To most millennials and Generation X, the 1990s was the best time to be alive for everything in American culture, especially music. No matter the genre, so many iconic songs can be identified just as the first four beats of the drum.
In the 90s, the techniques evolved, and the rhythms became more out of this world. It didn’t matter if it was metal bashers or subtle significant beats in the pocket; drummers showcased their importance during this era. Here are a few of the most influential drummers that sparked the 90s.
Adrian Young (No Doubt)
Inspired by the group that eventually hired him, Adrian Young learned to play drums just a couple of years before auditioning to be in the group No Doubt. Young never had lessons. He took a class to read rudiments and then practiced by playing along with songs from The Police, Rush, and Fishbone.
After telling a little white lie about how long he played, he got the position just as the band began recording their first albums. With No Doubt being a band that made many genres of music, from pop to dance hall, listeners can hear Young’s skills evolve with each album.
The 90s was also an era where new fashion trends were seen as self-expression, and Adrian took full advantage while on stage and in music videos wearing mohawks, thongs, and more to set off his proficient drum skills while performing.
Brian Blade (Brian Blade Fellowship)
Although jazz had been around for decades, the 90s was an era where it truly began to modernize itself in sound. As a drummer, Brian was one of many that kept jazz alive throughout this decade. He was noted in the 90s for creating the genre’s most versatile yet organic drum patterns.
Inspired by his brother, who played the drums in church, Brian learned from New Orleans jazz masters at Loyola University. In the 1990s, he formed his jazz group and recorded the album, Brian Blade Fellowship, said by many to be an extraordinarily adventurous and exotic debut album.
Not only did Blade showcase his talented drum skills through jazz in the 90s, but he also recorded with other artists as well in the pop genre. He recorded with artists such as Josh Redman and Bob Dylan.
Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters)
Amongst all the drummers Nirvana had throughout their career, Dave Grohl is said to be one of the most impactful to the group. The group had many drummers before, but it was something about Grohl’s technique of aggressive and bold drumming technique that made him a good fit.
The connection between him, Kurt Cobain, and Krist Novoselic helped to create some of the most iconic songs in the ’90s, the most prominent being, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ released in 1991.
After Cobain’s suicide in April 1994, Grohl continued working to combat depression and played short stints with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, including a performance on SNL. In 1994 he recorded all the instruments on a fifteen-track demo—what would eventually become Foo Fighters. With this band, Grohl continued to create chart-topping hits in that era, including ‘Learn to Fly.
Tré Cool (Green Day)
Frank Edwin Wright III, or Tre’ Cool, is known for his comedic personality, but he is best known for his rhythmic drum skills. Starting out playing at 12 as just a child prodigy, he began playing for the Lookouts at age 12.
It wasn’t until later, in 1990, that Green Day’s former drummer John Kiffmeyer left the band. Tré joined the legendary punk rock group soon after, initially having trouble fitting in musically with Mike and Billy.
“A lot of drummers get sidetracked by the instrument. It can engulf you. You start opening these doors — different ways of setting up your kit, these metal guys with all of these drums set up in a circle around them — and you get addicted to it. When I started, I had too many drums. I was a little reggae-happy and into fancier beats than was needed.” –Tré Cool, Rolling Stone interview 2009
Nevertheless, he credits himself as ‘the greatest Green Day drummer in the world’ due to their incredible success.
His drum solos in songs such as “Burn Out” and “Chump” are examples of how his creatively manic fills and consistent punk grooves helped to make Green Day one of the highest-charting punk rock bands of the 90s. He is such a huge lover of drums that he has kept every drum set used in a Green Day Music video.
Questlove (The Roots)
You can’t talk about 90s hip hop without talking about the legendary drummer Questlove. Born Amir Thompson, Questlove was born into a musical family. Watching his family backstage, he decided he wanted to play drums at the age of seven, and by the time middle school rolled around, he was already a musical director.
In 1993 he and his best friend Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter formed the group The Roots. He incorporated many of his “call and response” techniques that he developed with a friend early in his drum career into their albums.
The group began recording in Germany and received a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group with their song “You Got Me.” Questlove’s famous drag beats and sloppy grooves can be heard in this song.
Chad Smith (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
As one of the most sought-after drummers in the music industry, Chad Smith is the Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer. As the youngest sibling, Chad fell in love with music by watching his younger siblings. After banging on everything, including an ice cream tub and Lincoln Logs, he discovered his passion for the drums.
