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50 Most Important Drummers Of All Time

Consider for one moment the magnitude of what’s going on here. We’ve chosen 50 drummers who have had the most profound influence on the art form. Does this mean they were the greatest? Well, kind of, although the word “great” seems to imply that the following is a list of the best technicians who ever lived.

You see, we didn’t pick these guys because they played the fastest single-stroke rolls or the most limb-twisting polyrhythms in history (though some of them have). No. We tried to compile the drummers who had the biggest impact on ... well ... you — whether you know it or not. So while some made the final cut due to their radical techniques, others were included because they spearheaded a sound or a style that had never been tried before, and in the process, changed the direction of drumming. Forever.

Believe it — we know that we’ve opened a real can of worms here. We started with a long list that went several times beyond our target of 50 names, and then whittled it down, one by one, until we reached our goal. Still, it was agonizing, because all of the names on our long list were huge influences that had stood the test of time. In fact, it turned out to be a ludicrous exercise. We ended up having to ask ourselves questions like: “Who is more important? Elvin Jones or Louie Bellson?” or “Ginger Baker or Keith Moon?”

While the answers to those questions might seem obvious to you, we felt obliged to make each comparison using the greatest care. And that’s because we knew that no matter who made it onto the final list, even if we named 1,000 drummers, we would still hear about our omissions from you, our readers, in no uncertain terms. In fact, we count on it. We want to stir things up a little out there, create some controversy, take a stand, be daring, do something ballsy.

So after you’ve read the following profiles, go ahead and write us an inflammatory letter, tell us how we screwed up, or at least give us your top 50. We can’t promise that we’ll publish your letter (though we might), but it will give us something amusing to do after our deadline. —Andy Doerschuk

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  • Hey, if you think we left an essential drummer off of the list, use this comments feature to add him or her to the list. Be sure to explain why you believe why they deserve to be on the list.

  • Harvey Mason - I don’t think there needs to be any explanation on why he should be on the list.  Just look at his discography or listen to the Headhunters album.

  • sandy nelson still had two legs when he made those albums. for the demo of let there be drums sandy played hi-hat and i played the tom tom parts.
    george neidorf

  • Hey George,

    It’s good to see you on the site. I know you have lots of knowledge that you can add to the conversation.

  • Tommy Aldridge…. wheres Tommy,most likely one of the mian double bass inovators and all around bad a_s drummers not to mention one of the first to have a drum education VHS tape put out.my god every one seems to leave Tommy out,what a shame. greg/tucson

  • You’re right — Tommy is an innovator. Thanks for adding his name the list.

  • My good friend Cathy Rich just wrote to tell me that in fact her dad Buddy never proclaimed himself to be the world’s greatest drummer ... “he left it up to the world do that!” Thanks Cathy!

  • Not including Dave Weckl, who many players believe to have the best feel ever, kind of invalidates this entire list.

  • @RedeyeSPR Do you really think that Dave Weckl’s absence invalidates the contributions of Buddy Rich, Billy Cobham, Gene Krupa, Mitch Mitchell, Tony Williams, and so on? I don’t.

  • many might not agree with me but Travis Barker. I have read about how through every injury he has had, pre and post plane-crash, He has learned to adapt his style to play the same music with the ailment. His independence with his limbs and his musicality blow me away. His ability to play so many different styles of music (well) is hard to find.

  • Great list. Including Below, Van Eaton, and Taylor was nice.

    But Headon and Grohl? Punk was live performance - never ever going to be replicated on vinyl.  Including Headon is a nod to the genre. Similar feelings about Grohl and grunge.

    Major omissions? Three - Carl Palmer, Jeff Porcaro, and Phil Collins. Palmer was THE drum God in the rock world before Peart.  Porcaro’s recorded work was only surpassed by Gadd.  Collins proved a drummer could be the leader / frontman.

    Thanks!

  • This list gives me the chills!!!!What about Cozy Powell and Cozy Cole?

  • @Andy

    The contributions of those great players are not invalidated in my mind by any omission, just the validity of this particular list as a “50 most important”. Any of the follow could have been left off as well - Grohl, Headon, Shrieve (and I love Santana), Taylor, van Eaton. I just don’t see anything critically important done by them.

  • Gotcha. Point taken.

