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The 10 Best Drummers of All Time

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Best Drummers of All Time

You’re drawn to a great drummer if you love music as we do. They create a groove that makes us dance or set a backbeat that has us bobbing our heads.

The drummer is the easiest to spot when you’re at a concert. They’re typically on the riser, surrounded by a cacophony of toms and cymbals, and sometimes play lengthy drum solos. 

Selecting the best drummer of all time from the various music genres would be overwhelming. Therefore we zeroed in on several genres to rank and list our drummers.

So start tapping your toe and enjoy reading about the greatest drummers ever to live!

 

The 10 Best Drummers of All Time

For this list, we focused only on pop, rock, and jazz drummers and narrowed our picks to the most influential drummers who have impacted music history.

Here’s our list of the 10 best drummers of all time:

 

10. Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland became synonymous with being a superstar drummer when he was with The Police. Copeland began playing drums when he was twelve and was in his first band, Curved Air when he was twenty-two.

In 1977, destiny called, and he became a member of The Police. When you hear a Police song, Stewart Copeland’s playing stands out. In his drumming, you’ll note his musical influences: Lebanese, rock, jazz, African rhythms, and reggae.

Although Copeland was left-handed, he played a right-handed kit. As a result, many of The Police’s songs had Copeland playing back beats on his bass drum and providing time on his high hat.

But he’d show his mastery of the kit with sharp, jazz-inspired snare fills. He also incorporated Octobans and developed a unique splash cymbal for Paiste.

 “Message in a Bottle” exemplifies his unique playing style and sound. His snare is crisp, the groove infectious, and he shifts effortlessly from rock to reggae. The band’s hit “Every Breath You Take,” one of the best 80s songs, further showcases Copeland’s drumming abilities.

Today, Copeland releases solo albums, writes music for film and TV, and is popular at drum clinics worldwide. 

 

9. Clyde Stubblefield

Clyde Stubblefield got his break musically when he played drums for “The Godfather of Soul,” Mr. James Brown.

Clyde toured with James Brown for six years and played on many of his early hits. Stubblefield is heralded as the founder of funk drumming.

One listen to “I Got The Feeling,” and it’s easy to see why his drumsticks are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While his approach to this song is simple, it’s nonetheless brilliant.

His kick drum is tight with the bass guitar, and his snare accents the horn hits. Next, he fills the song with silence. And if “space is the place,” then such openness showcases his drum groove.

Today’s hip-hop artists are familiar with Clyde Stubblefield’s drumming. The James Brown song “Funky Drummer” is one of the most sampled beats in the genre. So if you’re a hip-hop DJ checking out the best hip-hop record pools, chances are you’re using Stubblefield’s funky beats.

 

8. Al Jackson Jr.

As a drummer, if you’re nicknamed “The Human Timekeeper,” it’s proof you’re doing something well! That was what other musicians called drummer Al Jackson Jr.

Al Jackson Jr. began playing drums at a young age and performed with his father’s band when he was five. He was the founding member of Booker T. & the MGs, who were the studio musicians for Stax Records.

The band had a hit with “Green Onions,” and the song has been in many movies. They were also racially integrated, rare in the 60s and Memphis. They played the hits “Come On Get Ready” and “Soulman.”

Al Jackson Jr. played a Ludwig and Rogers drum kit with Zildjian cymbals for each drum kit. He is known for his work of delivering a strong backbeat with deep grooves.

His trademark sound earned him sessions playing with Al Green, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, and Wilson Pickett, to name a few. He also played with one of the best black female singers of all time, Aretha Franklin.

 

7. Billy Cobham

Billy Cobham is a Panamanian-American drummer whose dynamic playing style launched the jazz-fusion genre.

He got his first drum kit when he was fourteen and when drafted in 1965, he played with the U.S. Army band.

Billy Cobham’s big break came when he played with jazz sensation Miles Davis on his Bitches Brew tour. After gigging with Miles, he formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitarist John McLaughlin. The band was known for fusing various music genres to create its unique sound.

But it was Billy Cobham’s solo album Spectrum in 1973 where he could flex his musical and technical muscles. Cobham played with an open-handed style, used double bass drums, and played with a wild, yet controlled abandon. “Quadrant 4” is a perfect example of these features.

Billy Cobham had one of the best bassists of all time, Ron Carter, join him on his Spectrum album. He has played with many artists and musicians and continues to be an influence on up-and-coming drummers.

 

6. Hal Blaine

As with many of our top drummers, chances are they worked with some of the best bass players in the world. Such is the case with Hal Blaine, who did session work with one of the best female bass players of all time, Carol Kaye. 

Hal Blaine became known for recording sessions with “the Wrecking Crew.” He played on over 35,000 recordings and 6,000 singles in his career, making him one of the most recorded drummers in music history. 

He’s worked with Elvis, Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Raiders, Cher, Simon, and Garfunkel…You get the picture. Blaine worked with producer Phil Spector, whose albums sounded massive. Critics dubbed this the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound.”

While working on the song “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, Blaine made a mistake. During the intro, he hits the snare on beat four instead of two and four. Typically, this is the kiss of death. But Phil Spector loved it, and today, Blaine’s “mistake” made “Be My Baby” one of the best songs of all time and a great groove from the 60s.

Hal Blaine used a Ludwig Super Classic Blue Sparkle drum kit minus the rack tom. Later, he’d use a rack of eight toms that could be rolled into the studio. Blaine used these drums for signature tom-rolls for hits like “Cherokee People,” making him one of the greatest drummers. 

