40 Best Drummers of All Time (Greatest Drum Players)

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Written By Will Fenton

Founder of MidderMusic. From numerous bands to stints working in music shops, read more about me on the 'Here's My Story' page!

Have you just started with your drumming lessons and you need some inspiration?

Well, you’ve come to the right place!

For today’s article, we made a list of the best drummers of all time.

The skills of these popular drum payers are incredible, and they will without a doubt motivate you to start practicing right away.

1. John Bonham

As a drummer of the iconic rock band Led Zeppelin, John Bonham earned the title of one of the greatest drummers of all time.

He took up drums at the age of five, and got his first drum set when he was fifteen.

After years of hard work and playing with various bands, he eventually got together with Robert Plant and other Led Zeppelin members – and the rest is history.

Bonham’s drumming skills became legendary, especially his speed, agility, and sense of groove.

2. Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich was an American jazz drummer, band leader, conductor, and songwriter.

He has played among legendary jazz musicians, including Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, and Count Basie.

He also achieved success with the Buddy Rich Big Band.

And thanks to his virtuosic abilities and incredible speed and power, Buddy Rich is widely regarded as one of the top drummers of all time.

3. Keith Moon

Another name that always appears among the top 10 drummers of all time is Keith Moon.

He was a founding member of The Who, and he became known for his unique playing style.

His drumming was often bombastic and almost theatrical, and he was no stranger to destroying his drum kit on stage.

And he was an eccentric person in general, known for his wild behavior off stage.

However, despite his short life, he managed to inspire so many drummers, and he will always be remembered as one of the world’s greatest drummers. 

4. Gene Krupa

Thanks to his immense talent and innovative approach to drumming, many consider Gene Krupa the best drummer ever.

Neil Peart said to NPR that ‘he was the first rock drummer’, and we understand why – Krupa was a jazz drummer, but his performances were so energetic.

He is considered “the founding father of the modern drum set”, as well as the inventor of modern drumming techniques.

One of his most memorable performances was his drum solo on Benny Goodman’s ‘1937 recording of “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

5. Dave Grohl

With the motto “Louder is always better”, Dave Grohl established himself as one of the best rock drummers.

He is known as the frontman of Foo Fighters, but he first rose to prominence as a member of Nirvana.

He was the drummer for Nirvana from 1990 to 1994, and he contributed to the band both as a drummer and a songwriter.

After Kurt Cobain’s death, Grohl formed Foo Fighters and his music career continued to flourish.

He was inducted in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a member of both bands.

6. Ginger Baker

Peter Edward ‘Ginger’ Baker’s contribution to music is immense.

He is often referred to as the rock’s first superstar drummer, but he was also a pioneer of jazz fusion and world music.

In his playing, Baker incorporated jazz and African rhythms, mixing his jazz training technical skills with rock n’ roll energy.

All in all, he was definitely a huge creative force in the 60s and the 70s, and his drumming will be known to many generations to come.

7. Neil Peart 

And the same goes for Neil Peart – his drumming skills won’t be forgotten.

He was known for his technical proficiency and creativity.

Peart rose to fame as a member of the rock band Rush – he auditioned for Rush in 1974, and that was a life-changing event for him.

Also known as ‘the Professor’, Neil Peart received many awards and honors during his lifetime, including the induction into the Modern Drummer Readers Poll Hall of Fame.

8. Charlie Watts

Another legendary drummer who deserves a place on this list is Charlie Watts.

Watts was a member of the Rolling Stones for 58 years.

And his drumming skills were incredible.

Although he was a drummer of an iconic rock band, Watts cited jazz as a major influence on his playing style.

And of course, the Rolling Stones drummer is also on the Rolling Stone magazine top 100 drummers list.

9. Hal Blaine

Hal Blaine was a famous drummer and session musician.

Claiming over 35,000 sessions, Blaine is regarded as one of the most recorded studio drummers in the music industry.

He also played along iconic music artists such as Frank Sinatra, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Beach Boys.

Moreover, Blaine contributed to 40 records that went number one.

