Photo: Tore Sætre / Wikimedia
There are many best drummer lists on the internet, many of which feature drummers in a “worst-to-best” fashion.
I don’t subscribe to that notion, which is why my list has no order.
Listed below are the 45 best drummers of all time, according to me. They happen to be my favorite drummers, as well.
But what do I know; I’m just a blogger on the internet? Feel free to voice your opinions in the comments! These lists seem to be somewhat controversial.
Some drummers listed here may be popular and famous while others are “better musicians” according to subjective opinion (this is why these lists are tough).
Will your favorite drummer be included in my list? Read on to find out.
Table of Contents
- Bill Ward
- Zak Starkey
- Tre Cool
- Alan White
- Carl Palmer
- Michael Shrieve
- Matt Cameron
- Mike Portnoy
- Daney Carey
- Dave Grohl
- Chad Smith
- Keith Moon
- Buddy Rich
- Art Blakey
- Philly Joe Jones
- Ginger Baker
- Stewart Copeland
- Mitch Mitchell
- Ian Paice
- Ash Soan
- Ringo Starr
- Max Weinberg
- Terry Bozzio
- Bernard Purdie
- Simon Phillips
- Carmine Appice
- Phil Collins
- Neil Peart
- John Bonham
- Travis Barker
- Cindy Blackman
- Steve Gadd
- Elvin Jones
- Tony Williams
- Al Jackson Jr.
- Gene Krupa
- Clyde Stubblefield
- Hal Blaine
- Max Roach
- Karen Carpenter
- Roy Haynes
- Dave Weckl
- Gavin Harrison
- Jojo Mayer
- Joe Morello
William Thomas Ward (b. May 5, 1948) is best known for his work with Black Sabbath. In the era of great British drummers (Bonham, Palmer, Paice), Bill Ward’s playing stood out from the rest. His playing with Sabbath was absolutely an influence on my playing and still is to this day.
Zak Starkey (b. September 13, 1965) hardly needs any introduction. The English drummer is the song of The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr and has recorded with The Who since 1996. He also has worked with the English rock band Oasis.
Frank Edwin Wright III (b. December 9, 1972), otherwise known for his stage name Tré Cool, has held the backbeat for punk rockers Green Day since their second album.
Tre’s drumming style is energetic and bombastic; he mentions The Who as a significant influence growing up and it shows.
Green Day was one of my favorite acts growing up. I was big into pop punk music for a while. Skateboarding was my biggest passion and their music was great to listen to while riding. It also happened to be right about the time I started playing the drums.
Progressive rockers Yes gained a bit of attention over the last few years as the song “Roundabout” was a viral meme known as To Be Continued.
Alan White (b. June 14, 1949) is an English drummer and songwriter most known for his work in Yes, following Bill Bruford’s departure. After the death of Chris Squire in 2015, White became the longest-remaining member in Yes.
Most known for his work with ELP and Asia, Carl Palmer (b. March 20, 1950) deserves a spot on my list. Carl was fortunate to come from a very musical family.
His grandfather played the drum set, and his grandmother played violin in a symphony. Palmer has stated that his primary influence growing up was Gene Krupa.
Michael Shrieve (b. July 6, 1949) is most known for his work in the rock band Santana. In addition to being a fantastic drummer, Shrieve has composed music for many films including Tempest and Apollo 13.
Matthew David Cameron (b. November 28, 1962) is currently the drummer of Pearl Jam, but he got his start playing with acts like Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Skin Yard.
After discovering Neil Peart, I discovered Mike Portnoy. I have never been the biggest fan of the music written by Dream Theater, but I can appreciate the drumming.
Mike has a way of taking the ideas and techniques of 70s prog rock drumming and upping the ante. It’s always awesome to watch him play, whether its old clips from DT or newer videos from The Winery Dogs.
Danny Carey was another giant inspiration for me in high school. Born May 10, 1961, Danny is the drummer for the progressive metal band Tool.
Carey has also worked with bands like Pigmy Love Circus, Volto!, and Primus.
Now, here’s a drummer with an extensive background. Dave Grohl, the
One of Grohl’s most recent pieces is Play, a 23-minute song, and mini-documentary that’s well worth a watch. Fans of energetic guitar and drum music will love it.
Chad Smith holds a special place in my heart. Growing up, the album Californication was on repeat on way to and from school in my CD player.
