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