All things considered, Hal Blaine was hands down one of the most successful drummers ever.

10. Phil Collins

Phil Collins is an English drummer, singer, and songwriter.

As a singer/songwriter, he released many timeless hits such as “In the Air Tonight” and “Another Day in Paradise.”

He also achieved great success with the band Genesis.

However, Phil Collins is also a respected drum player.

After all, “In the Air Tonight” has one of the most famous drum fills of the decade.

Collins has been playing drums since the age of five, so in a way, he is a drummer before anything else. 

11. Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr was a drummer of the most iconic rock band of all time – The Beatles.

Apart from drumming, he contributed to the band by providing back vocals.

But of course, he is best-known for his laid-back playing style.

He is also responsible for introducing several drumming techniques like using a matched grip and muffling devices on tonal rings.

And although he isn’t the most popular Beatles member, he is still very active – for example, he released a new song “Everyone and Everything” in 2022.

12. Mitch Mitchell

Jimi Hendrix Experience wouldn’t be the same without Mitch Mitchell.

His intricate drumming skills influenced so many aspiring drum players back then.

And as Queen’s Roger Taylor said, Mitchell’s playing was a ‘fusion of jazz technique and wonderful riffs.’

All in all, Mitch Mitchell undoubtedly deserves a place on every world’s top drummers list.

13. Al Jackson Jr.

Another iconic drum player known for his grooves is Al Jackson Jr.

He was known as “the Human Timekeeper”, so you can imagine the accuracy and brilliance of his performance.

He was primarily a session drummer, and he played along some music legends such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Al Green.

Al Jackson Jr. is also remembered as a founding member of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, a prominent group of session musicians.

14. Tommy Lee

Tommy Lee is known as a drummer of the popular metal band Mötley Crüe.

In a way, he helped define the rhythmic sound of hard rock, which makes him one of the most influential drummers of his era. 

And his energetic, theatrical performances are always on point.

Tommy Lee also became known to a wider audience after the release of Pam & Tommy, a miniseries based on his marriage with Pamela Anderson.

15. Chad Smith

Another band that made a huge impact on the rock genre is Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And the person who contributed to the band’s sound immensely is, of course, Chad Smith.

Known for his heavy-handed playing and use of ghost notes, Chad Smith helped Red Hot Chili Peppers find their authentic sound.

He has been in the band since 1988, and he is widely regarded as one of the best drummers alive.

16. Travis Barker 

Travis Barker has been a famous drummer for more than 20 years now.

He gained mainstream fame after joining Blink-182 in 1998 as their replacement drummer.

But he also played with other bands like Transplants, the Aquabats, +44, and Box Car Racer, as well as hip-hop artists such as SuicideBoy, MGK, and Yelawolf. 

That being said, Travis Barker is arguably one of the most versatile drummers on this list. 

17. Meg White 

Meg White is one-half of the iconic duo “The White Stripes.”

She is also one of the most popular female drummers, and one of the most successful drum players in general.

Her performance is characterized by simplicity and technical brilliance.

Unlike many drummers on this list, Meg White has a rather minimalist approach to drumming, which ultimately makes her a rather unique rock drum player.

18. Stewart Copeland 

Stewart Copeland is a Scottish-American musician and composer, known for his work with the Police.

Of course, the Police is one of the most influential bands, and Copeland’s contribution to the band’s sound was essential.

His playing style is recognized by intricate hi-hat patterns as well as unmatched focus and energy.

Copeland was ranked the 10th best drummer of all time by Rolling Stone in 2016.

19. Tommy Ramone 

Thomas Erdelyi, known professionally as Tommy Ramone, was a Hungarian-American musician and producer.

Of course, his name is mostly associated with the Ramones.

He was a founding member of the iconic band as well as its longest-surviving original member.

With his distinctive, energetic drumming style, Tommy Ramone helped define the punk rock genre.

All things considered, he is regarded as one of the best drum players of all time for a good reason.

20. Clem Burke

A legendary drummer Clem Burke is best known for his work with Blondie and the Ramones.

