everything you need to about rock and roll drumming, you can learn from a YouTube video of an Asian man trying to sell you a Creative keyboard. “Rock and roll is very simple. Just four counts. And on every count, play the hi-hat….On the first and the third beat, play the bass drum. On the second and fourth, play the snare drum. This is rock and roll.” Just like every great rock drummer worth their salt, though, he soon goes off, striking the keyboard like a wild man, adding flourishes and fills like he’s been playing this thing for years. The following list operates in the same way. Rock and roll is very simple. Some of these 50 drummers helpled define it, some of them redefined it, and some of them ignored it altogether. So, without further ado, Stylus Magazine’s 50 Greatest Rock Drummers.

50. Rat Scabies

In pretty much any other band Rat Scabies would have stood out a mile. For a start, he’s called “Rat Scabies.” But when you’re lining up next to a guy named Captain Sensible, who alternates between dressing in a tutu, a huge furry jumper and a bright red beret, all bets are off. That’s before you’ve even considered that spooky bloke who looks like a vampire. Battling against anonymity and tinny production, Rat’s deceptively ramshackle sound propels the early Damned albums at near-ludicrous speeds with a series of rattling fills, flourishes and a whole lot of furious pounding. If the band’s bursts of untethered hyperactivity are thrilling heists at the heart of punk, Scabies’ drumming is the getaway car.

The Best Of…
“Stab Yor Back”
“So Messed Up”
“Machine Gun Etiquette”
[Peter Parrish]

49. Damon Che

Rarely has math sounded so fun. Back in the mid �90s, Damon Che went around American giving advanced calculus lessons, while his unruly bubblegum chewing mates swirled guitar tendrils around his high-energy kit work. How good was Che? Oftentimes, Caballero’s songs used the guitars as the rhythm, allowing Che to show off his wares properly. Che did that and more so during Don Caballero’s live shows: he wreaked havoc that was lovingly detailed in an infamous Chunklet article, which only foreshadowed his even crazier tour story (abandoning his new band, Bellini, after an Athens show in 2004). They say that great art comes from madness. Something tells me that Che’s got at least a little bit of both.

The Best Of…
“Details on How to Get ICEMAN on Your License Plate”
“Stupid Puma”
“Delivering The Groceries At 138 Beats Per Minute”
[Todd Burns]

48. Janet Weiss

Sleater-Kinney are a guitar band, right? But check out the way Janet Weiss often handles the rhythmic thrust of the bass as well as the drums, or the way her casually shape-shifting parts switch from filigree to stomp in an instant. On tracks like “Rollercoaster” she sounds like she’s eating up the track (and not just because of distortion), and for a band that often specialized in one speed and one speed only she was shockingly adept at switching things up—she gave their songs personality at least as much as Brownstein and Tucker did. Without ever distracting from the straightforward pulse of the songs she diverted them into more interesting directions than seemed possible.

The Best Of…
“One Song for You”
“Rollercoaster”
“Oh!”
[Ian Mathers]

47. Brian Chase

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the strangest of the garage-rock revivalists, and though their concealed artiness is often attributed to guitarist Nick Zinner, Brian Chase has taken the band down paths as brambly. The shivering hi-hats that are as central to “Phenomena”�s riff as Zinner’s sour guitar; the gallop in “Y Control” that becomes a twisting backbone; even the straightforward shuffle guiding the otherwise nebulous “Way Out”—Chase is at once the band’s anchor and the catalyst for their least anchored moments. And his own evolution is tied tightly to the band’s—from bleeding, fuzzy punk to a rambling, stuttering thing that laps at the edge of folk-rock.

The Best Of…
“Phenomena”
“Y Control”
“Way Out”
[Theon Weber]

46. Billy Cobham

Fusion drumming—a mix of Army boom-bah and jazz finesse—is Billy Cobham’s stock in trade. And as its apostle, Cobham deals in slow blasts and easy rolls, copped from early sessions with Horace Silver and honed under Miles Davis; and sometimes in frenetic pumps, providing the star-eating pulse of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He went solo with Spectrum and kinged himself with his off-the-handle combination of British spitfire and jazz alchemy. Like every recording he’s done, it has Billy Cobham doing what Billy Cobham does best: drumming at the high water mark, all skittering sparks and fireball demolitions, with the ease of a tapdancer.

The Best Of…
“The Noonward Race”
“Vital Transformation”
“Stratus”
[Dan Denorch]

45. Lol Tolhurst / Boris Williams

You could easily look at the switch between the Cure’s two definitive drummers as the fulcrum between the two phases of their career. Lol Tolhurst’s drumming was tight, economical, and unembellished, guiding the Cure through their post-punk and goth years with his crisp and dark playing, but by the mid-’80s, the band was moving on to bigger and better things, and brought on Boris Williams to fill in as Lol became increasingly unreliable. Williams’ drum work, pronounced, thundering and anthemic, was just what the band needed for the epic and commercially viable musical statements they’d make for the rest of the decade, through the early �90s. Then they brought on some other guy, and no one cared about the band again. Coincidence?

