It’s time to celebrate the greatest drummers of all time. In this list, I scour several genres and time periods to curate a detailed list of the best drummers of all time. Some are well-known names from powerhouse rock groups. Others are “hired guns” that operate in the background, or as legendary studio/session players.
Either way, I hope you enjoy this guide to the 35 best drummers of all time:
Neil Peart (Rush)
Neil Peart was a Canadian musician, songwriter, and author, best known as the drummer and primary lyricist of the rock band Rush. Peart earned numerous awards for his musical performances, including an induction into the Modern Drummer Readers Poll Hall of Fame in 1983, making him the youngest person ever so honoured.
Known to fans by the nickname ‘The Professor’, his drumming was renowned for its technical proficiency and his live performances for their exacting nature and stamina.
John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
John “Bonzo” Bonham was an English musician, best known as the drummer for the English rock band Led Zeppelin.
Esteemed for his speed, power, fast single-footed kick drumming, distinctive sound, and feel for the groove, he is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential rock drummers in history.
Bonham was born in 1948 in Redditch, Worcestershire, and took up drums at the age of five
Keith Moon (The Who)
Keith Moon was an English drummer for the rock band the Who. He was noted for his unique style of playing and his eccentric, often self-destructive behaviour and addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Moon grew up in Alperton, a suburb of Wembley, in Middlesex, and took up the drums during the early 1960s. After playing with a local band, the Beachcombers, he joined the Who in 1964 before they recorded their first single. Moon was recognized for his drumming style, which emphasized tom-toms, cymbal crashes, and drum fills.
Tre Cool (Green Day)
Frank Edwin Wright III, better known by his stage name Tré Cool, is a German-born American musician, singer, and songwriter best known as the drummer for the punk rock band Green Day.
He replaced the band’s former drummer, John Kiffmeyer, in 1990 as Kiffmeyer felt that he should focus on college. Cool has also played in The Lookouts, Samiam, Dead Mermaids, Bubu and the Brood and the Green Day side projects The Network and the Foxboro Hot Tubs.
Phil Collins (Genesis)
Phil Collins is an English drummer, singer-songwriter, record producer, and actor. He is best known for his tenure as the drummer and lead singer of the rock band Genesis and for his solo career which began in 1981.
Between 1982 and 1990, Collins scored three UK and seven US number-one singles as a solo artist. When his work with Genesis, his work with other artists, as well as his solo career is totalled, he had more US top 40 singles than any other artist during the 1980s.
Stewart Copeland (The Police)
Stewart Copeland is an American musician and composer. He rose to prominence as the drummer of the British rock band The Police.
Copeland has also produced many film and video game soundtracks and written various pieces of music for ballet, opera, and orchestra.
Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead)
Mickey Hart is an American percussionist and musicologist. He is best known as one of the two drummers of the rock band Grateful Dead. He was a member of the Grateful Dead from September 1967 until February 1971, and again from October 1974 until their final show in July 1995.
Hart and fellow Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann earned the nickname “the rhythm devils”.
Ringo Starr (Beatles)
Sir Richard Starkey, better known by his stage name Ringo Starr, is an English musician, singer, songwriter and actor who achieved international fame as the drummer for the Beatles.
He occasionally sang lead vocals with the group, usually for one song on each album, including “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help from My Friends”.
He also wrote and sang the Beatles songs “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden”, and is credited as a co-writer of others.
Tommy Ramone (The Ramones)
Thomas Erdelyi, known professionally as Tommy Ramone, was a Hungarian-American record producer, musician, and songwriter.
He was the drummer for the influential punk rock band the Ramones for the first four years of the band’s existence and was the longest-surviving original member of the Ramones.
Dave Lombardo (Slayer & Testament)
David Lombardo is a Cuban-American drummer, best known as a co-founding member of American thrash metal band Slayer. He is currently playing drums with Testament, Fantômas, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Cross, Mr. Bungle, and the Misfits.
Lombardo previously played drums on nine Slayer albums, including Reign in Blood and Christ Illusion. He received critical praise for both of these albums.
