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Best Drummers Of All Time: 40 Iconic Musicians Who Can’t Be Beat
List & Guides

Best Drummers Of All Time: 40 Iconic Musicians Who Can’t Be Beat

From rock’n’roll riot-starters to formidably funky floor-fillers, the best drummers made music history by moving our heads and our feet.

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Far from disappearing into the background as the lead guitarist steals the spotlight, the best drummers have often played a vital role throughout music history. From jazz and rock’n’roll all the way through to prog-metal, the men and women behind the kit revel in giving metronomic support just as much as they embellish the rhythm with ornate fills and explosive hi-hat outbursts. Here, then, is our list of the best drummers of all time…

Listen to our Rock Classics playlist here, and check out the best drummers of all time, below

40: Moe Tucker

Not only did The Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker blaze a trail in the 60s for the best female drummers to follow, but her brazenly unorthodox playing style instantly set her apart on New York City’s underground scene. Placing her bass drum on its side and choosing to play with mallets, Tucker’s minimalist and unconventional spirit perfectly complemented Lou Reed’s transgressive lyricism and the droning, avant-garde wail of John Cale’s viola.

Hammering her tom-toms and large cymbals amid a maelstrom of proto-punk distortion, Tucker succeeded in stripping percussion back to its booming essence in such a seminal way that her innovations would go on to inspire future garage-rock drummers such as Meg White of The White Stripes. In an era when female drummers were few and far between, Moe Tucker was a much-needed rarity.

Must hear: I’m Waiting For The Man

39: Joey Jordison

Leading the charge in the nu-metal revolution, the ungodly noise of Slipknot was enough to rouse anyone from a coma. Staring daggers from behind a kabuki-style mask, the band’s original drummer and co-founder, Joey Jordison, played with all the blood-thirstiness of a killer in a video nasty, pummelling the listener with barbaric snare hits and merciless double kick drums. Brutally fusing the G-force of thrash and the thundering bombardment of death metal, Jordison easily ranks among the best drummers of his generation.

Deploying hardcore-style breakdowns to make Slipknot’s sound more aggressive, Jordison’s visceral approach boasted all the right theatrics to soundtrack Leatherface’s latest Texas Chainsaw Massacre spree. Tragically, he died at age 47, in 2021, but he will forever be remembered for the savage trail of alt-metal drumming classics he left behind.

Must hear: Disasterpiece

38: Dominic Howard

From the galloping hooves of Knights Of Cydonia to the military march of Invincible’s intro, Muse drummer Dom Howard has more than earned the right to be regarded as one of the best drummers of his era. A lynchpin of the Devonshire alt-rock power trio, Howard is crucial to his band’s success in the live arena, his versatile drumming style enabling him to dabble in everything from ear-shredding backbeats to electronic percussion.

Also adept at tackling the slower ballads penned by Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, Howard has a methodical playing technique which often sees him veering from foot-stomping shuffles to thrashing hard-rock with ease, as evidenced by the chaotic whirlwind he whips up on the Black Holes And Revelations album cut Assassin. “That’s me trying to find an area of heaviness without playing ‘rock grooves’,” Howard told Modern Drummer magazine. “It’s like finding an area of madness – controlled madness.”

Must hear: Assassin

37: Cozy Powell

With his aptitude for hard-rock shuffles and machine-gun rhythms, Cozy Powell rose to prominence in the 70s as the drummer for bands such as Jeff Beck Group and Rainbow, before enjoying a fruitful period as a much-respected session player. As a long-standing friend of Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, it was Powell who got the call during sessions for Plant’s debut studio album, Pictures At Eleven, on which the drummer channelled the spirit of the late John Bonham on the seven-minute rocker Slow Dancer.

Having played with numerous acts such as Michael Schenker Group, Gary Moore, Brian May, Whitensake and Black Sabbath, Powell’s reputation as a drummer is legendary. In 1998, following Powell’s death in a car crash on the M4 motorway at age 50, Brian May delivered a tribute that reveals everything anyone needs need to know about just how special Powell was. “Cozy and his generation created a new way of drumming,” the Queen guitarist said. “It was completely different. He hit it with every inch of his soul. He had that ebullient type of energy that you needed.”

