Punk drummers are awesome. I became the biggest pop-punk enthusiast in late high school through early college. Then, between the influence of a self-proclaimed anarchist boyfriend and playing orchestral music as principal flute, I quickly developed a taste for alternative music. But it took a long time before I delved into the roots of pop-punk and post-punk: Straight-up punk.
I will include old-school and newer subgenres of punk drummers in this list.
Punk grows on you; it is an acquired taste. So you probably won’t like an old punk album on the first, second, or even 10th listen. But by the time you’ve sat with an album on enough long drives and late nights, you become susceptible to its carefree attitude and wabi-sabi (Japanese for perfect imperfection) charm.
Punk it quick yet rugged; it’s gritty, raw, and exciting. Here are the 11 best punk rock drummers who capture the genre on the drum set. (Please note that this list is in no particular order).
Tommy Ramone (Ramones)
Tommy Ramone was born to the name Tamás Erdélyi and was a Hungarian musician and, later, a producer. Tamas’s parents moved to the states during the Hungarian revolution.
Though not the most technical drummer, Tommy Ramone is credited with inventing a new drumming style and is often cited as the creator of the quintessential punk beat. After all, punk isn’t all about being technical, anyway.
He tracked four albums with The Ramones, one of the most iconic punk bands ever, and was the original drummer. Johnny Ramone and Tommy Ramone met in school and created a psychedelic group called The Tangerine Puppets before the Ramones. Groovy History stated that Tommy “set the pace for the Ramones” in this article.
Tommy’s sound was cutting and had bass and snary heavy beats. His persistent drumming style inspired the originators of pop-punk, The Buzzcocks. He is best known for having penned the hit tunes “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
I didn’t want to overwhelm this list with Ramones, so I didn’t include Markey Ramone in this list. While Tommy Ramone was iconic for developing a new style, Markey put the style into action with much more technicality than Tommy did.
Topper Headon (The Clash)
English drummer Topper Headon, also known as Nicholas Headon, is a certified rock-and-roll hall-of-fame drummer. Topper got his stage name from his similarity to a character called Mickey the Monkey from the British comic The Topper.
Topper is hugely at home on the drum set. Of course, some people must work to feel natural on their instrument, but Headon never had this issue.
He is well-versed in many grooves and genres, including reggae, big band, punk rock, and post-punk. He used one rack tom and two-floor toms in his setup with punk band, the Clash.
Headon was particularly inspired by Keith Moon (The Who). And, like many punk drummers, he was never formally trained. Despite this, American producer Sandy Pearlman still called Headon “The Human Drum Machine,” a testament to the drummer’s crisp sense of internal rhythm and unwavering playing.
A little-known fact about Headon is that he left The Clash during their Combat Rock era because of his use of heroin. However, despite his early departure, he was still a large part of why The Clash became so influential today (Stranger Things, anyone?!).
Here is a more recent video of him playing Roland’s TDKD30 in a promotional/review video here. (Skip to 2 minutes or so in to hear him grooving on the kit.)
Travis Barker (Blink-182, Transplants, +44, Box Car Racer)
I wish we could talk about Barker’s drumming without getting talk of the Kardashians in the mix. So scratch that; I will do just that!
Travis Barker is a multi-genre drummer from Fontana, CA. His first musical gig was with the ska band The Aquabats, but he left to join Blink-182. Travis Barker was also a founding member of +44 and has joined popular other groups, such as the hip-hop bands Expensive Taste and TRV$DJAM.
Travis Barker’s style sounds marchy to me, especially in Blink tunes. But, as a marching band kid in college and high school, I’ve always had a soft spot for Barker’s style.
Even the ballad, “I Miss You,” still has that pleasant field-drum feel. Likewise, the artist uses many marching band rudiments as the basis for songs in +44 and Blink-182.
Going Away to College also sounds even more like a marching groove to me.
Rolling Stone Magazine dubbed Barked “Punk’s First Superstar Drummer” after his playing on a Transplants record. (Although I have to wonder what fans of the Ramones might say about that controversial statement!)