The Best Of…
“10:15 Saturday Night” (Lol Tolhurst)
“A Forest” (Lol Tolhurst)
“Just Like Heaven” (Boris Williams)
“Closedown” (Boris Williams)
[Andrew Unterberger]

44. Grant Hart

Because of the embarrassingly thin production on Hüsker Dü albums, Grant Hart’s drums tend to get deemphasized in the mix. However, even through those piercing guitars, there’s no way to ignore those blinding fills after every bar, the reliance on the ride cymbal, and his odd ability to keep up with the beat even though he’s playing behind it. Then you realize, “Wait? He’s singing those songs!” Being able to match the intensity of your drumming to the intensity of your singing to the intensity of your own WORDS THAT YOU WROTE!? How many drummers can say they do that? I’ll bet you can count �em with one finger.

The Best Of…
“I Apologize”
“Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill”
“Every Everything”
[Tal Rosenberg]

43. Hal Blaine

Boom, boom boom, BOOM! Boom, boom boom, BOOM! If the only record Hal Blaine had ever played on was “Be My Baby”, that would still be a sufficient enough qualification for inclusion to the Rock �n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Hal Blaine didn’t just play on one great record, though, he played on over 30. “Good Vibrations,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Bridge over Troubled Water,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “California Dreamin’,” the list goes on and on. Blaine’s greatness as a drummer lay not in the sounds that he made, but rather what sounds he knew he didn’t have to make. Just listen to Pet Sounds one more time, and you’ll know exactly what that means.

The Best Of…
“Be My Baby”
“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”
“River Deep – Mountain High”
[Andrew Casillas]

42. Gary Young

There’s some footage of Gary Young at an early Pavement concert where he jumps off his drum throne and just sorta falls into the kit. He was trying to start the song with some flair and he failed. So he gets up and tries again. He knocks some shit over. Drunken stunts basically got him fired, yeah, but in a lot of ways, the tumble was Young’s aesthetic contribution: endless, shuffling fills that fell in time with the swing of Malkmus’s post-collegiate mop or Malkmus and Scott Kannenberg’s thin, wooly guitars. But Pavement pretty much invented the immaculate shamble, and even though Young’s syncopations threatened to derail every other song, he was ultimately the catalyst—a blazed juggernaut in a room full of shy longhairs.

The Best Of…
“Lions (Linden)”
“Conduit for Sale”
“So Stark (You’re a Skyscraper)”
[Mike Powell]

41. Ziggy Modeliste

With his intricate timing and cracking snare, Ziggy Modeliste’s syncopated rhythms didn’t just mark time, they made time strut. The drummer of the most underrated funk act in history, the Meters, his style defined the modern beat of New Orleans, and his influence is still felt in funk and hip-hop today. And while Ziggy Modeliste will never be a household name, the public knows his work. You see, that’s his drum beat being sampled on Amerie’s “1 Thing,” probably the greatest R&B song of the past quarter century. Not bad for a guy whose band broke up thirty years ago.

The Best Of…
“Cissy Strut”
“Oh, Calcutta!”
“Ride Your Pony”
[Andrew Casillas]

40. Mik Glaisher

Mik Glaisher is probably most famous (if “famous” can be applied to anything the underappreciated Comats did) for setting up his kit outside an open elevator shaft on the fourth floor of the recording studio during the Sleep No More sessions. Microphones placed above and below this point picked up various levels of drum-related ambience, which were then skillfully mixed and incorporated onto the album. The result is spectacular—to the extent that Glaisher’s booming, oppressive sounds guide the vast majority of the record down an even more harrowing path than usual. Largely eschewing any flashy exhibitionism, his walloping beats provide the crucial backbone to a body of work which struggles, by degrees, with anxiety, turmoil, and insecurity.

The Best Of…
“Gone”
“Ju Ju Money”
“Eye of the Lens”
[Peter Parrish]

39. Tony Allen

If Fela Kuti is credited with inventing Afro-Beat, it was Tony Allen that primed its polyrhythmic heart. One visit to America and one souvenir—the influence of James Brown’s “funky drummers”—was all Allen needed to transform the highlife jazz he was playing previously into the colorfully tribal pop of Afrika 70 (the band he directed with Kuti at the helm). Backboned by a strict conversation between bass drum and conga, the group’s colossal jams never followed a straight line thanks to Allen’s use of limb independence—another arm and leg was always flailing into labyrinthine improvisations. Still active, his distinct percussive language has yet to be translated in modern music, though valiant attempts have been made by de novo-afro outfits such as Antibalas and Nomo.

The Best Of…
“Zombie”
“Ise Nle”
“Nature Springs”
[Kevin J. Elliott]

38. Igor Cavalera

If Sepultura’s discography had ended at Arise, Igor Cavalera would have cemented a reputation as one of thrash metal’s most adept, yet tasteful drummers. However, on the Brazilian band’s next two albums, Chaos A.D. and Roots, he literally went deep into the jungle. Cavalera collaborated with the Xavantes tribe, mixing hand drums and berimbau with thundering bass drums and hip hop-inspired grooves. The results pissed off purists, but gave Sepultura a uniquely Brazilian flavor. As the band declined following the departure of Igor’s brother Max, his incisive rhythms kept Sepultura from flat-out sucking. To this day, the post-solo fill in “Territory” remains one of metal’s most memorable.