Must hear: Slow Dancer

36: Vinnie Paul

Years ahead of his time in so many ways, Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul smashes and crashes his way into this list of the best drummers of all time; in fact, you could argue he altered the course of heavy-metal history forever. Pioneering groove metal with his detail-oriented barrage of deep double bass hits, Paul’s style was gut-punchingly powerful, crunching and churning like a car crusher in the dead of night.

“I did crazy stuff like taping silver dollars to my bass drums,” Paul later said. “I called it glass. It sounded like a glassy attack that nobody else really had.” Shattering preconceptions with shards of uniqueness and creativity, Paul has had an explosive influence on subsequent generations of drummers, particularly those coming to the fore during the mid-to-late-90s with alt-metal bands such as Korn, Deftones and Slipknot.

Must hear: 13 Steps to Nowhere

35: Questlove

Unlike the many 90s hip-hop groups whose beats came from samples, The Roots were a fully-fledged band playing instruments in real time. This presented their drummer, Questlove, with a unique challenge: with superhuman precision, the man born Ahmir K Thompson set out to mimic the “quantized” grooves favoured by beatmakers in the digital era, before giving The Roots’ music a decidedly more human feel by leaning into a “sloppy” style of syncopation.

In many interviews, Questlove has often cited hip-hop producer J Dilla’s unusual rhythmic style as being his biggest influence, resulting in woozy and intoxicating drum patterns (You Got Me) that give rapper Black Thought an inebrious foundation. “This is why I walk that Dilla path and play like a drunken sloppy AF amateur,” Questlove has said, “because them flaws is the human element in music that is missing.”

Must hear: You Got Me

34: Ian Paice

Blues-rock pioneers who became the progenitors of heavy metal, Deep Purple have always been underpinned by the ingenuity of their drummer, Ian Paice. Frequently launching into high-speed snare fusillades, Paice was originally inspired by jazz drummers such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, often invoking swing-style triplet fills that threaten to knock listeners off their feet.

Leading with his left foot on the bass drum with enviable rapidity, Paice quickly carved out a unique space for himself on the hard-rock scene, with tight yet bombastic rhythms and ultra-crisp strokes. As the man who single-handedly sowed the seeds of speed metal while, surprisingly, disavowing the necessity of a double bass drum style, Paice remains in a class of his own among the best drummers of all time.

Must hear: Highway Star

33: Dave Lombardo

Heavy metal was never the same again after thrash pioneers Slayer signed to Def Jam and burst onto the mainstream with their third studio album, 1986’s Reign In Blood. Quite simply, nobody else had ever played rock’n’roll as fast or as furiously, with songs such as Angel Of Death placing insane demands on drummer Dave Lombardo’s ability to propel Slayer’s full-on onslaught.

With his legs working overtime, Lombardo earned himself the title of “The Godfather Of Double Bass” by pioneering a fleet-footed and aggressive style of drumming that influenced a whole generation of metalheads. Hammering away at almost inhuman speeds and delivering punishing rolls, Lombardo placed a C4 explosive in the heart of rock’n’roll and destroyed every drummer’s playbook forevermore.

Must hear:: Raining Blood

32: Mike Joyce

Bringing rhythmic focus to The Smiths’ era-defining jangle-pop, the cleanly-executed ratatat of drummer Mike Joyce’s snare rolls and the sparse precision of his counter-rhythmic hi-hats were a masterclass in indie-rock perfection. Well poised and unembellished, Joyce’s drumming was the ideal backbone for guitarist Johnny Marr’s loose-limbed riffs and frontman Morrissey’s ingenious lyrics.

Devoting himself to complementing the band’s songs the best way he could, Joyce showed admirable restraint as a drummer, taking an unshowy approach in a way that was assertive yet subtle. From the unremitting drumrolls on What She Said to the funky syncopation of Barbarism Begins At Home, Joyce more than proved he was the perfect drummer for The Smiths.

Must hear: Barbarism Begins At Home

31: Rick Allen

After losing his left arm in a car crash in 1984, Rick Allen’s career as drummer for Def Leppard hung in the balance. However, in a remarkable tale of perseverance, Allen proved his adaptability by developing his own customised drum kit, with extra foot pedals to control the bass drum and hi-hats. Now playing one-handed, he also introduced electronic pads to his arsenal, successfully compensating for his physical limitation by completely redefining his drumming style.