 

5. Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich is a jazz drummer whose drumming style has impacted jazz, pop, and rock drummers. Born in 1917, he started playing drums when he was two and began working with top jazz artists in his 20s.

Jazz was one of the most popular music genres from the 40s through the 60s. Leading the charge was Buddy Rich. He performed with Artie Shaw, Count Basie, and Tommy Dorsey.

He launched the Buddy Rich Big Band in the 60s and amazed audiences with his technique. He often used the matched grip when playing toms and switched to cross-sticking (arm over arm) to impress the crowds.

Buddy Rich was a fantastic drummer known for his dexterity, fluidity, and finesse as a jazz drummer. He was also known for playing fast and having a temper.

Both attributes were on full display at an Ohio gig in the 80s. Buddy counted off the quick tune when an audience member shouted, “Is that as fast as you can play?”

Rich stopped and fired some expletives at the patron. Then, he recounted the song at a blistering pace, putting his big band on full alert. For the record, Buddy and his big band nailed the song.

 

4. Neil Peart

Neil Peart became the second drummer for Rush in 1974. What followed was a sharp turn musically for Rush due to Peart’s progressive drumming and being a gifted lyricist.

Drummers of influence include Ginger Baker, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, and Keith Moon of The Who. Later, he’d adapt his rock drumming style to feature the jazz stylings of Buddy Rich.

While every member of Rush could be considered one of the best musicians of all time, Neil Peart’s drumming sets the band apart.

Neil Peart used a matched grip with his sticks but changed to the traditional grip during his jazz phase in the 90s. Peart is considered a premiere rock drummer whose technique, use of odd meter, and precision made his drum solos exhilarating.

Neil Peart played Slingerland, Tama, Ludwig, and Drum Workshop drums throughout his career. His live drum kit was a sea of toms, percussion, and cymbals.

And with his rotating drum riser, he often played two drum kits—one with traditional drums and the other with electronic drums.

 

3. Ginger Baker

In the late 60s, a supergroup from England set the world on fire with hit songs, virtuoso playing, and a driving rock sound. The power trio was the band Cream, featuring Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker on drums.

Cream was with some of the biggest record labels in the world, and many of their songs are rock classics. At the forefront was Baker’s drumming style that shines on the hit “Sunshine of Your Love.” He creates a deep groove while his tom fills punctuate the song at the perfect moments.

Aside from being with Cream, he also played with Blind Faith and the hard rock group Masters of Destiny. He also had his own band, the Ginger Baker Air Force.

Baker pioneered using two-kick drums and playing fiery drum solos. He played with a matched grip and preferred fast-responding drumsticks. He cites jazz drummers like Art Blakey as being vital musical influences.

While Baker is considered one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, he preferred being called a jazz drummer.

 

2. Keith Moon

Keith Moon was as eccentric on the drums as he was off. His wild, sometimes bombastic playing style directly reflected his lifestyle. Moon’s reputation for partying and zany antics earned him the nickname “Moon the Loon.”

Keith Moon lit up the world as the drummer for The Who. Like Ginger Backer, he was one of the first to use double bass drums in rock music.

Moon used tom fills, and cymbal crashes to create his flamboyant playing style. He was influenced by the jazz-great Gene Krupa, surf music, and rhythm and blues.

He played Ludwig drums and used Zildjian cymbals. Later in his career, he endorsed Premier drums.

Describing Keith Moon’s style is akin to wrapping your arms around a greased watermelon. You may think you have it, but it slips from your grasp.

Some critics say he overplays and can’t keep time. Others praise his style for being creative and not stagnant. 

The band’s album Who’s Next contains what many drummers hail as Moon’s best playing. On “Baba O’riley,” Keith uses tom fills and loud cymbal hits to accent Pete Townsend’s power chords. Then, when the song morphs into a country-inspired ending, he sets the train-beat groove.

On the band’s anthemic hit “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Keith shines brighter than, well, the moon. And who hasn’t played “air drums” on his tom fills? 

 

1. John Bonham

One of the most influential drummers in rock history is John Bonham, drummer for the band Led Zeppelin. He was nicknamed “Bonzo” and earned the name “The Beast” because of his powerful playing of rock music.

John Bonham exhibited talent for the drums when he was five. He grabbed pots and pans and banged on them incessantly using knives and forks.

His drum kit of choice was a Ludwig, and he preferred Paiste cymbals. Bonham was influenced by Benny Goodman’s drummer, Gene Krupa.

When Krupa played toms on “Sing, Sing, Sing,” John Bonham reportedly said, “Gene Krupa was god.” Other influences include drummer Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, and Ginger Baker.

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, who lists Bonham as one of his biggest influences, considers John Bonham one of the world’s greatest drummers.

He adds that he wasn’t perfect but played deep grooves with heart and conviction. Dave Grohl goes so far as to list Bonham’s playing on “When The Levee Breaks” as “the best groove of all time.”

 

Summary

There you have it; some of the best drummers of all time. Many played drums for popular bands, while others played on numerous hit records.

Becoming one of the world’s greatest drummers involves studying other players, performing on the best drums and cymbals, and having amazing drumming skills. 

Who’s the best drummer of all time, in your opinion? Leave a comment below. 

Jay is a professional bass player who spent years chasing Nashville’s neon rainbow performing with Shania Twain and other high-profile artists. As a musician, he's produced scores for videos and jingles using Pro Tools, vintage synths, and various plug-ins. When he’s not writing, he’s debating whether to ride his Italian racing bike, get funky on one of his many basses, or chill with the family.

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