Every great rock band has a steady-handed drummer controlling the rhythm and pace of the song. Without them, there is no music, just a mess of sounds from a variety of instruments. That’s why we’ve looked at some of the top rock drummers of all time. From heavy-metal juggernauts Led Zeppelin to pop-punk band Blink-182, we’ve found the best of the best.
These drummers have demonstrated their technical proficiency as well as influenced generations of drummers to come. While we recognize there are other drummers that should be on this list, we restricted it to just rock and roll, because they deserve their own line of recognition. Here are the top rock drummers of all time.
Travis Barker – Blink-182 1992 – Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Travis Barker is one of those drummers that is still in his prime so it’s difficult to see just how much of an impact he will have on the music industry. Born in Fontana California, Barker started drumming at a young age and quickly became infatuated with punk music.
He participated as the jazz drummer at Fontana High School as well as played snare drum in the marching band, which would later serve as a foundation for his style. After high school, Barker started playing in a ska-punk band called The Aquabats. That band would open for Blink-182 in 1997, and Scott Raynor would depart from the band the following year, leaving Barker as a suitable replacement.
Barker learned the band’s entire 20-song setlist in 45 minutes, proving his extreme ability to quickly grasp music. Blink-182 would go on to become one of today’s biggest bands to emerge from the modern-day punk/ pop-punk scene.
Barker hasn’t stopped there. In addition to Blink-182, Barker has contributed to several punk bands, including +44 and Box Car Racers as well as rap group Transplants.
Finally, he recently joined as a member of Antemasque and Goldfinger. Barker has gained quite some success from his versatility on the drums, being able to play hip-hop, pop, country, or alternative.
Not only has his drumming kept punk music alive in the 21st century but Rolling Stone Magazine also dubbed him “punk’s first superstar drummer.” Today, Baker continues to play with numerous bands and has also founded a clothing line and a music/ tattoo festival called Musink Music Festival.
Mitch Mitchell – The Jimi Hendrix Experience 1966-1970
It takes a special someone to be able to play alongside Jimi Hendrix. Mitch Mitchell has played around with a good number of musicians while he was alive, but he is remembered for being a part of The Jimi Hendrix experience until Hendrix passed away in 1970.
This was not an easy position to fill, but Mitchell won it (literally, by a coin toss) with his jazz drumming background yet furious kinetic energy toward the drums. Mitchell had an infatuation for crashing on his cymbals, a technique that would later complement Hendrix’s guitar riffs.
Some of his biggest influences include jazz drummer Ronnie Stephenson, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Joe Morello. After The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitchell would go on to accompany many musicians, both in the studio and on tour, including John Lennon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Jeff Beck.
In 1974 he auditioned to be a part of Paul McCartney’s band Wings, but ironically lost in a coin toss. Mitchell died in 2008 while celebrating the life of Jimi Hendrix as a part of the “Experience Hendrix Tour,” leaving Billy Cox as the only living musician to have played with Hendrix regularly.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and Mitchell himself was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2009. Mitchell has been credited as one of the most influential drummers in rock and roll, being credited as an influence on many drummers, including Ian Paice, Stewart Copeland, Chad Smith, Roger Taylor, Matt Sorum, and Dave Lombardo.
Ringo Starr – The Beatles 1962-1970 – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Sir Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr, is famous for being the drummer of internationally famous British band The Beatles. Starr wasn’t a founding member of The Beatles but instead was brought along once founding drummer Pete Best was kicked off the band.
This would prove to be a beneficial move for both the band and Starr, as they would all go on to become some of the biggest rock stars the world has ever seen. During his time with the band, Starr was known for providing a crisp buoyancy to the music that was simplistic and youthful.
His style was described as exuberant and full of swing and feel, something he was best known for. Although his music featured fun fills and energetic grooves, he was also very gentle and approachable, greatly contributing to The Beatles’ success.
A left-handed drummer playing on a right-handed drum kit, Starr wasn’t the most technical drummer, but he did do something very important for the music industry. Starr made the public see the drummer as an equal member of the band as well.
Before Starr, most drummers would only be a member of the orchestra or backing band but never had an identity unless you were one of the best like Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa. Starr gave drummers the identity they deserved.