The Best Of…
“Territory”
“Breed Apart”
“Repeating the Horror”
[Cosmo Lee]

37. Jeremiah Green

Modest Mouse has built a career out of music that sounds like it’s on the brink of falling apart, but importantly, it never collapses into the threatened hodgepodge. Jeremiah Green’s drumming gathers the mess of howling vocals and scrabbling guitars and focuses it into something approaching pop music. His rhythms can be as unkempt and intricate as the music they underpin (the rolling shuffle of “Grey Ice Water,” or the stumbling clatter of “Truckers Atlas,” for instance), but they are always strong enough to bolster the momentum of even the most meandering tracks. And when presented with a genuine groove, like the lean, funky “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” he forces the band to march in lockstep behind him.

The Best Of…
“Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”
“Dashboard”
“Truckers Atlas”
[Jonathan Bradley]

36. John Densmore

No great drummer was more patient than John Densmore. Steeped in improvisatory jazz, Densmore was always too wise to overpower the Doors’ drugged dirges, keeping clockwork time until pouncing at the right moment with a perfect pounding rain of hard drums. The leading cliché states that the drummer is the backbone of every good band. Densmore, rather, was the Doors’ heart: the only thing stopping them from appearing on every toothpaste commercial, the only one willing to stand up to Morrison’s drunken nonsensical tirades, the only one that could really Play. (One listen to “The End” will prove Densmore’s dynamic mastery.) Oh yeah, did I mention he did this all without a bassist?

The Best Of…
“The End”
“When the Music’s Over”
“The Wasp, Texas Radio and the Big Beat”
[Jeff Weiss]

35. Hugo Burnham

Funny thing about fascism, communism, and, well, any –ism for that matter. Someone has to do the heavy lifting. Hugo Burnham made Gang Of Four’s trains run on time. His bass drum is the concrete underneath the spiraling, escalating bass lines. His splashes the exclamations filling the rests on post-punk classics like “Glass.” His snares carry the band’s proletariat pulse. In the rare moment of slow down in GoF’s catalogue (“A Hole In The Wallet”) you can hear the true nature of his gift: a mathematical, scientific mind (and wrists) that ticks off snares and bass kicks like a supercomputer.

The Best Of…
“To Hell With Poverty”
“Not Great Men”
“Glass”
[Evan McGarvey]

34. Zach Hill

With the amount of music technology available today, the art of the band rehearsal has become less and less prominent. However, I can’t imagine Zach Hill and Spencer Seim, the duo who make up Hella, doing anything other than rehearsing in their spare time. Their hyperactive brand of stop/start math-rock winds through complex time signatures with an instinctual connection as tight as any orchestra. Hill is suitably manic and hard in his drumming, and has enough speed and short cymbal attacks to keep up with most speedy punk or metal bands. But the marvel of listening to him is his innate connection with Seim. If you just listened to the drum parts of any Hella record, you’d think it was a six minute freestyle drum solo. Listening to the full version, you can hear the fruits of two people who know exactly what each other are doing, right down to the fourth accented 32nd note in the fifth minute.

The Best Of…
“Biblical Violence”
“Who Ray”
“Republic of Rough and Ready”
[Michael F. Gill]

33. Steve Shelley

As it happens, between the time I was assigned this blurb and its due date, I saw Sonic Youth live—and notably, about half of the time no one was singing, the venue’s video screens showed Shelley behind his kit. I knew his percussive prowess, sure; I’ve been a fan for some 20 years and this was my third time seeing SY. But I hadn’t realized just how purely aggressive he can be. That said, much of his most interesting work is on the more subtle side—and especially when he’s playing alongside bassist Kim Gordon, against Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. Don’t be fooled by his mild-mannered appearance; Shelley is Sonic Youth’s stealth weapon.

The Best Of…
“Silver Rocket”
“Dirty Boots”
“Incinerate”
[Thomas Inskeep]

32. Reni

Years ago I had dozens of Roses bootlegs—hideously recorded and overlaid with Ian Brown’s “erratic” vocals, many of them were redeemed purely by Reni’s liquid pulse, which tied not just songs but whole sets together. The paucity of material on which he plays is a tragedy, but it also probably contributes to his mystique. Reni’s laconic style, typified by an off-beat shuffle and perfectly placed fills, and often played on a minimal three-piece kit, was always funky, always soulful, and seldom egotistical. With backing vocals as accomplished as his paradiddles, there hasn’t been a British “indie” drummer close to his skills in over a decade.

The Best Of…
“Waterfall”
“Something’s Burning”
“I Am the Resurrection”
[Nick Southall]

31. Jim Eno

Jim Eno would have made a great Charlie Watts double for a Stones tribute band. A fool might call him the least obtrusive drummer ever: even his slack backbeat sounds borrowed, and he barely plays on a swathe of recent Spoonerisms. The slackness is a sly deception—Eno falls metronomically behind the beat, a yang counterpoint to the yin of Daniel’s straight-quaver strum and rhythmic palimpsests. His absences constrict the songs to their constituent elements, giving sound nowhere to hide. I imagine Eno with Eastwoodian taciturnity, saying all he means by merely squinting his eyes and spitting on the sheriff’s shoes. We townspeople don’t know who he is, but he sure cleaned up that song.

