The 15 Greatest Groove Drummers Of All Time

Groove Drummers

Matt Chamberlain

In an era when you’re just as likely to hear a drum machine program as a flesh and blood drummer, Matt Chamberlain has successfully navigated both worlds. By creating a singular groove that has no real sonic signature, Chamberlain became the first-call L.A. session drummer (sorry, Josh Freese). The diverse artists he has recorded with mirror his enormous ability to fit into any situation. Majorly pliable, Chamberlain’s skills (both physically delivered and occasionally programmed) have appeared on more than 200 albums, including those by Fiona Apple, The Wallflowers, Stevie Nicks, Dave Navarro, Master Musicians Of Jajouka, Garbage, David Bowie, Keith Urban, William Shatner, Shakira, Sean Lennon, Sarah McLaughlin, and Dido. And while pulling in the big superstar bucks, Chamberlain has also found time to play small-time projects, including his own solo album (which he described as “an imaginary soundtrack to an Asian-Western-sci-fi-horror movie”), as well as the bands Thruster, Critters Buggin’, and Weapon Of Choice. Tori Amos has called Chamberlain “the human loop.”

Groove Drummers

Steve Gadd

For drummers, there is B.G. and A.G.: Before Gadd and After Gadd. To hear this Rochester, New York–born drummer play in the mid-’70s was to have your drumming consciousness altered forever. Gadd played with such a deep level of orchestral detail while adhering exactly to the song form, and with such stunning creativity, that it shocked the senses. Of course, Gadd is a technical master, but on such epic groove tracks as “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover” (Paul Simon), “High Heeled Sneakers” (Chuck Mangione), “Lenore” (Chick Corea), and “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” (Leo Sayer), he combined finesse, power, and remarkable originality into an undeniable groove. Gadd disguised one of his big-time weapons, the nine-stroke roll, by flipping it between hi-hat and snare drum while his bass drum nailed the 1. Trademark! A rudimental whiz influenced by Tony Williams and Elvin Jones, Gadd is grooving harder than ever these days, slapping his skins for Eric Clapton, Joss Stone, James Taylor, and others.

Groove Drummers

Jim Gordon

Before the unfortunate circumstances that led to his imprisonment in 1983, Jim Gordon was the busiest session drummer alive. His legacy in rock, folk, and even hip-hop remains unmatched. Apprenticing with his hero Hal Blaine on the L.A. session circuit, Gordon brought elements of big band, jazz, and pop drumming to bear on a wide range of artists, including Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, Traffic, John Lennon, George Harrison, and the Incredible Bongo Band. The intro from the latter group’s “Apache” became one of the foundational samples of hip-hop. Gordon’s extremely musical approach had him often playing complementary melodies on his toms and cymbals while kicking a deep pocket. Streamlined groove was a trademark well expressed on Derek & The Dominoes’ Layla And Other Love Songs, and his lone solo LP, Hogfat (one side L.A. jazz, one side rock/pop stylings). Gordon could drive a band with intense sixteenth-notes on his ride cymbal, or punch flowing tom fills from his Camco kit, as on Layla’s “Keep On Growing.”

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