Counting Down The 15 Best Drummers Of All Time

The right drummer can turn a great band into a legendary one. While it can be underappreciated by some, the rhythm section defines the groove and powers the whole band.

Who are the greatest drummers to ever walk the stage, though? Read on to find out.

We’re evaluating these players on influence, the ability to write memorable parts, a unique style, rock-solid groove, timing, and technical skills.

If you feel we missed some great players, feel free to let us know in the comments!

Who Are The Best Drummers Of All Time?

Buddy Rich is the best jazz drummer of all time due to his expressive and inventive playing and complete control over everything he did on the drum kit. 

John Bonham is the best rock drummer of all time, as his feel is just untouchable, and he brings so much power to anything he plays. 

Dave Lombardo is the best metal drummer of all time. He set the standard for aggressive, tight playing with a truckload of grooves.

Without further ado, here’s the full list:

15. Nick Barker
14. Jon Theodore
13. Dave Lombardo
12. Mitch Mitchell
11. Danny Carey
10. Mike Portnoy
9. Jeff Porcaro
8. Neil Peart
7. Terry Bozzio
6. Stewart Copeland
5. Phil Collins
4. Keith Moon
3. Gene Krupa
2. John Bonham
1. Buddy Rich (or is there another challenger?)

15. Nick Barker

Ex-Dimmu Borgir drummer Nick Barker stands out from the extreme metal pack for several reasons, including his knack for writing memorable parts, massive drum sound, light-speed chops, and monster feel.

He can come up with a beat that transforms a slow groovy track like Dimmu Borgir’s ‘Puritania’ into a hit and deftly switch feels in an instant, such as on ‘Kings of the Carnival Creation.’

Barker’s five-year stint with Dimmu Borgir was all too brief, yielding only two studio albums, although he’s also known for playing on the first four Cradle of Filth albums and with a long list of other big-name metal acts.

14. Jon Theodore

Jon Theodore has played in several famous bands over the years, but the era that really solidified him as one of the greatest drummers of all time was his five-year tenure with The Mars Volta.

The Mars Volta has had many top drummers over the years, but the Bonham swagger of Theodore makes him stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

Theodore deftly switches from hard rock to jazz, Latin, funk, and anything else that the crazed mind of band leader Omar Rodríguez-López came up with, and he makes it all flow so naturally.

Theodore’s finest hours include the frantic beats of ‘Inertiatic ESP,’ the storming bass drum and hi-hat groove in ‘Cicatriz ESP,’ and his fleet-fingered soloing inTetragrammaton.

13. Dave Lombardo

Former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo is indisputably one of the best metal drummers of all time and one of the greatest players in any genre.

The five studio albums Lombardo did with Slayer from 1983 to 1990 are all absolute classics and set the yardstick for aggressive, precise, and groovy metal drumming.

He’s since played on many records, in addition to another 12-year stint in Slayer from 2001.

Lombardo has such a bombastic and instantly recognizable style and also has a huge knack for creating iconic and catchy drum parts.

Essential Lombardo moments include the entire ‘Reign in Blood’ album, the intro solo in ‘Seasons in the Abyss,’ the all-out thrash of ‘War Ensemble,’ and the hectic blast beat on late-career Slayer cut ‘Supremist.’

12. Mitch Mitchell

The Jimi Hendrix Experience had not one but two of the best players going in rock music.

Mitch Mitchell’s command of the drums doesn’t stop there, though. He was also a pioneer in blending rock and jazz music in the style that became known as jazz fusion.

He could swing like nobody’s business, and his feel and knowledge of how to construct inventive fills and drum parts are a huge part of why the three albums he recorded with the Experience remain bonafide classics to this day.

Great Mitchell moments, the dynamic drum breaks in ‘Little Wing,’ the strident rhythms of ‘Fire,’ and jazzy slow burn of ‘The Wind Cries Mary.’

11. Danny Carey

Tool powerhouse Danny Carey would make the cut just on influence alone, having inspired a generation of players to enter the murky waters of prog metal, even without mentioning his monster chops and unique, creative playing.

He blew onto the scene with Tool’s 1993 debut ‘Undertow,’ which went x3 Platinum despite being completely against the grain of popular music at the time.

His style has always been technically adept and challenging, bringing in jazz and progressive influences with the fluid use of polyrhythms and odd time signatures.

He’s also noted for his ability to take a song by the throat and make it his own. In many Tool songs, the drum track is one of the arrangement’s most memorable and striking parts.