The Best Of…
“The Beast and Dragon Adored”
“Small Stakes”
“The Underdog”
[Andrew Iliff]

30. Clyde Stubblefield

Clyde Stubblefield didn’t have the luxury afforded to most of the individuals on this list of being the only or even the clear primary drummer linked to a particular band. Just another irreproachable but apparently interchangeable cog in James Brown’s indefatigable funk machine. Stub’s spot could quite conceivably have gone to Jabo Starks (also pictured above) or even Melvin Parker, until you remember it was Stubblefield who set the cocksure pace for “Cold Sweat,” and who gave the irresistibly lascivious “Mother Popcorn” its herky-jerk leer. More than anything and everything, however, he gave us “Funky Drummer,” the most famous, oft-duplicated break of them all, as epochal a moment as pop music has ever witnessed.

The Best Of…
“Funky Drummer”
“Cold Sweat”
“Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”
[Josh Love]

29. Brendan Canty

If Brendan Canty’s always seem a bit disconnected from Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto’s passion pursuits, it’s because he plays the role of darting gremlin so well. Picciotto shifts right, Canty shoots left; Joe Lally lays back, he spasms for the gas pedal; MacKaye chugs and he patters. The amplifiers feed back and Canty grinds his teeth on quarter-note tom hits. That sort of thing. During Fugazi’s best moments, Canty doesn’t so much push them forward as circle around them, adding angles to their 2-D string shearing. That Canty also supplies song ideas is no surprise; the line between drummer and sonic architect is stitched into dude’s back jean pocket.

The Best Of…
“Repeater”
“Cassavetes”
“Full Disclosure”
[Andrew Gaerig]

28. Al Jackson, Jr.

Dust and rimshots. Note how adeptly Al Jackson, Jr. met the demands of the era. As one-third of Stax’s house band Booker T & the MG’s, he was super-steady whether creating the groove (innumerable samples later, “Green Onions” and “Time Is Tight” still retain their charm) or at the beck and call of a master singer. On “Pain in My Heart,” he seemed to press Otis Redding’s tortured croon a little closer; on (“Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” Jackson rolled and tumbled as carefree as Redding’s whistle. Jackson’s work on the luminous songs of Al Green (many of which he co-wrote) remains his best. He’s a bit behind the beat on “I’m Still in Love With You” but at his thunderous best on “Love and Happiness.” As for the dust, that’s how Jackson developed the signature drum sound of the seventies—don’t clean your kit (David Bowie figured out the secret on Low). If you want rimshots, listen to Green’s “Your Love Is the Morning Sun,” on which Jackson tap-taps with an urgency that’s the musical correlative of Green’s love.

The Best Of…
“Time Is Tight”
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”
“Love and Happiness”
[Alfred Soto]

27. Yoshimi P-We

As the Boredoms have lost the bonehead thrash that begat their early infamy, they’ve revealed a startling taste for rhythm. Essential to eYe’s b0rked trance-Kraut is lead drummer Yoshimi’s hypnotic John Bonham drum attack. Despite the apparent simplicity of her preferred style (hit it real fucking hard, real fucking fast), the managerial cool with which she leads the multi-drummer touring band and the pan-ethnic cadences she elicits from them reveal the genius of her aesthetic. It’s helped make the Boredoms one of the most intriguing rhythmic groups of the last twenty five years. During the Bore’s long hiatuses, Yoshimi engages in side-projects like raga group Psycho-Baba and her own band OOIOO, where she sings, plays guitar, and (of course) plays all-time rhythmic music director.

The Best Of…
“Jungle Taitei”
“(Circle)”
“Mountain Book”
[Mike Orme]

26. Ringo Starr

Enough already. So what if Ringo didn’t carry himself as a Serious Artist a la his three Beatles bandmates? When you’re playing on epochal work, you can’t hog the spotlight. Let’s say that Ringo had an unerring instinct for how to serve material. He and Paul McCartney, as even John Lennon acknowledged in 1980, made an extraordinary rhythm section: inspired by Macca’s loping bass on “Rain,” he unleashes an inspired valedictory rat-tat-tat as dizzying as the backwards Lennon vocals that follow it; the late-period “Come Together” shows how well he could build a groove from the ground up. In art, as in life, Ringo also loved taking the piss: the primitive fills punctuating each self-important verse of Lennon’s on “A Day in the Life”; his fevered bashing on Paul’s “Helter Skelter.” Besides stunning us with several excellent solo singles, he also did an expert imitation of a metronome on Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. No wonder he was one of Maureen “Moe” Tucker’s favorites.