  • Jimmy Chamberlin

  • Samba and Bossa Nova drummers like Dom Um Romão, Edison Machado and Milton Banana were absent. And they were key drummers for the development of these styles. Good list, though.

  • Don Brewer

  • How about Manu Katche?

  • I don’t know if Jim Chapin belongs on the list but he wrote a couple of educational master pieces regarding jazz drumming technique. Freddy Gruber influenced a lot of great drummers as well in technique.

  • I like your list. By adding Ringo and Gadd is done for me.Keep nice work. Nick

  • JIm Gordon. Hal Blaine’s heir apparent. 100 of recordings, many of them hits, from Steely Dan to Zappa to the Carpenters to George Harrison, Derek & the Dominos, & Traffic. Dual drums in Mad Dogs & Englishmen with Keltner, who’s been quoted saying he had a tough time keeping up with him.

  • Nice list! However, I feel that Bernard Purdie should definitely be on this list. Along with Dave Weckl, Steve Smith, and Keith Carlock smile

  • Bernard Purdie has contributed so much to the art of grooving. He’s recorded countless legendary tracks with artists such as James Brown, Steely Dan, and Aretha Franklin. Just listen to the amazing shuffle on Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” and you’ll hear why he needs to be on this list! wink

  • Charlie Watts…..... Hello???????????? For obvious reasons .Very Influential .

  • No surprise to see Joe Morello on the list.  I can look once at his picture and here his beat.  He owned his music and will be missed.  Likewise, Mel Taylor will always be one of my favorites.  His timing was everything, and he also will be missed.  All in all, I think a great list, but we all know at least one more drummer that is missing.

  • I’d like to see a list of the top 50 drummers since 1980. It would be a whole different list if we only included people whose careers began after 1980.

    Here’s some of mine:
    Dennis Chambers, Tre Cool, Adam Carson, Josh Freese, Chad Smith, Questlove, Dave Weckl, Travis Barker, Matt Cameron, Aaron Spears, Steve Jordan, Mike Portnoy…
    you can add the rest

  • I would hope that people commenting on this page have at least looked at the list BEFORE making comments.  I am sure that everyone represented is done rightfully so, since, Andy D. is NO slouch.  I have switched from MD to DRUM! as my main Drum mag, since Ron’s passing his legacy has kind of turned to Mush.  I look forward to digging in to this list and commenting often.  If you have questions, concerns, comments, Randy Jacobs on facebook, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) direct.
    DRUMDIZZLE

  • Tim Alexander is probably the LAST drummer I would have expected to see on this list, but I am VERY glad that DRUM! had the insight to add him…  Andy D, even though you NEVER answer me on FB, you are still the man!!!!!

  • Ahh… Mr. Bitter About Cream Baker.  AMAZING innovator, and just awesome on how he sticks to his guns after ALL THESE YEARS!!!!

  • YES!!!!!  DUB love….

  • And Louie!!!!  A lil low on the list, but I am sure for good reason

  • never knew the player on these tracks… glad I do now, so i can pay respect to this great drummer.

  • Hal was a monster. simply put, there was no one more equipped to lead the sound of his time than Hal.

  • And ART!!!!!  one of my fav classic jazz drummers!  Buddy was awesome, but d__n…  Blakey?  lol

  • ... Here is where the hate begins.  Bonham was good, but a rock god??  NO.  at least I don’t feel so.  Great drummer, great for what he did, but THAT WAS IT.  after him many more picked up the reigns and did, I.M.O, MORE and BETTER than Bonham.  Everyone thinks he was a hard hitter too… from what I know he really wasn’t….  Maybe I am wrong…

  • Terry.  What an eclectic player.  Not mant DARE to traverse the grounds he has, and EVEN LESS try to apply his theories to pop music.  Pink Floyed proved that odd time can sell records, lol.

  • Ya know… I am sad to admit that I have not really dived into the works of Mr. Bruford.  I mean, i’ve listened to an earthworks CD, and some old king Crimson stuff, but nothing too deep…  Hmm… adding this to my “To Listen To” list.

  • DC!!!!  I really don’t think I need to say much more.

  • See, this is why a list like this is cool. Listened to the DGB many times, never knew the drummer.  now I do.  amazing.  Thank you DRUM!

  • What is the Cob doing these days any way?

