200 Greatest: Performances & Recording
Gene Krupa on “Sing, Sing, Sing”
Throughout this 1937 swing classic, Krupa’s drums appear to be having a dialogue with Benny Goodman’s clarinet and Harry James’ trumpet. Note the tom-driven “solo-ettes” (one features cowbell) that crop up throughout the seven-minute song.
The First Big Drum Battle: Gene Krupa vs. Buddy Rich
Did Rich outshine his aging idol in this epic 1952 contest at Jazz At The Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, which laid the groundwork for drums as blood sport? The drummers’ approaches are so intrinsically different you can’t call one better than the other.
Cozy Cole on “Topsy, Part 2”
Although Cole recorded a notable drum solo with Jelly Roll Morton (“Load Of Cole”) as early as 1930, it’s the recording of the Benny Goodman tune “Topsy” that earned the drummer/bandleader lasting fame. “Topsy, Part 2” landed at #3 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1958.
Philly Joe Jones on “Gone”
This cut from Miles Davis’ 1958 album Porgy And Bess — an adaption of George Gershwin’s opera — is actually a Gil Evans tune. While Jimmy Cobb played on most of Porgy, the track “Gone” is all Philly Joe. He solos in musical, non-obnoxious ways throughout its 3:40 length.
Joe Morello on “Take Five”
Despite its name, it’s likely audiences weren’t even aware of Morello’s tricky 5/4 time in this 1959 single from The Dave Brubeck Quartet (part of its genius), but the unconventional use of space in the two-minute solo got their attention. Sometimes live it was partially played barehanded and include a one-handed roll.
Buddy Rich’s “West Side Story Medley”
A staple in all Rich’s later performances, the medley made this list because it’s evidence of the drummer’s ability to blend beats into his band’s musical chart. If Rich couldn’t read, he made up for it with an infallible hear-it-once memory.
Babatunde Olatunji’s Drums Of Passion
Recognized as the first “world music” album, Olatunji’s 1960 percussion opus presented hand drums as the main dish rather than accompaniment. It’s also five times Platinum.
Sonny Payne and Sam Woodyard
At the end of “Battle Royal” from Count Basie’s 1961 album First Time! The Count Meets The Duke, Payne and Woodyard’s parts symbiotically blend rather than play tug-o-war.
The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show
This three-minute broadcast in 1964 inspired more kids to devote their lives to drumming than just about anything. Besides Starr’s matched-grip, uptempo straight playing, the episode established the drummer situated on a riser behind the band rather than to the side.
Hand Percussion on “For Your Love”
The 1965 song by British Invasion band The Yardbirds was notable for the way BBC radio presenter and session drummer Jimmy Piercey furiously played bongos. His part was so crucial that Yardbirds lead singer Keith Relf would sideline the bongo part while lip-synching the song during televised appearances.
Tony Williams on “Agitation”
Williams’ intro on this Miles Davis song from 1965 release E.S.P. is a two-minute stream of chops, nuance, and textural free soloing.
Elvin Jones on A Love Supreme
Hard-bop saxophonist John Coltrane’s 1965 album is considered a gateway to his free-jazz phase. Jones’ bookending solos in “Pursuance,” one part of a four-song suite, is the accessible part of this actually unnervingly complex work.
Max Roach on “The Drum Also Waltzes”
On this three-minute all-drum piece from the 1966 album Drums Unlimited, Roach redefined the kit as a melodic instrument, hanging in-time motifs and over-the-bar-line flurries onto a waltzy bass-and–hat-chick ostinato.
Mitch Mitchell on Are You Experienced?
Mitchell’s speedy chops, ingenious grooves, and jazzy underpinning on Hendrix’s 1967 debut album elevated rock drumming from the basic backbeat into previously unheard territories.
John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” Solo
December 26, 1968 marked the date that Led Zeppelin played “Pat’s Delight” live for the first time. The drum solo showcase tune would appear on 1969’s Led Zeppelin II in its enduring form as “Moby Dick.”
Ron Bushy’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” Solo
The Iron Butterfly drummer’s solo in the 17-minte epic from 1968 is notable for the hypnotic quality of its boomy open toms. Bushy’s solo wasn’t a spontaneous live thing — it’s on the tune’s radio and vinyl versions — unheard of at the time.
Ringo Starr on “The End”
The “solo” section in this song from Abbey Road, which created a bridge between “Carry That Weight” and “The End”’s hard-driving beat, took Starr out of his comfort zone as an accompanist and gave fans a new appreciation.
The Release of Santana
Never before had Latin jazz and rock collided with such groovy results. Subsequent generations were inspired to pick up Latin percussion instruments after hearing the fiery percussion workouts of Miguel Caballero and Chepito Areas.
Shelly Manne on “Shelley Manne & His Men Play Peter Gunn”
Jazzy instrumental versions of Henry Mancini’s score and theme song to the groundbreaking 1959 TV thriller (which Manne also played on). Compare it to the shockingly rock-oriented version Manne does on the ’67 remake.
Michael Shrieve at Woodstock
At the granddaddy of all rock music festivals, 20-year-old Santana drummer Michael Shrieve’s solo on “Soul Sacrifice” was one of the enduring highlights — with traditional grip all the way.