However, Burke also worked with many other artists – he played drums with Eurythmics, Bob Dylan, and Iggy Pop, just to name a few.

So it’s fair to say he is one of the best drummers of his era.

His playing style was influenced by drummers like Hal Blaine, Keith Moon, and Ringo Starr.

And now he’s the one who keeps inspiring young drummers around the world.

21. Mick Fleetwood

Michael John Kells Fleetwood was a self-taught drummer who eventually became one of the most prominent drummers in the world. 

He is, of course, best known as a drummer of the iconic rock band Fleetwood Mac.

In fact, he is one of the band’s founding members – his surname was merged with John ‘Mac’ McVie’s to form the name of the band.

Fleetwood also did solo work, but being a part of Fleetwood Mac affected his playing style the most.

22. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

Ahmir Khalib Thompson, known professionally as Questlove, is also among the world’s top drummers.

He is the drummer for the hip hop band The Roots, but he is also a record producer, a DJ, and filmmaker.

However, Questlove is a part of this list because of his drumming skills – he is a Grammy-winning drummer who worked with many popular music artists.

Questlove and The Roots are also currently Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show’s in-house band.

23. Sheila E. 

Sheila Cecília Escovedo, better known under the stage name Sheila E, is hands down one of the best drummers out there.

She is referred to as the “Queen of Percussion”, and her impact on the funk and R&B genres and 80s music scene in general is undeniable.

During her career, she worked with many famous musicians, including Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and Prince.

But she also had a quite successful solo career, releasing multiple critically acclaimed albums.

24. Alex Van Halen

Alex Van Halen is a famous drum player and a founding member of the hard rock band Van Halen.

He is known for his intricate drumming skills and a powerful sound that helped define the band’s music.

But he also helped define the sound of the genre in general.

Using a massive drum kit featuring double bass drums, Van Halen has been creating a sound that is impossible to ignore.

25. Jimmy Chamberlin

Jimmy Chamberlin is another drummer who made his mark on the music scene.

He is best known for his work with Smashing Pumpkins.

However, Chamberlin was originally a jazz drummer, so was influenced by legends such as Buddy Rich and Duke Ellington.

So he wasn’t only prone to playing alternative rock. 

And that makes perfect sense – Chamberlin’s snare rolls bridged the gap between the two genres.

26. Lars Ulrich

Best known as the founder of Metallica, Lars Ulrich is undeniably one of the best rock drummers of all time.

He moved to L.A. as a teenager to become a professional tennis player, but he ended up playing drums instead.

And we’re glad it turned out that way – Metallica wouldn’t be the same without him.

27. Bernard Purdie

Bernard “Pretty” Purdie is an American drummer who became an essential part of music history.

He pioneered in the genres of funk, soul, and R&B, and influenced many aspiring drummers.

Moreover, Purdie is known for his impeccable time-keeping.

And he also created his own drum pattern known as ‘Purdie shuffle’ – it’s his unique use of triplets against a half-time backbeat.

28. Mike Portnoy

Mike Portnoy was a self-taught drummer who eventually became one of the most influential rock drummers. 

He rose to prominence as a member of the band Dream Theater, but he left the band in 2010.

He remained active though, and contributed to many projects throughout the years.

But the music of most of the bands he played with revolves around progressive rock and heavy metal.

29. Benny Benjamin 

William “Benny” Benjamin, nicknamed Papa Zita, is primarily associated with the Motown Records studio band The Funk Brothers.

He worked on the label’s famous hits, including the classic “My Girl” by The Temptations.

Benny Benjamin also mentored Stevie Wonder, and Wonder mentioned him as one of his biggest inspirations on several occasions.

All in all, Benny Benjamin is arguably one of the greatest drummers of all time.

By the way, he was named the eleventh best drummer of all time by the Rolling Stone magazine in 2016.

30. Danny Carey

Daniel Edwin Carey is the drummer for the American rock band Tool.

And his playing is incredible – Carey is an idol to many rock drummers.

Besides Tool, he worked with many other artists, including Zaum, Carole King, and Green Jellö.