Carey classics include the tom and snare intro of ‘Ticks and Leeches,’ the slow build-up to the hectic solo in ‘Forty-Six & 2’, the in-your-face aggression of ‘Vicarious’ and most recently, the dynamic playing on 2019’s ‘Pneuma.’

10. Mike Portnoy

Prog legend Mike Portnoy was a huge creative force in Dream Theater, being one of the main songwriters, backing vocalist, lyricist, and his position behind the drum kit.

He has an instantly recognizable style and sound, and in many Dream Theater songs, the drums form the lead part or main hooks.

It goes without saying that he’s also a wizard behind the kit, being able to play basically any style of music.

A Dream Theater concert is a masterclass of how to dynamically and fluidly change feels and time signatures.

Portnoy recorded ten albums with Dream Theater between 1989 and 2009. He was subsequently replaced by Mike Mangini, who is also a drumming great.

However, Dream Theater has faded significantly as a creative force since Portnoy’s departure, while Portnoy has since gone on to play with everyone from Avenged Sevenfold to Neal Morse.

Some of the greatest Portnoy moments include the intro solo in ‘The Dance of Eternity, the prog workout in the middle section of ‘Fatal Tragedy,’ and the raw power of ‘The Glass Prison.’

9. Jeff Porcaro

Jeff Porcaro is best known as the force behind Toto and Steely Dan, but he was also the most in-demand session drummer from the mid-’70s until his untimely death in 1992.

Having played on hundreds of records during this time, from Pink Floyd to Madonna, he had a massive and ongoing influence on the sound of drumming in popular music.

Porcaro had an impeccable feel and touch as a player and brought the funk to any track he laid down.

Career highlights include the infamous half-time shuffle on Toto’s ‘Rosanna,’ the slick funk of Warren Zevon’s ‘Nighttime in the Switching Yard,’ and the stanky feel of ‘Lowdown’ by Boz Scaggs.

8. Neil Peart

What can be said about the jaw-dropping skills of Rush’s Neil Peart that hasn’t already been said?

His technical skills are the stuff of legend, although he’s equally at home sitting in the pocket or crossing from hard-hitting rock to subtle jazz grooves.

Rush has three of the most celebrated musicians in the biz. Yet despite this fine company, Peart’s playing has the biggest rep.

Classic Peart moments include the thunderous opening of ‘Tom Sawyer,’ the endlessly imitated 10/8 intro of ‘YYZ,’ and his live solos that integrated melodic instruments and percussion rarely heard in rock music.

7. Terry Bozzio

Terry Bozzio is just a force of nature on the drums. His ability to think outside the box, limb independence, and complete command of dynamic and feel changes are just a sight to behold.

I’m not normally one to spend much time watching drum solos or drum-focused instrumental bands, but Bozzio is one of the few I find fascinating to watch in this style.

He remains most widely known for his genre-bending 20 album run with virtuoso Frank Zappa, in addition to many other projects.

His most celebrated track is the drum-led Frank Zappa composition The Black Page, which you can see above, performed with Zappa alumina Steve Vai and Dweezil Zappa.

‘The Black Page’ originated with a session musician term to refer to the unenviable task of turning up to a session and being faced with a black page packed full of notes, which Zappa’s song certainly has.

Bozzio is also at home with bluesy rock ‘n’ roll like the Guitar Shop album with Jeff Beck and tackling flamenco/gypsy vibes as seen on his take on Tziganne.

6. Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland was the engine that powered the run of ground-breaking hits from The Police in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

He mixed the energy of punk with the vibe of reggae and the technique of jazz. He has an iconic drum sound and played around the beat in a way that I’ve not heard from any drummer before or since.

He can do unspeakable things to a hi-hat, and his funky, offbeat grooves can still be heard in up-and-coming drummers’ toolkits to this day.

Every Copeland song has some kind of interesting element to the drum track, but some notable moments include the reggae thunder of ‘Roxanne,’ the deft ride patterns of ‘Driven to Tears’ and the driving rhythms of ‘Message in a Bottle.’

5. Phil Collins

Phil Collins is surely the most famous drummer, and why not, with his monstrous talent at not only drumming but also singing, songwriting, and as the frontman with Genesis, as well as his solo career.

He’s capable of grooving full-bore, time signature-hopping progressive rock such as Genesis’s Dance on a Volcano and laying down some of the most iconic pop-rock moments of all time.

Collins missed the memo about drums in pop music needing to tamely sit in the background.