Growing up, Starr was a fan of skiffle and blues, but then later admired rock and roll. Some of his musical influences range from county artists such as Hank Williams, jazz artists such as Chico Hamilton, and R&B singer Lee Dorsey.
Although The Beatles ended in 1970, Starr is still in the music industry (going on 63 years now) and plays with his band Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Starr has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Once in 1988 with The Beatles, and a second time in 2015 as a solo artist. In 2018, he was appointed a Knight Bachelor for his service in music.
Ian Paice – Deep Purple 1968 – Present
Deep Purple’s guitarist Ritchie Blackmore described Ian Paice as “the motor of the band” when he first saw him perform in Hamburg. That’s probably the most accurate way of describing Paice’s importance to the bands he was in.
Most notably Paice is the only remaining founding member of legendary rock band Deep Purple, one of the pioneers in heavy metal and hard rock in the early to mid-70s.
At a young age, Paice was influenced by jazz drummers such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and later influenced by other early rock drummers including Ringo Starr, Bobby Elliot, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, and Carmine Appice.
These drummers would help to create Paice’s style, which is characterized as steady, yet commanding, at times sounding like the lead instrument. Throughout any of Deep Purple’s songs you can hear the simplicity of timekeeping Paice creates with the high hat yet is able to transition into a drum fill or variation without losing the beat.
It almost sounds like there are two people on the drums. Paice’s style would go on to influence a generation of drummers from Slayer’s Dave Lombardo to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith. Paice continues to play in Deep Purple as the only remaining member but has contributed to many other projects in his past, including playing with Velvet Underground, George Harrison, Whitesnake, and Paul McCartney.
Deep Purple was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, and in 1972 was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the globe’s loudest band” from a concert in London that left three people unconscious.
Bill Ward – Black Sabbath 1970 – 2017
Bill Ward is an English drummer who is best known as one of the founding members of Black Sabbath, a pioneer in the heavy metal scene. Many musicians have been influenced by this band, fronted by the prince of darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne.
Although the band was remembered for its dark characteristics, Ward was a nimble drummer who loved jazz. His style brought flexibility to the dark, ominous sound Black Sabbath became known for.
Ward brought a sense of diversity with his drumming, constantly providing a sensible groove that Black Sabbath needed. Most notably Ward became famous for complimenting around the dark sound of Sabbath, rather than going matching Tony Iommi’s powerful riffs.
Along with Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath would go on to be included as the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal in the early to mid-seventies.” Throughout the band’s career, Ward often found himself at the butt end of pranks that would sometimes seriously injure him.
Black Sabbath and Ward have recognized in many different fashions, including being inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 and was ranked by MTV as “the greatest metal band,” while VH1 ranked them 2nd in their list of “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.”
Today, Ward has completely changed his lifestyle and lives a clean, sober life as a vegan. Despite these life changes, Ward hasn’t played the drums much lately due to health concerns. Nonetheless, his contributions to heavy metal have set the foundation for generations of drummers to come.
Dave Lombardo – Slayer 1981 – 2013 – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
If Ginger Baker and Keith Moon were the first drummers to popularize the use of the double bass drum, then Dave Lombardo is the one to push that skill to the limit. The Cuban-American drummer has become widely known for his aggressive, fast-paced drumming that has been heard in several bands, most notably Slayer, one of the four founding thrash metal bands.
These four bands pushed the limits of rock music and paved the way for future metal. 16-year-old Lombardo met his neighbor, and soon-to-be bandmate, Kerry King and quickly hit it off, eventually starting Slayer in 1981.
Not only was his speed and aggression admired by other musicians, but he is also known how having a natural talent for drumming, often not even practicing before concerts. Lombardo specializes in using double bass drums (instead of double bass pedals) to achieve his thunderous speed (up to 210 BPM), and it has influenced much of the metal scene.
Drummerworld names Lombardo “the Godfather of Double Bass” because of his technical proficiency and speed with the bass drums. Moon and Baker set the foundation for Lombardo, but the thrash-metal drummer was also inspired by Bill Ward, Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, and Ian Paice.
After some disputes with Slayer, Lombardo took his talents elsewhere and continues his drumming legacy with several bands, including Fantomas, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Cross and The Misfits.
Although Lombardo is still in the music industry, many musicians have cited him as an early influence in their life, including members of the bands Death, Evanescence, Cannibal Corpse, Fear Factory, Slipknot, and Dream Theater.