With Def Leppard’s fourth studio album, Hysteria, going on to sell over 20 million copies, Allen’s comeback story is a true inspiration, and he fully deserves a spot on any list of the best drummers of all time. From the snarling drive of Animal to the reverb-laden snare hits of Pour Some Sugar On Me, Allen’s sound has filled sell-out stadium shows in a testament to his dogged determination and resilience.

Must hear: Pour Some Sugar On Me

30: Sheila E

Known for playing in stilettos, Sheila E is a fierce and ferocious female drummer who worked as musical director for Prince in the late 80s. As a solo artist in her own right, her musical prodigiousness knows no bounds. “There’s not a lot of female drummers out there,” she once said, “and I guess I appreciate being able to maybe help and encourage other girls to do it.”

Following hot on the heels of Prince’s collaboration with The Revolution, the Purple One’s close association with Sheila E allowed her to experiment with clean-sounding polyrhythms that bridged the sonic gap between mid-80s hip-hop beats and early-90s New Jack Swing-style R&B. Breaking into mesmerising drum solos and often mixing live percussion with drum machines, Sheila E paved the way for other female drummers, such as Cindy Blackman, to forge their own path.

Must hear: U Got The Look

29: Mitch Mitchell

Combining the flow of jazz phrasings with a hard-driving energy, Mitch Mitchell of The Jimi Hendrix Experience was among the best drummers of his generation to move rock’n’roll into new, heavier pastures. Being pushed to the front of the mix meant Hendrix often stole the show with his innovative guitar heroics, but the fluidity of Mitchell’s drumming simply must not be overlooked.

Packed full of such nuances as triplet patterns and speedy stroke rolls, Mitchell’s style deserves much credit for introducing jazz elements into rock music, impressing listeners with his sheer lack of inhibition and keen sense of groove. The speedy boogaloo-style pattern he used on Fire is a case in point: rock’n’roll music had rarely sounded so free and liberated.

Must hear: Fire

28: Stephen Morris

As percussionist for Joy Division and New Order, Stephen Morris was one of the best drummers to emerge from the post-punk period. From the incessant hi-hats of Transmission to the machine-like rolls of Bizarre Love Triangle, Morris took motorik influences into doom-laden, industrial terrains before adding a Day-Glo disco hue to his style of drumming by incorporating electronic drum machines into his kit.

Effectively transforming himself into a human beat box, Morris melded human intuition with emerging technology, embodying the ideal of a cyborg-like exponent of futurism. Seemingly picking up the baton from Kraftwerk’s early innovations, the importance of Stephen Morris’ role in reinventing the art of drumming for the new-wave era is incalculable.

Must hear: Transmission

27: Roger Taylor

It shouldn’t be a shock to see Roger Taylor listed among the best drummers of all time, but the Queen sticksman deserves far more credit than he gets. After all, Queen are one of the most-streamed rock bands on Spotify, with over 51 million monthly listeners – ahead of even The Beatles – and yet Taylor is rarely ever mentioned in the same breath as John Bonham, Keith Moon or even Ringo Starr.

In addition to being a songwriter in his own right, penning hits such as Radio Ga Ga and A Kind Of Magic, there’s no denying how integral Taylor’s drumming style was to Queen’s success. A versatile musician and performer, his kitwork was raw and primal; in the 70s, he aimed for a big, arena-ready sound thanks to his use of a 26-inch bass drum, while his skilful rimshots and barking hi-hats threw down the gauntlet for a whole generation of stadium-rockers who followed his example, among them the late Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters. (Further musical offspring includes his son Rufus Taylor, who now mans the drums for The Darkness.)

Must hear: It’s Late

26: Nicko McBrain

One of the best drummers to emerge from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain has had such an earth-shaking influence on music that he probably registers on the Richter scale. In contrast to later metal drummers, McBrain has always resisted the urge to adopt thrash’s reliance on double bass histrionics, instead favouring his own signature style: a fast and gallopy swing punctuated with energetic fills.