Chad plays some of the funkiest grooves and is a fantastic drummer; remember the drum battle between him and Will Ferrel?
Keith Moon laid the foundation for rock drummers of the late twentieth century and onward. His larger-than-life playing style and bombastic drum
Unfortunately, Keith was taken from the world too soon.
Buddy Rich is the king of the “one-handed roll” and had a profound impact on my playing growing up. His drumming was so fluid, yet technical. He made everything look simple.
I can’t begin to describe how influential Art Blakey was to my playing. When I was younger, I would play “Moanin'” on repeat, even learning the piano part for no reason.
Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones (b. July 15, 1923 – August 30, 1985) needs no introduction. Jones was the drummer for the First Great Miles Davis Quintet. He can be heard on albums like Porgy and Bess, Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Milestones.
Jones also was a bandleader, releasing albums from 1957 to 1983.
Philly Joe Jones made appearances with famous jazz musicians such as Chris Anderson, Chet Baker, Evans Bradshaw, Clifford Brown, Kenny Burrell, Joe Castro, John Coltrane, and others.
Ginger Baker (b. August 19, 1939) is a drummer and founder of the English rock band Cream. Baker is touted as being “rock’s first superstar drummer.”
Despite having major influences from jazz and African rhythms, jazz fusion heavy metal, and world music were his eventual wheelhouses.
Baker has cited Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and Philly Joe Jones as main influences on his playing. While Cream’s didn’t always lean to jazz, Ginger brought it out. Baker was also similar in many ways to The Who’s Keith Moon.
Sometimes, however, jazz cuts through, whether in the form of the ride patterns or archetypal drumming, such as in the piece “Toad.”
During my touring days when I drove, I had The Police on non-stop. Stewart Copeland is one of my favorite drummers. His playing on Ghost In The Machine is extraordinary.
Stewart is famous for four-on-the-floor patterns, off-beat hi-hat syncopation, and reggae half-time shuffles; these grooves are heard throughout GITM.
Mitch Mitchell was an unbelievable drummer: perfect for the Jimi Hendrix band.
One of my favorite tunes to drum along with to this day is Fire. It’s a moderately fast song and features crazed fills that manage to fit the music very well.
Ian Paice has been compared to John Bonham and vice-versa. I actually just read through a comment thread debating who was better. Why?
Both Ian and John are incredible drummers. We’ll leave it at that!
I discovered Ash Soan on Instagram where he posts tons of clips in his famed Windmill Recording Studio. His playing is nothing short of incredible and tasteful.
Soan’s session drumming credits include Cee Lo Green, Adele, Clare Maguire, Will Young, David Cook, and many more.
While I can’t say I’ve always been a gigantic Ringo fan, I have to respect his work over the years. Starr is responsible for influencing tens, if not hundreds of thousands of drummers and musicians over the years.
Max Weinberg spent most of his career playing drums with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band but also was the bandleader for Conan O’Brien on Late Night and the Tonight Show.
After the dissolution of the E Street Band in 1989, Max went for an audition as a bandleader for Late Night. Max quickly recruited the Max Weinberg 7, a group of musicians he had worked with during his career. Needless to say, he got the gig.
Weinberg was often involved in humorous banter with O’Brien leading to many memorable moments throughout the show’s history.
The phrase “Keep It Simple, Stupid” simply does not apply to Terry Bozzio. His massive kit may seem unnecessary, but his musicality and drumming prowess make up for it.
Growing up, my dad always played Steely Dan records in his car stereo, one of which was Aja. I never had a clue that this album would become one of my favorites.
Bernard Purdie is one of many drummers who play on the record (Gadd, Greene, Marotta, among others). His performance on Home At Last features what is known as the Purdie Shuffle, a triplet-based shuffle groove with half-time feel.
If you haven’t learned how to play the Purdie Shuffle, learn it now.
You can thank me later.
Simon Phillips is absolutely in my top-ten favorite drummers. He’s played with some incredible musicians, especially with piano virtuoso Hiromi.
Simon’s approach to linear drumming has had a big impact on my drumming as of late. Tunes like Dreamer from Alive are a perfect example of linear playing.
When I was first starting on the drums, one of the first books I learned from was Ultimate Realistic Rock by Carmine Appice. It’s a perfect lesson book for beginning drummers that I highly recommend.
