Behind every great band is a skilled drummer who can set the beat and keep everyone else in sync. While they aren’t always the face of the group, they’re arguably one of the most important. A solid rhythm section is needed to make people dance and feel the groove. Over the years, many iconic drummers have set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd for their unique ability to craft a memorable rhythm.
From jazz to rock and roll to pop music, these are the best drummers of all time who have shaped modern music with their style:
1. Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich was an American jazz drummer and band leader who is amongst the most influential musicians of all time. He had an intense playing style characterized by incredible power and speed.
Rich played alongside some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, including Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and Nat King Cole. Despite his virtuosic abilities, he never actually learned to read sheet music and instead played from memory after studying other famous drummers of the time. Throughout his long career, Buddy toured the world and performed for several world leaders, including the Queen of England and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
2. Gene Krupa
Gene Krupa was an American jazz drummer and one of the founding fathers of modern drumming techniques. Krupa is considered one of the first drum soloists known for his energetic performing style. His playing style was so enthralling and impressive that the other musicians in the band had to give him his own space during many a performance – leading to the creation of the modern drum solo.
Gene is also said to be responsible for creating the modern drum set after convincing H.H. Slingerland of Slingerland Drums to make tunable tom-toms and helping Avedis Zildjian create the modern hi-hat cymbal. Gene Krupa’s sheer energy and creativity made him an undeniable force and he influenced an entire generation of young drummers who came after him.
3. Keith Moon
Keith Moon was a British drummer known as one of the founding members of The Who. He was famous for his unique and bombastic style of drumming that often involved smashing his drum kit on stage.
Keith was one of the earliest drummers to use double bass drums, which gave his playing style a more theatrical quality. According to bandmate John Entwistle, Keith wouldn’t play across the kit, he would play zigzag, which gave him such a unique, yet often erratic sound.
He was also known for his wild, often destructive behavior off stage. He battled a lifelong addiction to drugs and alcohol and died at age 32 from overdosing on the drug Heminevrin, which is used to treat alcohol withdrawal. But despite his short life, many famous drummers cite Keith Moon as a major influence.
4. Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl is an American drummer known for being a member of Nirvana and the leader of the Foo Fighters. Grohl is famous for his loud, bombastic playing style that helped define the sound of grunge in the mid-90s. His style perfectly fits his motto “louder is always better” and served as a perfect foil to Kurt Cobain’s raspy, anthemic vocals.
After Nirvana disbanded, Grohl formed the Foo Fighters and played every single instrument on their first album. He’s also played with other famous rock groups like Them Crooked Vultures and Queens of the Stone Age and is considered one of the most influential rock drummers of all time.
5. Charlie Watts
Charlie Watts was an English drummer best known for being a member of the Rolling Stones from 1963 until 2021. A student of jazz and R&B, Charlie had a playing style that blended smooth, technical brilliance with the enthusiasm of rock’ n roll. He was known for his unique use of the hi-hat, pulling his right hand away on the upbeat and landing it on the snare drum for a solid yet slightly edgy sound.
As a young drummer coming up in post-war London, Charlie fell in love with jazz, which undoubtedly influenced his choppy, off-kilter style. He passed away at age 80 in 2021, and many regard him as one of the greatest drummers in history.
6. John Bonham
John Bonham is an English musician best known for being the drummer of Led Zeppelin. Bonham’s drumming style became famous for its power, agility, and intense speed. His distinctive sound and sense of groove created a solid foundational structure for some of Led Zeppelin’s biggest hits.
A self-taught musician, Bonham was a student of jazz and took inspiration from famous names like Max Roach, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich. Many consider Bonham one of the greatest and most influential drummers of all time who helped revolutionize the sound of rock’ n roll and popular music in general.
7. Hal Blaine
Hal Blaine was an American drummer and session musician. He was one of the most prolific studio drummers in the history of the music industry, playing in over 35,000 sessions, and contributing to over 6,000 singles. He played alongside some of the most iconic artists of the ’60s and ’70s, including the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, and many more.
During his career, he contributed to 39 records that went number one on various publication’s music lists. He was considered the most highly sought-after session musician in the rock era and was instrumental in shaping the sound of popular music at that time.
8. Phil Collins
Phil Collins is an English drummer, singer-songwriter, and producer known as the drummer and lead singer of Genesis. He was instrumental in shaping the rhythmic sound of progressive rock and known for creating slick groves with odd time signatures and unorthodox beats.
He’s a left-handed drummer and a singer, which gave him a unique approach to performing that few others have been able to match. Throughout his career, Collins released eight studio albums and sold an estimated 150 million records worldwide, putting him in the ranks of the best-selling artists of all time. He revolutionized the sound of rock drumming and is considered one of the most celebrated and influential musicians of the 20th Century by many.
9. Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker was an English drummer known for his involvement in the seminal rock group Cream. Ginger’s style was notable for its theatrical presentation, and he is often regarded as rock’s first superstar drummer. He was famous for blending different types, including jazz, world music, and African rhythms, for creating a sound like nothing else that came before it.