Clem Burke – Blondie 1975 – Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Most of the drummers on this list have made a name for themselves for being some of the greatest drummers in rock and roll history, but what about the bands that led the way before their success?
Before rock and roll really became popular, punk and new wave were starting to take off in New York at small clubs like CBGB. One famous band to come out of that scene is Blondie, who was a pioneer of the new wave/ punk scene.
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, and the band couldn’t have done it without their drummer Clem Burke. Burke would join Blondie shortly after they originated, and quickly provided a wide variety of sounds to help shape the band. Inspired by the likes of Ringo Starr, Hal Blaine, Keith Moon, and Earl Palmer, Burke played with a kinetic, tom-heavy style that brought him almost as much attention as Debbie Harry and Chris Stein.
Together, Blondie and other new wave bands helped combine disco, reggae, pop, and early rap together to lead the way for rock and roll. Blondie disbanded in 1982 for 15 years but returned in 1997 and continue to release music today.
While Blondie was disbanded, Burke played with many other famous musicians during their careers, including The Romantics, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett, and The Ramones (under the name Elvis Ramone).
In 2011 Burke received a doctorate from the University of Gloucestershire for an 8-year study that analyzed the physical and psychological effects drumming has on professional drummers. Burke played 100 90-minute sets in 2008 as part of the study. Today, Burke is still active in the music industry but hasn’t seen much action lately.
Danny Carey – Tool 1990- Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
If you have ever listened to a Tool song, you understand just how incredible Danny Carey is on the drums. His contributions to progressive metal band Tool have become a quintessential element to the band’s distorted sound.
The American drummer was raised on jazz music and participated in jazz bands all through college, until eventually moving to Los Angeles to find his way as a member of Tool. These jazz roots would set the foundation for Carey’s drumming style, which would later be recognized for its technical ability, use of both polyrhythms and polymeters, and ability to adjust to odd time signatures.
Another key to his success has been his innovation with drum setups, often trying new designs such as a unicursal hexagram. This design helps capture Carey’s fluency in his drumming, which he describes as similar to occult rituals. Not only is Carey proficient with his hands, but he also practices rudiments with his feet to maintain hi-hat and bass-pedal control.
All of this accounts for Carey’s ability to create a sense of flow within the music that almost feels effortless. Some of Carey’s influences include Neil Peart and Bill Bruford, two influential 70s drummers who helped pioneer progressive rock. Today Carey continues to push the boundaries of drumming as a member of Tool but has contributed to many other projects including Volto!, Zaum, Green Jello, Pigface, Carole King, and the Melvins.
Steve Jordan – Various bands 1978 – Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Steve Jordan is another one of those drummers who you have to look at their history to get a full appreciation for what they’ve done. Born in New York City, Jordan started making a name for himself at a young age, starting by playing with Stevie Wonder’s band in the 70s.
This is just the first of many famous musicians Jordan has played for. Throughout his career, he has played with The Rolling Stones (in place of Watts, who was battling addiction), Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and many others.
Jordan was able to land a spot with Keith Richards and the X-pensive Winos, where he recorded two albums with the Rolling Stone guitarist. After this gig, Jordan found himself playing with the blues-rock group John Mayer Trio, where his smooth swing ability was further noticed. Jordan also became famous for the role he has on television, starting with Saturday Night Live for a couple of years in the 70s, and then with Late Night with David Letterman for the 80s.
During his short stint with SNL, Jordan became the drummer behind the famous Blues Brothers skit, and would later go on tour with Belushi and Aykroyd when they took the skit on the road.
Jordan’s influences originate from jazz music, as he is noted for having an amazing sense of swing in his style. Not only is he credited for having a smooth swing, but also an amazing sense of control with both tempo and volume. He also has claimed to be heavily influenced by Ringo Starr and Freddie Waits.
Today Jordan continues to play as a studio musician and plays in the band The Verbs with his wife Meegan Voss.
John Stanier – Helmet 1989 – 1998 – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
John Stanier is probably one of the most underrated drummers on this list. Most of the bands that he’s been in are still around, and he still plays in the supergroup Tomahawk. To better understand Stanier’s impact on the drumming world, you have to look at the impact Helmet had in the 90s.