Ginger Baker on “Toad”
Sick as the beats are on “White Room” (Wheels Of Fire) and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Disraeli Gears), the solo on this instrumental, the final track from debut Fresh Cream, is the sickest.
Billy Cobham on “Right Off”
The swinging rock shuffle beat on this 26-minute track from Miles Davis’ tribute to color barrier–breaking boxer Jack Johnson is pure badassitude.
Bernard Purdie on “Rock Steady”
The four-bar break at 2:28 on this classic 1971 Aretha Franklin track might just be the coolest thing in the Atlantic catalog. The open/closing “pea soup” hats in the rest of the song have roots in James Brown’s “Sex Machine” (with Jabo Starks on drums).
Billy Cobham on “Quandrant 4”
Maybe it’s because the space between the notes is so small, but Cobham seems to intentionally flam the beaters on this track’s frenzied footwork throughout this track from his 1973 solo album Spectrum. Call us crazy but it’s got to be the source for Alex Van Halen’s intro to “Hot For Teacher.”
Back To Oakland by Tower Of Power
David Garibaldi’s infectious funk grooves on seminal classic “Oakland Stroke” and his much-sampled intro to “Squib Cakes” are the standout performances on this killer 1974 album.
The 1975 album was the band’s commercial breakthrough. The track “Rock And Roll All Nite” had an Ace Frehley guitar solo (which was conspicuously absent on the studio version of the song from Dressed To Kill) and became the “official” version. Original drummer Peter Criss’ drumming was looser than usual, but in the best possible way.
Steely Dan’s Aja
Stellar performances by Jim Keltner, Bernard Purdie, Rick Marotta, and other session greats on this 1977 gem have stood the test of time, but it’s Steve Gadd’s crazy fills toward the end of the title track that drummers remember most.
Steve Gadd on “Samba Song”
The solo from this ten-minute track off Chick Corea’s Friends does not begin in earnest until 8:25, but Gadd’s principal motif elsewhere throughout the song, especially on the hi-hats, is a testament to his speed, endurance, and musical playing.
Buddy Rich vs. Animal
Rich was competitive even when battling a Muppet (drumming courtesy of British jazzer Ronnie Verrell) in 1980. Conceding defeat, Animal responds with a vandalistic act reminiscent of Keith Moon, the inspiration for the character.
“Drums>Space” by Grateful Dead
The tandem solo by Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, long a staple of the band’s live shows, evokes kit players trying to sound like African hand drummers. (It also incorporates electronics.) Honorable mention goes to the duo’s work in “Turn On Your Lovelight” from Live Dead.
Peter Criss Live Solo
On a riser with blasting steam jets underneath, Criss drifts out over the audience on the Psycho Circus tour and appears to be floating about them like a U.F.O.
Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, and Vinnie Colauita Solo
Gadd holds down the groove in this three-way all-star solo from The 1989 Modern Drummer Festival with drum-corps snare and funked-up right foot, not to mention a mean cowbell part. Weckl is cerebral and cymbalic as always. All speedy handwork, Colauita powers out a Buddy Rich–inspired performance on a distinctly ’80s kit.
Dave Grohl on Nevermind
The drum parts are not at all complicated in Nirvana’s groundbreaking 1991 grunge release, but the caveman-like power, thunderous groove, and joyous abandon with which Grohl attacked his kit while playing perfectly for the song stands as some of the most influential rock drumming of the last 20 years.
Burning For Buddy
The 1994 tribute saw the cream of drumming’s crop each perform a song with Buddy Rich’s backing band. The lineup included Morello, Weckl, Gadd, Cobham, Roach, Phillips, Bruford, Aronoff, Sorum, and other bold-faced drummers as well as Neil Peart, who produced it.
Tony Royster Jr./Dennis Chambers Duet
Long before he got the Jay-Z gig, you can get a glimpse of a 14-year-old Royster’s burgeoning gospel chops with Dennis Chambers acting as a foil to Royster’s youthful flash from this 1998 video.
Thomas Lang’s “Best Drum Solo Of The World”
The video (with nearly 9 million views) from a festival in Hamburg, Germany, in 2001, heralded the arrival of a new breed of player, sometimes known as the drum jockey. It currently stands as the most viewed drum performance on YouTube.
Drumming At The 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony
Olympics opening ceremonies are the go-to venue for pushing the limits of large-scale coordination. We didn’t think anything could beat the 39 snares, 38 basses, 24 tenors, and 40 cymbals doing their thing at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, until we saw those thousands of drummer boys working with almost disturbing machine-like precision in Beijing in 2008.
“Korean Drummer Takes The Show” YouTube
This viral video is not drumming’s finest moment, and yet we couldn’t stop watching. Neither could a million other people. The 72-year-old drummer, Kwon Soon Keun, also inspired an upcoming feature-length film.
“This Drummer Is At The Wrong Gig” YouTube
Maybe you consider it an affront to the art, but at 21 million–plus views, Steve Moore (aka The Mad Drummer)’s apoplectic performance on his cover band’s rendition of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” proves he knows a thing or two about effective showmanship.
Buddy Rich, Ed Shaughnessy on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson
From a 1978 episode, the drum duet starts out with Ed and Buddy mirroring each other and gradually becomes more competitive before returning to a deliciously frenzied synchronicity.