The Best Of…
“Ticket to Ride”
“Rain”
“Come Together”
[Alfred Soto]

25. Levon Helm

Working with The Band, Levon Helm resisted showing off, allowing the song to take precedence over his drumming. That’s not to say he merely fit into the piece; instead, he found subtle ways to guide his group’s performances. “Up on Cripple Creek,” for example hinges on the hit on three, which Helm pairs with a softer tap on the one for the chorus, but three quick bumps for the verses. The groove gives the song its funk and adds a country feel without going into either genre (demonstrating the kind of multi-genre approach Helm and bandmates took so well). A master technician, Helm did exactly what he needed for each cut, creating stunning work out of ostensibly simple rhythms.

The Best Of…
“Up on Cripple Creek”
“Don’t Do It”
“Stage Fright”
[Justin Cober-Lake]

24. Jimmy Chamberlin

If there was any good to come out Zeitgeist’s attempts to reimagine the Smashing Pumpkins as full-time heavy metal machines, it’s the possibility that fans not only dusted off their well-worn copies of Siamese Dream, but also the embryonic Gish and the maligned yet still unquestionably majestic Mellon Collie double platter. A decade later, it’s even more impressive that the author of modern rock’s finest and most frequent drum fills was given free reign under the everlasting gaze of its most tyrannical frontman. The ultimate testament to Chamberlin: the quintessential guitar records of the �90s are just as fun to pound out on the dashboard.

The Best Of…
“Cherub Rock,”
“Geek U.S.A.”
“Set the Ray to Jerry”
[Ian Cohen]

23. Bill Bruford

Pick a mega-successful progressive rock group from the 70s and British skins-thumper Bill Bruford has probably played with them. After laying down his meticulous chops for Yes in the early 70s, Bruford had stints with Gong and Genesis as a touring drummer. However, it’s Bruford’s time in King Crimson that defines not only his career, but his musical growth. In the band, Bruford was initially tutored by avant-garde percussionist Jamie Muir, who extended Bruford’s understanding of the avant-jazz polyrhythms that have become his signature. During Crimso’s Discipline era of the 80s, Bruford would endure heavy musical prodding by Robert Fripp over his cymbal usage. Under duress, Bruford evolved his playing style into a deeper register, a mid-career evolution that illustrates Bruford’s open-mindedness and his sheer musicality.

The Best Of…
“Roundabout”
“One More Red Nightmare”
“Thela Hun Ginjeet”
[Mike Orme]

22. Neil Peart

Fusing the bombast of the sixties with the hair-splitting precision of Buddy Rich, Neil Peart has become the node through which all modern rock drummers pass. With Rush, he cut a taut, expansive sound—big enough for spaceships, objectivist allegories, and the virtuosity of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson—without sacrificing complexity or clarity. His solos are big enough to warrant their own track on live recordings: between his armada of drums, cymbals, and other percussive bric-a-brac, Peart forges all kinds of technical knots, spews locomotive intensity, and keeps time (in every imaginable signature). He’s cited universally among drummers as a key influence. And, as if that wasn’t enough, he wrote the lyrics too.

The Best Of…
“YYZ”
“La Villa Strangiato”
“O Baterista”
[Dan Denorch]

21. Larry Mullen, Jr.

From the militaristic drums of War, to the bombastic stadium bluster of Joshua Tree, to the electronic experiments found on later albums, Larry Mullen’s rhythmic style has always been integral to U2’s chameleonic career. A competent and complementary drummer, Mullen’s style is subtle; a balanced backdrop to Bono’s broad histrionics. As textural as he is tectonic, Mullen’s mixed background (marching bands and jazz) melded to provide U2 a vast percussive range. It’s a basis upon which they’ve built their varied career, his style segueing seamlessly from post-punk to stadium rock to ambient soundscapes with ease. And while he may not be the most technically proficient drummer, he’s proven, over the past 30 years, to be one of the most pertinent.

The Best Of…
“Sunday Bloody Sunday”
“Gloria”
“Bad”
[Kevin Pearson]

20. Bill Berry

R.E.M. managed to carry on after Bill Berry departed the group, but only once they’d severely remade themselves. Few drummers are as vital to their band as Berry was to his and even fewer proved their worth in such a modest way. Neither glorious pounder nor master of intricacy, Berry’s true talent is in complementing perfectly the inscrutable melodies conjured by his band mates. Other drummers could have played Berry’s role—and others now do—but none have his Goldilocks feel for the music: never too hard or too soft, too complex or too basic. R.E.M. started life as an upbeat dance band, and Berry never abandoned those roots. Perhaps that’s why so much alternative rock seems plodding in comparison.

The Best Of…
“Harborcoat”
“Orange Crush”
“How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us”
[Jonathan Bradley]

19. Joe Easley

The Plan might’ve remained another batch of Fugazi-loving basement heroes from D.C. if not for jazzy madman Easley’s 1997 arrival. His manic, accidental-sounding clatter helped the band hit upon a hormonal, angular thrash to match Travis Morrison’s wry observations about Santa and scenesters. Known to sport shooting-range earphones onstage to protect himself from his own abilities, Easley experimented with his range as the band’s sound broadened. Grinding the toms like a witch doctor on “Girl O’Clock,” or cheating “Gyroscope” out of every sixteenth beat, he helped the band worm their way through strange time signatures and drum �n’ bass experiments that most indie bands won’t risk anymore. His playing was so airborne it’s only fitting he now studies aerospace engineering.