Like his contemporary, Keith Moon, Ginger was known for his unhinged performances and performed with a double bass drum. He was also instrumental in developing the modern rock solo. An example is the instrumental track “Toad” from Cream’s debut album.
10. Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr is an English musician known as the drummer for the Beatles. Ringo has a laidback, casual style that favors mood over technical ability, allowing the other band members more room to shine. He also pioneered several influential drumming techniques, such as using a matched grip and muffling devices on tonal rings.
While not the most famous member of the Beatles, Ringo was instrumental in their sonic development, providing a solid backbeat that formed the foundation of some of the greatest musical compositions in history. He also contributed vocals on several tracks, including “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
11. Neil Pert
Neil Pert was a Canadian drummer, songwriter, and author known for his involvement in the progressive rock band “Rush.”
Pert was renowned for his technical ability and theatrical live shows that included frequent in-concert solos. A student of jazz and big band swing, Pert learned to emulate the style of greats like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa in his own rock drumming. He was also well known for his impressive 360-degree drum kit, which included unique percussive instruments like gongs, orchestra bells, and wind chimes.
Neil Pert helped define the sound of progressive rock and is considered one of the most talented and influential drummers in history.
12. Travis Barker
Travis Barker is an American musician known as the drummer for the post-punk band Blink-182 and his contributions to pop, rock, and hip-hop. Travis Barker has had a long and successful career as a drummer that has spanned over 25 years.
His drumming style features a loud, bombastic approach that helped define the sound of modern punk rock. Outside Blink-182, he’s also played in influential groups like the Transplants, the Aquabats, +44, and Box Car Racer. Plus, he’s known for his work with hip-hop artists such as SuicideBoy, MGK, and Yelawolf. Travis Barker is an iconic musician who has managed to transcend genres and remain relevant in music for several decades and remains one of the most respected and in-demand drummers in popular music.
13. Meg White
Meg White is an American drummer and one-half of the rock duo “The White Stripes.”
She is known for her contributions to underground and garage rock, having risen to prominence in the Detroit rock scene in the early 2000s. Her simplistic and mellow style was the perfect foundation for the White Stripe’s barebones aesthetic.
Much like Ringo Starr, Meg often avoids the showmanship and technical brilliance of many iconic rock drummers in favor of a minimalist approach that gives the rest of the instruments room to breathe. She has often been criticized for her lack of flair but remains one of the most iconic rock drummers of the 21st Century, regardless.
14. Tommy Lee
Tommy Lee is an American drummer famous for being a member of the iconic heavy metal band “Mötley Crüe.” Known for his theatrical performance style, Tommy Lee helped define the rhythmic sound of hard rock. He provided a solid backbeat for some of Mötley Crüe’s most iconic songs and always knew how to put on a show for the audience.
Tommy famously performed upside down in an elevated cage during the band’s Girls, Girls, Girls tour and was well known for his enthusiastic drum solos. While not the most technically innovative drummer in music history, he made up for it with charisma and energy.
15. Tommy Ramone
Thomas Erdelyi, aka Tommy Ramone, was a Hungarian-American musician and record producer known for being one of the founding members of the seminal punk band “The Ramones.”
He was one of the early pioneers of the heavy-handed, almost jackhammer drumming style that defined punk rock and provided the perfect beat for the aggressive yet deadpan tone of the Ramones. Although he only served as the Ramones’ drummer for four years, he worked as the band’s producer for decades after leaving the band.
16. Chad Smith
Chad Smith is an American drummer best known for his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Famous for his heavy-handed playing and frequent use of ghost notes, Chad helped give the Chili Peppers their iconic grove, blending the sound of funk, pop, and alternative rock. He’s highly regarded for his use of syncopation between the two and the four that gives the Chili Pepper’s sound such a groovy feeling, despite still being grounded in popular music traditions. He’s been the band’s drummer since 1988 and has been instrumental in the group’s ascent to stardom.
17. Clem Burke
Clement Anthony Bozewski, aka Clem Burke, is an American musician who served as the drummer for both Blondie and the Ramones, as well as many other bands. Clem played in several bands in the late 60s and early 70s before being recruited by Debbie Harry to form the group Blondie.
He took inspiration from iconic names like Ringo Starr, Earl Palmer, and Keith Moon to create his own unique style. After Blondie broke up, he played for various other famous acts, such as Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, and Joan Jett, before joining the Ramones in 1987 under the name Elvis Ramone.
18. Mick Fleetwood
Mick Fleetwood is a British musician known for being the drummer and founding member of the group Fleetwood Mac. A self-taught drummer, Mick is known for his casual and unorthodox playing style, which came from his lifelong battle with dyslexia. He’d often lose the beat during live performances and had to improvise by singing filled pauses to help him get back on track. Despite his struggles, he’s still regarded as one of the most unique and innovative drummers in rock history.
19. Sheila E.
Sheila Escovedo, aka Sheila E., is an American percussionist and singer. A pioneer in funk and R&B, Sheila E. rose to prominence in the ’80s as a solo musician and musical director. She performed alongside a long list of musical legends, including Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and Prince, and is considered one of her generation’s most talented and iconic percussionists.