The New York Times described them as “a band that made important connections between indie-rock and metal,” later influencing many bands ranging from heavy metal, post-hardcore and nu-metal/alternative. Bands such as Linkin Park, Nine Inch Nails, System of a Down, Three Days Grace and Tool have all cited Helmet as influences.
This couldn’t have been done without Stanier’s impact on the metal scene. His drum corps background has set the foundation for his speed and endurance, while orchestral percussion studies have driven his precision as a drummer.
Stanier cites Neil Peart as his biggest influence, but also claims John Bonham, Bill Bruford, and Terry Bozzio have all contributed to his style. All of this would turn into a bare-essential style that would complement Page Hamilton’s riffs and create Helmet’s fast-tempo, yet simple metal that was so in your face it felt like a punch to the gut.
After the band’s amicable break up in 1989, Stanier took a ten-year break from drumming (mainly from suffering a broken wrist). In 2000 Stanier got back into drumming and still plays to this day, most notably with experimental rock band Battles. Without the music style of Stanier, rock music in the 2000s could have sounded a lot different.
Tommy Lee – Motley Crue 1981 – Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Tommy Lee is the definition of a rock and roll drummer. Born in Athens, Greece, Lee and his family moved to California at a young age, where he would drop out of high school to pursue his dream of being a musician.
Like most drummers, Lee grew up listening to the likes of John Bonham, Tommy Aldridge, Alex Van Halen, and Terry Bozzio. Lee started his musical career with Suite 19 and quickly became regulars in the Los Angeles circuit with other acts such as Van Halen and Quiet Riot.
Eventually, while on these circuits, Lee would befriend bassist Nikki Sixx and form the world-renowned band Motley Crue. This band would go on to become one of the best-selling bands of all time known for them over the top live performances.
They would also go on to pioneer glam rock, putting on elaborate live performances that included the heavy use of pyrotechnics. Lee would also get creative with his drumming, occasionally playing on a rotating stage or while being suspended mid-air. Although remembered for their destructive and hedonistic lifestyle, Motley Crue and Tommy Lee would go on to live the epitome of a rock star lifestyle.
Eventually, the lifestyle caught up to them and the band would go through some turmoil, like struggling with addiction and falling into the shadow of grunge, but the band continues to be around to this day. Lee is one of the few drummers on this list that hasn’t been inducted to any Halls of Fame. According to Nicki Sixx, the band was told they will never be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, simply because of their wild antics and behavior.
Phil Rudd – AC/DC 1975-2015 – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
AC/DC is known as one of rock’s most recognized sounds, providing over 45 years of kick-ass rock music that is irresistible to headbang to.
This indistinct sound, which can only be described as pure “rock and roll,” has been credited to a certain groove that Phil Rudd could only produce. Rudd, an Australian drummer who has always dreamed of being on stage, was the main drummer for AC/DC but struggled with personal problems constantly.
Because of this struggle, Rudd isn’t often recognized for his contributions to the band, but while Rudd was drumming, AC/DC produced some of their best work. Rudd’s drumming style is described as a minimalist style to hard-rock drumming, often using perfect timing and a rock-solid groove that is later credited toward AC/DC’s success.
After some personal problems, Rudd was fired from AC/DC in 1983 and replaced him with Chris Slade, who has been their permanent drummer since 2015. Rudd was invited back to play with AC/DC in 1994, with the band citing a certain groove been missing since Rudd’s departure. After rejoining, AC/DC would go on to release some of their best work: Ballbreaker, Black Ice, and Rock or Bust.
Unfortunately, more legal troubles have kept Rudd away from the band, but AC/DC still continues to tour to this day. Despite having an abundance of personal problems, Rudd is still considered to be on the greatest drummers of all time. AC/DC (with Rudd included) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
Larry Mullen Jr. – U2 1976 – Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
In the early days of U2, the band was about to be signed by CBS Records, under one condition: the band fires Larry Mullen Jr. The label claimed he didn’t have enough experience as a drummer to fulfill such high expectations.
The Dublin native learned the drums at a young age, and eventually joined a marching band called the Artane Boys Band. During his tenure there, he developed his skills with fills and drum rolls, effectively limiting his skills with bass and kick drums.