The Best Of…
“Girl O’Clock”
“Gyroscope”
“The Other Side”
[Dan Weiss]

18. Mitch Mitchell

The hunched, elfin, Moe-Tucker-in-drag appearance lovingly embraced by Mitch Mitchell never jived with the man’s slobber-jawed, whirlwind style behind the kit. A polyrhythmic fetishist and apparent admirer of classic Coltrane quartet drummer, Elvin Jones, Mitchell reveled in Hendrix’ indifference to his implied role as traditional time-keeper. While his guitarted frontman simultaneously erected and razed sonic structures, Mitchell was urged to play in their rubble, filling in great gaping voids where six-string monoliths once stood. When he wasn’t left to his own devices, he was summoning up great, tidal grooves for Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding to surf upon. “Manic Depression,” with its ride/snare/tom-tom combination, is the supercharged jazzbo’s 3/3 time, resurrected and quickly killed off, drowned in Hendrix’ magma wake. Mitchell’s best was arguably his least busy; the hi-hat/snare staccato that stabs through “If Six Was Nine” are offset by minute—but roof-rattling—fills that steady in auto-pilot propulsion.

The Best Of…
“Manic Depression”
“If Six Was Nine”
“Crosstown Traffic”
[Stewart Voegtlin]

17. Bill Ward

A true fucking bloke. Despite Ward’s predilection towards swilling proper lager and chomping pills, he effortlessly managed to create a minimally Cro-Magnon, but brutally complex palette for Heavy Metal drummers to come. Ward was a groove guy from the start, whether casually—and beautifully—propelling Black Sabbath through “N.I.B.” or accenting Tony Iommi’s serpentine string-work on “The Wizard,” he always returned to the coital thrust of Big B Beat. When he gets going, thrashing and thundering, there’s nothing quite like it; lend ears to “Children of the Grave,” “Supernaut,” or “Symptom of the Universe,” all timeless takes on titanic locomotion. These are the sounds of ocean liner’s innards, of gears and pistons and thousands of pounds of steam coated metal brought into being to churn, churn away. The counterpoint, of course, is the lot of Ward’s fills, which sound a lot like the lot of Ringo Starr’s, but leadened with Laudanum and cheap wine. They fall anticlimactically and stupidly thud; single strikes upon a taut skin—perfectly described by Arch-Drude Julian Cope as Bibles thrown down flights of stairs.

The Best Of…
“Children of the Grave”
“The Wizard”
“Trashed”
[Stewart Voegtlin]

16. Ginger Baker

Peter Baker, a Londoner with ginger hair, was best known as a jazz drummer trapped inside the body of a blues rocker. He took that possession on when he replaced Charlie Watts in Alexis Corner’s Blues Inc. in 1962, and through the Graham Bond Organization, Cream, and Blind Faith he remained ensconced, sneaking jazzy flashes that rock audiences could understand into enormously powerful sets. His remarkable dexterity with each limb gave him a stamina and variety worthy of two “normal” drummers, and enabled the first extended (13 minutes) drum solo on a rock record, in “Toad.” And as Bonzo was carrying Bakers heavy rock crown towards metallic bases, Baker went back to his jazzy roots by collaborating with a little-known Nigerian called Fela. Not bad for a ginger.

The Best Of…
“Tales of Brave Ulysses”
“Toad”
“Ye Ye De Smell”
[Ally Brown]

15. Klaus Dinger

An inspiration to insane looking motherfuckers who only play one beat the world over, Dinger left a young Kraftwerk in 1971 to make records of varying commercial success with Neu! and then La Düsseldorf. The latter provided a punk-inflected take on Neu!’s austere, hypnotic krautrock, but Dinger’s pounding motorik beat was the constant factor throughout, underpinning both bands with a kind of bloody-minded, obsessive repetition. He nevertheless managed to adapt this simplistic approach to different tempos and moods, whether the ear-rending menace of “Negativland,” the batshit, spittle-flecked ecstasy at the resolution of “Hero”, or the spaced-out stateliness of “Für Immer” (“Forever”)—a song that appears to actually want to go on forever, summarising the whole glorious enterprise perfectly.

The Best Of…
“Hero”
“Für Immer”
“Geld”
[Fergal O’Reilly]

14. Glen Kotche

While a dynamic performer on stage, Glenn Kotche (most notably of Wilco) stands out especially in the studio. Kotche restrains himself to the hits he needs, but he still innovates. Using little flourishes instead of excessive fills, he makes his parts complex without complicated the song. He does more than just play the perfect rhythms, however; he also finds the perfect sounds to match the tenor of the music, whether by knowing when to shift a groove from tom to snare or by choosing one of his own percussion inventions. Kotche—a student of drum performance and non-rock traditions—combines knowledge, technical skill, and unobtrusive experimentation to turn good songs into amazing performances.

