20 monster drum solos by 20 monster drummers
1st Mar 2011 | 12:46
Soloing rock legends and jazz greats captured on film
The high priest of drums: John Bonham circa 1973 © Neal Preston/CORBIS
Pity the poor drummer. Stuck at the back and doing all the heavy lifting, musically speaking. If a guitarist hits a bum note, it's no big deal, but if a drummer fluffs a beat, the whole song stumbles. So, in honour of Solo Week on MusicRadar, it's time to give the drummer some love with a collection of stunning solos.
Of course, when drum solos are done badly, they provide the perfect excuse to go to the bar for another pint or pop to the loo because you've had too many pints. But when a drum solo is done right, when the player has not only speed and volume but the ability to say something with the drums, they can be totally riveting.
Take it away, you beautiful mad men of the skins...
20. Asaf Sirkis
One of the best jazz fusion drummers in the UK and a fast rising star, Israeli ex-pat Asaf Sirkis cuts loose with a drum break during a set with his trio. Sirkis doesn't just have the chops to impress, but he has a huge vocabulary at his command when he takes a solo.
The London-based sticksman plays with total commitment, but he never gets lost or loses focus for even a second in this solo spot. He brings the best of both worlds to the table, with the finesse of jazz and the drive and bluster of rock.
Next: John Tempesta
19. John Tempesta
John Tempesta has held down the drum throne for the likes of Rob Zombie, Helmet and Exodus and now plays with The Cult. He may not be a household name outside of the drumming community, but Tempesta has chops to spare and more power than a nuclear reactor.
To hear John doing his thrash thing, track down a copy of Testament's album Low, or to get his sound check out his Signature snare drum from Tama. In the meantime, feel free to be thoroughly flattened by his energy and groove in this clip.
Next: Stanton Moore
18. Stanton Moore
Time to clog up your speakers with some nasty New Orleans funk drumming. Stanton Moore is the heir apparent to the distinctive school of funk playing found in The Big Easy. His patterns are inspired by the second line beats of the city's marching bands but Moore gives them all a modern spin. It's impossible to listen to him play without wanting to move to the music.
Next: Roger Taylor
17. Roger Taylor
Queen were never a band to do anything by half measures, a point aptly demonstrated by Roger Taylor's glorious solo. Taylor was a member of the generation of great British rock drummers that included Bonham, Ian Paice and Cozy Powell. They played huge drums and always hit them with bad intentions.
Not content with just playing his kit, Taylor goes to town on a pair of timpani in a manner sure to put any member of the London Philharmonic into cardiac arrest. Over the top? Absolutely. Entertaining? Unquestionably.
Next: Ed Thigpen
16. Ed Thigpen
If all these solos are putting too much wear and tear on your ear drums, take the volume down for just a moment and marvel at the late, great and sorely missed Ed Thigpen in action with nothing but brushes and a snare drum. Thigpen was one of the great swing drummers, playing on thousands of albums in his lifetime.
His most celebrated work came during his tenure with the Oscar Peterson Trio and to give you some idea of just how musical Ed was on the drums, he was brought in to replace a guitarist who had just left.
Next: Mike Portnoy
15. Mike Portnoy
One drum kit is not enough to contain the mighty power of Mike Portnoy and the prog giant even manages to keep playing without missing a beat as he moves from his enormous monster kit to a somewhat more modest setup.
Portnoy's departure from Dream Theater last year shocked his legions of fans across the world, but he has not been idle since jumping ship. He recorded and toured with Avenged Sevenfold and still plays with prog supergroup Transatlantic. You simply can't keep a good drummer quiet.
Next: Papa Jo Jones
14. Papa Jo Jones
Taken from a performance from the famous Jazz At The Philharmonic series, this clip features a stellar line up that includes Oscar Peterson on piano, Roy Eldridge on trumpet and Papa Jo Jones laying waste to the rhythms. The solo comes in just after the two minute mark and Jones shows just how many different sounds can be coaxed out of a single drum.
The look on Jones' face speaks volumes about how much this particular master enjoyed practising his trade. His playing is exuberant, inventive and utterly joyous.
Next: Joey Jordison
13. Joey Jordison
This list just wouldn't be complete without the reigning king of metal and the winner of Rhythm's readers poll for The 20 Greatest Drummers Of The Last 25 Years - the man in the mask, Joey Jordison. Playing with Slipknot, Joey brought the blastbeat to the masses and if you're lucky, you might have caught him in action on the road with Rob Zombie recently.
As the last Slipknot record bears testament, Joey is never content to play verse/chorus/repeat but crafts unique drum parts for every section of his songs. Plus he's furiously fast and frighteningly loud.
Next: Dennis Chambers
12. Dennis Chambers
The mercurial and prodigiously gifted Dennis Chambers seems to be able to turn his hand to almost any musical situation. When he was still a teenager he was invited to join James Brown's band, but had to decline since his mother wouldn't let him go on tour. Instead Chambers shot to fame playing deeply nasty grooves with Parliament and Funkadelic.
If it wasn't impressive enough that he had one of the all-time great funk pockets, he went on to dazzle as a fusion star. He's so relaxed in this clip that he makes it all look easy. Don't be fooled.