Not that McBrain’s a slouch in the footwork department; his kick drum pedal technique is truly exemplary. Easily outpacing most of his contemporaries in the rush to produce turbo-charged heavy metal grooves that are quick and hotfooted, McBrain is a true drumming legend who helped Iron Maiden forge a whole genre in their own image.

Must hear: Where Eagles Dare

25: Bill Ward

A powerhouse of a drummer whose stock in trade is ominous and foreboding hard-rock grooves, Bill Ward had an incalculable impact on the development of heavy metal. Inspired by the jazz drummers Gene Krupa, Buddy Williams and Joe Morello, Ward may not obviously follow in their footsteps, but his noisy yet meticulousness tom breaks and clattering snare-drills prove just how much a master of his craft he was.

As a drummer, Ward’s hard-hitting use of triplets and bone-crunching fills – especially when paired with Tony Iommi’s guitar riffs on songs such as The Wizard – were always suitably eerie, perfectly complementing the spooky occult references scattered throughout Black Sabbath’s body of work. A man of near-supernatural abilities himself, Ward transported his band’s doomy take on blues-rock to a spine-chilling netherworld of heavy metal limbo.

Must hear: Supernaut

24: Mike Portnoy

It wouldn’t be fair to leave Mike Portnoy off our list of the world’s best drummers, given the exceptional role he has played for progressive-metal stalwarts Dream Theater. After co-founding the group in 1985, Portnoy spent 25 years on the drum stool, establishing himself as a pioneering force in prog-metal, influenced by the likes of Queen, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Rush.

For Portnoy, being a great drummer isn’t just a way of life, it’s an academic pursuit. Having completed a scholarship at Berklee College Of Music, in Boston, Massachusetts, his percussion IQ is bursting at the seams. Messing with odd-meter time signatures (The Dance Of Eternity) and letting rip with aggressive fills that nearly threaten to overpower his bandmates (Constant Motion), Portnoy has amassed an incredible body of work with Dream Theater, and will no doubt remain an inspiration to future drummers.

Must hear: Constant Motion

23: Jeff Porcaro

Highly creative and equipped with an encyclopaedic knowledge of percussive tricks, Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro was one of the most esteemed session musicians of his era. Whether helping Steely Dan wrap their heads around Pretzel Logic or aiding Pink Floyd as they built The Wall, Porcaro relished the challenge of bringing jazz fusion styles into popular music, and was fondly regarded as a key figure in the rise of yacht-rock, right up until his untimely death in 1992, at age 38.

Porcaro’s drumming exuded style and sophistication, particularly through his own modified version of Bernard Purdie’s half-time shuffle, which gave Toto a US No.2 hit with the 1982 single Rosanna. Now referred to today as “the Rosanna shuffle”, Porcaro’s merging of a Bo Diddley-style beat and numerous ghost notes is so difficult to play it’s enough to make any aspiring drummer break out into a cold sweat. If that doesn’t make Porcaro one of the best drummers who ever lived, we don’t know what does.

Must hear: Rosanna

22: Omar Hakim

Earning the respect of his peers during the 80s, when he was a member of the jazz fusion band Weather Report, it was Omar Hakim’s role as a session musician that forever established him as one of the best drummers of all time. Always striving to avoid being pigeonholed into any one genre, Hakim brought his improvisatory talents into the pop charts via David Bowie (Let’s Dance, Modern Love), and popped up on albums such as Sting’s The Dream Of The Blue Turtles and Dire Straits’ mega-selling Brothers In Arms (both 1985).

Later in life, when electronic duo Daft Punk were making their 2013 album, Random Access Memories, it was Hakim they called upon to bring a more organic, human feel into their disco-funk dance anthem Get Lucky, playing alongside Chic’s Nile Rodgers. In the end, what truly sets Hakim apart is his versatility, fusing jazz, rock, pop and R&B into a unique flavour of his own.

Must hear: Modern Love

21: Danny Carey

Tool’s drummer, Danny Carey, is a giant of a man. Standing at six foot five inches tall, he makes for a towering presence in alternative metal and modern-day progressive rock. From the group’s debut album, 1993’s Undertow, to the polyrhythmic marvel that was 2019’s Fear Inoculum, Carey’s full breadth of percussive skills toy with unusual time signatures, peculiar meters and hard-hitting drum patterns.