He is included in the top 100 drummers lists by many publications, including Rolling Stone.

31. Steve Gadd

Steve Gadd is a well-known American drummer, percussionist, and session musician

He worked with many famous artists, including Simon & Garfunkel, Kate Bush, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, and Eric Clapton.

And his drum solos are somewhat legendary.

Gadd also popularized many modern drumming techniques, and he influenced various music genres such as funk, rock, and jazz.

32. Art Blakey 

When it comes to drummers who made an impact on the jazz genre, Art Blakey was one of the best.

Blakey was a fantastic drummer, and he worked with many legends such as Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.

He was one of the first bebop-style drummers, and many consider him the best jazz drummer of all time.

He was inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

33. Cozy Powell 

Cozy Powell was an English rock drummer who played with many successful bands.

He played with Black Sabbath, Robert Plant, The Jeff Beck Group, and Whitesnake, just to name a few.

During his career, Powell contributed to many recordings and overall 66 studio albums.

And he will always be remembered as one of the most prolific session musicians and an inspiring drummer.

34. D.J. Fontana

Dominic Joseph Fontana is best known for his collaboration with Elvis Presley.

You can hear his brilliant playing on countless Elvis recordings; to be more precise, he played on over 460 RCA cuts with him.

D.J. Fontana also pioneered drumming techniques such as jumpy snare hits from “Blue Suede Shoes.” 

He is generally one of the most respected musicians of rock n’ roll drumming.

35. Bill Bruford 

Bill Bruford is an English former drummer and percussionist who rose to prominence with the progressive rock band Yes.

And Bruford’s skills and creativity immediately made him stand out from the rest of the crowd.

His technical prowess and improvisation skills were undeniable.

Besides Yes, Bruford also toured with King Crimson, Genesis, and Roy Harper.

36. Terry Bozzio

Terry Bozzio became famous after playing with Frank Zappa in the 1970s.

And his virtuosic performances led him to become one of the world’s most famous drummers.

Besides his contribution to Zappa’s music, Bozzio became an integral part of post-prog supergroup U.K.

Thanks to his solo work and notable collaborations, he was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1997.

37. Joseph Modeliste

Joseph Modeliste, nicknamed Zigaboo and Ziggy, is a respected American drummer known for his work with the funk band the Meters.

He is mostly associated with the New Orleans style drumming, and he is generally considered to be one of the innovators of the funk genre. 

Regarding his style, Rolling Stone’s reporter once called his technique a “standard technique to the wind… punching out rollicking… rhythms with a stiff-armed attack.”

38. Tony Williams

Tony Williams is hands down one of the most talented drummers on our list. 

He made his debut when he was only 17 years old – and it was with Miles Davis.

Moreover, Williams pioneered jazz fusion in the band Second great quintet, along with Herbie Hancock. 

And he helped redefine the role of the jazz rhythm section.

Tony Williams’ innovative drumming skills became legendary, and he is now widely regarded as one of the best jazz drummers of all time.

39. Levon Helm

The Band’s Levon Helm also made history with his deep country voice and multi-instrumental abilities.

He was Bob Dylan’s backing group in the 70s, and he collaborated with many other famous artists throughout his career.

He was known for his country sound, but he also contributed to rock projects.

All things considered, Helm’s career was rich and versatile, and his talent is unforgettable.

40. Ian Paice 

Deep Purple’s drummer Ian Paice is the last remaining original member of the band.

He is often referred to as the greatest drummer of all time, so this list wouldn’t be complete without him.

Influenced by Frank Sinatra, Ringo Starr and Count Basie, Paice developed a unique style of playing that became an integral part of Deep Purple’s sound.

Consequently, he made a huge impact on heavy metal drumming, and he influenced many successful rock drummers. 

Best Drummers Of All Time – Final Thoughts 

There are many more amazing drummers worth mentioning, but we have to stop at one point. 

In today’s list, we included well-known drummers who set themselves apart from the crowd and became an important part of music history.

All of the drum players we mentioned are widely regarded as impactful and skillful musicians with unique playing styles. 

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