  • @Andy D.  You left out his (Vinnie C) work on Christina Aguilera’s first cd.  I know he did the track for “come on over”  and I am pretty sure a few more off the album.  smile

  • Another forgotten credit to Stu Cope… Oysterhead with Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio!!!!

  • another thing about Stuart Copeland… his snare sound has ALWAYS been distinct, and whats great is his signature snare ACTUALLY SOUNDS LIKE WHAT YOU HEAR ON THE RECORDS!!!!  at least to me.  I WILL own that drum one day….

  • Jack is the man… some of his work is a lil, well… out there, but thats good.  can’t say I enjoy listening to all of it, but giving credit where credit is due, he is the man.

  • Peter is a great example of versatility.

  • Steve is an amazing guy, from what I hear.  I hope to have the pleasure of seeing him play and possibly chatting with him out here in AZ

  • D. Garibaldi.  Like the playing, for some reason, don’t like the guy.  I know it seems silly, but it is what it is.  I feel the same Towards Ronnie Vannucci Jr., but with MUCH more contempt

  • Ok…  I LOVE DAVE GROHL, but I certainly do NOT see him fitting on this list.  I think this may be the first FAIL i have come upon in this list…

  • Roy is a wonderful talent.  just recently saw him on Letterman for “Drum Solo Week” and even tho his age is showing, he still put it down.

  • really????  just for the fact that he played in the clash he landed in the top 50????  this one I will say I think should be scratched.  Replace him with someone who ACTUALLY made a contribution.

  • A bit disappointed not seeing Mike Portnoy, Virgil Donati, or Dave Weckl on here…Also, BILL WARD! The drummer of the band that pretty much founded Heavy Metal!
    No complaints aside really, good list.

  • Dave Weckl? Your list is great anyway.

  • ok, where is Tre Cool, The Rev (Jimmy Sulavin),
    and Jen Ledger!
    that will be all.

  • I did excpect to see Gregg Bissonette for good reason. This list though will have me digging for music and listening hard for quite some time. Itunes here I come!

  • Where is Bill Ward? He was more the “heavy metal” influence than Bonzo, though he definitely belongs! (RIP). Where are the Ladies? Sheila E? C’mon! The inclusion of Ulrich and Grohl speaks more to a popularity contest. I love Metallica, Nirvana and Foo as ‘bands’. But if we’re talking “important drummers”..lest we forget the almost ousting of Lars from Metallica for ‘lack of chops’ in the 90’s. And a stronger desire for Dave G. to be multi-instrument front man. Nice job overall!

  • Cannot believe that Shannon Larkin was not mentioned. He is one of the most influential metal/ rock drummers ever. I’m not referring to his work with Godsmack at all. I am referring to his Wrathchild America/Souls At Zero days. Everyone knows him and most have tried to copy his style since day one. Also, where is Dave Weckl, Tommy Aldrige, Chad Smith, etc?

  • its pretty good, but… i mean… come on where is MIKE PORTNOY? i really cant believe he aint there… he is one of the most influential drummers of our generation. he is, well i think, THEE most inspiring drumme in progressive metal and rock, he has dont so much for music and won many many many awards and yet he is not on that list… that hurts

  • Add Norman Marshall Villeneuve, a true Canadian jazz icon. If NMV is not on your list, it’s incomplete.

  • Seconding the Weckl vote, and adding Josh Freese. I know this list is old. Please update it, guys.

  • Ian Paice , Graham Lear (Santana),Carl Palmer,Cozy Powell,Alan White. Doug Clifford Of Creedence,he wasn’t a flashy Drummer but like Ringo he had the right chops and Sound for the music his band was playing. Aynsley Dunbar also.

  • Steve Smith. He has a solid backing with jo Mailurney. And has to be one of the best technical jazz drummers. And another vote for wigle.

  • The two “foots” - Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey and Jonathan “Sugarfoot"Moffett - two tremendous funk/soul drummers, who drove the rhythm of Parliament/Funkadelic and artists like Michael Jackson, respectively.  Not sure how Charlie Watts isnt there - made keeping steady meter with little flash cool, and Max Weinberg - who took Watts’ style to a different level.

  • Oops - and Jeff Porcaro!!

  • To set the record straight…George Neidorf never had anything to do with Let there be Drums. I have no idea how
    he dreamed up his story. Oh well! Love the magazine!
    Thank you for the props.

    Sandy Nelson