Solo tracks such as Easy Lover and In the Air Tonight showcase his ability to use the drums to take a great song to the stratosphere.

In addition to his mammoth groove, he developed some of the best drum sounds in popular music.

From 1980 onwards, he helped pioneer the instantly recognizable gated reverb drum sound, which is heard on Easy Lover above and numerous other hits.

4. Keith Moon

The Who wild man Keith Moon had a unique, loose, and bombastic playing style that’s been imitated since he broke out in the 1960s.

He was an outlandish performer who lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle on and off the stage.

Moon’s aggressive, unconventional playing was often at the forefront of The Who’s music, despite working alongside musical giants such as Pete Townsend and The Ox. 

The latter two had the wisdom to sit in the pocket most of the time and give Moon space to really go to town.

Never having heard less is more, Moon pioneered the role of drums as the lead instrument in rock music. His hard-driving style has since become an enduring stylistic blueprint for rock and metal drumming.

Vital Moon cuts include barnstormers ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Baba O’Riley,’ as well as the slithering rhythm of ‘Who, Are You.’

3. Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa was an energetic showman who had a lithe groove, superb technical skills, and a willingness to think outside the box creatively.

He was successful as a songwriter and bandleader over many decades, as well as the most in-demand session drummer for many years from the 1930s onwards.

Krupa was also a major force for innovation in drumming. He was the first drummer to be recorded with a bass drum and helped develop the modern hi-hat and standardize the modern cymbal setup and roles.

Furthermore, he urged Slingerland to develop toms with tunable top and bottom heads. He also popularized the drum solo and the notion of the drummer as the bandleader.

Krupa’s classics include the innovative solos in ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ and ‘Drummin’ Man,’ as well as his numerous collaborations with Buddy Rich, such as ‘Duet.’

2. John Bonham

Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham easily could have come in first place, and he’s certainly the best rock drummer of all time. His skills don’t stop there, though.

As an in-demand session drummer, he was equally adept at jazz, funk, Latin, folk, world music, and just about anything else a song called for.

Zeppelin wisely decided to call it quits after Bonham’s untimely death in 1980 because they knew he was utterly irreplaceable.

Bonham’s drumming was hard-hitting and creative and integrated various styles into the emerging genre of hard rock music.

He also had a brilliant mind for creating iconic and memorable parts that elevated Led Zeppelin’s music to another level.

The fill and beat that announces the entrance of the drums in ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ and his playing from the guitar solo onwards are great examples of Bonham’s creativity and arrangement skills.

He understood exactly what the song needed (and didn’t need – he doesn’t play for the first four minutes) in order to make it one of the biggest radio hits of all time.

The sound he coaxed from his kit is also one of his most enduring legacies. His huge and powerful drum sound is studied to this day by drummers and engineers, and so much of it was simply the way he hit the drums.

Bonham classics include the rapid-fire single bass drum patterns in the verse of ‘Good Times Bad Times,’ the driving groove of ‘Achilles Last Stand,’ and the funky, loose shuffle of ‘Fool in the Rain.’

Showing how far Bonham’s influence reaches, the ‘When the Levee Breaks’ intro beat has been sampled by many artists, including Eminem, Beastie Boys, Massive Attack, Beyonce, and Jack White.

1. Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich had complete control of everything he did on the drums, and his technical skill and creativity are inspiring players to this day.

His control of dynamics was a masterclass every time he performed, his speed was blazing, and he was able to get great sounds from every part of his kit, from the sticks themselves to the rims and every part of the drum head.

He intimately understood each part of the kit and how it could be used by itself and in concert with the other kit parts and instruments to compose exciting music in ways you wouldn’t even think possible until you’ve seen him do it.

His knowledge of how to compose and build a piece of music to a satisfying conclusion while keeping you at rapt attention at each part along the way was also unmatched. 

In addition to his playing, he was an accomplished songwriter and bandleader, having released successful albums as a bandleader from 1946 until 1985, which was shortly before his death in 1987.

Rich classics include his arrangement of ‘West Side Story’ and the Latin swing of ‘Nuttville.’ He was also adept at sitting back (a little) in the arrangement of songs such as ‘The Beat Goes On.’

There’s also his huge number of blazing live solos, many of which can be enjoyed on YouTube.

Now that you know the best drummers of all time, shimmy over to our piece on the 12 Best Drum Solos Of All Time, featuring some drummers from this article and many others who didn’t make the cut.