20. Amir “Questlove” Thompson
Amir “Questlove” Thompson is the drummer for the “Roots” and the “House Band” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He’s one of the most acclaimed and iconic drummers in hip hop and has worked with everyone from Jay-Z to Amy Winehouse. The Grammy-winning drummer and producer has a casual yet soulful style characterized by a drag beat, which helped define the sound of modern hip-hop and R&B.
21. Jimmy Chamberlain
Jimmy Chamberlain is an American drummer and record producer best known for his work with the “Smashing Pumpkins.” Originally a jazz drummer, Chamberlain studied the greats like Buddy Rich, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. He was known for his fast hands, technical ability, and energetic snare rolls that bridged the gap between jazz and alternative rock.
22. Alex Van Halen
Alex Van Halen is an American musician known as the drummer and co-founder of the hard rock band “Van Halen.” Alex was known for his blustering grooves that gave Van Halen its larger-than-life sound. He used a massive drum kit that featured double bass drums, Octobans, and other percussive instruments, providing the perfect backbeat to Van Halen’s raucous sound. He’s one of the most iconic rock drummers of all time and was instrumental in shaping the sound of the genre.
23. Lars Ulrich
Lars Ulrich is a drummer, best known as the founder of the heavy metal band Metallica. Inspired by his godfather, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, Lars fell in love with many genres growing up, which helped influence his style. Initially known for his fast, aggressive drumming, he later adopted a lighter, more simplified sound. He and lead singer James Hatfield are known for their musical chemistry, and Lars often paced his drumming to be in sync with Hatfield’s rhythm guitar playing.
24. Bernard Purdie
Bernard “Pretty” Purdie is an American drummer who was a pioneer in the genres of funk, soul, and R&B. Purdie is an innovative groove drummer with impeccable timing. He created his own drum pattern, the Purdie Half-Time shuffle, which features syncopated ghost notes on the snare drum. Purdie recorded with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Louis Armstrong and worked alongside some of the most iconic musicians of the 20th Century.
25. Mike Portnoy
Mike Portnoy is an American musician known as one of the founding members of the progressive metal band Dream Theater. A self-taught drummer, Portnoy was inspired by other influential musicians like Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, and John Bonham.
Portnoy’s style featured unorthodox time signatures, extended solos, and hard-hitting double bass hits. He’s the second-youngest drummer ever to be inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, and he’s considered one of the best progressive rock drummers of all time.
26. Danny Carey
Danny Carey is a US musician who’s widely known for being the drummer for Tool. Carey is a prolific musician who has also contributed to countless projects outside of his work with Tool.
His technique includes odd time signatures, polyrhythms, and polymers and he famously relies on intuition and an “inner pulse” to control his rhythms, rather than traditionally counting beats.
27. Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland is an American musician best known as the drummer for the pioneering rock band, the Police. Inspired by various musical styles, including Lebanese music, rock ‘n roll, jazz, and reggae, Copeland developed his own unique style that helped shape some of the Police’s most iconic hits.
Copeland’s contributions to popular drumming earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, and the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame and he is known as one of the best drummers of all time.
28. Steve Gadd
Steve Gadd is an American drummer and session musician who has worked with acclaimed acts that include Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, and many more. A master of many different genres, Gadd incorporated many different percussive sounds into his repertoire, including surdo, kalimba, bongs, timpani, and more. Considered one of the most influential drummers of all time, Steve Gadd set the standard for many modern drumming techniques, and his influence can be apparent across many genres of music.
29. Benny Benjamin
Benny Benjamin, aka Papa Zita, was an American drummer best known as the primary studio drummer for The Funk Brothers, a Motown Studio band. He was Barry Gordy’s go-to drummer and had a great ear for different types of rhythm. Benny worked on many of the label’s most famous hits, including Barret Strong’s “Money (That Is What I Want)” and “My Girl” by the Temptations. He also mentored a young Stevie Wonder, who credits Benny as one of the biggest inspirations for his musical style.
30. Art Blakey
Art Blakey was an American jazz drummer and bandleader known for his work with famous bebop musicians like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. He is one of the inventors of bebop-style drumming that featured an aggressive swing style.
In 1955, he formed the Jazz Messengers, which became an incubator for young talent and helped nurture superstars like Wynton Marsalis and Chuck Mangione. Art Blakely has won numerous awards for his contributions to popular music, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is an inductee into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame and is regarded as one of the greatest jazz drummers in history.
31. Cozy Powell
Cozy Powell was an English rock drummer who appeared on over 66 albums by leading rock acts like the Jeff Beck Group, Black Sabbath, and Robert Plant.
Cozy was such a famous session musician in the early 70’s that he even released an instrumental solo record called Dance with the Devil that reached number three on the UK Singles Chart. His career was tragically cut short after he died in a car accident in 1998. But he left behind a legacy as one of the most prolific session musicians in the history of rock music and contributed to some of the most influential albums of that era.