Next: Billy Cobham
11. Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham is totally in the zone on this magnificent performance from 1989. Cobham was one of the pioneers of fusion drumming - the head-on collision between jazz and rock that was all the rage in the late '60s and early '70s. Cobham's double bass drum shuffle on the track Quadrant 4, recorded with his band Spectrum, was the inspiration for a legion of players to get busy with their feet.
More recently Cobham has been exploring Latin rhythms with the band Asere, still playing with the same relentless energy on display here.
Next: Max Roach
10. Max Roach
The jazz master delivers a beautiful solo, showing why he was one of the most elegant and expressive players ever to sit behind a set of drums. Don't let the fact that he isn't making a lot of noise fool you into thinking this is simple stuff.
Max sets up a 5/4 pattern with his feet then improvises over the top with his hands. He moves between quiet flourishes and bursts of speed, reminding the listener that while the drums can be thunderous, they can also be as refreshing as summer rain.
Next: Neil Peart
9. Neil Peart
Rush's Neil Peart may not have the improvisational gift of the great jazz players, but as a composer on the drums he has few rivals. Peart's ability to play his unforgiving and technically intimidating solo note-for-note night after night is testament to his dedication and skill.
He switches between electronic and acoustic instruments and Peart even wraps up with a tribute to his swinging big band heroes. Still, looking at that imposing set-up, it's hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for the drum tech that has to build that monster every night.
8. Louis Bellson - Skin Deep
An astounding showcase of technique and invention from the man who was Duke Ellington's favourite drummer. Bellson is credited as being the first player to use two bass drums and his facility with both hands and feet is dizzying.
This solo comes from the track 'Skin Deep', which can be found on the album Ellington Uptown, and was a trademark of Bellson's performances with the celebrated composer. He switches between brushes and sticks but his articulation is never than less than perfect with whatever he has in his hands.
Next: Dave Weckl
7. Dave Weckl
Good luck keeping up with this one, all you drummers out there. Dave Weckl rose to prominence making intimidating and demanding fusion with pianist Chick Corea while building a successful career as a session player in New York. Three decades on Weckl remains the drummer of choice for contemporary jazz and fusion artists, he records his own projects and is often hailed by his peers as the best and brightest of his generation.
Here we see Weckl perform a solo incorporating Latin rhythms and, as quickly becomes apparent watching him in full flow, the man can play literally anything.
6. Cozy Powell - The 1812 Overture
Big drums, big cymbals and a really big solo, legendary British skin pounder Cozy Powell is captured here with his signature piece, playing along to The 1812 Overture. There should be a picture of Cozy from this solo next to the word 'Bombastic' in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Cozy played with the biggest bands in rock - Rainbow, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath to name but three - and his thunderous power on the kit could only be accurately measured on the Richter scale.
5. Steve Gadd - Keep The Customer Satisfied
Steve Gadd is a drummer's drummer. Here he is playing a solo in a performance of Keep The Customer Satisfied with the Buddy Rich Big Band. Gadd is one of the most creative players in the business and in constant demand as a studio player.
His drum parts for the Paul Simon classics Late In The Evening and 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover are so integral to the songs that it is impossible to imagine them played by anyone else. And, as he proves here, he can swing like a monkey hanging from a tree in a hurricane.
Next: Gene Krupa
4. Gene Krupa - Big Noise From Winnetka
Krupa was the original wild man of the skins and his unbridled energy helped launch the swing era. While he is best known now for his work with big bands, particular the Benny Goodman Orchestra and his own Gene Krupa Orchestra, the king of swing did much of his best work in small groups.
The evidence is here in this irresistible performance of Big Noise From Winnetka. Krupa takes a drum break then leaves the kit to play on the double bass - with his sticks. Without Krupa, drummers would still be stuck at the back, ignored and unloved.
Next: John Bonham - Moby Dick
3. John Bonham - Moby Dick
Moby Dick remains the standard against which all rock drum solos are measured. Bonham's influences are apparent - he took ideas from the likes of Max Roach and Joe Morello, amped up the volume and introduced them to a rock audience. Bonham played like a man possessed but he always maintained a solid groove even when attacking the drums as though they had spilt his pint just after last orders.
For an entire generation of rock and metal players, Bonzo will forever be hailed as the high priest of the drums.
Next: Joe Morello - Take Five
2. Joe Morello - Take Five
So where did John Bonham get the idea to play the drums with his hands? Look no further than Joe Morello, seen here playing a glorious drum break from the famous track Take Five, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Morello's name is spoken in hushed tones by those in the know - watch his left hand at the 1.50 mark to see a true master in action.
He was hugely influential, much imitated but never bettered. Here he creates more excitement with a humble four-piece kit than most modern metal drummers could ever conceive of despite their leviathan setups.
Next: Buddy Rich
1. Buddy Rich
It is fair to say that Buddy Rich was put on this Earth pretty much to make everyone else look bad. He possessed an unparalleled combination of jaw-dropping technique, flabbergasting speed and the ability to craft a solo that was as compelling as any drama.
Buddy was in his early 50s at the time of the clip here, but the raw intensity of his playing puts younger players to shame. His left hand alone could provide enough material for a lifetime of study. Rich was possibly and very probably the greatest drummer in the world.
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