The 15 Greatest Groove Drummers
Perhaps the best way to define “groove” is what it’s not. Groove is not controlled metric modulation blowing over the bar line (though that could groove). Nor is it the world’s most perfect drum machine beat carefully placed on the grid, no matter how acoustically resonant or rhythmically correct. Groove players often have tons of technique, but that’s not the main thing on their mind or what’s emanating from their gut. A groove is something you feel deep inside your being, which produces an irresistible demand to move!
The greatest grooves — think James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” The Meters’ “Cissy Strut” — address every possible permutation of tempo, meter, inflection, dynamics, and note content, but at their core they make the Earth move under your feet.
The greatest groove masters have come from all walks of the musical world, be it the swinging Philly Joe Jones, the wailing Gene Krupa, the delicate Manu Katché or the volcanic Alex Van Halen. But in choosing the drummers throughout recorded history who most consistently laid down fat foundations that made their bandmates sound even better, the final list was actually rather small. Who are these men of the sticking/drumming cloth who year after year made millions dance and move? What are the ingredients that made their sound so special? What’s their lasting impact and considerable worth?
Our advice to you is, read on.
We’re talking slam, strength, and the ultimate backbeat. Kenny Aronoff’s mammoth groove is more ubiquitous than many realize. The chrome-domed drumming beast is regularly called upon to replace tracks where the original drummer couldn’t cut the major-label mustard. Springing to stardom (in drummer’s terms) as a member of John Cougar Mellencamp’s band, Aronoff became a first-call studio drummer whenever a beat needed to connect to the head and the heart, and take out the gut as well. Not only is Aronoff a terrific slammer, he knows how to dish it out in the proper quantity. Aronoff understands the art of beat placement, typically laying it dead center and in your skull. A sampling of Aronoff’s 2009 discography shows his serious (and diverse) skills: Rob Thomas’ Cradlesong, John Fogerty’s The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again, Stryper’s Murder By Pride, and Les Paul & Friends’ A Tribute To A Legend.
Perhaps the original session drummer (after Earl Palmer), Hal Blaine invented the modern pop-drumming language. As a member of the L.A. session unit The Wrecking Crew, Blaine laid the foundation for some of the seminal songs of ’60s and ’70s AM radio, including tracks by Elvis Presley, The Carpenters, The Beach Boys, The 5th Dimension, The Supremes, The Byrds, and many more. Blaine’s truly massive, resonant, and original beats seemed to draw their power from the Earth itself. His rhythms drove the radio rock of Phil Spector in the ’50s and ’60s, created atmospheric, textural drumming poetry with Simon & Garfunkel, performed big band craft with Frank Sinatra, and simple folk-pop beats with Neil Diamond, The Byrds, and The Mamas & The Papas. Blaine exemplifies the ability to create the perfect drum part, regardless of style, difficulty, or era. Quintessential Blaine moment: The deep tom fills of The Carpenters’ “Close To You.”