Ultimately, U2 declined CBS Record’s offer and integrated the drums into more of their songs, claiming to find the “military-style” appealing. The risk pulled off, as Mullen would go on to master his skills as a drummer with the band. After a short recovery from back surgery, Mullen’s returned to U2 to find David “The Edge” Evans experimenting with electronic drum machines. Although hesitant at first, Mullen would go on to learn the new style and give an electric feel for the albums to come.
Unlike many drummers on this list, Mullen doesn’t credit anyone to be his sole influence, often crediting his time in the marching band as the driving force of his style. His skills and style would be later defined in the rhythm section of U2 with the help of bassist Adam Clayton.
The core of Mullen’s talent comes from his preternatural sense of rhythm, famously being able to spot off-beat click tracks by the millisecond. Today, Mullen continues to perform with U2 and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band in 2005, their first year of eligibility.
Phil Collins – Genesis, Solo 1970 – Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Phil Collins is perhaps the most decorated musician on this list. Throughout his 50+ year career, the English drummer is in four Hall of Fames (Rock and Roll, Songwriters, Modern Drummer, and Classic Drummer) and has received over 24 prestigious awards for his work.
If that’s not enough for you, he is the only drummer, and one of three musicians in the world, to have sold over 100 million records worldwide both as a solo artist and with a group. The only other two musicians to have that achievement is Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.
At a young age, Collins was a child actor but quickly gravitated towards music. He joined the band Genesis in 1970 and became famous as their drummer until 1975 when Peter Gabriel left the band and Collins stepped up on vocals.
Collins would continue to grow his following as both a solo artist and as the singer of Genesis, until his departure from the band in 1996. His solo career would go on to be just as successful, famously working on the Tarzan soundtrack.
Collin’s drumming style is based on fundamentals, which he states is always present in funk or jazz drumming, which he admired greatly. This led to the creation of his famous “gated snare” sound that is commonly heard in the 80s.
Collins also grew up admiring drummers Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich, Roger Powell (The Action). “In The Air Tonight” is possibly known as one of the most well-recognized drum fills, and has solidified his name as one of the greatest drummers to ever live. Collins continues to work as a solo artist today.
Lars Ulrich- Metallica 1981 – Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
If you’ve ever heard a Metallica song before, you know just how crazy Lars Ulrich is. The Danish musician is known for his aggressive style of using thrash beats with the heavy metal band, but drumming was not always Ulrich’s goal.
Born and raised in Denmark, Ulrich would eventually move to Newport Beach, CA to pursue his dream (a family tradition) of being a professional tennis player. A couple of events happened to lead him to where he is now. First, his father, professional tennis player Torben Ulrich, took him to see Deep Purple in 1973, Ulrich’s first experience/interest with rock music.
The second event to lead him away from tennis was him not qualifying for the Corona del Mar High School tennis team. After that, Ulrich decided tennis wasn’t for him and decided to look for other heavy metal musicians to start a band.
After posting an ad in The Recycler, Ulrich met James Hetfield and the two started Metallica in 1981. The band became one of the founding bands of “Thrash Metal,” and Ulrich’s drumming style had a lot to do with it. Obviously influenced by bands such as Deep Purple, but Ulrich also developed his style from Latin breakbeats, specifically the use of the double bass technique.
One of Ulrich’s most notable characteristics of his drumming is his ability to play in sync with James Hetfield on rhythm guitar, creating that “thrashing,” fast-paced sound Metallica has become famous for.
Metallica continues to play today, and Ulrich has begun hosting his own podcast, It’s Electric, where he speaks with other prominent artists. Metallica would go on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, making Ulrich the first ever Dane to get the award.
Max Weinberg – E Street Band 1974- Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Max Weinberg, born and raised in New Jersey, is known for two reasons. First, as the drummer for the famous E Street Band, fronted by the boss, Bruce Springsteen. What makes Weinberg an amazing drummer was his ability to follow the boss’s every move, almost as if he could read his mind.
For anyone who is familiar with Bruce Springsteen’s live performances know just how much energy the boss has, and this familiarity made Weinberg irreplaceable.
After Springsteen dissolved the E Street Band in 1989, Weinberg fell into a hole and didn’t know what to do with himself, eventually running into newly hired Conan O’Brien, leading to his second breakthrough with success.
