Most of the iconic rock bands of the past half century would be nothing without their talented drummers. These legends have delivered the rhythm and timing to all your favorite tunes. Take a look through our list of the most iconic drummers of all time and see if you agree. Naming the top twenty is challenging, but they all have the talent to deserve a spot in the all time greats. Here are the best drummers of all time ranked.
See More: The Best Bassists Of All Time
See More: The Best Guitarists Of All Time
See More: The Best Rock Singers Of All Time Ranked
20. Carmine Appice
A valuable team player as well as a bruising power hitter with an instantly identifiable style, Carmine Appice literally wrote the book on rock drumming: His 1972 text The Realistic Rock Drum Method has been a staple since its release. Appice made his name in the late Sixties with eccentric psych outfit Vanilla Fudge – influencing a young John Bonham with his romping, aggressively funky grooves – before moving on to a heavier blues-rock style with Cactus and Beck, Bogert & Appice. He demonstrated his range in the late-Seventies Rod Stewart band, contributing sassy backbeats and key songwriting assistance on hits such as “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” (Stewart reportedly called Appice “The Dentist” for employing what he termed “too many fill-ins.”)
19. Bernard Purdie
Purdie is known as a groove drummer with immaculate timing and makes use of precision half note, backbeats, and grooves. Purdie’s signature sixteenth note hi-hat lick pish-ship, pish-ship, pish-ship is distinct. He often employs a straight eight groove sometimes fusing several influences such as swing, blues and funk. He created the now well-known drum pattern Purdie Half-Time Shuffle.
18. Ian Paice
Paice is an absolute monster. His playing on Made In Japan alone ranks him alongside Bonham and Moon – almost no other rock drummer could match his speed, power, inventiveness and sense of swing. Listen to Smoke On The Water again – everyone remembers the iconic riff but Ian’s is literally half of what makes the song great. His studio parts were always brilliantly conceived, and live he was like a locomotive loaded with nitroglycerine. Actually, if you spliced John and Keith together and dusted them with Gene Krupa you would end up with…Ian Paice.
17. Steve Gadd
Gadd is a drummers drummer and like Buddy Rich, a natural talent with an innate ability to feel the music. He lives it, just look at his face when he plays. His drumming contributes, it doesn’t dominate, but is it incredibly skilled in a very subtle way.
16. Chad Smith
Chad Smith is one of the most sought-after session drummers in the world – and probably one of the loudest. In the late 80s, he blew away the newly-formed Red Hot Chilli Peppers lineup, though his hard rock and hell’s angels style appearance looked out of place, so singer Anthony Kiedis told him to ditch the bandana and come back the next day. Smith kept it on, but they admired his persistence. Today he’s also touring with the supergroup Chickenfoot, when he gets a chance.
15. Terry Bozzio
Known for his work with Frank Zappa, Bozzio is certainly one of the all time greats. Following his stint with Zappa, Bozzio became an integral part of post-prog supergroup U.K. and later, with then-wife, Dale, a co-architect of the trailblazing Eighties New Wave band Missing Persons, in which he adapted his thrilling chops to a streamlined pop framework.
14. Mitch Mitchell
Most people don’t know about this guy because Hendrix was always standing in front of him, and rightly so, it’s his band, but this was still really, listen to Hey Joe, or Voodoo Child, because his fills are great.
13. Bill Bruford
There are a lot of great drummers on this list. I voted for Bill Bruford because he managed to play really complex rhythms and poly rhythms while remaining tasteful and serving the song. He is the only man who has worked with Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis. That says a lot.
12. Charlie Watts
You only have to listen to a handful of stones songs to understand the genius Charlie brought to the high hat and snare. Songs such as jigsaw puzzle, honky tonk woman and stray cat blue all rely solely on his inventive fills and beats. Only a true talent like Watts could’ve brought together the ragged harmonies of Keith’s guitar and Jaggers croon. Combined with Bill Wyman the Stones had themselves one of the greatest rhythm sections in history.
11. Dave Grohl
If this were a list for underrated musicians, Grohl would have my vote. But as it’s a list for best drummer, he’s my second place choice (Favouring Peart). I certainly don’t think Grohl is the best drummer–but probably the most versatile and effortless in his style. Able to play any genre, with anybody, drumming for many different bands each who had a very unique style. He definitely knew how to work with what he had, however simple, and make it a masterpiece. This man does not get 1/billionth of the credit he deserves or should have.
