by a thousand bar bands nightly. Jackson wrote the book on playing for the song.
Booker T And The MGs: Green Onions
Wilson Pickett: In The Midnight Hour
Eddie Floyd: Knock On Wood
Sam & Dave: Soul Man
Otis Redding: Shake
If you have anything more than the most passing interest in popular music, Tulsa-born Jim Keltner is undoubtedly somewhere in your house, having played with everyone from Eric Clapton and Steely Dan to the Travelling Wilburys.
Keltner was a successful session player when his participation on John Lennon’s Imagine shot his reputation into the stratosphere. He also played at rock’s first charity concert, the Concert For Bangladesh. He’s in your record collection now, playing a sweet groove.
Joe Cocker: Delta Lady
Travelling Wilburys: End Of The Line
Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down A Dream
Joe Walsh: The Confessor
John Hiatt: Thing Called Love
Back in the late 1950s, even singles featuring drum solos made it. The drum solo in pop and rock starts with Sandy Nelson and Ron Wilson (of The Surfaris). Let There Be Drums and Wipeout! launched a million school desk drummers.
Sandy Nelson: Let There Be Drums; Teen Beat; Drums Are My Beat; Drumming Up A Storm
The Surfaris: Wipe Out
The most admired of the ’60s drummers who flooded down from our Northern cities immediately following The Beatles. Flamboyant and accomplished, Bobby fired off incisive snare rolls and upper-cut his cymbals with rapier-like disdain. He inspired Charlie Watts, Ian Paice and Cozy Powell, and turned Mitch Mitchell from jazz to rock.
The Hollies: Just One Look; Stay; Here I Go Again; I’m Alive; Too Much Monkey Business
Keith and The Who were the bridge from cheeky, jaunty pop music to outrageous loud rock. Before Keith most rock drumming consisted of a steady beat punctuated by small regular fills. Keith’s concept was somewhat more unorthodox - a tsunami of washing cymbals and rolling drums, occasionally flooding over the chorus before ebbing back to start all over.
Luckily, his rollercoaster onslaughts complemented guitarist Pete Townshend’s flailing windmill lead-rhythm style. Which was just as well since he probably couldn’t have played in any other band. Despite all this, Keith was wonderfully musical, and surely the most original rock drummer ever to walk the planet.
The Who: My Generation; The Kids Are Alright; I Can See For Miles; Young Man Blues; Won’t Get Fooled Again
Tony was the first star of jazz-rock, Vinnie Colaiuta’s hero, just about everyone’s hero. Joining Miles Davis’s Quintet at 17 (in 1963) he was already a shockingly mature jazz talent and those early recordings ensure him jazz immortality. But he simultaneously ushered in a new era which led by the late ’60s to jazz-rock - music with jazz sensibility and complexity, but with amplified rock power.
Although he later returned to acoustic David Redfern/Redferns instrumentation, he kept the big drums, big cymbals, loud sound and attitude. Miles summed it up: "There ain’t but one Tony Williams when it comes to playing the drums".
Miles Davis Quintet: Walkin’
Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage
Tony Williams Lifetime: Vashkar
Tony Williams: Echo
The bedrock under The Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts gambled on giving up his career as a commercial artist to join the band in 1963. So far, it’s worked out okay. He brought a jazz lover’s refinement to rock’n’roll and can lend the simplest backbeat an unequalled elegance and infectious energy.
Rolling Stones: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction; Jumping Jack Flash; Honky Tonk Woman; Tumbling Dice; Start Me Up
Joseph 'Zigaboo' Modeliste
The Meters’ New Orleans instrumental funk may not reach as many ears as James Brown’s, but their sparing style is just as crucial. Godfather of Groove Zig Modeliste’s hard-edged Second Line funk and The Meters’ angular riffs influenced everyone from Little Feat and Funkadelic to Prince and the Chili Peppers.
The Meters: Cissy Strut; Hey Pocky-A-Way; Just Kissed My Baby; People Say
Dr. John: Shoo Fly Marches On
Mitch’s legacy is staggering when you think it all happened between 1967 and Hendrix’s death in 1970, encompassing arguably the three greatest rock albums ever. Mitch brought a jazz sensibility to rock, reacting with lightning reflexes to Hendrix’s every move. In this way Mitch presaged every jazz-rock fusion drummer who followed.
