A Top 10 list? Let the arguing begin!
Well, it’s not our Top 10 list, not that we don’t agree with most of it…
Taking a look at an article at Gibson.com about the top 10 drummers in rock — so we don’t get into the fight about who’s #1 we thought we’d use someone else’s list — we are happy to have found isolated drum tracks from most of these great drummers so we can hear them in all their glory. When not surrounded by other instruments, we get to enjoy the great sound of a drum kit thrashed within an inch of its life by Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham or The Who’s Keith Moon, for example.
Alternately, we can marvel at the intricacy of percussion work by talents like Mike Portnoy, long-time skins man of Dream Theater, or Stewart Copeland of The Police.
In these tracks you can also hear the amazing meter, technique, and natural feel of these great drummers. These guys really are the backbones of their respective groups and you can hear that clearly in these examples.
We’ll also take a few editorial shots at Gibson.com’s Top Ten list but the point is, here are some great examples from some of the best and most influential skinsmen in rock:
10. Ringo Starr
Artist: The Beatles
An integral part of The Beatles persona and public face, Starr is an underrated drummer with a talent for solid, no frills drumming. At the same time, he is also responsible for some of the most memorable drum performances in rock. A list of rock drummers of note cannot be complete without Ringo, who helped craft the evolution of rock drumming from the 60s through the 70s in particular. Here is an example of Ringo in action:
Beatles | A Day In The Life (bass and drums only)
9. Stewart Copeland
Artists: The Police, Oysterhead
A fantastically talented drummer with roots in the unlikely combo of punk, jazz and reggae, Copeland burst onto the scene in The Police as an imaginative drummer who brought complex reggae-tinged feel (and plenty of splash cymbals) to the mainstream on Police hits. Copeland is also a Golden Globe-nominated composer of soundtracks (notably for Rumblefish) and has been involved in many diverse projects. He also recorded drums for artists as diverse as Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford and Tom Waits.
The Police | Roxanne (drums only)
The Police | Next To You (drums only)
8. Josh Freese
Artists: A Perfect Circle, Devo, Nine Inch Nails
Here’s a terrific modern era drummer for which we unfortunately have no isolated tracks. Freese has displayed huge diversity in the acts he has played and recorded with, many of whom are ground-breaking, such as Devo and Nine Inch Nails. At the same time, there are numerous drummers who likely could have this spot or another on this list. They include The Rev (Avenged Sevenfold), Chad Smith (The Red Hot Chili Peppers), or Alex Van Halen, so we’ll give you some of their tracks here:
Avenged Sevenfold | Critical Acclaim (The Rev drums and vocals only)
Red Hot Chili Peppers | Give It Away (multitrack)
Van Halen | Unchained (multitrack)
7. Ginger Baker
Artists: Cream, Blind Faith
One of the first in rock to use double kick drums, Ginger Baker utilized a flam-heavy style, and played extensive solos. His work also draws heavily on jazz. An example below features he and legendary fellow Cream alum Eric Clapton.
Lacking completely isolated tracks from Baker, we will take the opportunity to also drop a nod here though to Cream-era drummer Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix) who brought a jazz background, and to Roger Taylor (pictured) who followed with an incredible body of work starting in the mid-70s with Queen.
Cream | Strange Brew (rhythm guitar and drums only)
Queen | Brighton Rock (vocal only, Roger Taylor drums only)
6. Mike Portnoy
Artist: Dream Theater
Mike Portnoy’s intricate and powerful work has set him apart from contemporary drummers through his work with prog-rock group Dream Theater, which he co-founded. Portnoy has been quick to credit a range of influences including John Bonham, Keith Moon, Neil Peart, and Ringo Starr. In Fall 2010 Portnoy announced he would leave Dream Theater to pursue other music projects. He also filled in for The Rev, who died in December 2009 during the production of Avenged Sevenfold’s 2010 album Nightmare.