Weinberg would audition and become the bandleader of Conan O’Brien’s talk shows, such as Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. Springsteen brought the E Street Band back together in 1999, leaving Weinberg caught between two passions. Ultimately, he was able to work out a deal where he could do both until his departure before O’Brien’s newest talk show: Conan.
Weinberg’s drumming style has been influenced by a vast variety of people, starting at the age of five when he saw D. J Fontana perform with Elvis. He also idolized big band drummers Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, as well as the showmanship of Liberace and Sammy Davis Jr. These models all set a standard for Weinberg that would last for his entire life, putting professionalism above wild antics.
When Springsteen posted an ad in The Village Voice he famously wrote “No junior Ginger Bakers,” which is the perfect way to describe Weinberg. Known for his steady hand and perfect tempo, Weinberg wouldn’t be remembered for long drum solos, but instead, as being able to back The Boss whenever he needed. Weinberg and the E Street Band would go on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Alex Van Halen – Van Halen 1974 – Present – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Believe it or not, Alex Van Halen started his musical career playing the guitar, while his brother, Eddie Van Halen, started his career playing the drums. When Eddie was out delivering newspapers to pay off his drum set, Alex would practice and eventually got better than his brother.
The two would go on to form several bands throughout Pasadena, CA, but only one will live on forever: Van Halen. This band is credited for bringing rock music back into the spotlight with their “glam-rock” appearance that was only described as energetic and fun.
Although the band went through a couple of back-and-forth singer changes between David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, the Van Halen brothers have played in the band for over four decades, most recently replacing longtime bassist Michael Anthony with Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang.
Alex Van Halen has mentioned some of his biggest influences have been Billy Cobham, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, and Jon Bonham. His music style can only be described as “arena-filling,” as his drumming alone can make a crowd jump. His nimbleness and swinging groove on the drums helped Van Halen become the band they are today. Not only were his skills admired, but also his perseverance.
One time, when Van Halen was opening for The Rolling Stones, Alex would later admit to playing with a hand broken in four places. Despite these injuries, the drummer played the shows, tying the drumsticks to his wrists as a last effort. Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Stewart Copeland – The Police 1977-2008 – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
When you hear the band The Police, you most likely think of the names “Sting” and Roxanne.” Many people don’t recognize the name Stewart Copeland immediately unless you’re a fan.
Born in Virginia, Copeland and his family moved away from America and lived in the Middle East for his youth. During this time, Copeland picked up the drums and was heavily influenced by Lebanese music.
After living in the Middle East, Copeland hopped back and forth between California and England. This also influenced his music style as he learned new drumming styles such as rock and roll, jazz, and reggae.
Unlike most drummers on this list, Copeland points his finger to one person that influenced him: Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Later, Copeland would also credit Sandy Nelson and Ginger Baker as influences, but whenever he had to figure out a beat to a song, Copeland would think “How would Mitch Mitchell play this?”
In early 1977 Copeland formed the British rock band The Police, along with singer Sting and guitarist Andy Summers. The Police would have an enormous impact on both British and American music, often being cited as a driving force in the British New-Wave scene. Copeland himself created a dynamic range for himself by adding octobans and splash cymbals to his drum kit and became known for his jazz articulation on the snare, and timekeeping without it.
After 12 years, The Police called it quits and Copeland would go on to compose several soundtracks for movies, tv shows, video games, operas, orchestras, and ballets. Some of his most popular works outside of The Police include creating the soundtrack Good Burger, Nickelodeon’s The Amanda Show, and the video game Spyro series.
Copeland is still very active in the music community and has also been elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Police in 2003, the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame in 2013.
Ginger Baker – Cream 1966-1968, Blind Faith 1969 – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
When you think of a drummer, you most likely think about long-drawn-out drum solos that are impossible to look away from. Ginger Baker, the drummer from Cream, is the reason we love drum solos.
To many rock historians, Cream is considered to be one of the world’s first supergroups. The British rock band featured Manfred Mann’s Bassist Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton of The Yardbirds, and then Ginger Baker.
Baker started playing drums by the age of 15 and quickly became influenced by people such as Phil Seaman (his mentor), Art Blakely, Max Roach, and Elvis Jones. In terms of genres, Baker was heavily influenced by African rhythms, jazz, and bebop.
Baker, along with Keith Moon, has been credited for being one of the first rock drummers to incorporate double bass drums in their drum kit. Ginger Baker is also known for his long, extended drum solos that would influence many of the drummers on this list.
