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Top 12 greatest drummers of all-time

Being in the top 12 drummers of all time means much more than people think. There are hundreds of drummers to pick from. But only a few can make it here on this list. It took talent, innovation, inspiration, and passion to succeed here.

Ranging from the big band styles of the 1930’s, to the opera rock of the 70’s. All being able to play out and make an impact on the drumming world.

12. Roger Taylor

Roger Taylor (Queen drummer)

Being an actor is no longer stricken to those in front of a camera. Allowing your songs to become a show of their own is now present with the group Queen. Allowing their drummer Roger Taylor to truly let his kit shine and act just as the frontman of a band would.

Talyor did something extremely unique at the time, and still to this day, is barely every heard. The way he played was a sort of act. Whenever there was a part in the song where the drums could harmonize or move with the song it happened.

He almost stepped away from the role of keeping time and holding everyone together. This is extremely present in the mid-section of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”. As the lyrics are spouted out, the drums follow right with them.

Focus on the Thunder Bolts and Lightning part. Thunder and lightning are truly heard and replicated on the drum kit. This sort of playing is iconic and attributed to Mr. Taylor.

11. Phil Rudd

Phil Rudd drummer of AC/DC

Phil Rudd is probably one of the least well-known musicians to grace this list. But anyone who knows what a guitar is has heard his shells and skins before.

Backing one of the top rock bands in the world AC/DC, Rudd is not known for his flash, chops or crazy solos. Sparks fly in the simple beat that upholds almost every song in his bands catalog. Snare on the two and four, and kick on the one and three. His timing is impeccable.

Keeping this steady pattern would create a solid backbone for any musician choosing to jam with him. Therefore, Phil makes it on this list. He upholds one of the strongest cores for drumming, to be a backbone. Holding the band together before showing off, and Rudd almost never showing off.

Simplicity is something almost lost in today’s world of drums. Keeping the number one rule of drumming alive in the shadows is Phil Rudd.

10. Danny Carey

Danny Carey drummer for Tool

Best known for his work in Tool, Danny Carey is a rhythmic, melodic and rudimental drummer. All these concepts create a powerhouse.

Rhythmically, Carey strays from the common grooves that are associated with music, even in odd time signatures. He creates his own patterns and grooves within the time signature he is in.

Melodically, he follows the song structure, with all the hits landing in the right places around his complex beats. The fills and chops all blend with what are going on melodically between the guitar and bass.

Rudiments are explicitly available across many Tool songs. Some listening to go through are songs such as “Forty Six & 2” and “Sober”. In the intro to “Sober”, right before the groove kicks in, there is an exponential drum fill. This fill is fast and requires the skill to split sticking up between the hands and the different drums.

Danny Carey is an essential listen in the world of polyrhythm and melodic drumming.

9. Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland drummer of The Police

Copeland is mainly noted for combing the styles of punk and reggae drumming. At the time of The Police, these were two completely different styles of music. Putting these together made Stewart stand out in an already great band.

Using pumping punk beats allowed the songs to move and really appeal to a much wider audience. While the cross stick, and bell-ride grooves allowed his music to flow, melting with the rest of the band.

A song such as “Message in a bottle” is a great example of his work. Starting with a fast-paced punk cross stick punk groove, later in the chorus going to the ride cymbal.

There are also not many drummers as colorful as Copeland is. There is a plethora of tom hits and different dynamics going on in his playing. Which is a signature of his, every note having its place, and a reason for it.

Stewart also expresses much love for the world of music, playing multiple instruments, and continuing to inspire percussionists worldwide.

8. Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa one of the greatest drummers

Paving the way for all future rock drummers was Gene Krupa. He created what would become, and still is the most common drum setup for all musicians. Hi-hat, bass, two toms, snare, and cymbals.

Krupa also helped working to develop thinner cymbals, tunable toms, and even was the first person to be recorded with a bass drum.

Thinner cymbals have a lower pitch, which was more suitable for the music of that time. Tunable toms, if not invented, would drastically change how all music sounds. Tuning the toms allows for melodic drum work, and precise notes.

Recording with a bass drum is practically built into the biology of micing up drums presently.

All of these helped to build the modern drum kit, and its sound. Krupa also helped inspire those of Max Roach and Buddy Rich.

Krupa made it more acceptable to have extended drum solos, just as someone playing the clarinet or trumpet would get. This can be heard in the iconic Benny Goodman track “Sing, Sing, Sing”.

Krupa was a pioneer in the 1930’s, paving the way for future drummers ahead.

7. Steve Gadd

Steve Gadd iconic session drummer

Steve Gadd was, and still is one of the most sought-after session drummers. Gadd has a specific flavor to his playing. One can understand, oh yes that is Steve Gadd. This is what tags him on this list.

One of his signatures is taking linear patterns and making them fit with the song. Playing to the song while showing your ability and skill is where Steve thrived.