Today, Carey has firmly established himself as one of the best metal drummers in the world, living up to the legacy of King Crimson’s Bill Bruford and Rush’s Neil Peart. From power-metal grooves to Eastern-inspired Mandala soundscapes, his exemplary drumming skills have cemented Tool’s standing as one of the most influential prog-metal groups of the last 30 years. To watch Carey perform is jaw-dropping – as evidenced by his performance on the 11-minute epic Pneuma.

Must hear: Pneuma

20: Alex Van Halen

Overshadowed by the flashy hard-rock showmanship of Eddie Van Halen, it’s easy to miss the important role the late guitarist’s elder brother, Alex, played as Van Halen’s drummer. Churning out countless feel-good grooves, Alex Van Halen thumbed his nose at the late-70s trend for disco by bringing rock’n’roll back from the brink of extinction.

From his solo in Light Up The Sky to the mega-busy hi-hats on Girl Gone Bad, Alex was just as crucial as his brother to Van Halen’s sound. For a scintillating showcase of his drumming abilities, listen to marching double-bass drum intro to Hot For Teacher – one of the most iconic song openings of all time. As one of classic rock’s most underrated talents, Alex Van Halen easily deserves to be considered one of the best drummers in rock history.

Must hear: Hot For Teacher

14: Mick Fleetwood

Along with bassist John McVie, Mick Fleetwood is one of Fleetwood Mac’s only remaining founding members, and is arguably the group’s driving force and one true constant. The drummer’s steadying presence not only provided anchorage to guitarist Peter Green’s bluesy proficiency, it also underpinned the bohemian-minded songwriting genius of Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie.

Weathering the changes from the British blues of Oh Well to the new-wave-era synth-pop of Little Lies, Fleetwood was one of the best drummers at providing a solid bedrock for the musically tight arrangements of his immensely talented bandmates. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album, Rumours, particularly on the classic-rock radio staple Dreams, whose rhythm may sound minimalist at first, but the magic is all in Fleetwood’s hypnotic, reverie-laced restraint.

Must hear: Dreams

18: Chad Smith

After joining Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1988, drummer Chad Smith immediately took the group on a journey that saw them transcend their scrappy funk influences to become fully-fledged stadium-rock icons. Bolstering a rhythm section that included feisty bassist Flea and quirky psych-rock guitarist John Frusciante, Smith gave the band a solid grounding in funk-rock while unleashing fills that fused the fieriness of Led Zeppelin with the eclecticism of Parliament/Funkadelic.

From Give It Away to Can’t Stop, Smith’s unique spin on 4/4 time and grace notes are nothing short of wondrous. The drummer is often compared to Anchorman comedian Will Ferrell in looks, but Chad Smith’s musical abilities are far beyond a joke, rising above most of his alternative-rock contemporaries to become one of the best drummers of his era.

Must hear: Can’t Stop

13: Dave Grohl

As one of the most iconic of all grunge bands, Nirvana provided a cultural-watershed moment with their 1991 breakthrough hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit. Along with Kurt Cobain’s anguished vocals, Grohl’s love of disco flams, utilised by The Gap Band and mixed with the hyperkinetic hardcore punk of Bad Brains drummer Earl Hudson, dragged a new breed of rock’n’roll out of the underground and into the mainstream.

Grohl would later ditch the drumsticks to front Foo Fighters, but he occasionally likes to remind us of his status as one of the world’s best drummers – from guesting on Queens Of The Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf album to forming Them Crooked Vultures, a supergroup comprised of guitar god Josh Homme and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. We wish he’d do it more often.

Must hear: Smells Like Teen Spirit

16: Nick Mason

From embracing the limitless scope of psychedelia on their 1967 debut album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, to exploring more ethereal soundscapes on their 70s masterpieces (The Dark Side Of The Moon,, Wish You Were Here, Animals), drummer Nick Mason is the pulse that kept Pink Floyd’s musical lifeblood flowing.

Decidedly modest and unflashy, favouring stately, texture-filled grooves that aerate the music, the best Nick Mason Pink Floyd performances have a minimalist and hypnotic approach that can leave listeners in a meditative haze. That said, despite his predilection for nuance, Mason’s fills and cymbal work are often stupefying, proving how much he deserves recognition for being one of the best drummers of all time.

