There are always intense debates in music circles over who the best player of any instrument is, but the fight for the best drummer may be one of the fiercest. That’s mostly because of how much goes into making a great drummer. Are they technically proficient, do they have a better feel for the sound, and who had the most awards? All of these things can factor into the argument.
It’s a very subjective process, but in this article, we’ll do our best to give you the 45 best, most iconic, and most influential drummers in the history of music.
1. John Bonham
John Bonham may have the largest web of inspiration of any drummer on this list. He picked up the drums at the age of five, mostly remaining self-taught throughout his life but inspired by a few names on this list that came before him. He was known for being able to handle absolutely everything, such as hard-rock styles with ease but having firm grips on funk, jazz, and Latin grooves as well.
He had a distinctive sound and was nearly unmatched in his speed, power, and stamina, sometimes performing drum solos in concert for over 20 minutes. As part of Led Zeppelin, he would go on to become regarded as the most influential drummer of all time, inspiring the likes of Neil Peart, Dave Grohl, Dave Lombardo, and countless other great drummers.
2. Keith Moon
Keith Moon was one of the earliest rock performers to use double-bass drums in their setup. Notably, he was known for his unique playing style and eccentric behavior, both on stage and in his personal life. He often had to find a new drum kit after smashing his up on stage.
He became renowned for using tom-toms, cymbal crashes, and drum fills in his music. As a member of The Who, he would eventually be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
3. Neil Peart
Neil Peart is the youngest person to ever be inducted into the Modern Drummer Readers Poll Hall of Fame, achieving this at age 30. Though he may be gone now, his talent on the drums has always been self-evident and evolving. Perhaps the most technically-proficient drummer in history, he was also an incredible songwriter. This was mainly on display during his time with Rush, where he served as both the drummer and primary lyricist for the band.
His career would see him inducted into the Canadian Songwriters, Rock and Roll, and Percussive Arts Society Halls of Fame in addition to receiving numerous accolades from DRUM! and Modern Drummer magazines.
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4. Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker rose to prominence by blending jazz and African rhythms together, helping pioneer both the jazz fusion and world music genres. A major star in the 1960s and 1970s, he would become known as rock’s first superstar drummer. He spent a lot of time working with Eric Clapton, including his time in the band Cream, but also spent time recording in Africa to slake his thirst for African music.
An amazing showman, he would eventually be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, and Classic Drummer Hall of Fame.
5. Hal Blaine
Hal Blaine was an absolutely legendary session musician, claiming to have worked on over 35 thousand sessions and over 6,000 singles in his time. Forty songs he worked on would eventually become US number-one hits, with a total of 150 Top 10 in total. Much of his work would be imitated by other drummers and found its way into the hands of nearly every music star in the industry.
He worked alongside names like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, and the Byrds.
6. Gene Krupa
Gene Krupa and Hal Blaine actually had the same teacher for the drums: Roy Knapp. Krupa himself was one of the best jazz drummers of all time and his drum solo on the single Sing Sing Sing is credited with being responsible for elevating the drums to an important solo instrument, rather than just an accompanying one. Modern Drummer Magazine also credits him as the Founding Father of the Modern Drum Set for his role in standardizing a band drummer’s kit.
7. Buddy Rich
Another one of the best jazz drummers in history, Buddy Rich is widely regarded as one of the most influential drummers in history. He worked with many of the greatest jazz acts of all time too, spending time with Artie Shaw, Count Basie, and Harry James before serving in the marines and then leading his own orchestra band.
A regular virtuoso on the drums, he was one of the earliest drummers to showcase incredible power and speed. Interestingly, he never learned to read sheet music. Instead, he listened to the drum parts of songs and played them from memory.
8. Steve Gadd
Steve Gadd is another one of the best session and studio drummers in all of music history. He worked with just about everyone, from Chick Corea to Al Di Meola and Kenny Loggins to Paul McCartney. As recently as 2018, he won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for his work on Steve Gadd Band. In 1984, Modern Drummer inducted him into their hall of fame as well.
9. Danny Carey
Daney Carey is another name that often appears in any conversation about the best drummers of all time. His insane talent has been on full display as the drummer for the band Tool since the band was founded. A massive amount of technical skill, the ability to play complicated time signatures, and dynamic shifts have elevated his status within the drumming community over the years.
10. Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland spent time in several different groups, but he’s best known for his time with the English rock band the Police. Not trapped in only recording album music, he also does a lot of work in other forms of media, such as the 1997 film Good Burger and the video game series Spyro throughout its entire history. The Modern Drummer, Classic Drummer, and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame have all inducted him into their prestigious ranks.
11. Dave Lombardo
Metal drummers are going to be on here almost as much as jazz drummers. Dave Lombardo was a founding member of the thrash metal band Slayer, playing on nine of their albums. His music career has spanned four decades, and he covered numerous recordings across just about every genre you can think of. One of the most innovative drummers of all time, to this day he is one of the most influential drummers in the metal scene.