10. Phil Collins
I loved Phil’s playing with Genesis before he became a front man and solo artist. He’s a very talented man and a drummer first…his 70’s style was very different to his 80’s style, partly because of the way music was being produced and partly because he adapted to influences. When he worked on the 3rd Peter Gabriel album, Peter told him there were to be no cymbals on the entire record (check it out). The drumming style he adopted as a result was a forerunner of the “In the Air Tonight” style that most people know him for…but I still love his much looser and busier progressive style of the 70’s.
9. Stewart Copeland
This guy is probably the most unique drummer out there. Combining reggae and ethnic beats into punk rock drumming, he has created some of the coolest licks out there. And he’s a master at keeping time in a way no other drummer has ever done before (crashing on 4, bass drum on 2/3, etc.
8. Danny Carey
Of all of the drummers out there, only Neal Peart and Mike Portnoy Can keep up with Danny’s complex beats and just completely hellish time signatures. Danny’s Beats are simply ridiculous. Ticks and Leeches and Hooker with a Penis showed his ridiculous speed and intensiveness, Parabola and Schism show how fast he can play off the hi hats and such, to the point where they are like spasms but sound musical, Jambi and Lateralus show how he can make the weirdest time signatures sound fantastic and make them flow, Bottom and Jimmy show how he uses the continued switch between cross-stick rims and hi hats or bells into his patterns, The Grudge and AEnima show Danny’s ability to make creative rhythms out of simply using Toms,
7. Ringo Starr
Sure he may not have gone ballistic on drum sets as lots of these other guys, but he was the perfect pop drummer. He knows exactly what to play for each song, and with his vast creativity, made many original drum beats. The beat from “In My Life” is a completely original beat, that to date, has not been known to be used in any other song. And if so, the song also probably just sounds like “In My Life.” He was also, a human metronome. Had perfect rhythm. He seems to be underrated simply for the fact that his beats sound basic, but try playing some of The Beatles more complex songs like “Rain.” You’ll come to find that they are a lot harder to play than you’d realize.
6. Ginger Baker
Not just a great drummer, but a great musician. The man has the versatility to play just about any genre, but always brings the unique blend of jazz and african music that makes him so distinguished on everything he’s played on. No other drummer has both abilities in perfect balance as him. The best, by any standard.
5. Mike Portnoy
imply the best. Dream Theater may be able to find a more technical replacement, but no better. power, speed, taste, everything that a drummer need to be the best. even his double bass drumming has different feeling when you hear it.
4. Buddy Rich
What is there to say about Buddy that hasn’t already been said a million times over? He was the greatest rhythmic prodigy to have ever hit the skins. He almost single-handedly defined the way the instrument should be played: with graceful intensity. His technical prowess, showmanship, soloing ability, speed (that left hand! ), and sound are yet to be matched by any drummer. And his drive. Oh man, his drive. I’ve never heard someone kick and drive a band as hard as Buddy EVER.
3. Keith Moon
What Moon did, better and more often than any other rock drummer, is create more memorable moments, more dramatic, exciting moments than any other drummer. The fills before the scream on Wont Get Fooled Again. The call to arms after the bridge to “Baba O’Reilly” His euphoria during Amazing Journey during Woodstock. Need more? The machine gun melodic tom work on Happy Jack. The pop art chaos of My Generation. The wall of sound and manic scream of “Substitute”.
2. Neil Peart
Sure, Keith Moon and John Bonham forever defined impressive drumming skills but for Neil Peart, it’s in a whole new level. Neil Peart’s drumming fits with many genres as well as punk, soul, metal especially Jazz which he still plays. Neil Peart is more than a drummer, he is a percussion maniac. YYZ is an example where the beat from the drums blossom to be the greatest song of Rush, even though it’s instrumental and progressive. He inspired me to play the drums but I can’t play good as him. YYZ is totally hard to play and his drum kit is worth more than my apartment. He’s a complete legend.
1. John Henry Bonham
John Bonham had it all, power, finesse, a delicate touch when required, accuracy, speed and a totally unrivalled unique style. He is undoubtedly head and shoulders above any of the drummers on this list, an icon that many tried to emulate and failed, a rock GOD! He is second to NONE and as far as I’m concerned there aren’t many who are worthy of being mentioned in the same breath. I was lucky enough to see Zepp live twice and John B. Just blew me away. On top of all this, he was a great guy.