Jimi Hendrix: Purple Haze; Fire; Manic Depression; Third Stone From The Sun; Little Wing
Genre: heavy rock
One of the first heavy rock drummers, Carmine’s full blooded sound and awesome power gave pioneers Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and BB&A with Jeff Beck a tremendous boost. Carmine greatly influenced the young John Bonham, in particular with his ankle busting bass drum triplets and battering Ludwig snare drum attack.
Vanilla Fudge: You Keep Me Hangin’ On; Shotgun
Beck, Bogert & Appice: Black Cat Moan; Superstition
Cactus: Long Tall Sally
Maureen 'Moe' Tucker
Tucker’s lack of testicles was revolutionary enough when she joined The Velvet Underground in 1965, but it was her standing stance at a minimalist kit and preference for mallets over sticks that truly blazed her trail. For the latest evidence of her legacy, look no further than Glasvegas’ former drummer Caroline McKay.
The Velvet Underground: I’m Waiting For The Man; Heroin; Sunday Morning; Venus In Furs; All Tomorrow’s Parties
John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham is universally acclaimed the most influential rock drummer ever. He’s renowned for his peerless bass drum technique, his monumental open sound and unique groove. Led Zeppelin were progenitors of heavy metal, but they also incorporated elements of blues, folk, jazz, psychedelia and progressive rock.
And Bonzo was much more than just a heavy drummer. In his playing you can hear the swing of Buddy Rich, Max Roach and Joe Morello allied with the rocking power of Ginger Baker and Carmine Appice, rounded out with Motown pop and the soul grooves of Al Jackson and Bernard Purdie.
Led Zeppelin: Good Times, Bad Times; Rock And Roll; When The Levee Breaks; Kashmir; Fool In The Rain
Genre: Jazz and rock
Ginger formed the original supergroup Cream in 1966 alongside bassist Jack Bruce and guitarist Eric Clapton. He pioneered the use of double bass drums in rock, particularly in his monumental solo Toad which set a whole new standard. Although committed to jazz, Ginger laid the foundations for today’s rock.
Cream: Toad; Sunshine Of Your Love; Politician; Crossroads
Blind Faith: Do What You Like
This magnificently fast and emotive self-taught drummer provided both showmanship and creative support for outfits such as Deep Purple and Whitesnake. A buddy rich fan, Ian’s playing involves dazzling speed on tracks such as Purple’s Speed King, inspiring generations of young drummers.
Deep Purple: Fireball; The Mule; Black Night; Speed King; Wring That Neck
The mainstay of James Brown’s greatest period, Clyde’s considerable ability influenced legions of drummers, partially due to the fact that his incredible Funky Drummer performance was used by numerous ’80s producers, making Clyde the most sampled drummer ever. His silky, ghost note laden groove is funk perfection.
James Brown: Cold Sweat; The Funky Drummer; I Got The Feelin’; Ain’t It Funky Now; Mother Popcorn
Laying it down for Sly & The family Stone, Greg Errico had more pocket than a giant in dungarees. The band busted down musical barriers at will, blending soul, funk and even psychedelic rock. Underpinning it all was Errico’s impeccable syncopation and dance-floor friendly grooves.
Sly & The Family Stone: Dance To The Music; Love City; Hot Fun In The Summertime; Everyday People; Family Affair
As drummer with Bob Marley, Carlton’s beat is heard on the best-loved reggae recordings of all time. Relentlessly rehearsed by Marley, The Wailers became a formidable outfit with Carlton partnering his brother Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett on bass. Carlton’s distinctive broken triplet hi-hat style was copied wholesale by The Police’s Stewart Copeland.
Bob Marley And The Wailers: Could You Be Loved; Get Up, Stand Up; I Shot the Sheriff; Jamming; Stir It Up
Genre: Prog rock and jazz
Of the famous British drummers who stunned the world in the ’60s bill has been most successful at continuing to evolve, taking chances and staying relevant. Leaving Yes at the height of their popularity took guts. He conquered electronic drums in the ’80s before settling back to acoustic jazz.
Yes: Close To The Edge
King Crimson: One More Red Nightmare
David Torn: Previous Man
Earthworks: Stromboli Kicks
Genre: rock and pop
Singer, composer, big band leader and drummer, Phil Collins is a fine example of a drummer who is also a true musician. His work with Genesis alone would have ensured his fame but he imbues his vocal hits with rhythmic dash and vigour too, as on the cataclysmic In The Air Tonight, which features a wonderfully bombastic drum sound.