Carmen is mostly associated with rock music, despite being heavily influenced by Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa.
Appice has played with Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, the power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice, Rod Stewart, King Kobra, and more.
Phil Collins is arguably the most iconic drummer of all time next to Buddy Rich and Ringo Starr.
Collins is responsible for writing and recording one of the most recognizable drum fills in history. His work in Genesis has gained him the rank of one of rock’s best drummers.
I would be lying if I said Neil Peart wasn’t one of my favorite drummers. While he can be considered a tad overrated, that doesn’t bug me. I learned so much from him when I was in high school, both relating to drums and life.
Neil’s playing style is very technical and the music of Rush follows unique time signatures, riff-based instrumentation, and chord changes that are nontraditional to rock music.
In their early days, I would consider them progressive rock, but in the early
John Bonham is generally located in the #1 position on most “best drummer” lists, and for a great reason. Bonham is arguably the most influential drummer of the twentieth century. Comment down below if you disagree.
John spawned a new breed of rock drummers, many of whom are included on this list. His playing was raucous, technical, and impressive. The solo in Moby Dick was a religious experience for me, to say the least.
Travis Barker seems to get a lot of shade thrown his way online, and I can’t help but wonder why. His playing is incredible! Anyone who cannot see it is blind.
You must have a problem with the genre and style of music, not the player.
Cindy has quite a long resume as a working musician, which lead her to become one of the best American jazz and rock drummers today.
She is an incredible player; I can’t quite recall, but I think I remember seeing her at an Interstate Music clinic when I was very young.
Cindy has played with many incredible artists such as Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Simmons, Ron Carter, Sam Rivers, Cassandra Wilson, Angela Bofill, Buckethead, Bill Laswell, Lenny Kravitz, and others.
Cindy is married to rock guitarist Carlos Santana and she has stated that Tony Williams was a major influence on her as a drummer.
Steve Gadd is, without a doubt, the world’s most celebrated session drummer. Again, like with Purdie, I loved him as a kid and didn’t even know it. In my eyes, I was listening to Steely Dan’s drummer, without even realizing he was a studio musician and had played on tons of other albums.
My favorite, in particular, is an album by Chick Corea titled The Leprachaun. The song Lenore has some of the best linear drumming I have ever heard.
Elvin was the drumming machine behind John Coltrane’s quartet. From 1960 to 1966, Jones appeared on albums like A Love Supreme and Crescent.
Elvin Jones worked with plenty of notable jazz musicians over his career including Charles Mingus, Teddy Charles, Bud Powell, and Miles Davis.
Tony Williams (b. December 12, 1945 – February 23, 1997) was an American jazz drummer most famous for his work with world-renowned trumpet player and bandleader Miles Davis.
Williams was a pioneer of jazz fusion.
Tony has appeared as a sideman with many bandleaders including Chet Baker, Geri Allen, Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Stan Getz, and many others.
Al Jackson Jr.
Max Lemuel Roach (b. January 10, 1924 – August 16, 2007) was an American jazz drummer credited to playing with musicians like Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and others.
In 1992, he was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
Max’s The Drum Also Waltzes is one of my favorite drum solos of all time when looking back. He laid the foundation for drumming independence in a way I found challenging, yet rudimentary.
Drums and singing should go hand in hand more often. Karen Carpenter had one of the greatest singing voices of all time.
During the popularity of The Carpenters in the 70s, women weren’t known for being drummers. There was a certain stigma around it. Fortunately, this is not the case as much today.
Karen left our world early, but her impact is still felt today. We also included her in our list of the best female drummers. Have a listen to “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and tell me it doesn’t bring a smile to your face.
In one of my earliest drum lessons, my first instructor Bob Lalko introduced me to Dave Weckl. I can’t thank him enough.
He’s the king of fusion drumming. You won’t be disap
Dave Weckl runs an online school with tons of videos and helpful information for drummers of all skill levels.
Gavin is a true virtuoso of progressive music — his work with Porcupine Tree and King Crimson exemplify it.
Gavin’s biggest influences include Steve Gadd and Jeff Porcaro. Harrison won Modern Drummer’s readers’ poll for “best progressive drummer of the year” from 2007 to 2010, 2016, and 2019.
Featured image photo credit: frontrowportraits