When Bruce Springsteen was looking for a drummer to join his E Street Band, he famously wrote in the ad “no junior Ginger Bakers.” Cream only lasted about two years until Baker went on to play with another supergroup, Blind Faith, for only a year in 1969 before the band broke up.
Baker is alive today but has been forced to stop drumming due to health complications. He has been inducted into the Rock of Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 with Cream, Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2008, and the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame in 2016.
Charlie Watts – The Rolling Stones 1963 – Present
Charlie Watts was the counterweight of The Rolling Stones that they needed. Watts was born and grew up around the London area, where eventually he met his neighbor, Dave Green. The two started playing music together, and eventually Watts started to find an appreciation for the drums.
Watts grew up admiring rhythm and blues and finding inspiration from musicians such as Charlie Parker. His drumming style was modeled after these influences, which mainly consisted of “swinging grooves.”
Eventually, Watts started to play with several bands at local rhythm and blues clubs while working as a graphic designer. It was at these clubs where Watts met soon-to-be-bandmates Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. They formed The Rolling Stones in 1962.
Throughout his career, which still runs to this day, Watts has admitted to not be attracted to the rock and roll lifestyle the rest of his bandmates partake in. “I’ve never filled the stereotype of the rock star,” Watts said. “Back in the ’70s, Bill Wyman and I decided to grow beards, and the effort left us exhausted.”
Instead, he took a more quiet, private approach to life. Watts rarely engaged with the groupies or partying, although he did have to admit to battling addiction in the 80s.
The Rolling Stones would go on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. In 2006, Watts himself was inducted into both the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame as well as the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame by Vanity Fair magazine.
Chad Smith – Red Hot Chili Peppers 1988 – Present
Chad Smith didn’t have the most conventional way of becoming famous. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Smith would eventually become the drummer for Los Angeles group Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it took some time.
Never taking drum lessons, Smith taught himself how to play the drums and learned from the bands he played with in high school. During this time, he was heavily influenced by R&B and funk music after being introduced by percussionist Larry Fratangelo.
“I think up until then, I was a drummer. Once I studied with Larry, I turned into a musician,” said Smith. Other artists Smith was influenced by include Buddy Rich, John Bonham, Ian Paice, Mitch Mitchell, Bill Ward, Keith Moon, Neil Peart and many others.
He ran away from home at the age of 15, and then eventually moved the California in hopes of becoming a famous musician. While in Los Angeles, Smith auditioned for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but didn’t believe to have “the look” they were going for, according to singer Anthony Kiedis, who eventually brought him on because of his impressive style and persistence.
The band instantly clicked and went on to become one of California’s greatest rock bands today. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Smith still plays to this day with Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as other side projects such as Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatballs and supergroup Chickenfoot. Red Hot Chili Peppers are expected to release their 12th studio album in 2019.
Dave Grohl – Nirvana 1990-1994 – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Dave Grohl is known for many reasons, depending on who you ask. If you ask the older generation, they will tell you he was the drummer for the legendary grunge trio Nirvana, out of Seattle. For anyone who was born after the 90’s, they might tell you he’s the singer of Foo Fighters.
No matter where you know him from, Grohl has proven to be a good-hearted musician who has made decades of great music. Grohl started teaching himself how to play drums and guitar at the age of 12 after he got tired of taking lessons.
His musical influences can be pointed towards one person: John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Bonham’s chaotic structure appealed greatly to Grohl, who later got Bonham’s three-ring symbol tattooed on his wrist.
He often played with his older sister, who at the time, was experimenting with music. Their musical styles often clashed with each other but would occasionally come together when they played Bowie or Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Eventually, Grohl was introduced to punk music and joined the hardcore punk band Dain Bramage as their drummer. This initially started his musical career where he met several influential people, including Buzz Osbourne of The Melvins.
Grohl went through several bands before eventually being encouraged by Osbourne to reach out to Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain and audition to be the drummer in their band, Nirvana. This band went on to become the pioneers of grunge music and was a voice for the youth during that time.
In 2014, in their first year of eligibility, Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for the music world, Kurt Cobain was found dead on April 5, 1994, ending Nirvana. Grohl went on to start many other bands such as Foo Fighters and Them Crooked Vultures with John Paul Johns (Led Zeppelin) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age).