Phil is influenced by the likes of Sonny Payne, Sid Catlett and Buddy Rich and is an outstanding rock and jazz drummer, who is comfortable spanning genres and styles with ease.
Genesis: The Musical Box; Watcher Of The Skies; Mama
Phil Collins: In The Air Tonight
Phil Collins Big Band: The Los Endos Suite
Genre: Kraut rock
The influence of European bands is often overlooked. German ’70s band Can (‘communism, anarchism, nihilism’ according to Jaki) stretched the boundaries of experimental rock, mixing elements of underground, electronic, ambient, avant-garde with typically German intellectualism. Erstwhile jazz drummer Jaki held it all together with stark, pummelling, metronomically hypnotic grooves.
Can: Halleluhwah; Paperhouse; Mushroom; Future Days; Mother Sky
Genre: Progressive rock
With Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Carl Palmer turned ’70s classical rock into a massive stadium filler. Carl combined showmanship with fearsome chops and his training in classical-tuned percussion to devastating effect, along with some of the most stunning custom kits ever seen. Neil Peart is his direct descendent.
ELP: Jerusalem; Toccata; Tank; Fanfare For The Common Man
The Carl Palmer Band: Bullfrog
Cobham’s breakthrough with the Mahavishnu Orchestra around 1970 was a defining moment in drum history. With his massive double bass drum kit and unbelievably furious rolls he seemed almost to mock the puny efforts of his predecessors in both jazz and rock. Like Buddy Rich, Cobham was a jazz virtuoso who inspired rock drummers as much as jazzers.
He also introduced the truly modern extended kit, with mounted gong drum, upturned China trash-ride and pitched Octobans. Finally, he did all this playing ‘open-handed’, leading logically with his left so as not to cross over hands to the hi-hat.
Mahavishnu Orchestra: Celestial Terrestrial Commuters; Noonward Race
Miles Davis: Right Off (A Tribute To Jack Johnson)
Billy Cobham: Quadrant 4; Stratus
DeJohnette’s inspired drumming has been sought after since he first gained international recognition with Miles Davis in the late ’60s. His polyrhythmic approach combines elements of swing, beat and more far-flung styles into a singularly driving force. A brilliant improviser, his playing is at once instinctive and committed, yet musical and intelligent.
Miles Davis: What I Say
Trio Beyond: Emergency
John Surman: The Buccaneers
Michael Brecker: Slings And Arrows
Jack DeJohnette and Bill Frisell: The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers
Genre: heavy metal
Just as DJ Fontana laid the blueprint for rock’n’roll and Bonham built the template for hard rock, Bill Ward was the mastermind behind the unholy birth of heavy metal drumming. His playing on War Pigs is pure genius, balancing dark, brooding heaviness with bursts of crushing intensity. Kneel before him.
Black Sabbath: War Pigs; Sweet Leaf; Paranoid; Iron Man; Neon Knights
Following on from Bernard Purdie and the James Brown drummers, David Garibaldi’s learned approach to the funk has never obscured the feel and depth of his groove. With San Francisco’s Tower Of Power he laid down some of the finest ever funk tracks, which still confound drummers with their jewel-like precision and surprising complexity.
Tower Of Power: The Oakland Stroke; Squib Cakes; On The Serious Side; Man From The Past; Soul Vaccination
In a career than spanned three decades, Cozy Powell reigned as the mightiest drummer in all of rock. He played with Jeff Beck, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, MSG and still found time to make hit records as a solo artist. He had the chops, groove and charisma of a superstar.
Rainbow: Love Live Rock’n’Roll; Since You’ve Been Gone
Cozy Powell: Killer
Whitesnake: Slide It In
Black Sabbath: When Death Calls
Combining a jazz drummer’s gift for improvisation with a funk master’s pocket and groove, Harvey Mason was a pioneer in the jazz-funk fusion scene. He caught the jazz world’s ear with his work with Donald Byrd in the 1970s before hooking up with Herbie Hancock in the seminal Head Hunters.
Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters: Watermelon Man
George Benson: This Masquerade
Fourplay: 101 Eastbound
Harvey Mason: Groovin’ You; Sho Nuff Groove
Riffs as meaty as Queen’s require drums of extreme power and precision, but the music laid down by Messrs Mercury, May, Deacon and Taylor doesn’t stop at hard rock. Drummer roger Taylor has also delivered beats of surpassing excellence for the band’s funk tunes and piano ballads, displaying the kind of versatility that you would expect from one of this country’s greatest sticksmen.
Queen: We Will Rock You; Stone Cold Crazy; Flash; Another One Bites The Dust; Fat Bottomed Girls
Genre: Jazz, pop, fusion, Latin, session work
Drumming can be defined as before and after swing, bebop, rock... and it can be defined as before and after Steve Gadd. His impact is that important. Steve brought to the studio a clarity and precision which foretold the digital age.
Slipping linear grooves into impossibly hip pockets, no wonder every other drummer suddenly sounded old hat. Gadd clones abounded. But what set apart the original is not just the perfection of technique. It’s when you add in the passion and intensity, the deepest groove of all, then you understand why he’s revered like no other drummer alive.
Paul Simon: Late In The Evening
Steely Dan: Aja
Chick Corea: Sicily; The Trial
Stanley Clarke: Silly Putty
Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie
Genre: Soul, pop sessions
Acid-jazz hero Bernard brought soul and funk to the New York session scene of the ’60s. No shrinking violet he carried a placard: “Pretty Purdie. the little old hit maker”. His trademark hi-hat barks and Purdie Shuffle add to the sophistication of top artists such as Roberta Black, BB King and Nina Simone.
Steely Dan: Babylon Sisters
King Curtis, Live: Memphis Soul Stew
Aretha Franklin: Until You Come Back To Me
Hall And Oates: She’s Gone
Dizzy Gillespie: Christopher Columbus
While many great drummers tread the clinic path Terry is the only one who’s developed his melodic ostinato concepts to become a true concert artist - the first kit player promoting concerts of original percussion compositions to the wider public. These compositions are made possible through a massively expanded kit with chromatically tuned toms.
Frank Zappa: The Black Page; The Purple Lagoon
Brecker Brothers: Skunk Funk
Jeff Beck: Big Block
Terry Bozzio: Solo Drum Music
The son of jazz drummer Joe Porcaro, Jeff was one of three musical brothers in the band Toto. away from his siblings Jeff carved out a niche the size of the Grand Canyon playing sessions, creating mega-pop with Michael Jackson and Madonna. Jeff’s inimitable style is encapsulated on Toto’s Rosanna.
Toto: Rosanna; Africa
Tommy Bolin: Teaser
Steely Dan: Black Friday; Night by Night
When ’70s prog rock was devastated by the arrival of punk the only cool alternative around was ska/reggae. Copeland and his band The Police uniquely combined rock with reggae in one of the most skilful fusions that pop has ever witnessed.
Manic punk energy collided with the spaced out half-time rhythms of Jamaica. Copeland mixed the broken triplet hi-hat grooves of Bob Marley’s Carlton Barrett with his own explosive rock sensibility. Over this he laid tiny splashes and high pitched percussive elements reflecting his childhood growing up in Beirut. The resulting fusion shaped one of rock’s most imitated stylists.
The Police: Roxanne; Walking On The Moon; So Lonely; Driven to Tears; Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
The Professor remains one of the most revered players in rock more than 30 years after his debut on Rush’s Fly By Night. Peart’s ability to craft meticulously detailed and musically complex drum parts has justly earned him a legion of fans and he maintains a tireless pursuit of excellence.
Rush: Cygnus X-1; Spirit Of Radio; Tom Sawyer; Leave That Thing Alone; One Little Victory
Genre: hard rock
Proving rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution, the rock hard signature backbeat of AC/DC’s Phil Rudd is like a solid, no fuss meal at your local pub. His less-is-more power play and behind-the-beat groove has inspired chopsmiths the world over to play with feel and master the 2 and 4.
AC/DC: It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll); Highway To Hell; Back In Black; You Shook Me All Night Long; Rock ‘n’ Roll Train
Genre: Punk rock
Alongside Sex Pistol Paul Cook, Topper Headon was the driving force of punk and an unlikely choice for The Clash with his background in soul and jazz. But he soon turned out to be the band’s secret weapon, helping them to assimilate all sorts of styles, from funk and reggae to jazz and rockabilly.
