Who among music fans hasn’t had a debate, if not a full-blown argument about which drummer is the greatest? It’s time to respond to your emails. We undoubtedly rank these musicians on different criteria.
Some people are only concerned about technical skill, while others care more about simplicity and perfect timing. I know of someone who measures an artist based on their mass appeal and the number of nominations or wins they receive from the sometimes-frank Grammy Awards.
The list considers all those factors and weighs them together. It doesn’t really matter how skilled a drummer is. We have to narrow it down to the top 10, as there are many great drummers. We have included a section for runners-up and honorable mentions below.
Our list of the greatest bassists of all times will be a great resource. The rhythm section is built on the drums and bass. Many of these top drummers have worked with some of the most influential bassists of all time. Let’s move on to the list, which includes the top drummers ever…
#10 – Bill Bruford
ASSOCIATED ACTS : YES KING CRIMSON EARTHWORKS GENESIS
Bill Bruford, a master drummer/percussionist, made his mark in Yes. He continued his meteoric rise as a drummer for King Crimson and Genesis. He continued his career in other bands and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Many of the best drummers around the globe consider him an influence, including Mike Portnoy (pictured) and Danny Carey (pictured). He was an early technical prowess, combined with his jazz knowledge and rock energy, which led to enough success for him to be able to develop further into what he describes as a “polymetric-funk savant.”
Trivia Facts Bill Bruford received his PhD in Music at the University of Surrey in 2016. Ginger Baker is one of his primary drumming influences. He learned from Lou Pocock, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s drummer, as a youngster.
#9 – Max Weinberg
ASSOCIATED ACTS : BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, E STREET BAND
Max Weinberg is a legendary drummer, known for his consistent performances with Bruce Springsteen night after night. He also leads the Max Weinberg 7 on The Late Night Show with Conan O’Brien as well as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
His band is known for their drum-driven jump blues sound. It is a different skill set to be a drummer in a band than a guitarist or singer. His influences include Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. Weinberg’s “show up every day and do a great job” philosophy is something that we can all learn from.
Trivia Facts – Max Weinberg was the father of Jay Weinberg, one of Slipknot’s drummers. When he was five years old, he witnessed Elvis Presley and D.J. Fontana was a performer on The Milton Berle show in 1956. He was already practicing at age six and was playing in bands by age seven.
#8 – Mike Portnoy
ASSOCIATED ACTS – DREAM THEATER, BAND NEAL MORSE
Mike Portnoy is a veteran of many bands and has started many others. However, he is best known for his 25-year run with Dream Theater. Although he took music theory classes in high school, he is a complete self-taught drummer. ModerN Drummer awarded him 30 awards for his drum skills and put him in their hall-of-fame.
Portnoy regards Bill Bruford and Alan White as his inspirations. If you need a recommendation, Portnoy endorses Remo drumheads and Remo cymbals as well as Promark drumsticks.
Trivia Facts – Mike Portnoy met John Petrucci, John Myung at Berklee College of Music. They soon quit and founded Dream Theater (originally called Majesty). His daughter, Meanstreak, is an all-female group that he and his wife are part of with other Dream Theater members.
#7 – Buddy Rich
ASSOCIATED ACTS JOE MARSALA BUNNY BERIGAN, ARTIE SAW
Buddy Rich was a jazz drummer who was also a bandleader. He was well-known for his speed and ability to play the drums without having to sacrifice his technique. He was a self-taught child prodigy who played the drums in Broadway shows at age four as well as in vaudeville shows. In his teens, he began leading bands on international tours and was the 2nd highest-paid child entertainer in the 1930s.
He didn’t lose his appeal to big bands, but he kept his commitment to the art by performing for Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and many other TV appearances. While he played with a traditional grip, he would change to matched grips when playing floor toms. He also performed cross-stickings as part of his stick-tricks. He used brushes almost exclusively during a time.
Trivia Facts One of the most remarkable events in his life was when Buddy Rich taught Mel Brooks drum lessons at 14 years old. He was a U.S Marine Corps judo instructor. Rich was short-tempered and got into fights with Frank Sinatra. This was not good since Rich was a black belt at karate.
#6 – Hal Blaine
ASSOCIATED ACTS – THE WRECKING COW, THE BEACH BOYS
Hal Blaine, the most-recorded studio drummer ever, has recorded in more than 35,000 sessions and over 6,000 singles. He has been a part of 40 number-one hits and 150 US top-10 hits. He has played with many of the most popular musical acts today. He is also the proud owner of all the awards.