Neil Peart – Rush 1974- 2013
Canadian drummer Neil Peart proves that you don’t have to be British to be an all-time great drummer. Born in Ontario, Neil Peart started playing the drums at the age of 13 at sought out to become a professional musician.
After traveling to Britain to find some work, he eventually gave up and moved back to Canada to support himself. This led to auditioning for the band Rush, which he got, and became famously known for. Peart’s drumming is known for its technical proficiency and stamina, two skills easily heard when listening to any of his solos.
What’s more impressive is the drum kit that he would perform these solos on. Made up of a collection of multiple tom-toms, cymbals, bass drums and snares, Peart’s drumming and style makes his drum kit look like a new language.
His musical influence comes from a diverse group of musicians, starting with Keith Moon of The Who, who initially inspired him to start playing the drums. Other influences include John Bonham, Pete Thomas, Ginger Baker, as well as fusion and jazz drummers Buddy Rich, Billy Cobham, and Gene Krupa.
Peart’s playing style shifted midway through his career when he started studying under Freddie Gruber, who suggested Peart switch from a matched grip to a traditional one. No matter who he was studying under, or what he was playing, Peart always played with the butt-end of the drumstick, a habit picked up at a young age from not being able to purchase new sticks if he broke them.
Rush has since retired from the music industry because of growing health concerns of Peart, who suffers from chronic tendonitis and shoulder pain. Rush was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
Keith Moon – The Who 1964 -1978 – Top Rock Drummers of All Time
Keith Moon was another eccentric drummer who is considered to be one of the best of all time. Famous for being the drummer of The Who, Moon’s career proved to be anything but calm.
Growing up in Middlesex, England, Moon quickly became popular for his wild drumming style that closely resembled his personality. There are many influences that go into Moon’s rowdy musical style. Moon appreciated jazz, surf rock, and rhythm and blues while idolizing/mimicking drummers such as Hal Blaine, Gene Krupa, DJ Fontana, Tony Meehan, and Viv Prince.
The biggest influence in Moon’s life, however, was partying. Moon had become notorious for being a party animal who often destroyed hotel rooms and passed out during performances. This vivacious lifestyle greatly influenced his musical influence, as he is credited for being one of the first musicians to incorporate double bass drums in their drum kit.
Moon also filled blank space on his drum kit with a lot of cymbal crashes, drum fills, and excessive tom-tom usage. This unique sound greatly contributed to The Who’s success, who would go on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Moon’s destructive behavior progressively got worse throughout his career. Eventually, the party lifestyle caught up to him and Moon died in 1978 when he overdosed on Heminevrin, a prescription drug used to treat alcohol withdrawals. To this day, Moon is recognized as one of the greatest drummers in the world, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked him as the second best, only behind John Bonham.
John Bonham – Led Zeppelin 1968 – 1980
Easily considered to be one of the most influential musicians ever, Bonham has solidified his name in history with fast-paced groovy beats that seem to always keep you on your toes.
Starting at the age of five, Bonham started to learn how to play the drums by mimicking some of his idols, such as Ginger Baker, Max Roach, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich. Bonham grew up to be musically influenced by Motown and jazz, and obviously favored the rhythm section.
Eventually, Bonham met a young Robert Plant and they played together in a blues group called Crawling King Snakes. After the Crawling King Snakes, Plant started a new band, Band of Joy, where Bonham was recruited to be the drummer.
In 1968, Tim Rose toured Britain and asked Plant if Band of Joy would open for them. Plant agreed, but once the tour came to an end Bonham realized he wanted to play for Rose instead of Plant. This proved to be vital when Jimmy Page met with Plant and they discussed who the drummer for the New Yardbirds (eventually Led Zeppelin) would be.
Originally Page was leaning toward someone else for the role, but then remembered seeing Bonham play with Rose when he toured in Britain. Led Zeppelin would go on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, unfortunately, Bonham wasn’t able to make the ceremony.
Bonham died in 1980 from pulmonary asphyxiation, a possible result of over drinking, which Bonham was a big fan of. Bonham’s death effectively broke up Led Zeppelin. In 2016 Rolling Stone magazine ranked Bonham as the greatest drummer of all time, a title he rightfully deserves.