One of the well-known songs that he drummed on is “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”. When you home in on the beat, there is a lot going on. Not being difficult to play, but every note was placed there for a reason.

Once zoomed out, and the full song is heard, the drums sort of disappear and fade into the song. That is what Steve Gadd was an expert at.

6. Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl drumming for Them Crooked Vultures

Everyone loves Dave Grohl. Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Foo Fighters, Scream, even appearing in some Tenacious D songs, what else does he need to do? Everyone saw him in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video.

Dave Grohl is a heavy hitter amongst the other drummers on this list. His inspiration reels from the early punk to funky disco bands. Bringing these flavors to his many bands and songs.

Some iconic grooves of Grohl are of course “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, another being the speedy 16th notes in the song “Everlong”.

Though not only being a good player is the importance here. The passion for music plays much louder than the drums here. Dave inhabits such a strong heart for the music of the world.

This is expelled through his playing, his writing, and his in-between song banter at frequent Foo Fighters shows. Keeping the spirit of music and rock ‘n roll alive.

5. Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr drumming

You could just end this with saying, Ringo Starr, drummer of The Beatles. Pretty straightforward and simple. There is so much more to unpack than just being the drummer of one of the most famous, music changing, influential bands of all time.

Underneath the fame was a truly inspirational percussionist. Starting with helping set up the basic patterns for rock music to come. Switching between the ride and the hats between the chorus and verses, playing the simple iconic rock beats, snare on the one and three, and kick on the two and four.

On the other hand of the simplicity, Starr is home to some well-known beats. Such as the grooves in “Ticket to Ride” and “Come Together”. In all, Ringo Starr is one of the biggest household names in the drumming community.

4. Bernard Purdie

Bernard Purdie American drummer

The Purdie Shuffle is a staple amongst the percussion world, which would not have been possible without Mr. Bernard Purdie. Playing on tracks such as “Home at Last” and “Babylon Sisters” set this shuffle into stone, laying the groundwork for future beats.

Songs such as “Rossana” and “Fool in the Rain” take the taste of the Purdie Shuffle. But this would not feel the way it did without Bernard’s priceless feeling of time. Just watching this master at work, you can feel his passion, his feeling towards the time.

Rather being unable to be replicated, this is what sets Purdie apart. Feeling time and the music the way he does allow his playing to both shine, as well as groove and fit the song.

3. John Bonham

John Bonham drummer for Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin is a band that lives with a fierce name. That of which the heart of rock and roll lives inside of. Without any doubt the stone holding the band down being John Bonham. The man on fire as he was called is no understatement to the heat coming from Bonzo.

There is nothing more appealing than a hard rocking but good feeling drummer. Which is exactly what Bonham did best.

Behind songs like “Good Times, Bad Times” and “Rock n’ Roll” are heavily hit skins and pumping bass drums. Nothing being more iconic that the Bonham Triplet which can be heard in the song “Dazed and Confused”.

There are so many licks and chops that became substantial from Bonham, making him climb to the top three of the list.

2. Buddy Rich

Bernard

Both number one and number two on this list are interchangeable. Bringing drumming to the fore front is Buddy Rich. It was during the era of big bands. Drummers were still not the main attraction.

Most of the applause went to the singers, but Rich changed this for good. Bringing some of the best solos to the world. Captivating audiences from behind the kit for the first time.

On the other hand of being the world’s first celebrity drummer was his talent and skill. Most appealingly being that of the snare work done.

The rudiments and speed at which these were played are still sought after to this day. Making Rich still a goal to reach in the ever-changing world of drums.

1. Neil Peart

Neil Peart one of the best drummers ever

Neil Peart is one of the modern age drum heroes. Though being in the original globe-trotting progressive rock band Rush in 1974, it does not stop this drummer from hitting number one on this list in 2024.

Neil was known as the professor for good reason, he had everything. The driving rock beats to the grooving, and moving jazz. All was on display when the professor was behind the kit.

Songs such as “Tom Sawyer” and “YYZ” are amazing example of the technique that was instilled inside of Neil.

There is barely anything to pinpoint that stands out about Neil. If wanted to play it, he could, there was nothing this drum hero could not do.

Moving forward

Cemented in stone in the year 2024, this list contains some of the biggest names in drumming, and some of the most recognizable sounds out there.

One can agree on the names, but others will shift around the order, take some out, add some new ones. But what is important is your own inspirations. Everyone has their own top drummers that they look up to and can talk about.

Through the course of time more drummers will arise, causing shifts in the course of music and the percussion world itself. These core members will always have their place in the hobby.

Drumming only really started to become a hobby and being recorded heavily in the 1950’s. That was only 60 years ago, leaving many more years to come. Allowing more inspiration, passion, and talent to be passed down to the young and learning.

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