Must hear: Time

15: Charlie Watts

With snare hits that cracked like a whip, the late Charlie Watts helped transform The Rolling Stones into one of the world’s greatest rock bands. Though he started off as a jazz drummer and modestly felt playing rock’n’roll excluded him from being considered among the world’s greats, Watts was nevertheless a beacon of poise and self-composure, harnessing the raucous noise of vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards into a rebellious, era-defining racket.

“I wanted to play drums because I fell in love with the glitter and the lights, but it wasn’t about adulation,” Watts later said. “It was being up there playing.” After spending 58 years touring the world with the Stones, Watts’ death, aged 80, in August 2021, led to tributes venerating him as one of the best drummers of all time. As accolades go, it was long overdue.

Must hear: Honky Tonk Women

14: Bill Bruford

Making a name for himself in the early 70s as part of the “classic” Yes line-up, Bill Bruford is widely considered to be one of the best drummers from prog-rock’s golden era. Able to navigate complicated time-signature shifts and infuse elements of jazz into the band’s lengthy compositions, Bruford’s crisp snare hits and pristine cymbal strikes radiated like spiralling UV rays on such classic Yes tracks as Roundabout and Heart Of The Sunrise.

Upon leaving Yes in 1972, Bruford joined experimental prog-rockers King Crimson and sought to radically diversify his drumming style. Leaning more into avant-garde jazz fusion techniques, Bruford dabbled in everything from spontaneous improvisations to challenging polyrhythms. Undeniably one of the most artful and free-spirited drummers of his generation, he took a series of twists and turns that remain dazzling to behold.

Must hear: Roundabout

12: Benny Benjamin

The Alabama-born session drummer who single-handedly invented the Motown beat, Benny Benjamin defined “The Sound Of Young America” like no other musician. Nicknamed “Papa Zita”, the drummer began flaunting his feel-good fills on Barrett Strong’s 1959 single Money (That’s What I Want) and soon found himself holding things down on hits for Smokey Robinson And The Miracles (Shop Around) and The Temptations (Get Ready).

Always a groovy and jiving presence, Benjamin also played on Stevie Wonder’s early hit single Uptight (Everything’s Alright), pushing the singer on with his flawless time-keeping. Motown founder Berry Gordy even regarded Benjamin as his favourite session drummer. “He has a pulse,” Gordy said, “a steadiness, that kept the tempo better than a metronome.” Benjamin died of a stroke aged 43, in 1969, but the mark he left on the rise of R&B and soul music cannot be denied.

Must hear: Get Ready

12: Hal Blaine

If a teenager turned their transistor radio dial to the hit parade in the 60s, it’s highly likely they’d hear a song with Hal Blaine’s drumming on it. Not that they’d realise it. Often working in relative anonymity, Blaine was a founding member of the Wrecking Crew, a band of Los Angeles session musicians who played on hundreds of hits across the decade. By inserting his jazz learnings into popular music arrangements, Blaine created drum parts that were often as iconic as the songs themselves.

Whether it was thumping opening of Be My Baby (The Ronettes) or the clank of Mr Tambourine Man (as covered by The Byrds), the psychedelic lid-flipping of Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys) or the West Coast pop of California Dreamin’ (The Mamas And The Papas), many of the best 60s songs were anchored by Blaine – a fact that makes him a mandatory inclusion among the best drummers of all time.

Must hear: Be My Baby

11: Ringo Starr

The British Invasion-era’s first superstar drummer, Ringo Starr helped The Beatles shine thanks to his deadpan wit and dependable backbeats. It would be easy to praise contemporaries such as Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) or Keith Moon (The Who) for being more flamboyant, but Starr’s understated approach, from his steadfast Merseybeat accompaniment to the more complex psychedelic clamour of Rain or Tomorrow Never Knows, was more subtle in its innovations.

Starr deserves a great deal of credit for popularising rock’n’roll and inspiring a whole generation of Beatlemaniacs to see the role of drummer as a galvanising force. Very much considered a “drummer’s drummer”, Starr’s isolated drum tracks prove his ingenuity in choosing complex yet minimalist feels that perfectly complemented John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s songwriting output.

