They say a band is only as good as its drummer.
Imagine your favourite rock song—play it now and imagine it without the drums. Just not the same, is it?
While the lead singers and guitarists take centre stage and hence receive much of a band’s acclaim, the drummer is often the unsung hero, happy to sit at the back, quietly (not literally, of course) going about one’s business.
The drummer is the backbone of every great band. They set the tempo, master the rhythm, and breathe fresh life into your favourite songs. On top of all that—they’re pretty damn cool, too.
Rock music, in particular, has been blessed with some truly spectacular drummers both past and present, so whittling down the best 11 is certainly no easy task. Nevertheless, we love a challenge.
In no particular order, here are our 11 best rock drummers of all time.
We begin our trawl with the Professor himself—a man regarded across the drumming world as one of the very best to ever pick up the sticks.
Peart has inspired so many drummers past and present, it’s as hard to articulate the size of his influence as it is to imagine music without him. No list of rock drummers would be complete without NP.
Peart was the mastermind behind Canadian rock giants Rush. Not only did he lay some of the most iconic beats in rock, but he also penned their highly profound, life-affirming lyrics.
Peart began drumming in the late ‘60s, and early on in his career, he drew most of his inspiration from the likes of Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and John Bonham.
He joined Rush officially in the summer of 1974 and the rest, as they say, was history. Over the years, Peart’s often mind-blowing drumming became renowned for its technical proficiency, with his live performances and solos draining every last drop of stamina from the tank.
Pioneer of the ‘ride cymbal pattern’ (check it out if you’re unfamiliar), he’s earned his rightful place in our list.
Despite his untimely death from cancer in 2020, Rush carried and still carry a fiercely loyal fanbase. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013—40 years too late, some might say.
Though he lived a frighteningly short life, Keith Moon left a legacy transcending time.
Renowned for his unique style and eccentric behaviour, ‘Moon the Loon’, as he was affectionately known, was the drummer for The Who from 1964 until his death in 1978, aged just 32.
Moon and The Who became global stars in a short space of time, with Moon’s drumming universally recognised for its emphasis on tom-toms, cymbal crashes and fills.
He’s also long been credited as one of the earliest rock drummers to implement double bass drums in his setup—a setup that grew in size alongside The Who as a band.
Moon’s restless character meant he fit the role of a drummer seamlessly. In fact, The Who’s biographer Dave Marsh was once quoted as saying Moon lived “as if his life were one long tour”.
But as is often the case when such fame, money, and lavishness are involved, Moon’s life and career were not without their share of problems. Such was Moon’s dependence on drugs and alcohol that it was never guaranteed whether he’d be able to complete a live show in the latter stages of his career.
Nevertheless, Moon remains a true rock and roll star in every sense. He was posthumously inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1982. Many years later, in 2011, he was also voted the second-greatest drummer of all time by readers of Rolling Stone.
Though he produced work elsewhere, the late, great John Bonham is best known as the drummer for legendary rock group Led Zeppelin.
Esteemed globally for his sheer power, speed and single-footed kick drumming, Bonham is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential rock drummers of all time.
He began drumming at the age of just five in his hometown of Redditch, just outside Birmingham, and was playing a full drum kit by the age of 15, practising with local bands and at school.
Bonham’s immense drumming talent was predominantly self-taught, making it all the more impressive. He drew inspiration largely from jazz drummers such as Max Roach, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.
In 1968, he joined Led Zeppelin, which would become his main musical project.
Bonham’s famous drum solo, Moby Dick, became a regular feature of Led Zeppelin’s live shows (with performances often lasting more than 20 minutes) and featured on the group’s second studio album, Led Zeppelin II.
Bonham played with Led Zeppelin until his untimely death in 1980. He was just 32 years old.
If a band is only as good as its drummer, then Roger Taylor must be pretty good.
Best known as the man behind the kit for the one and only Queen, Taylor undoubtedly goes down as one of the best rock drummers of all time.
However, what makes Taylor even more special is that he’s a multi-instrumentalist, meaning his talents don’t end at the tip of the drumstick.
He’s also a dab-hand at guitar, keyboard, and songwriting itself—with at least one track on every Queen album written (and often sang) by him.
Taylor either wrote or co-wrote three of Queen’s UK number ones: These Are The Days of Our Lives, Innuendo, and Under Pressure. He also contributed to Radio Ga Ga, Heaven For Everyone, and The Invisible Man.
As a drummer, Taylor was recognised for his highly unique sound, especially in his early career, where he played in groups around London alongside his studies.
In 1970, he joined Queen—and the rest was history.
Taylor was voted the eighth-greatest drummer in classic rock history in a poll by Planet Rock in 2005.
Despite hailing from Virginia, US, Copeland rose to fame as the drummer for the British rock band, The Police.
Copeland, who has also released music under the pseudonym Klark Kent, co-founded The Police alongside Sting and Henry Padovani in 1977. They would go on to become one of the most talked-about bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Despite being the band’s youngest member, you could argue that Copeland largely steered the ship in The Police’s early days. In fact, the group’s early track listings for live shows and demos consisted predominantly of Copeland’s work.
However, as time passed, the songwriting reins found themselves more often in the hands of Sting, allowing Copeland to hone his craft at the back of the stage.
Copeland’s distinctive sound and the uniqueness of his style has ensured he remains just as popular today as he was back then.
His work with The Police has earned him a well-deserved seat on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while Rolling Stone ranked him as the tenth best drummer of all time in 2016.
Copeland has also written and produced various film and video game soundtracks throughout his music career.
It wouldn’t be a ‘best of…’ rock music blog without some form of reference to The Beatles, right?
Sir Richard Starkey, or Ringo Starr, as he’s more commonly known, achieved international fame as the drummer for The Beatles. He joined the band in 1962 as a replacement for the group’s former drummer, Pete Best.