The Best Of…
“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”
“War on War”
“Company in My Back”
[Justin Cober-Lake]

13. Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson hit the drums hard—he was easily Dave Grohl’s equal in that regard. What made him different from Grohl was precision; Thompson was just as capable of the lightest touch (such as on Chic’s “At Last I Am Free”) as he was the “BOOM BOOM CHAKA-CHAKA BOOM” (courtesy Alfred Soto) with which he opened the Power Station’s “Some Like It Hot.” He was never flashy, but always did just enough to make you take notice, complementing those he played with rather than overshadowing them. It didn’t hurt, either, that in Chic he had the brilliant tandem of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards as his foils.

The Best Of…
“At Last I Am Free”
“My Feet Keep Dancing”
“Some Like It Hot”
[Thomas Inskeep]

12. Chris Frantz

Chris Frantz, like everyone in the Talking Heads, sounded best when he blended in, so singling him out might be missing the point. Most of the time, he played in an unflappable 4/4 with the flair of white rice. Fills usually came as a militaristic series of eighth notes—no power, no polyrhythm, no ass. Then again, turning stiffness into funk was the Heads’ greatest achievement as Young White Folks. Where James Brown urged to give the drummer some, Franz said Hey no thanks, smiled dumbly, and soldiered on, a forehead-smacking force for the entire percussive endeavor.

The Best Of…
“Found a Job”
“Born Under Punches”
“Burning Down the House”
[Mike Powell]

11. Dave Lombardo

No life is complete without hearing Dave Lombardo’s kick drums live. Others may play faster or more precisely, but no one else turns twin Tamas into such unstoppable cannons. Quite simply, Lombardo moves air. While other metal drummers slave away to click tracks, “the godfather of double bass” pushes the beat, tossing in unpredictable fills and generally approximating a hellbound train about to jump the tracks. But Lombardo never loses control of Slayer’s war machine. Any metal drummer worth his salt should be able to air-drum Reign in Blood in its entirety, so iconic are its fills. Lombardo’s also gotten artsy in collaborations with Mike Patton and DJ Spooky; evil has no boundaries, indeed.

The Best Of…
“Angel of Death”
“Raining Blood”
“War Ensemble”
[Cosmo Lee]

10. Bernard Purdie

You done it Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, James Brown, Lloyd Price, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow, Dionne Warwick, the Animals, the Monkees, the Beatles, BB King, Alan Jackson, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, Miles Davis, Cat Stevens, Dizzy Gillespie, Marvin Gaye, Al Cooper, Guru, Joe Cocker, Isaac Hayes, Herbie Mann, Percy Sledge, King Curtis, Gladys Knight, Jackson Five, Louis Armstrong, Paul Simon, Pee Wee Ellis, Cornell Dupree, Brook Benton, Hank Crawford, Gato Barbieri, and many more. You done hired the hitmaker Bernard “Pretty” Purdie.

The Best Of…
“Deacon Blues”
“Sex Machine”
“Theme From Shaft”
[Todd Burns]

09. Moe Tucker

In an ecosystem of Alpha geniuses and predators (Cale, Reed), someone has to play the chimera. She walked erect (played standing up over an upturned bass drum, no real splashes or cymbals). She chose mallets over sticks. She ditched the band (well, she was pregnant) right as they readied their most accessible album, Loaded, for FM dials. And whether it was the low tidal thump of “I’m Set Free” or the invisible, guiding wall of percussion on “Run Run Run,” Maureen Tucker took on whatever shapes and rhythmic paths the environment around her needed. Let the dreamy genius have the sky, in the Velvets world Mo was the earthmover.

The Best Of…
“I’m Set Free”
“The Gift”
“Sister Ray”
[Evan McGarvey]

08. Stewart Copeland

The question posed, Copeland was unexpectedly the only drummer for whom I nursed an abiding passion greater than my affection for his band. I even want to hear his Orchestralli album—a tribute to Copeland’s melodic and paradoxical playing, a light touch with a deeply-scored groove, a sparse meter studded with gnarled and beguiling fills. Case in point: “Walking on the Moon” is scarcely more than two bass notes, a single guitar chord and Copeland’s moonstruck meditation on weightlessness. He is drawn back to earth in the chorus, a brief dutiful shuffle in almost-straight time; but then his gate extends again—long, tiptoe-grazing strides, silhouetted in bright stars—and he launches back into the unexpectedly welcoming embrace of a cartwheeling cosmos.

The Best Of…
“Walking on the Moon”
“Truth Hits Everybody” (Live)
“Tulsa Tango”
[Andrew Iliff]

07. Topper Headon

He played “Rock the Casbah” practically by himself, popularized a drum style that’s everywhere (see: “Train in Vain”) and, via his heroin addiction, put the first nail in the coffin of the Only Band That Mattered. Headon’s legacy isn’t as clear as most due to the fact that the Clash used Terry Chimes (no slouch himself) before and after his tenure, but his chemistry with the other three was far superior and he could switch from outright punk sprints to funk, reggae and jazzier forms without blinking. You needed a drummer this good to make the protean genre play of albums like London Calling and Sandinista! work, and in that respect he never let us down.