Must hear: Rain

10: Al Jackson, Jr

In the same way that Benny Benjamin was woven into the fabric of Motown, Al Jackson, Jr, was an integral part of the DNA of Stax Records. As an experienced session drummer referred to as “The Human Timekeeper”, the Memphis soul sensation performed with R&B legend Otis Redding (Try A Little Tenderness), nocturnal proto-funkster Wilson Pickett (In The Midnight Hour), blues idol Albert King (Born Under A Bad Sign) and seductive lothario Al Green (Let’s Stay Together).

Not only that, but Al Jackson, Jr, was also a founding member of Booker T And The MGs, who scored a US Top 10 hit in 1962 with Green Onions and provided the backing to Sam And Dave’s iconic hit Soul Man. When he was shot and killed in 1975 at age 39, the world of soul, R&B and funk lost a key talisman and guiding spirit.

Must hear: Soul Man

9: Stewart Copeland

The post-punk power trio of The Police – singer/bassist Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland – took the US by storm with their mix of punky energy and syncopated reggae rhythms. Naturally, it was Copeland’s drumming that lay at the heart of the group’s virtuosic mastery, providing iron-clad backbeats to their 1978 single Roxanne and an off-beat wooziness to the following year’s Walking On The Moon.

Formerly a prog-rock drummer with a penchant for jazzy grooves, Copeland utilised hi-hats, floor toms and snare hits as if in the grip of demonic possession, creating an erratic sound that quickly elevated The Police above most of their new wave contemporaries. Drawing upon a wide range of genres to generate a wholly unique sound, and going on to sell over 75 million records worldwide, the group owe much of their success to Copeland’s drumming style.

Must hear: Roxanne

8: Bernard Purdie

With his impeccable R&B grooves, legendary session musician Bernard Purdie left an indelible mark not just on the development of 70s funk and soul music, but also on 80s soft rock. Following a short spell working with “The Godfather Of Soul”, James Brown, Purdie spent five years, from 1970 to 1975, as Aretha Franklin’s drummer and musical director.

Purdie’s mastery of ghost notes, half-time backbeats and his use of triplets pioneered what became known as “The Purdie Shuffle”, a sound that was later emulated by Toto on their 1982 hit, Rosanna. From R&B to yacht rock, even Purdie himself got in on the action by joining Steely Dan in 1980, playing drums on the Gaucho album’s opening track, Babylon Sisters. To hear his unique drumming style at its best, however, look no further than Rock Steady, a hit for Aretha Franklin that peaked at No.9 on the US Hot 100 in 1971.

Must hear: Rock Steady

7: Neil Peart

As a drummer who evolved from a Keith Moon-inspired harbinger of chaos to an eclectic and precise percussionist with scholarly attention to detail, Neil Peart, of Canadian prog-rock outfit Rush, was the creative engine room of the group. Not only did Peart play drums, he also wrote lyrics and developed the overarching themes of the band’s concept albums while musically infusing Rush’s hard-rock style with his elaborate but meticulous beats.

From the madcap ambition of Xanadu – which saw Peart use everything from tubular bells to glockenspiel – to experimenting with reggae influences on The Spirit Of Radio, Peart was a diverse and irrepressible talent, easily going down in history as one of the best drummers of all time. Drawing upon bizarre, prog-influenced time signatures and crazy, mind-melting fills plucked from The Who’s playbook, he had it all.

Must hear: The Spirit Of Radio

6: Clyde Stubblefield

Funk bandleader James Brown was notorious for working his musicians harder than anyone else – so much so, he even had two drummers from 1965 to 1970. Between them, Clyde Stubblefield and John “Jabo” Starks laid down the foundations for funk drumming, leading to future innovations that would include jazz-fusion, disco and even hip-hop. However, it’s Stubblefield’s seminal work which earns him credit as one of the best drummers of all time.

James Brown’s 1967 US Top 10 hit, Cold Sweat, proved a showcase for Stubblefield’s herky-jerky percussive beats; meanwhile, 1970’s Funky Drummer birthed a drum break that has become one of the most sampled recordings in hip-hop. Quite honestly, those who cherish Brown’s influence on the development of rap music should really be thanking Stubblefield. Without him, breakbeats as we know them wouldn’t exist.