His legacy includes the popularization of the disco beat on studio recordings. He was a part of every Grammy Award Record of the Year winner from different artists between 1966 and 1971. As computers and drum machines became more common, he reduced his session work but continued to record for TV, film and jingles.
Trivia Facts Hal Blaine started playing drums when he was eight years old. His first major break came with Count Basie’s big-band. His “Hal Blaine Strikes Again” stamp would be placed on music scores and places where he played. His rendition of “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes is one of the most popular drum beats.
#5 – Keith Moon
ASSOCIATED ACTS – THE WHO, PLASTIC OHNO BAND
Keith Moon, the drummer of The Who, was well-known for using double bass drums in his drum set as a young man. He was a great drummer, putting in drum fills at the most bizarre places in songs. He also emphasised tom-toms as well as cymbals, and acting more like an orchestrator rather than a drummer. He had a reputation for imitating other greats such as Gene Krupa or Hal Blaine but with much less precision.
He resented drum solos and would not play them, even when forced to. After nearly all shows, he would set fire to his drum kit. He also destroyed entire hotels and their plumbing. His destructive behavior caused his premature death, but he still managed to make a mark as one the greatest drummers of all time.
Trivia Facts Keith Moon was the inspiration behind the Muppets character Animal. He was nicknamed “Moon the Loon” for his destructive behavior. He is said to have invented the phrase “lead Zeppelin”, which was subsequently used as the name of the band Led Zeppelin.
#4 – John Bonham
ASSOCIATED ACTS : LED ZEPPELIN, JOY BAND
John Bonham, Led Zeppelin’s drummer, was often regarded as the greatest. His instinctive and intuitive feel for the groove made him a favorite of speed, kick drumming and hard-hitting power. At 15 years of age, he received his first drum set. He was mostly self-taught and influenced by Buddy Rich and Max Roach.
Bonham’s talent was so intense that modern drummers Dave Grohl and Dave Lombardo consider him their greatest inspiration. Although Bonham was a master of dynamic rock drumming and funk, he also incorporated Latin and funk styles into his work later.
Trivia Facts John Bonham’s solo drum “Moby Dick”, which lasted over 20 minutes, was a hit with the crowd. Although he has received all the recognitions and awards, music critics did not appreciate his straight playing and said he lacks swinging.
#3 – Bernard Purdie
ASSOCIATED ACTS JEFF BECK and STEELY DAN, THE B’S
Bernard Purdie, also known as “Mississippi Bigfoot,” used to be the most sought-after drummer in the music industry. It is easier to discuss who he hasn’t played with than it is to list who he does. Steely Dan invited him in because he played so well, even with complicated drum patterns. They are serious sticklers about everything.
His ability to keep time and use of triplets, half-time (The Purdie Shuffle), as well as his professionalism helped him rise to the top. He is a unique entertainer with his syncopated ghost sounds and the fusion of styles like blues, swing, and funk.
Trivia Facts – Bernard Purdie learnt to drum from Leonard Heywood. He has played on many of the greatest hits, including overdubbing for The Beatles. He was a session player for James Brown.
#2 – Neil Peart
ASSOCIATED ACTS RUSH, VERTICAL HOORIZON, BUDDY RICH BIG BAND
Neil Peart is the legendary drummer for Rush. He was chosen by Rush after an audition as he reminded them of Keith Moon, The Who. He was nothing like Moon, except for his hard-hitting style. Moon was loose with his timing but Peart was perhaps the most technical and meticulous player of all time.
Before his passing, I had the privilege of witnessing him with his enormous drum kit live. He could see it all 360 degrees, and it included digital samplers. During a solo, he played all the parts of a full band.
Trivia Facts Neil Peart was Rush’s primary lyricist. He also wrote seven nonfiction books. He was also part of Hush before auditioning for Rush. For increased rimshot power, he often flipped his stick orientation and played with the butt-end. It was because he had broken the tips of his sticks in youth and couldn’t afford new sticks. He became accustomed to it.
#1 – Ginger Baker
ASSOCIATED ACTS : CREAM, BLIND FAITH, AIR FORCE
Ginger Baker, along with Eric Clapton, is most well-known as the legendary drummer for Cream and Blind Faith. He was among the first drummers to use two drum sets and record long solos. His use of syncopation, matched grip, African rhythms and ride cymbals made he more of a jazz and bebop drummer than a rock one.
Baker’s talent is recognized by all the greats. Neil Peart said that Baker set the standard for rock drumming. Baker’s showmanship and playing are described as primal and extroverted. Even though he was not a drummer in heavy metal, he is considered to be a pioneer of the genre.
Trivia Facts Ginger Baker learned from Phil Seamen in the 1960’s but was largely self-taught. Baker joined several bands after the dissolution of Blind Faith. He also owned a recording studio. None of these ventures worked out for Baker.