His drumming pushed the band to new impressive heights, while his hi-hat work and driving snare-kick patterns are simply masterful.
The Clash: Rock The Casbah; Train In Vain; Rudie Can’t Fail
The Sex Pistols: Holidays In The Sun; Anarchy In The UK
The sadly missed Tony Thompson put the power into pop. Working with Nile Rodgers in Chic he could hammer a four-on-the-floor disco beat with a vengeance. When the disco era staggered to a close, he played on Madonna’s Like A Virgin and even performed with Led Zeppelin at Live Aid.
Chic: Le Freak
Sister Sledge: We Are Family
Robert Palmer: Addicted To Love
David Bowie: Let’s Dance
The Power Station: Some Like It Hot
Alex Van Halen
While the singers have come and gone, Alex Van Halen has always been the backbone of Van Halen, providing the foundation for his brother Edward’s fretboard pyrotechnics. Alex’s versatility has allowed him to tackle everything from the aggressive Outta Love Again to the double kick shuffle of Hot For Teacher with aplomb.
Van Halen: Dance The Night Away; Outta Love Again; Jamie’s Cryin’; Romeo Delight; Hot For Teacher
Known simply as Sly and Robbie, Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare are the most celebrated rhythm section and production team in reggae. Somehow they have managed to mix dancehall and funk, rock and electronica into the hippest and infectious mix imaginable. In the course of their playing they have appeared with artists as diverse as The Stones, Sinead O’ Connor and Bob Dylan.
Peter Tosh: Legalise It
Grace Jones: Nightclubbing; Pull Up To The Bumper
Black Uhuru: Spongi Reggae; Happiness
Genre: Jazz, rock, fusion
For three decades Steve Smith has been one of the most respected drummers on the planet. He’s done it all: rock star with Journey, fusion with Steps Ahead, jazz with Buddy’s Buddies, Indo-fusion with Zakir Hussain. and his vital mission to educate everyone on the depth of American music makes him a top role model.
Steps Ahead: Cajun
Vital Tech Tones: Subzero
Vital Information: Cranial Jam
George Brooks Summit: Stitching Time
Steve Smith and Buddy’s Buddies: Cool
It takes a pretty relaxed drummer to relinquish the throne when a band goes electronic, but that’s just what Stephen Morris did in the late ‘80s with New Order - handing over his super-solid beats (pretty machine-like themselves) to a computer.
Morris, of course, came to light with that band’s previous incarnation, Joy Division, utilising electronic drum pads and drum machines in a diverse range of rhythm shifts, rolls and beats that helped define the post-punk sound and fuel frontman Ian Curtis’s fevered gyrations. Stephen is the master of simplicity, adding microsecond-precise kick drum and snare to both band’s hugely influential sounds.
Joy Division: She’s Lost Control; Transmission
New Order: The Perfect Kiss; Bizarre Love Triangle; True Faith
Genre: rock, jazz, sessions
Vinnie is regarded by his peers as the most advanced kit drummer of our age. It’s his musical brain that marks him. When he goes ‘out’, drummers shake their heads... “What was that?” “No idea, but I absolutely loved it”. However crazy the fills, Vinnie knows exactly what he’s doing... and he still grooves.
Frank Zappa: Keep It Greasy
Joni Mitchell: You Dream Flat Tyres
Vinnie Colaiuta: Bruce Lee
Karizma: Nothing Personal
Jeff Beck: Big Block
Genre: heavy metal
Iron Maiden, the unstoppable metal behemoth, have been driven for over three decades by Clive Burr and Nicko McBrain. The former, who is now sidelined by illness, played raw and powerful drums that added a real passion to the band’s sound, while the latter is more of a technician, applying exquisitely precise rolls to Maiden’s famous galloping riffs. Troopers to a man!
Iron Maiden: (Burr) Purgatory; Run To The Hills
Iron Maiden (McBrain): The Trooper; 2 Minutes To Midnight; Can I Play With Madness
Genre: Glam metal
Cynics dismiss him as a drugs dustbin, but even at the height of his hedonism, the Crüe’s only world-class musician was more influential than actually under the influence. With his manic fills, monster power and gonzoid solos, Lee put more arses on stools in the ’80s than anyone else. and he did it upside-down.