Tommy Lee (Motley Crue)
Thomas Lee Bass is an American musician and founding member of the heavy metal band Mötley Crüe.
As well as being the band’s long-term drummer, Lee founded rap metal band Methods of Mayhem, and has pursued solo musical projects.
Matt Cameron (Soundgarden & Pearl Jam)
Matthew Cameron is an American musician who is the drummer for Pearl Jam. He first gained fame as the drummer for Seattle-based rock band Soundgarden, which he joined in 1986. He appeared on each of the band’s studio albums until its break-up in 1997.
In 1998, Cameron was invited to join Pearl Jam’s U.S. Yield Tour and then became a permanent member of the band.
In 2010, Cameron became simultaneously a member of Pearl Jam and the reunited Soundgarden
Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Chad Gaylord Smith is an American musician who has been the drummer of the band Red Hot Chili Peppers since 1988.
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Smith is also the drummer of the hard rock supergroup Chickenfoot, formed in 2008, and of the all-instrumental outfit Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, formed in 2007.
Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac)
Michael John Kells Fleetwood is a English musician, songwriter and occasional actor. He is best known as the drummer, co-founder, and leader of the rock band Fleetwood Mac.
Fleetwood, whose surname was merged with that of the group’s bassist John “Mac” McVie to form the name of the band, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Fleetwood Mac in 1998.
Dave Grohl (Nirvana)
Dave Grohl is an American musician, songwriter and record producer. He is the founder of Foo Fighters, for whom he is the singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter. He was the drummer for Nirvana from 1990 to 1994.
At 17, Grohl joined the punk rock band Scream after the departure of their drummer Kent Stax. He became the drummer for Nirvana after Scream broke up in 1990. Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, was the first to feature Grohl on drums and became a worldwide success.
Ginger Baker (Cream & Eric Clapton)
Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker was an English drummer, composer, songwriter and a co-founder and occasional vocalist of the rock band Cream. His work in the 1960s and 1970s earned him the reputation of “rock’s first superstar drummer”, for a style that melded jazz and African rhythms and pioneered both jazz fusion and world music.
Baker gained early fame as a member of Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organisation, both times alongside bassist Jack Bruce, with whom Baker would often clash.
In 1966, Baker and Bruce joined guitarist Eric Clapton to form Cream, which achieved worldwide success but lasted only until 1968.
Danny Carey (Tool)
Dan Carey is an American musician and songwriter. He is the drummer for the American rock band Tool.
He has also contributed to albums by artists such as Zaum, Green Jellö, Pigface, Skinny Puppy, Adrian Belew, Carole King, Collide, Meat Puppets, Lusk, and the Melvins.
Mick Avory (The Kinks)
Mick Avory is an English musician, best known as the longtime drummer and percussionist for the English rock band the Kinks. He joined them shortly after their formation in 1964 and remained with them until 1984, when he left amid creative friction with guitarist Dave Davies.
He is the longest-serving member of the band, apart from the Davies brothers. He is also the most prolific member, again apart from the Davies brothers, who has played on twenty studio albums or nearly all of the band’s creative output.
Michael Shrieve (Santana)
Michael Shrieve is an American drummer, percussionist, and composer. He is best known as the drummer of the rock band Santana, playing on the band’s first seven albums from 1969 to 1974.
At age 20, Shrieve was the second youngest musician to perform at Woodstock. His drum solo during “Soul Sacrifice” in the Woodstock film has been described as “electrifying”, although he considers his drum solo during “Soul Sacrifice” in 1970 at Tanglewood as being better.
Butch Trucks (The Allman Brothers)
Claude Hudson “Butch” Trucks was an American drummer. He was best known as a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band. Trucks was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He played in various groups before forming the 31st of February while at Florida State University in the mid 1960s.
He joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1969.
Alex Van Halen (Van Halen )
Alexander van Halen, known as Alex Van Halen, is an American musician, best known as the drummer and co-founder of the rock band Van Halen. The band was formed in 1972 by Alex Van Halen, his younger brother Eddie, David Lee Roth, and Mark Stone under the name “Mammoth” before adding Michael Anthony in 1974 and changing their name to Van Halen.