Runners up: Who is almost the best drummer of all time?
It is impossible to list only the top 10 most influential drummers of all times. There are so many great drummers we could argue should be on the list. We’re adding this runners-up section to honor these legends and to please our readers. Don’t forget to check out the honorable mentions below.
ASSOCIATED ACTS EDDIE CONDON, BENNY GOODMAN
Gene Krupa is the rock drummer. He was the first person to make the drummer a solo musician, rather than an accompanying member in a band. He was the founder father of modern drumsets and helped define the drum kit.
He performed in Chicago jazz style with press rolls. His tom-tom interludes are the first commercially recorded extended drum solos. Although he was a drummer since the 1920s, his innovations in drumming have been recognized by the public.
Trivia Facts Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa had “The Drum Battle” shows in Caregie Hall in 1952. They also televised the events and later released two studio albums. He started a school for music after he retired from growing back pain. He was a star in many movies, and even had a movie about his life made.
ASSOCIATED ACTS : SLAYER. GRIP INC.., TESTAMENT. THE MISFITS
Dave Lombardo is most well-known as the drummer and co-founder of the thrash metal band Slayer. His playing is both extremely innovative and aggressive. Drummerworld refers to him as the “godfather” of the double basse. He is the main drummer in all the metal sub-genres. He is respected for his technical skills and energy.
At the age of 8, he began playing percussion and got his first drum set at 10. He has a refined style and doesn’t overplay. His music is effortless and other musicians regard him as a natural.
Trivia Facts Dave Lombardo was born left-handed but learned right-handed drumming with a right-handed drum kit. He has created several art collections, including the first called Rhythm Mysterium. Now he uses a new medium called rhythm-on-canvas.
ASSOCIATED ACTS : TOTO, STEELY DA
Jeff Porcaro was the drummer of Toto. This already tells all you need to know. His playing is so precise and perfect that it’s almost like Bernard Purdie, you would think that a computer created the sounds. Steely Dan hired him to prove it.
Many believe that Porcaro’s sound is the basis for the MIDI drumming of 1980’s and 1990’s. Porcaro is also one of the most famous session musicians in music history. At age 7, he began playing drums and became a professional drummer at the age of 17.
Trivia Facts The Half-Time Shuffle Groove is his most well-known drum pattern from the Toto song “Rosanna”. It’s based on the Purdie Shuffle. He has played with many of the most famous names, including four tracks on Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Honorable Mentions for The Best Drummers of All Time
Even with this extra section, there are many names we would love to talk about but we must stop somewhere. These men deserve to be recognized. These guys are true icons of drumming that you need to know about and love.
- RingoStarr is most well-known as the drummer for The Beatles. His music was straightforward, but he was consistent and reliable in a way that few other musicians can match.
- Phil Collins has been a huge success and is perhaps best known for his work on Genesis. He started his career at the age of 5 and was always destined to become a great musician.
- Stewart Copeland served as the drummer for The Police. His unique style makes it easy to recognize that he is playing.
- Dave Grohl was a star with Nirvana, the Foo Fighters, and has continued to produce a remarkable output. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and focuses less on the drums these days.
- Danny Carey, Tool’s drummer. Many of his drumming patterns are based on sacred geometry, and he goes far beyond. However, it’s all original and well played.
- Alan White has been the long-running drummer at Yes. He is well-known for his big hits, such as John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
I feel sorry for other drummers that I would love to include. We are proud to have listed more than 10 musicians, and there are many great players out there. We must stop.
It’s fun to jump over to our list of the greatest bands to see how many of these great drummers were part of those bands. There are many names on our guitarist lists. Amazing musicians came together and merged their talents to create some amazing music. We are grateful to them as well as to you for reading.
Top 10 Most Influential Drummers of All Time
This table lists the top drummers of all times. It includes their names as well as the associated acts.
|1||Ginger Baker||Air Force, Blind Faith, Cream|
|2||Neil Peart||Rush, Vertical Horizon, Buddy Rich Big Band|
|3||Bernard Purdie||Jeff Beck, Steely Dan and The 3B’S|
|4||John Bonham||Led Zeppelin Band Of Joy|
|5||Keith Moon||The Who, Plastic Ono Band|
|6||Hal Blaine||The Wrecking Crew, The Beach Boys|
|7||Buddy Rich||Joe Marsala, Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw|
|8||Mike Portnoy||Neal Morse Band, Dream Theater|
|9||Max Weinberg||Bruce Springsteen, E Street Band|
|10||Bill Bruford||Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks, Genesis|