Part of what makes his sound so unique is also his unusual hi-hat patterns. He has recently gotten into hip-hop and fusion and is also the current drummer for Machine Gun Kelly. Unfortunately, Barker recently broke his finger and is undergoing surgery today (2/28/23) to fix it!
Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag)
Bill Stevenson was the percussionist and songwriter for the (skate-punk band) Descendents and was the drummer for Black Flag from 1981-1985.
Black Flag isn’t my usual jam (The Descendents are more by speed), but I can’t help but appreciate the technical skill it takes to play drums and make tunes as quick as those to get going. Stevenson was Black Flag’s 5th drummer.
He is an absolute machine on drums and is literally ‘hard-hitting.’ In addition, he is known for making up unique fills. Stevenson has inspired hundreds of musicians, spreading his style from the west coast.
This punk drummer is often called a punk legend but comes from humble beginnings. He has played on everything from drum from the dumpsters (see the documentary Filamge for more on this) to mid-range Rodgers Drums to pro sets.
Older punk artists like the Ramones and newer acts like Rise Against inspired Stevenson. If you dig his playing, check out Only Crime; it’s very melodic punk. Stevenson has also worked as a producer for big-name bands like Alkaline Trio and NOFX.
Atom Willard (The Offspring, Angels & Airwaves, Rocket From the Crypt)
Adam “Atom” Williard is a notable American alt/punk drummer. Atom was inspired by everyone from Iron Maiden to Fugazi’s Brendan Canty and more. He has also been influenced by ska. He never took formal lessons. According to an interview with punknews.com, he has been playing since he was four years old.
Like many of the drummers on this list, he is known for hitting the set was a lot of velocity. Willard ended up leaving The Offspring to work with Angels & Airwaves. I am a massive fan of his work in both bands. Willard currently uses a set by Vater Percussion.
Check out these two videos to get a feel for his style:
Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney)
Janet Weiss is an American post-punk drummer from Los Angeles, CA. She is best known for her work in the Sleater-Kinney and (currently) Quasi.
Weiss was entirely self-taught and learned at a young age by listening to other percussionists play. As a result, her style is rich and melodic; she fills out her sound without going over the top. She cites one of her biggest inspirations as being The Clash.
Weiss was a member of Sleater-Kinney for decades. The band started as part of the riot girl movement in the 90s and has offered much to the punk/rock scene ever since.
Weiss left Sleater-Kinny in 2019 because she felt the band was headed in a different direction than the one she wanted. Other bands she has worked with include The Furies and Motorgoat. She has also been involved with the film industry, in movies like Pig and The Rental.
Paul Cook (Sex Pistols)
Paul Cook is an English drummer and co-founder of the Sex Pistols. Paul Cook first met guitarist Steve Jones at a school in London that they both attended. The band was formed in 1972 with the second guitarist, Waley Nightingale.
You won’t find Paul Cook on many top lists. But I’m not the only one who thinks he’s an underrated drummer. Cook’s grooves are unshakeable and locked in, and they made history on their sole album: Nevermind the Bollocks (Here’s the Sex Pistols).
In his interview with Sun-13, he said he regrets not doing a second album with the Sex Pistols. But luckily, Cook continued with his art, forming The Professionals, which caused quite an uproar in its own right.
Josh Freese (The Offspring, The Vandals, Devo)
John Freese is an American drummer from Orlando, Florida. One interesting fact about Freese is that he is the son of a professional tuba player named Stan Freese, who also directed a big band at Disneyland.
Freese has experience playing various styles, from pop to classic rock to punk. He typically plays on a DW collector series drumset.
Josh Freese has been on hundreds of records and has played for big acts such as Sublime, Nine Inch Nails, and Weezer. As a session drummer, he is a talented sight-reader and quick learner; after Zac Farro left Paramore, he learned their discography before a tour.
