The Best Drummers of All Time
John Bonham was one of the most iconic drummers in rock, known for his drumming with Led Zeppelin and later inspiring generations of drummers through his style, combining aggressiveness with jazz influences.
Neil Peart was one of the most revered drummers of modern times, known for experimenting with odd-meter time signatures and his signature, mind-melting fills. A professor of Rush himself, Peart was known for being technically brilliant with limitless creativity.
1. John Bonham
Bonham was the drummer behind Led Zeppelin and helped usher in a new era of rock music with his laid-back drumming style inspired by jazz and blues. Born in Redditch, Worcestershire, in 1948, he started drumming at five, using bath salt containers fitted with wires as crude snare drums and pots and pans until he finally received his first real snare drum at 10.
Before joining Led Zeppelin, Bonham played in several groups such as The Blue Star Trio and Gerry Levene and the Avengers, briefly joining folk/rock singer Tim Rose before eventually becoming one of the world’s most revered drummers through Led Zeppelin with Plant.
His most iconic beats included the halftime shuffle on Toto’s hit song, Rosanna, and its speedy 16th notes in Everlong by Toto. Additionally, his massive bass drum sound had a huge influence on modern heavy metal drummers due to his ability to keep up with Emerson Lake & Palmer’s classically inspired complexity and keep up with Emerson Lake & Palmer’s classical influences.
Dave Grohl is an imposing drummer with the versatility to play across many styles and bands, having served as drummer for Nirvana, Foo Fighters, and many other artists, including Scream, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, and Tenacious D. His intricate beats can be heard on hits such as Smells Like Teen Spirit as well as “Kashmir.” Additionally, he was one of the first drummers to use electronic drum synthesizers live during a show!
2. Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich was an incomparable jazz drummer renowned for his speed and power on the drum set. A master of rudiments, Buddy led his band during the 1940s before working with big bands such as Tommy Dorsey’s Big Band, appearing on popular television programs including Steve Allen Show and Tonight Show, and authoring an influential drumming method book in 1942. Gene Krupa himself called him one of the greatest drummers ever!
Buddy Rich died at age 69 in 1987. During the late 60s, drummers who combined jazz influences into rock music, such as Buddy Rich, were at their finest; Jimi Hendrix used him on “Hear My Song,” while he also provided drumming services during The Beatles’ iconic Ed Sullivan appearances.
Mitch Mitchell of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles fame, and Neil Peart from the progressive rock group Rush are two drummers known for quickly incorporating jazz influences into rock drumming styles.
Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters is also an exceptional jazz musician and drummer, known for keeping up with prog rock’s complex rhythms with ease and an astonishing amount of power. Additionally, he excels in studio environments, as his unique sound allows him to work well across different musical genres.
3. Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker (1939 – 1994), known by many as one of rock music’s first superstar drummers, made waves as an innovator when he formed rock’s inaugural power trio with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton (of Cream). Baker was among the first musicians to integrate African rhythms into rock music while pioneering jazz fusion and world music genres. His boisterous, aggressive playing style has forever left an indelible mark on drumming history.
“Paul McCartney became legendary for his legendary drum solos during Cream concerts and for his signature double-kick style that distinguished him from other drummers. While his simple beat playing could rival any of his peers, his true expertise lay in complex polyrhythms and extended improvisation he created.”
After leaving Cream, he collaborated with artists such as Gary Moore and Public Image Ltd. He also formed the Baker Gurvitz Army with Adrian and Paul Gurvitz; each provided their busy, dramatic sound to the group. On his final album Why? (2014) he revisited several previous releases while returning to jazz – his true love.
At 80, this true legend died. Always striving to perfect his craft, his legacy lives on through numerous drummers who look up to him as an influence and through his music, which remains relevant today. While this list may or may not reflect your opinion of these fantastic musicians who also happen to be some of the finest drummers ever, you should not overlook what an opportunity it provides to learn about some of history’s finest drummers and best-ever drumming players!
4. Bill Watts
One of the greatest rock bands of all time required their drummer to have an enormous amount on his mind. They needed to know each song, how best to execute them, keep up with blazing guitar speeds, and create an enjoyable sound overall – not to mention being known for pounding backbeats that always played to each song’s melody line.
Ginger Baker was a fantastic drummer in the English rock band Cream and an expert jazz drummer by training and passion; his use of ride cymbal patterns and syncopation revolutionized rock drumming while simultaneously helping create modern snare drum sounds.
Bill Watts of New York is another musical master. For years, he’s served as a session drummer, playing on albums by Jay Z, Herbie Hancock, and Eric Clapton; additionally, he’s become an established concert performer – winning four times the Modern Drummer Studio poll!
Hal Blaine, Massachusetts-born, was one of the Wrecking Crew studio musicians, playing on over 35,000 tracks as part of this renowned studio ensemble. Although known for rock drumming, his repertoire encompassed R&B, pop, and jazz as he even performed alongside London Symphony Orchestra!
Carmine Appice made his mark as a rock drummer with Vanilla Fudge before moving on to metal outfit King Kobra in the 60s. His fast-paced drumming style is similar to Keith Moon from The Who; in addition, Carmine Appice was an accomplished singer who authored an acclaimed book on drumming – his passion for music can be felt throughout both performances with Foo Fighters as well as between-song banter during shows.
5. John McLaughlin
McLaughlin is an inspiration to those serious about drumming. He can enhance any song from jazz, rock, or classical music, while adding harmony. He first gained prominence for his work with Miles Davis during the ’60s and ’70s, adeptly handling complex jazz fusion. Later, he founded Mahavishnu Orchestra to continue pushing boundaries through high-intensity instrumental improvisation. Now, with his Fourth Dimension Band, he continues his search for harmony and rhythm, featuring guitar player Carlos Santana, tablas maestro Zakir Hussain, bassist Ranjit Barot, keyboardist Louiz Banks, electric sitarist Niladri Kumar of India’s Sitar Gharana tradition, Hindustani slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya as well as vocalist Remember Shakti.
Ringo Starr’s drumming made him one of the greatest drummers ever, inspiring many more to follow in his footsteps. With thunderous strikes and impeccable syncopation, he became an instant legend within the drumming world and worked alongside famous artists such as Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, and Steely Dan.
Hal Blaine of Massachusetts is our last featured musician. A member of the acclaimed Wrecking Crew studio musicians, Blaine contributed his musical skills on over 35,000 tracks – most notably those belonging to Elvis Presley film soundtracks and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound productions.
Drummers can be found across musical genres. While most people know legendary drummers such as John Bonham and Ginger Baker, this list also highlights lesser-known drummers. Fred Below is a lesser-known blues drummer; he contributed immensely to its development while performing with some of the great blues singers of his day, like Little Walter Jacobs and Otis Rush.