12. Jeff Porcaro
Jeff Porcaro is another one of the most sought-after session musicians in history. His work can be hard on hundreds of albums, and he participated in thousands of recording sessions throughout his life. The most recognizable work you’ll hear from him today is from his time with the band Toto, but he worked with numerous other artists like Steely Dan, Bee Gees, Pink Floyd, Elton John, and Miles Davis.
13. Al Jackson Jr.
Al Jackson Jr. is known as one of the best timekeepers of all time. A founding member of Booker T & The M.G.’s, he joined the group of session musicians that produced incredible instrumentals for Stax Records. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, with one of their best works coming in the form of Green Onions, one of the top piano rock songs of all time as well. He was also inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
14. Mitch Mitchell
The Jimi Hendrix Experience was one of the best acts of all time despite their relatively short-lived time together. Without Mitch Mitchell though, Hendrix’s group wouldn’t have sounded the same. He honestly won that position in a coin toss, but his jazz-infused drums meshed perfectly with Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar style and earned him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
15. Charlie Watts
Charlie Watts got a taste for jazz music at a young age and spent a lot of time playing in London jazz and blues clubs at the beginning of his music career. He would eventually be picked up by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones to form The Rolling Stones, achieving international fame and spending 58 years as a member of the band. His work appeared on every album they ever released, earning him a place in the Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame.
16. Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl has had one of the biggest and most influential careers in modern rock history. As a member of Nirvana, he helped popularize alternative rock in the US. After they disbanded, he founded the Foo Fighters, cementing his place as a key figure in two of the best-selling bands of all time and one of the most important rock musicians of the last 30 years. He is also a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, once each as a member of both Nirvana and Foo Fighters.
17. Phil Collins
Phil Collins has a special place in so many millennials’ hearts thanks to his work on the soundtrack for Disney’s Tarzan and Brother Bear, but that is by no means what he’s best known for. The drummer for the legendary band Genesis, he also worked as a solo artist and had the most US Top 40 singles of any artist in the 1980s. He’s always been an incredible drummer, but he’s also been a successful lead singer, songwriter, actor, and producer.
18. Terry Bozzio
Terry Bozzio is one of the most prolific recorders in history, working alongside names like Frank Zappa and Missing Persons. An incredible catalog of his work features numerous releases with other artists as well. Modern Drummer inducted him into their hall of fame in 1997, and it’s a family affair for him as his son and stepdaughter are both drummers.
19. Benny Benjamin
Benny Benjamin came up in the big band era of the 1940s, learning to play the jazz drums at an early age. The most notable parts of his career came while working as the primary drummer for the Funk Brothers, a studio band for Motown Records. Major publications have always listed him as one of the most skilled drummers of all time, and he was honored with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
20. Ian Paice
Ian Paice is another name that frequently comes up when anyone starts discussing the best drummers of all time. He’s the only member of the English rock band Deep Purple to appear in every one of their shifting lineups, performing in every concert and album since their inception in 1968. Modern Drummer awarded him their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, inducting him into their hall of fame. As a member of Deep Purple, he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
21. Meg White
The White Stripes were instrumental in the garage rock revival of the 2000s, but listening to them you’d never know they were just a duo. Meg White serves as the drummer for the band, earning numerous nominations and awards such as four Grammy Award wins. She actually picked up the drums on a whim but found she not only liked them but was incredibly good at them.
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22. Alex Van Halen
A founding member of the legendary rock band Van Halen, Alex Van Halen served as the drummer for the band and, alongside his brother, was one of the only two constant members. One interesting note is that Eddie Van Halen was originally learning the drums, but Alex practiced with them and found out he was the better drummer of the two brothers. His work and the music they put out would become influential in the hard rock scene.
23. Tommy Aldridge
Tommy Aldridge has been one of the best and most sought-after metal and rock drummers in history, working alongside names like Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, and Thin Lizzy. He was almost entirely self-taught as a musician and is often regarded as one of the pioneers of the double bass drum in rock music. All great drummers build their own kits, but when he started out, he pieced his first one together and developed a signature style that he credits to teaching himself how to play.
24. Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr is the most famous of The Beatles drummers, joining in 1960 and replacing Pete Best. He was their primary drummer and one of the songwriters for the band, playing with a style that was less technically proficient and more about feeling the flow of the song.
He would go on to launch his own solo career after The Beatles, producing several hits in both the US and the UK. In the end, his legacy would influence various modern drumming techniques and earn him a knighthood and inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
25. Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford spent time in several different notable bands, from Yes to King Crimson and Genesis to U.K. Numerous drummers have cited him as one of their main influences in drumming, leaving behind a sprawling legacy in music history. As a member of Yes, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
26. Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones was one of the best drummers to come out of the post-bop jazz era. He was famously a member of John Coltrane’s quartet, recording with the group from 1960 until 1965 on albums like My Favorite Things, A Love Supreme, and Live At Birdland. Massively influential in the jazz genre, he was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1995.