Warner Bros. signed the band in 1977, and the band’s debut album was released a year later. Prior to their disbandment in 2020, following Eddie’s death, Van Halen released eleven more albums, and the brothers were the only two constant members of the band.
Hal Blaine was an American drummer and session musician, estimated to be among the most recorded studio drummers in the history of the music industry, claiming over 35,000 sessions and 6,000 singles. His drumming is featured on 150 US top 10 hits, 40 of which went to number one.
Ian Paice (Deep Purple)
Ian Paice is an English musician, best known as the drummer and last remaining original member of the English rock band Deep Purple.
Max Weinberg (Bruce Springsteen)
Max Weinberg is an American drummer and television personality, most widely known as the longtime drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and as the bandleader for Conan O’Brien on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.
He is the father of Slipknot drummer Jay Weinberg.
Stephen Kendall Gadd is an American drummer, percussionist, and session musician. Gadd is one of the best-known and highly regarded session and studio drummers in the industry, recognized by his induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1984.
Gadd’s performances on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Late in the Evening” and Steely Dan’s “Aja” are good examples of his style.
John “Drumbo” French (Captain Beefheart)
John French is an American drummer and former member of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. After various artistic collaborations in his youth he eventually became the principal drummer on several of Beefheart’s albums, including 1969’s Trout Mask Replica. Beefheart gave him the nickname Drumbo.
Bill Ward (Black Sabbath)
William Thomas Ward is an English drummer, best known as the original drummer for heavy metal band Black Sabbath.
Levon Helm (The Band)
Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm was an American musician and actor who achieved fame as the drummer and one of the three lead vocalists for The Band.
Helm was known for his deeply soulful, country-accented voice, multi-instrumental ability, and creative drumming style, highlighted on many of the Band’s recordings, such as “The Weight”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.
Tony Williams (Miles Davis)
Williams first gained fame in the band of trumpeter Miles Davis and pioneered jazz fusion. He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1986.
During his lifetime, music critic Robert Christgau described Williams as “probably the best drummer in the world”.
Carmine Appice (Rod Stewart Band)
Carmine Appice is an American rock drummer and percussionist. He is best known for his associations with Vanilla Fudge; Cactus; the power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice; Rod Stewart; King Kobra; and Blue Murder.
Appice was inducted into the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2014.
Bill Bruford (King Crimson)
William Bruford is an English former drummer and percussionist who first gained prominence as a founding member of the progressive rock band Yes.
After leaving Yes in 1972, Bruford spent the rest of the 1970s recording and touring with King Crimson (1972–1974) and Roy Harper (1975), and touring with Genesis (1976) and U.K. (1978).
In 1978, he formed his own group (Bruford), which was active until 1980.
Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones)
Charles Robert Watts was an English musician who achieved international fame as the drummer of the Rolling Stones from 1963 until his death in 2021.
Originally trained as a graphic artist, Watts developed an interest in jazz at a young age and joined the band Blues Incorporated. He also started playing drums in London’s rhythm and blues clubs, where he met future bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones.
Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Mitch Mitchell was an English drummer and child actor, who was best known for his work in the Jimi Hendrix Experience for which he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2009.
Eugene Krupa was an American jazz drummer, bandleader and composer known for his energetic style and showmanship. His drum solo on Benny Goodman’s 1937 recording of “Sing, Sing, Sing” elevated the role of the drummer from an accompanying line to an important solo voice in the band.
In collaboration with the Slingerland drum and Zildjian cymbal manufacturers, he was a major force in defining the standard band drummer’s kit. Krupa is considered “the founding father of the modern drumset” by Modern Drummer magazine.
Dominic Joseph Fontana was an American musician best known as the drummer for Elvis Presley for 14 years. In 1955, he was hired to play drums for Presley, which marked the beginning of a fifteen-year relationship. He played on over 460 RCA cuts with Elvis.