Above all, Starr’s playing style favoured feel over technicality, and he remains one of the main influences behind modern drumming techniques, including the ‘matched grip’, today.
Starr wrote two original songs, for which he also sang lead vocals, during his eight-year stint with The Beatles: Don’t Pass Me By and Octopus’ Garden.
He occasionally sang lead vocals on some Beatles songs, too—most notably, Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help from My Friends.
Starr achieved success both with The Beatles and as a solo act. In fact, he’s twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—once in 1988 (as a ‘Beatle’) and as a solo artist in 2015.
In 2020, it was reported that Starr was the richest drummer in the world, with an estimated net worth of around $350m—not bad!
Travis Barker is the drummer for the American rock band Blink-182.
He joined the group in 1998, aged 22, and such was his rapid rise to fame at a young age, he’s been referred to by Rolling Stone as “punk’s first superstar drummer”.
Barker soon established himself as a highly versatile drummer, playing at speeds and unpredictable rhythm scarcely matched by his peers at the time.
Blink-182’s third studio album Enema of the State (Barker’s first with the group) propelled the band into new-found levels of stardom, becoming arguably the biggest pop-punk band of the era thanks to a sprinkling of Barker magic.
Famous hits such as What’s My Age Again?, All The Small Things and Adam’s Song all featured on Enema of the State and are still listened to the world over today.
Barker has also become known for his distinctive appearance and stage presence over the years. His mohawk hairstyles and tattooed chest and face make for a unique and compelling aesthetic.
He’s not just famous for music, either. Barker founded the clothing label Famous Stars and Straps in 1999 and LaSalle Records in 2004.
Best known as the drummer for Foo Fighters, many don’t realise that Hawkins first joined the group by pure chance.
Foo Fighters were first formed by Dave Grohl in 1994 following the dissolution of Nirvana and the suicide of Kurt Cobain, and for the first few years, the role of drummer was filled by William Goldsmith.
However, Goldsmith quit the band in 1996 following an argument with Grohl, leaving the latter temporarily without a drummer.
At the time, Hawkins was playing the drums for well-known Canadian solo artist Alanis Morissette. Grohl contacted Hawkins in search of drummer recommendations—but much to his surprise, Hawkins volunteered himself and joined Foo Fighters officially in the spring of 1997.
We know it’s cliché at this point, but the rest really was history.
Foo Fighters and Hawkins catapulted themselves into fame and fortune. What first started as a support act for large groups quickly became a global stadium band, with Hawkins widely renowned as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time.
In 2005, he was voted best rock drummer by Rhythm magazine. His untimely death in 2022, aged just 50, shocked the musical world, but his legacy will live long in the memory.
The words ‘legend’ and ‘legendary’ are often used flippantly today. However, they’re completely justified when Charlie Watts is the subject.
Drummer of the Rolling Stones from 1963 until his death in 2021, Watts was rocking the drums into his 80s—a feat reached by very few, it has to be said.
Watts’ passion for drums was first piqued through his early interest in jazz music. He played the drums in and around London’s jazz, rhythm and blues clubs throughout the mid to late ‘50s—and it was here that he first met future Stones bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones.
The Rolling Stones first formed in 1962, but it wasn’t until ’63 that Watts agreed to join as a fully-fledged member. His first live appearance with the group was at Ealing Jazz Club in the February of that year.
Hailing from the Wembley area of London, Watts was often nicknamed the ‘Wembley Whammer’ by his bandmates. As well as laying the beats, his creative flair also helped design some of the group’s record sleeves and tour stages.
Not only is Watts regarded as one of the greatest drummers of all time, the Rolling Stones are regarded as one of the greatest groups of all time—so the two complemented one and other perfectly.
Watts sadly died last year (2021), aged 80, after a life filled with music and colour. However, his music will be adored long into the future.
We mentioned him earlier, but Dave Grohl deserves his own section, too, for sure.
Though he’s perhaps most well-known for fronting Foo Fighters rather than drumming, Grohl has a musical CV reaching far beyond the present day.
He first rose to fame as the drummer for Nirvana, whose second studio album, Nevermind, in 1991 became a global success. But after the death of Kurt Cobain, Grohl founded Foo Fighters, initially as a one-man project.
It’s hard to imagine Foo Fighters (or the Foos, as they’re affectionately known) today without Grohl.
Since becoming a full band, they’ve released 10 studio albums to date—on which Grohl has been the lead singer, songwriter, rhythm guitarist, and occasional drummer.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s also been directing the group’s music videos since the late ‘90s. Check them out if you’re not familiar.
Outside of the Foos, Grohl is also the co-founder and drummer of the rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, alongside Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.
Grohl has also recorded and toured with Queens of the Stone Age.
In 2010, he was described as one of the most influential rock musicians of the last 20 years in Ken Miscallef’s book Classic Rock Drummers.
Ginger Baker (full name: Peter Edward Baker) was the co-founder and drummer of the British rock band Cream.
Baker earned himself the reputation of ‘rock’s first superstar drummer’ in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. This was largely thanks to his unique style, which combined African rhythms with jazz to pioneer what we now know as jazz fusion.
Cream was formed in 1966 when Baker and bassist Jack Bruce joined forces with legendary guitarist Eric Clapton.
Though they indeed achieved worldwide success, life in Cream was short-lived, as Baker’s hostile relationship with Bruce caused the group to split just two years later.
Baker maintained his relationship with Clapton, however, and the two continued working together for a brief period as part of the supergroup, Blind Faith.
Baker spent much of the 1970s living and working in Africa to pursue the music from the continent of which he’d long been an admirer.
His drumming is renowned for its style, showmanship, and use of two bass drums instead of one. He died in 2019, aged 80.
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