Mötley Crüe: Live Wire; Too Fast For Love; Wildside; Dr. Feelgood; Girls, Girls, Girls
Sheila Escovedo raps as well as she drums, which is to say brilliantly. Although her career has been understated since the phenomenal success of Prince’s Sign ‘O’ The Times and Lovesexy albums back in 1987 and ’88, those albums contain more flash and funk than most drummers squeeze into an entire career.
Prince: Housequake; The Cross; Starfish And Coffee; Alphabet Street; Dance On
Genre: heavy metal
Proof that you don’t need super-chops to rise to the top of the rock pile, Lars Ulrich applies solid rather than scintillating skills to the kit, excelling at short, single-stroke rolls and double kick drums. He has an ear for unusual rhythms (remember the main drum riff in the song ...And Justice For All?) and if big crash cymbals are your thing, look no further.
Metallica: Motorbreath; Fight Fire With Fire; ...And Justice For All; Sad But True; Frantic
Genre: heavy metal
Alongside Dave Lombardo and Lars Ulrich, New York’s Charlie Benante was vital to the development of thrash metal in the 1980s. With dizzying fleetness of hand and foot, Benante exemplifies what makes thrash so thrilling. As one of Anthrax’s main songwriters, his demanding drum parts are integral to every track.
Anthrax: Madhouse; Caught In A Mosh; Got The Time; Only; What Doesn’t Die
Dave breathtakingly weaved acoustic and electronic drums in Chick Corea’s ’80s Elektric Band. His post-machine, post-Gadd precision heralded a new age in jazz-fusion drumming. Observers were staggered and yet some simultaneously suggested
that he lacked feel. You just can’t win! Dave’s subsequent, massively varied volume of work has surely proven them all wrong.
Chick Corea Elektric Band: Rumble
Chick Corea Akoustic Band: Spain
Dave Weckl Band: Mud Sauce; High Life
Robert Plant: Rockin’ At Midnight
Genre: heavy metal
An influence on every single extreme metal drummer ever (but delivering numbingly tight chops on prog, world and classical releases too), Slayer sticksman Dave Lombardo has few equals when he gets his groove on. Watch out for his famous ‘falling-through-the-drums’ fills, which somehow always come off despite their length and complexity.
Slayer: Necrophobic, Raining Blood, Ghosts Of War, Flesh Storm, Supremist
With Rites Of Spring he created emo, and from the late ’80s and through the ’90s, Fugazi’s DIY values shaped the temperament and tone of American hardcore. A multi-instrumentalist, Canty’s measured rhythm changes, rim shots and explosive bursts of power glued their distinctive sounds together.
Fugazi: Latin Roots; Waiting Room; Repeater
Rites Of Spring: Drink Deep
Bob Mould: Stupid Now
Genre: Progressive metal
Prog metal was a joke when Mike co-founded Dream Theater, but they have redefined the genre, releasing albums of complexity and ambition. Some think that DT sacrificed good songwriting for technicality, but 10 million album sales can’t be wrong, eh?
Dream Theater: Pull Me Under; The Mirror; A Change Of Seasons; Just Let Me Breathe
Liquid Tension Experiment: Kindred Spirits
Genre: Funk, jazz, fusion
An extended apprenticeship with funksters collective Parliament-Funkadelic ensured Chambers had the deepest groove. but no one expected what happened when he crossed over to jazz in the eighties. Dennis the menace suddenly became the hottest drummer alive. Sought by everyone, from McLaughlin and Scofield to Santana and Steely Dan.
P-Funk All Stars Live: Cosmic Slop
John Scofield: The Nag
Bob Berg: Nature of the Beast
Dennis Chambers: Baltimore DC; Outbreak
Chad is a throwback to the times when the best players were also the biggest rock stars. With a wicked right foot like his hero John Bonham, he mixes rock and funk in equal measure, plays with awesome power and yet always manages to groove, to keep it funky. Chad also gives back to the drumming community at every opportunity through hugely popular clinic appearances.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Tell Me Baby; Give It Away; Suck My Kiss; By The Way Wu-Tang Clan: Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’Wit
Genre: heavy metal
In 1992 Pantera transformed heavy metal with their Vulgar Display Of Power. Vinnie Paul’s monster drumming is heavier than a black hole and always grooving. His sound was copied by a generation of metal players who tried to replicate his combination of sledgehammer power and irresistible pocket.
