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Top 10 Greatest Rock and Roll Drummers of All Time

Neil Peart playing at the Air Canada Centre in 2010. Photo courtesy of Clalansingh via Wikimedia.
Neil Peart playing at the Air Canada Centre in 2010. Photo courtesy of Clalansingh via Wikimedia.

Who is the best drummer of all time? Well, depends on who you ask. Every great rock band has a steady-handed drummer controlling the rhythm and pace of the song. Great drummers are found everywhere, from heavy-metal juggernauts like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham to contemporary rock like Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters/ Them Crooked Vultures. 

These drummers have demonstrated their technical proficiency as well as influenced generations of drummers to come. 

Here are our top 10 drummers of all time.

John Bonham – Led Zeppelin 

Bonham has solidified his name in history with fast-paced groovy beats that seem always to keep you on your toes.

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 where Bonham was recruited to be their rock drummer.

Eventually, Jimmy Page met with Plant, and the group would start the New Yardbirds (eventually Led Zeppelin).

Led Zeppelin would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Bonham would go on to be considered one of the greater drummers of all time.

Keith Moon – The Who 

Keith Moon. Photo Courtesy of Bill Abbott via Flickr.
Keith Moon. Photo Courtesy of Bill Abbott via Flickr.

Keith Moon, the drummer of The Who, was another eccentric drummer considered one of the best of all time. 

A vivacious lifestyle greatly influenced his musical influence. 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 many cymbal crashes, drum fills, and excessive tom-tom usage.

This unique sound significantly contributed to The Who’s success. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the band in 1990.

Neil Peart – Rush 

Neil Peart playing at the Air Canada Centre in 2010. Photo courtesy of Clalansingh via Wikimedia.
Neil Peart playing at the Air Canada Centre in 2010. Photo courtesy of Clalansingh via Wikimedia.

Born in Ontario, Neil Peart started playing the drum set at 13 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. Eventually, he would audition for Rush, the band that would eventually make him famous. 

Peart’s rock drumming is known for its technical proficiency and stamina..

What’s more impressive is the versatility of the drum kit, made up of a collection of multiple tom-toms, cymbals, bass drums, and snares.

His musical influence comes from a diverse group of musicians, starting with Keith Moon of The Who, who initially inspired him to play the drums. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Rush in 2013.

Clem Burke – Blondie 

Before rock n roll 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, a pioneer of the new wave/ punk scene.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the American band in 2006. The band couldn’t have done it without their drummer Clem Burke, who joined the band shortly after they originated and quickly provided a wide variety of sounds to help shape the band. 

Together, Blondie and other new wave bands helped combine disco, reggae, pop, and early rap, leading to rock music. Blondie disbanded in 1982 for 15 years but returned in 1997 and continues to release music today.

Ringo Starr – The Beatles 

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Photo courtesy of Rob DiCaterino via Flickr.
Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Photo courtesy of Rob DiCaterino via Flickr.

Ringo Starr is famous for being one of the greatest drummers of all time with The Beatles. 

Critics describe his drumming style as exuberant and full of swing and feel.

Although his music featured fun fills and energetic grooves, he was also very gentle and approachable, significantly contributing to The Beatles’ success.

Before Starr, most drummers would only be members in the orchestra or backing band but never had an identity unless you were one of the best, like Buddy Rich, Hal Blaine, or Gene Krupa. Starr gave drummers the identity they deserved, much like songwriter and frontman John Lennon.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the superstar drummer twice. Once in 1988 with The Beatles, and a second time in 2015 as a solo artist. In 2018,Starr became a Knight Bachelor for his service in music.

Ginger Baker – Cream, Blind Faith 

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 why we love drum solos.

Many rock historians consider Cream as one of the world’s first supergroups. The British rock band featured Manfred Mann’s Bassist Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton of The Yardbirds, and 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. 

Along with Keith Moon, Baker has been one of the first rock drummers to incorporate double bass drums in their drum kit. 

Several notable establishments have inducted the drummer, including the Rock of Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 with Cream, the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2008, and the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame in 2016.

Mitch Mitchell – The Jimi Hendrix Experience 

Mitch Mitchell. Photo courtesy of Mitch007008 via Flickr.
Mitch Mitchell. Photo courtesy of Mitch007008 via Flickr.

Mitch Mitchell has played around with many musicians while he was alive, but he is remembered for being a part of The Jimi Hendrix experience until Hendrix passed away in 1970.

Mitchell had an infatuation for crashing on his cymbals, a technique that would later complement Hendrix’s guitar riffs.

In 1974, he auditioned to be a part of Paul McCartney’s band Wings but ironically lost in a coin toss. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1992. The Modern Drummer Hall of Fame inducted Mitchell himself in 2009.

Mitchell has influenced many drummers, including Ian Paice, Stewart Copeland, Chad Smith, Roger Taylor, Bill Bruford, and Phil Collins.

Ian Paice – Deep Purple 

Deep Purple’s guitarist Ritchie Blackmore described Ian Paice as “the motor of the band” when he first saw him perform in Hamburg. 

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.

Throughout Deep Purple’s songs, you can hear the simplicity of timekeeping of the backbeat Paice creates with the high hat yet can transition into a drum fill or variation without losing the beat.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Deep Purple in 2016. Before that, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized the band as “the globe’s loudest band” from a concert in London that left three people unconscious.

Bill Ward – Black Sabbath

Bill Ward is an English drummer known as one of the founding members of Black Sabbath, a pioneer in the heavy metal scene. 

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 matching Tony Iommi’s powerful riffs.

Many different fashions recognize Black Sabbath, including by the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. MTV called the band as “the greatest metal band,” while VH1 ranked them 2nd in their list of “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.”

Dave Lombardo – Slayer 

Dave Lombardo performing with Suicidal Tendencies - 2016. Photo courtesy of Krousky Peutebatre via Wikimedia.
Dave Lombardo performing with Suicidal Tendencies – 2016. Photo courtesy of Krousky Peutebatre via Wikimedia.

Dave Lombardo is known for his aggressive, fast-paced drumming in Slayer, one of the four founding thrash metal bands.

16-year-old Lombardo met his neighbor, and soon-to-be bandmate, Kerry King, and quickly hit it off, eventually starting Slayer in 1981, taking hard rock a step further.

Lombardo specializes in using double bass drums (instead of double bass pedals) to achieve his thunderous speed (up to 210 BPM), which 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. 

Although Lombardo is still in the music industry, many hard rock and metal musicians have cited him as an early influence in their life, including members of the bands Death, Danny Carey of Tool Evanescence, Cannibal Corpse, Metallica, Slipknot, Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones, and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater.

Joey Reams
Author: Joey Reams

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