Chad was first a gigging drummer, playing with various rock bands around his local music scene in Michigan. Then, in 1988, he auditioned for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and recorded Mother’s Milk with the group.
Smith is known for his infectious beats and grace note grooves, contributing to the group’s funk style. Some of their biggest hits from the ’90s include “Give It Away” and “Under The Bridge.” One of Chad’s most talked about performances was Woodstock 99, where the band played with light bulbs on their heads.
Lars Ulrich (Metallica)
Although they’ve been playing since the ’80s, the ’90s was still an outstanding decade for Lars Ulrich and Metallica. Known for his out-of-this-world double-kicks, Ulrich has built a solid reputation as a drummer, though the internet might have you thinking differently.
His family thought he was going to continue the family tennis legacy. Instead, Ulrich became obsessed with playing the drums at age 12 when his father took him to a rock concert. When he was an adult, he and James Hetfield formed Metallica.
In the ’90s, Ulrich changed his drumming style from thrash metal to a more simplified style when the band changed their form of songwriting. He is famous for leaving the ride cymbal out of his kits and using the China cymbal instead. 1991 Ulrich and Metallica saw more sold-out stadium tours and albums than in the 80s, soon making them one of the biggest rock bands in the world.
Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters)
Known to be a force in the band the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins began playing at 10. Instead of traditional lessons, he practiced by playing along with his favorite songs on the radio.
By 1995 Hawkins began playing for Alanis Morissette on her Jagged Little Pill tour. After becoming friends with Foo Fighters founding member and drummer, Dave Grohl, he joined the band as their new drummer.
While playing with the Foo Fighters, he was often compared to Dave Grohl because although he wasn’t traditionally trained, his beastly drumming style and passion showcased energy strong enough to compete.
He developed his style by listening to those he was influenced by, such as Phil Collins and Neil Peart. Some songs where you can hear Hawkins’ recorded drums are ‘My Hero,’ ‘Walking After You,’ and ‘Evelong.’
After playing in several grunge bands before her prominent place in Hole, Patty Schemel has been named by several other rock musicians as one of the best drummers ever.
Kurt Cobain even wanted to have her join Nirvana, but David Grohl’s audition brought her to a close second. Schemel began playing at 11, along with her brother, who played guitar. Her early drumming career started when she joined an all-female punk rock band Doll Squad.
In 1992 Kurt Cobain suggested to Hole’s lead singer that Schemel play for their band since Nirvana’s position was filled. Schemel is first heard in their Hole’s fourth single, “Beautiful Son.”
How does one end up playing for the biggest musical star in the world? For Jonathan Moffett, a.k.a Sugarfoot, it began with his father simply suggesting that he should play drums. His older siblings played other instruments, so instead of having traditional musical lessons, he just played alongside them.
His career began when he landed a spot to tour with The Jacksons, but he developed such a great friendship with Michael Jackson that he ended up being his drummer for 30 years.
The 90s was the height of Michael’s career and Moffett’s. Artists were so impressed by his signature Kung-Fu-inspired drumming style that he toured with Madonna, Elton John, George Michael, and Janet Jackson when he wasn’t on tour with her brother Michael.
Travis Barker (Blink-182)
One of the most versatile drummers, Travis Barker, began his career as a punk rock drummer with the 90s group Blink-182. He gained a lot of his drum experience in high school where he played in jazz ensembles and snare drum in the band. Before Blink-182, he joined the band the Aquabats in 1994.
After his time with the Aquabats, he joined Blink-182 in 1998. In the book, Blink-182: Tales from Beneath Your Mom, Anne Hoppus states that Travis memorized a 20-track setlist only 45 minutes before his first show with them, but the internet is split on this one being true.
Besides his quick adaptability, Travis’ drum style stands out with his ability to creatively use his marching band chops on the drum set accompanied by unpredictable accents. An example of this can be heard in the Blink-182 1999 smash hit “All the Small Things.”
These drummers are easily some of the best musicians of the ’90s. Some of them were so great that they have taken their artistry well into the current generation of music.
Others have even taken their skills into other genres outside of the bands they found success with. These amazing drummers are in no particular order, but they are just a few that made the 1990s one of the greatest eras of music.