Pantera: Cowboys From Hell; Mouth For War; Walk
Grohl’s combination of hardcore power, punk fury and hard rock groove was intrinsic to Nirvana’s sound. His massive subsequent success with the Foo Fighters and numerous memorable guest spots for QOTSA, Juliette And The Licks, Killing Joke and even Tenacious D have cemented his place as alternative rock’s most recognisable drummer.
Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit; Drain You
Foo Fighters: Monkey Wrench; My Poor Brain
Queens Of The Stone Age: No One Knows
A pioneer of the Seattle grunge explosion, Cameron’s funkadelic and Led Zep-tinged jazz beats have earned him the ‘Steve Gadd of the rock world’ moniker. His intuitive odd time twists, turns, ghost note garnishes and sheer musicality have raised the bar in trap set taste, dynamics and groove.
Temple Of The Dog: Wooden Jesus
Soundgarden: Jesus Christ Pose; Rusty Cage; Spoonman
Pearl Jam: Cropduster
Genre: heavy metal
Bringing the cowbell back into vogue is just one of Brad Wilk’s achievements, although he applied it more often with rap-metallers Rage Against The Machine than with audioslave, in which he did his best John Bonham impression. Super-tight hi-hat and beats that bring a crisp, almost funky feel to the table are his forte.
Rage Against The Machine: Killing In The Name; Bullet In The Head; Bulls On Parade
Audioslave: Cochise; Your Time Has Come
Genre: Jazz, rock, soul
If there is one thing to know about Cindy Blackman, it is that she can not only play any style she turns her hand to but excels at everything she does. She famously toured with rocker Lenny Kravitz and has been soulful with Joss Stone, but her true love remains jazz.
Joss Stone: Super Duper Love; Right To Be Wrong
Lenny Kravitz Live: Are You Gonna Go My Way?
Cindy Blackman: Spank, Teeter Totter; The Drums And Me
Genre: Punk rock
Green Day may not play fusion or write songs in freaky time signatures, but playing punk rock demands boundless energy, speed and the ability to make an arena full of people go berserk by nailing those twos and fours with absolute assurance. Tré Cool has all these qualities in spades.
Green Day: Welcome To Paradise; Geek Stink Breath; Nice Guys Finish Last; Warning; Jesus Of Surburbia
Horacio 'El Negro' Hernandez
Genre: Latin, jazz
El Negro was not the first Latin kit player to maintain a left foot clavé ostinato, but he was the one who did it most comprehensively, musically, coolly and downright effortlessly. He laid down the gauntlet and initiated a drumming revolution.
Michel Camilo: This Way Out; Dichotomy
Roy Hargroves: Mr Bruce; Afrodisia
Italuba: Last Minute
Nicknamed ‘the Bruce Lee of drums’ because of his speed, accuracy and adaptability, Josh Freese has lent his magic touch to everyone from Avril Lavigne to Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails and Katy Perry. Somehow he always makes it look easy which is either deeply inspiring or liable to induce intense jealousy all round.
Dweezil Zappa: Shoogagoogagunga
Suicidal Tendencies: Monopoly On Sorrow
A Perfect Circle: Judith; The Outsider
Trained as a jazz drummer, Chamberlin’s style was integral to The Smashing Pumpkins. Propelling songs with intensely quick snare rolls and flourishes, he is a master of unleashing dynamics with the lightest of touch. He also teaches clinics and has his own band, The Jimmy Chamberlin Complex.
The Smashing Pumpkins: Cherub Rock; Geek USA; Tales of A Scorched Earth; Tonight, Tonight
Jimmy Chamberlin Complex: Cranes Of Prey
In a genre that is utterly dominated by programmers and samples, The roots’ Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson serves as a constant reminder that there is no substitute for the creativity of a live drummer. Gigging since he was seven years old, ?uestlove’s timekeeping is metronomic but never mechanical as he owns the beat.
The Roots: Do You Want More?; Mellow My Man; Din Da Da
Joss Stone: Fell In Love With A Boy
Toots And The Maytals: Funky Kingston
Genre: Progressive metal
Tool used to be lumped in with the nu-metal movement, which is funny when you think that drummer and founder Carey is fond of some fiendishly complex polyrhythms that would send Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit sobbing to their mothers. He’s also an expert in the occult and, er, basketball as well.