Must hear: Funky Drummer

5: Buddy Rich

If there is one jazz drummer who can truly claim to have influenced a tsunami of rock’n’roll musicians, it’s Buddy Rich. Despite surfacing from the golden age of jazz, the New York City-born drummer’s awe-inspiring solos predicted a future in which time-keepers ventured beyond the backbeat with improvisatory fills and ultra-busy drum patterns. The beauty of Rich’s playing is that he made drums the star of the show without ripping up the rhythmic roots of his brass section.

Officially the only drummer to beat Animal on The Muppet Show (yes, seriously!), Rich’s sheer power and showmanship inspired the likes of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, Queen’s Roger Taylor and Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward, all of whom tried to emulate their hero’s mix of uncompromising ferocity and jazz-influenced professionalism. Easily one of the best drummers of any era, Buddy Rich was a legend in his own time.

Must hear: Caravan

4: Ginger Baker

The flame-haired British drummer for supergroup Cream, Ginger Baker fired up guitar legend Eric Clapton and bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce with his red-hot mix of jazz-inspired time signatures and heavy rock grooves. Notoriously cantankerous, Baker always stuck to jazz tunings on his drum kit, even though the blues-rock sensibilities of his fellow musicians helped turn him into a rock’n’roll superstar.

As forefathers to the sound of hard-rock behemoths such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Cream birthed many musical offspring, even if Baker himself disavowed them. “People say Cream gave birth to heavy metal,” the drummer said. “If that’s so, we should have had an abortion.” By later venturing into African-style rhythms – including collaboration with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti – Baker’s commitment to jazzy experimentalism boosted his status as one of the world’s best drummers, proving just how hard he was to pin down.

Must hear: White Room

3: Phil Collins

Emerging from the 70s prog-rock scene as the drummer for Genesis, when it comes down to it, Phil Collins deserves to be considered one of the best drummers of all time for practically inventing the sound of 80s rock, pioneering the gated-reverb drum sound that would dominate the decade from 1981’s In The Air Tonight onwards.

From the iconic drum break that kicked open the door to a new decade, to tinkering away with Roland TR-808 drum machines, Collins embarked on a solo career that boldly redefined the way percussion could be produced. As a fantastic – and remarkably powerful – drummer and fearless studio innovator, he recalibrated the sonic possibilities of drumming, even going on to influence 90s hip-hop and R&B.

Must hear: In the Air Tonight

2: Keith Moon

The wild dynamo at the heart of The Who, Keith Moon was easily one of the greatest rock’n’roll drummers of all time. Powerful and anarchic, his drumming was busy and chaos-strewn, sweeping across the kit like a freak weather occurrence with frantic fills that always threatened to push guitarist Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle off-tempo (Pinball Wizard, I Can See For Miles).

Bringing things to the brink of musical mayhem suited Moon. Not only did his over-elaborate style define The Who’s sound, he became just as famous for his outrageous offstage antics. From driving a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool to throwing television sets out of hotel windows, Keith Moon became a rock’n’roll legend, courting calamity right up until his untimely death in 1978, aged 32. His iconic status remains unchallenged.

Must hear: Who Are You

1: John Bonham

Easily topping our list of the best drummers of all time, John “Bonzo” Bonham was the rhythmic powerhouse behind hard-rock legends Led Zeppelin. His legacy of thunderous proto-metal grooves (Whole Lotta Love) and echoey, cacophonous breaks (When The Levee Breaks) still reverberates throughout the world of rock, leaving generations of drummers in awe of his abilities. Even before his death in 1980, aged 32, Bonham’s heavy-handed fills and high-octane energy lit the touchpaper for an army of metalheads.

“You have to play with dynamics to make it sound good,” Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl once said. “That’s the beauty of what John Bonham would do.” By experimenting with his use of triplets on a bass drum, Bonham’s speedy pedalwork helped plant seeds that would soon flower into thrash metal, even wowing crowds with his Buddy Rich-inspired soloing on Led Zeppelin’s instrumental epic, Moby Dick.

Must hear: Moby Dick

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