The Top 10 Rock Drummers of All Time - HC Picks
By Team HC |
by Anne Erickson
What good is jamming on guitar if your rhythm section isn't tight, in the pocket, and simply a hearty backdrop on which you can slap melodies and riffs? The drums are the essential backbone of a band. A bad drummer loses the listener. A good drummer keeps the audience engaged and bobbing their heads along to the beat. Harmony Central is pleased to pay homage to such drums stars with our Top 10 Rock Drummers of All Time.
10. Ringo Starr (The Beatles)
Ringo Starr was far from a flashy drummer, and he saved his only drum solo in The Beatles for the last song on their final album. But even with a low-key profile, Ringo was an integral part of The Beatles. Not only did his inventive, offbeat drumming help give The Beatles a unique sound, but he fulfilled other band roles. Ringo was seen as the most relatable Beatle and eventually became the moderator during band arguments, especially in the later days. After the Fab Four disbanded, Starr went solo, and he had many great solo hits with “Photograph,” “You’re Sixteen” and "It Don't Come Easy.” Without Ringo, The Beatles wouldn’t be The Beatles.
9. Stewart Copeland (The Police, Oysterhead)
Stewart Copeland is famed for his imaginative fusion of rock, jazz, Middle Eastern and reggae beats. As drummer for The Police, he brought momentum and excitement to Sting’s melodies. After The Police wrapped up touring in 1984, Copeland dabbled in experimental projects with Les Claypool (Oysterhead), Orchestralli (his orchestral project) and composed soundtracks for movies Airborne, Wall Street, Highlander II: The Quickening and others.
8. Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle, Devo, Nine Inch Nails)
One of the most sought-after studio drummers in rock music both for his precision and jackhammer groove, Josh Freese has appeared on nearly 300 records, including Puddle of Mudd, The Offspring, 3 Doors Down, Avril Lavigne and Tracy Bonham. He’s also the skins man for A Perfect Circle, Devo and The Vandels and has toured with Nine Inch Nails and Guns N' Roses. Not many drummers can honestly claim to have experience in every given style of music, from rock to jazz to metal, but his capability runs the gamut of modern music.
7. Ginger Baker (Cream)
During his time manning the drum kit for Cream, Ginger Baker essentially invented the rock drum solo. His pioneering use of double bass drums marked Baker as one of the most influential drummers of the ‘60s, with a thick, thunderous sound that has inspired nearly every heavy metal drummer that’s followed. Even after Cream broke up in 1968, Baker went onto prove just as influential in world music and jazz, demonstrating a true talent that transcends genres.
6. Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater)
As drummer and founding member for Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy helped define the progressive rock drumming style with a basic but meticulous approach to technique. While Portnoy wasn’t the fastest player or flashiest soloist, his main objective was to serve the greater musical picture and experiment whenever it fit. It’s that careful attention to detail and creativity that caught the attention of young metaller Avenged Sevenfold, who recruited Portnoy to tour with them in 2010. While the move shocked Dream Theater fans, it showed Portnoy’s continued motivation to evolve and take on stunning challenges.
5. Lars Ulrich (Metallica)
Metal hasn’t seen a more interesting and perhaps eccentric drummer than Lars Ulrich. As a founding member, songwriter and drummer for metal goliaths Metallica, Ulrich has been the thrashing force behind some of the best-known metal tracks ever recorded. His drumming style is simple, but always smart and strong. He doesn't get in the way of the message with flashy fills and double bass drums, but instead uses restraint with his drum parts, leaving the basic, muscular essentials. With Metallica’s massive influence, it’s no wonder Ulrich is one of the most popular and inspiring drummers of the past few of decades.
4. Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures)
Rock's hardest working drummer during his time with Nirvana, Dave Grohl first took to the mic on “Marigold” off Nirvana’s, Heart-Shaped Box. Grohl has gone on to front the Foo Fighters on seven studio albums, but hasn’t left his drumming talents behind, making a much-anticipated return to the drums on Queens of the Stone Age’s albums and with the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. Grohl has come a long way since his early heavy-handed drumming with Freak Baby and Scream, and it’s a career filled with taking chances and following his heart. It’s no wonder everyone wants to jam with him.
3. Keith Moon (The Who)
Keith Moon's wild drum technique was part of the Who’s core, and they haven't sounded the same since he passed away in 1978. Moon played the skins with the kind of untamed recklessness that most schooled drummers before him would have seen as crazy, but it’s that intensity that brought such personality to the Who and made Moon’s wild, brash playing the soul of the band. His solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, captures his spirit, bringing a bizarre, haunting blend of '50s/'60s rock ‘n’ roll, pushing character into every beat.
2. Neal Peart (Rush)
Drummer and lyricist for Rush, Neal Peart is hailed in many circles as the quintessential rock drummer. He’s known for his ingenious drum parts and intense solos with lead passages that rock hard and prove the drums, indeed, can be a lead instrument. No Rush concert is complete without Peart’s sparking, obligatory drum solo, and his syncopated drumming style certainly has its own distinct sound and aura. You can always tell when it’s Peart playing.
1. John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
Bonzo was famous for his speed, intensity and swift right foot, but above all, he was a “soul” drummer. Even with all the attention given to his dazzling soloing, cool beats and fills, and bass drum know-how, in the end, John Bonham was simply a groover. For this ability to make a band sway and groove like no other, never hogging the spotlight but remaining the subtle champion of Led Zeppelin, Harmony Central recognizes him as our Top Rock Drummer, a talent unrivaled and irreplaceable.
Anne Erickson holds years of bylines in Gannett Media publications, as well as music magazines Premier Guitar, Guitar Edge and more. She also hosts radio shows with iHeartRadio and has been syndicated in Seattle, Dayton, Central Coast California and beyond. Anne is a loyal Spartan and holds a Master’s degree from MSU. She resides in Lansing, Michigan.