Tool: Opiate; Stinkfist; Ænema; Lateralus; Schism
Genre: Punk rock
Proof that punk and talent are not mutually exclusive (see also Tré Cool & Topper Headon), Barker hit the scene with Blink-182 in a blur of hands and body ink, coaxing millennial youth into the drum showroom and raising their standards with a style flavoured by ska, hip-hop, jazz and marching drums.
Numerous production credits, rap remixes and a recent solo album have raised his credentials as a musical chameleon.
Blink 182: Adam’s Song; All The Small Things; Feeling This
+44: When Your Heart Stops Beating
Boxcar Racer: I Feel So
Genre: heavy metal
You wouldn’t want to find him hiding in your wardrobe, but the scariest thing about Jordison is the brutal double kick work that has elevated his band from pantomime villains to metal overlords since 1999’s Slipknot. He is the face, hands and feet of modern metal. No wonder he’s #1.
Slipknot: Surfacing; Opium Of The People; The Blister Exists; Duality; Danger - Keep Away
Genre: Progressive metal
Whether hitting hard with Dillinger Escape Plan or Coheed And Cambria, Chris Pennie plays things that you and I never will. The complexity of his playing and the vast scope of his knowledge make him one of the world’s most impossible-to-emulate drummers - and he’s a nice guy too.
Dillinger Escape Plan: Calculating Infinity; Pig Latin; Unretrofied; Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants; The Perfect Design
Genre: Prog rock
With his fiendish, mathematical ‘rhythmic illusions’ for years Gavin seemed a man ahead of his time. But more drummers are turning on to his intelligent and super-tight drumming with Porcupine Tree. A new British drumming hero at last and about time too!
Porcupine Tree: Anesthetize; Nil Recurring
Yasuaki Shimizu: Aduna
Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin: New Jerusalem
05Ric and Gavin Harrison: Sailing
Genre: rock, pop sessions
As the world’s No 1 drum clinician, Austrian drum maestro Lang is equally at home playing teeny pop as he is with brain-fryingly complex prog rock. Few musicians could ever have worked with Irish pop pip-squeaks B*Witched and prog legend John Wetton, but Thomas Lang manages to pull it off without even breaking into a sweat.
Thomas’ best-selling tuition DVDs and his technically astounding drum clinics all confirm his truly inspirational status.
John Wetton: Arkangel; Desperate Times
Thomas Lang: Ec Ce Machina; Rhetoric Of Rhythm; Grooveomat
Without Howard’s supermassive beats, Muse would be as inconsequential as a puff of space dust. The 31-year-old wizard is the rock ‘n’ roll substance to Matt Bellamy’s operatic whimsy; an out-of-this world technician who plays with a human passion, and a real beacon of pedigree amongst his hit ‘n’ hope peers.
Muse: Assassin; New Born; Apocalypse Please; Butterflies And Hurricanes; Stockholm Syndrome
Genre: heavy metal
Who would have ever thought that a band naming themselves ‘Breast Beast’ and playing mega-aggressive prog-metal would have managed to break big in this relentlessly cynical day and age? Well think again. With flames tattooed on his throat, Mastodon’s fiery drummer Dailor has been absolutely vital to their success.
What’s more, his thunderous, fill-heavy beats have prompted none other than Dave Grohl to pronounce him as “the best drummer in the world”.
Mastodon: Megalodon; The Wolf Is Loose; Crystal Skull; Colony Of Birchmen; Capillarian Crest
Genre: Prog rock
With odd time signatures and a wilful disregard for the limits of genre, The Mars Volta play music that is explosively imaginative and dizzying in depth. First bolstered by the brilliant Jon Theodore and now by the prodigious Thomas Pridgen, both players are technical giants and they have both risen to the challenge of such inventive composition spectacularly well. Mind-blowing stuff.
The Mars Volta: Drunkship Of Lanterns; Cicatriz ESP; Vermicide; Wax Simulcra; Goliath
Genre: Drum’n’Bass/Fusion after starting out performing with jazz giants Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone, JoJo Mayer entered uncharted territory by performing drum’n’bass and jungle rhythms on acoustic drums. famed for his prodigious technique, Mayer has become a major star of the drum clinic circuit.
JoJo Mayer: Secret Weapons For The Modern Drummer
Nerve: Lunar Crush; Pacifica
Screaming Headless Torso: Blue In Green; Another Sucka
Liked this? Now read: 100 greatest drum beats of all time
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