The Best Of…
“I Fought the Law” (Live)
“Rock the Casbah”
“This is Radio Clash”
[Ian Mathers]

06. Dave Grohl

Grohl fronts his own band, but he’s got the resume of a burgeoning session musician: as well as drumming on the first two Foo Fighters records and his own Probot project, he was behind the kit for Nirvana’s biggest albums, Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf and Jack Black’s comedy act Tenacious D. It’s easy to see why Grohl gets the work; his drumming has a way of making punky riffs stadium-sized. While Kurt Cobain had the pop sensibility to make Nirvana gigantic by himself, it didn’t hurt to have Grohl’s pounding rhythms playing backup. When Grohl assaulted his Foo Fighters work with that same pummel, he transformed his own more modest compositions into anthems.

The Best Of…
“My Hero”
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”
“Scentless Apprentice”
[Jonathan Bradley]

05. Stephen Morris

For a punk band, Joy Division were bizarrely democratic--any one of the four members could make a claim to being the band’s leader. Not many drummers could command as much attention as Ian Curtis’s wrecnching caterwaul, Bernard Sumner’s piercing guitar attack and Peter Hook’s heavenly bass falsetto, but Stephen Morris could more than hold his own, providing drum hooks spartan (“She’s Lost Control”), elegaic (“Atmosphere”) and sweeping (“Transmission”) with equal verve and innovation. And when JD became New Order, he did the unthinkable, stepping away from his drumkit and behind a computer, eventually creating possibly the most famous programmed drum beat in history. How thousands of new wave drummers didn’t stage walkouts in their respective bands after one listen to Unknown Pleasures is anyone’s guess.

The Best Of…
“She’s Lost Control”
“Atrocity Exhibition”
“Love Will Tear Us Apart”
[Andrew Unterberger]

04. Charlie Watts

Considering that he readily admits that he doesn’t care much for rock music (he’s a jazz fan), Charlie Watts has been the rock drummer against whom all others are measured for close to half a century. Perhaps his longevity is due to his economy of movement; while Bonham and Moon thrashed all over their kits, and even Ringo had his head shake, Watts (and his unsung partner in rhythm, Bill Wyman) stood stone still for the most part, their eyes following the action while their bodies laid down the steadiest of grooves for their flashier bandmates to work their craft to. To match his dry wit and low-key sense of humor, Watts has always had a quiet power, every effortless snap of his wrist capable of shaking a building to the ground. Still waters run deep, however. On top of all that, the man keeps impeccable time and apparently never tunes his drums. The term “rock steady” may not have been coined to describe Charile Watts, but he certainly has personified it for the last 40-odd years.

The Best Of…
“Suzie Q”
“Paint It, Black”
“Tumbling Dice”
[Todd Hutlock]

03. Jaki Leibezeit

Rarely a duff note is sung about Jaki Liebezeit, the (funky) human drum machine who’s mantric and experimental backbeats long-fueled krautrockers Can. Listening to tracks like the seminal 18-minute marathon “Halleluwah,” you can understand why, as he was (and still is) a master of low-key precision, one who was always more interested in channeling a synergy with his band members than showing off. Despite his metronomic and often heady approach, Jaki’s drumming in the �70s often sounds as earthy as Tony Allen, with a lot of snare and treble. Liebezeit might have been a technical virtuoso, but he makes it all sound so effortless, simple, and grounded, as if the drums were playing him. When he’s playing, it’s hard to not become absorbed into his world.

The Best Of…
“Halleluwah”
“Bel Air”
“Vitamin C”
[Michael F. Gill]

02. Keith Moon

If Keith Moon didn’t exist, he would’ve had to have been invented. Hell-bent on self-destruction, Moon embodied rock star cliché down to the last wrecked drum kit, shattered bottle of whisky & Rolls-Royce in the swimming pool. Known to pack his Premier double bass kit with explosives and the occasional goldfish, Moon’s whirling dervish attack could only have been the by-product of a savant-like gift for music coupled with a salient streak of sociopathy. With impossibly fast hands and a preternatural ear for blending surf rock riffs, rhythm and blues jags and a little Gene Krupa, if Moon wasn’t the best drummer in rock history, he’s certainly its most original.

The Best Of…
“Young Man’s Blues”
“I Can See For Miles”
“The Ox”
[Jeff Weiss]

01. John Bonham

Drummers aren’t meant to steal the show, they’re supposed to hold it down like a rock. John Bonham was a goddamn boulder, a giant walloping mountain tops with redwoods, Paul Bunyan stomping on the Grand Canyon. Ironically, he ended up hogging the spotlight from Page’s hyperspeed guitar crunch, the multi-instrumentalist virtuosities of J.P. Jones, and the showboating pomposity of Pretty Boy Plant. When you hear Led Zeppelin records today, what stands out are those massive snare bombs, skin-tight 4/4s, and mind-blowing fills where you can still hear every…single…beat. Still not convinced? Go out, buy the Led Zeppelin DVD, skip to the chapter with “Moby Dick,” and don’t say another word.

The Best Of…
“When the Levee Breaks”
“Dazed and Confused”
“Moby Dick”
[Tal Rosenberg]


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2007-07-30
Comments (107)
 

 
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