Tré Cool (Greenday)
Tré Cool is a German-American drummer best known for his work with the band Green Day and is a well-known punk-rock legend. Tré Cool’s birth name is Frank Wright III; He got the name Tre (from the French word Tres, for very) and cool because, well… he is super cool! This stage name predates Green Day and goes back to when he played for The Lookouts.
Tré Cool embodies the punk-rock attitude, so I added him to this list. Surprisingly, his earlier days were spent honing upbeat reggae grooves and gentler styles until he joined Green Day.
With their 1994 release of “Dookie”, the Californian trio put their name on the punk scene with guitarist Tre Cool instantly gaining his personal mark with his fantastic grooves on such a variety of music. In the decade after the album was released, they became household names and they recently even put this album to Broadway. Safe to see something is going well in the band since the snotty punk days. It seems that we are very comfortable with having recordings now, said the former.
The producer that worked with the band on Dookie reported that they had a hard time with Tré due to his approach, which he called ‘unpredictable’ and liked to a ‘wild animal.’
He currently plays on an SJC set. His style takes from Keith Moon (The Who), Ringo Star (The Beatles), and Dave Mello (Operation Ivy). He’s one of the best drummers of the 1990s.
Zac Farro (Paramore)
Zac Farro is an American drummer from New Jersey best known for his work in the rock band Paramore. He started learning drums at nine years old and was surrounded by punk in his younger years. His family then moved to Tennessee next, where Paramore was born.
Zac Farro’s drumming mixes things up; the patterns in the first verse are often vastly different from those in the second verse, which makes his playing feel so lively.
He cites being inspired by bands such as Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, and Mew. Farro left Paramore to pursue his solo career (HalfNoise) but later rejoined the group. Other acts he has been involved in include Novel American and Reliant K.
Chuck Biscuits (Black Flag, Danzig)
Charles Montgomery/ Chuck Biscuits is a Canadian punk drummer known for some of the fastest punk drumming around.
His first brush with fame was with the Canadian band D.O.A, cited as one of the founders of the hardcore punk genre. Hardcore is characteristically more aggressive than earlier punk music.
Nevertheless, his style is as powerful and magnetic; he was a pro at creating a sound with immense presence but still melded in with the guitarist’s melodic lines.
Chuck Biscuits was in Black Flag briefly and was later in Danzig. Unfortunately, he left the latter due to a royalty disagreement. Still, there seems to be more behind the kerfuffle, as Biscuits once told Washington Post that his time in Danzig was “nine years of Hell.” Nevertheless, his contribution to rock and punk is undeniable!
Other Great Drummers
It’s hard to pick just eleven best punk drummers. I chose the above list due to the player’s skill and punk notoriety and my personal preference. Other extremely famous and skilled drummers include:
- Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Dead Cross)
- Marky Ramone (Ramones)
- Pete Finestone (Bad Religion)
- Charlie Benante (Anthrax)
- Joey Castillo (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal)
- Charlie Quintana (Social Distortion, The Plugz, Cruzados)
- Rat Scabies (The Damned)
- Pete Finestone (Bad Religion)
- Charlie Quintana (Social Distortion, The Plugz)
Is punk drumming hard?
The speed you develop on a bass drum and the sticks increases the ability to play other genres. Punk music requires a lot of time, talent, speed and endurance. People may tell you that punk music sounds simple, but this isn’t always the case.
The above drummers helped shape the sound of punk and its subgenres that we know today.
Punk drummers provide some of the best rhythms for classic rebel songs. Though the list only hits 11 of the best of all time, there are likely hundreds more to consider when discussing who’s leading the pack.
Johnny Ramone noted that great punk bands could go from 0-60 in seconds, and it takes a great drummer to facilitate that energy. From Blink-182’s Travis Barker to The Clash’s Topper Headon, many have made names for themselves in the music industry based on their skills.
These 11 have certainly earned their place among the best punk drummers ever recorded, and we can thank them directly (or indirectly) for some of our favorite love anthems alone! However, whether you agree or disagree, it is debatable whether these include all the best punk rock drummers. If not, who else is missing from this list? Which are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!