Dream Theater | Shattered Fortress (Mike Portnoy drums only)
Dream Theater | Pull Me Under (multitrack)
5. Lars Ulrich
Lars Ulrich, the often outspoken drummer of Metallica who was born in Denmark and moved to the U.S.A. at age 16, is widely respected as a talented drummer with a body of work that spans 11 albums from the band’s inception in 1981. He is a pioneer in the use of double bass in heavy rock/thrash/heavy metal, picking up from the foundation laid by players like Ginger Baker. Ulrich has cited heavy rock drummers Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Roger Taylor (Queen) and Bill Ward (Black Sabbath) as influences on his work.
Metallica | The Unforgiven (multitrack)
4. Dave Grohl
Artists: Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures
Famously overshadowed while delivering stellar drum tracks with Nirvana, Dave Grohl came out from behind the drum kit frequently as he developed Foo Fighters, displaying a wide array of musical talents. Never leaving behind his craft as a drummer, he has lent his talents to a wide variety of projects in a rich and varied number of side projects while the Foos flourished. A major fan of rock’s legacy artists, Grohl has fulfilled many musical dreams including performing with remaining members of Queen, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones (in Them Crooked Vultures), Paul McCartney, Neil Young and more.
Foo Fighters | My Hero (Dave Grohl drums only)
Nirvana | Smells Like Teen Spirit (vocal only and multitrack)
3. Keith Moon
Artist: The Who
Famous for his explosive talent behind the drum kit for The Who, Moon’s off stage excesses would catch up with him, resulting in his untimely death in 1978 at the age of 32. But Moon had already created a body of work that would ensure his place in rock’s pantheon of top drummers. Moon’s ambidextrous double bass drum work and expansive use of the entire drum kit in his playing have led many to see him amongst the best of all time.
The Who | Who Are You (Keith Moon drums only)
The Who | Won’t Get Fooled Again (multitrack)
2. Neil Peart
While some don’t like Neil Peart’s lyrical work in Rush, none question his prowess on drums. Possibly the most technically talented among this top 10 (along with fellow prog-rock drummers such as Mike Portnoy), Peart has been a drum icon since his debut with Rush in 1974. He has cited Keith Moon and John Bonham as primary rock influences, and also Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. His intricate work has powered everything from mostly instrumental epics such as “2112 Overture” to power pop like “Tom Sawyer” through a near 40-year career with a single act.
(Editor’s note: Rush tracks are not available to us at the moment. Also–Hey Gibson.com, #2 on your list is Neil Peart, not Neal Peart!).
1. John Bonham
Artist: Led Zeppelin
So many are in agreement that John Bonham is the best drummer of all time, and we can’t disagree. With an unmatched triad of technique, power and feel, Bonham’s playing is unmistakable and part of what made Led Zeppelin a dominant force in rock. Bonham credited Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich as primary influences. The music world was rocked again when it lost Bonham in 1980, coming shortly after Keith Moon’s death, and two drum giants had been lost in the span of just two years. Musicians worldwide continue to try and emulate his talent, with few achieving what Bonham seemed to be able to do without much effort. In perhaps the ultimate statement of how irreplaceable he was, Led Zeppelin famously disbanded upon his death.
Led Zeppelin | Whole Lotta Love (drums only, bass only)
Led Zeppelin | Ramble On (multitrack)
Led Zeppelin | Fool In The Rain (John Bonham drums) (Editor’s note: This clip is probably our favorite isolated drum track on this entire site–enjoy!).
Image credits: drum kit: bigdrumthump/flickr.com, Ringo Starr: EricTheFish(2012)/flickr.com
Stewart Copeland: spisharam/flickr.com, Roger Taylor: kentarotakizawa/flickr.com, Lars Ulrich: markwainwright/flickr.com, Dave Grohl: Giarc80HC/flickr.com, Keith Moon: Iburiedpaul/flickr.com, Neil Peart: ceedub13/flickr.com, John Bonham Zoso sigil: bixentro/flickr.com