27. Jim Keltner
Jim Keltner was inspired to start drumming by jazz music but got started just as the genre was declining in popularity. Instead, he ended up learning to play in the pop-rock styles that were booming in the 1960s, finding work as one of the most sought-after session musicians of the time.
28. Cozy Powell
Cozy Powell made a name for himself alongside major rock bands like Whitesnake and Black Sabbath, finding a place on 66 separate albums and contributing to countless different recordings.
29. Roger Taylor
Queen would have been completely different without Roger Taylor. His unique sound on the drums and songwriting ability saw him compose at least one track on every album the band produced. He would eventually be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his time with Queen and is largely considered one of the most influential drummers in classic rock.
30. Kenny Aronoff
Kenny Aronoff is one of the most sought-after session musicians today. His drumming skills have been employed by artists like the Smashing Pumpkins, Willie Nelson, Jon Bon Jovi, and Jerry Lee Lewis. An inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards, he is also the owner of Uncommon Studios L.A.
31. Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham is one of the best-known jazz drummers in history, playing alongside Miles Davis before eventually spending time with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He’s an inductee in both the Modern Drummer and Classic Drummer Halls of Fame, coming in 1987 and 2013, respectively.
32. Travis Barker
Blink-182 was one of the biggest alternative rock bands in history, and Travis Barker was the drummer that helped them reach their peak. A member of several different bands, he is considered to be the first superstar drummer in the punk genre but also works in other styles like hip hop.
33. Chad Smith
The Red Hot Chili Peppers play a unique style of funky rock music, and it takes an exceptional drummer to pull off those tracks. Chad Smith has been their drummer since 1988, earning an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside the band. He’s also recorded with other massive names like Johnny Cash, Kid Rock, Eddie Vedder, and Lana Del Rey.
34. Earl Palmer
Earl Palmer is one of the most prolific studio musicians in history, playing drums on thousands of different recordings. He’s also considered one of the founders of rock and roll music, playing on all of Little Richard and Fats Domino’s biggest hits. In 2000, he became one of the very first session musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
35. Roger Hawkins
Roger Hawkins is best known for his time as part of the backing band for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section—or The Swampers if you know them by that name. He played on numerous hit singles in his career, backing artists like Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Albert King, and Bob Segar. In total, his drumming can be heard on 23 top 40 hits.
36. Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette wasn’t just one of history’s best jazz drummers, he was an accomplished composer and pianist as well. He worked alongside some of the biggest names in music as well, drumming for John Abercrombie, Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, and John Scofield. His career would earn him six Grammy nominations, two Grammy wins, and an induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2007.
37. Nicko McBrain
Nicko McBrain is the drummer behind all of Iron Maiden’s releases since their album Piece Of Mind in 1983, playing on 14 releases from the band and being one of their longest-serving members. One of the most influential heavy metal drummers in history, he has also released instructional drum videos that demonstrate his techniques, tunings, and drumming basics. He was also inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2020.
38. Clyde Stubblefield
Alongside James Brown, Clyde Stubblefield was instrumental in creating the entire funk music genre. All of his drum patterns are considered funk standards today and much of his work is sampled for modern hip hop music today. A self-taught musician, his style was influenced by both church music and the rhythms of the natural world around him.
39. Jerry Allison
Jerry Allison is best known for his time alongside Buddy Holly, recording as the drummer of the Crickets and co-writing That’ll Be The Day and Peggy Sue. He would go on to launch a solo career, charting Real Wild Child in 1958 under a pseudonym. In 2012, he was honored with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
40. Matt Cameron
Matt Cameron is one of the best drummers in modern rock, first finding fame as a member of Soundgarden before joining Pearl Jam in 1998. He’s also served as the drummer for numerous side projects of both bands, even being a member of both simultaneously for a while. As a member of Pearl Jam, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, and as a member of Soundgarden, he won two Grammy Awards.
41. Josh Freese
Josh Freese is another one of the best session drummers of the modern era. He’s played for bands like Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, and Paramore. Today, he’s a full-time drummer for Sting and is known for having a rather simplistic drum kit setup.
42. Ash Soan
Ash Soan is one of today’s best-selling drummers in the UK. While he’s done tons of session work, recording with people like Enrique Iglesias, Alicia Keys, and Dua Lipa, he’s best known for the instructional courses found on his website.
43. Bill Ward
Bill Ward was the longtime on-again, off-again drummer of Black Sabbath. A founding member and the original drummer for the heavy metal outfit, he’s one of the biggest names in metal and a vastly influential figure in getting the genre off the ground.
44. Tommy Lee
Tommy Lee was a founding member of Mötley Crüe and the rap-metal band Methods Of Mayhem. His professional career would see him pursue several solo projects and become one of the most influential drummers in the hard-rock era.
45. Carmine Appice
Carmine Appice was one of the most influential drummers in music history. His legacy would inspire numerous names on this list, from Roger Taylor and Phil Collins to Nicko McBrain and Neil Peart. An incredible teacher, he penned one of the best drum instructional books of all time in 1972. He has also been inducted into both the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame and the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.