Drummers may not take the limelight in the way a lead singer or bass guitarist does on stage, but they really are the backbone of the band. Their ability to keep time and rhythm is - well, everything, really. Some of the biggest music mags on the market occasionally compile ‘one hundred’ or ‘fifty’ ‘greatest drummer’ lists and struggle to keep it so contained - so this list of 25 is, of course, not only hugely abbreviated but also in no particular order. Nevertheless, here are some of the greatest drummers who have have influenced the way we wield the sticks and the way people perceive that (vital) back-of-stage persona.

1. Ringo Starr

Richard Starkey may have been left in shadows of Beatles lead singers Paul McCartney and John Lennon when it came to screaming fans, and his vocal contributions may have been decidedly sub-par, but his breezy skill with the sticks still makes him one of the best drummers of all time. “I never studied anything, really,” he says. “I didn’t study the drums. I joined the bands and made all the mistakes onstage.”

2. Dave Grohl

As if it weren’t enough that he’s generally credited with being one of the nicest guys in rock’n’roll, with the charismatic stage presence and throaty scream that he brings to being Foo Fighters’ frontman - but Dave Grohl was also Nirvana’s energetic drummer. “There’s always gonna be rock’n’roll bands, there’s always gonna be kids that love rock’n’roll, and there will always be rock’n’roll,” he’s said. “There’s nothing I’d rather do than make music. It’s the love of my life.”

3. Travis Barker

Blink 182’s skater punk sensibility owes a lot to Barker: despite any criticism the other band members get for their puerile banter and crude references, Barker tends to remain, quite literally, in the background, hammering the hell out of his drums with a ferocious intensity. “I want to keep pushing the limits for drummers and expressing myself,” he has said. “Put me up in front of a million people and ask me to speak. I’ll flop. But put me behind my drums and I’ll always go with it.”

4. Keith Moon

As legendary band The Who’s drummer, Moon’s wild recklessness contributed the band’s enigmatic appeal. He often played the drums as if they were someone he wanted to destroy, frequently following up on such onstage energy by kicking his kit around and even hurling it out into the audience - in fact, it was this kind of behavior that allegedly made him the inspiration for the Muppets character, Animal. Unlike Animal though, he was dead by age 32. “I don’t think the drums are a solo instrument,” he once said. “Drums are there to set the beat for the music.”

5. John Bonham

Nicknamed the Godfather of Drumming, Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham is still, decades after his death, considered by many to be the most magnificent drummer in rock’n’roll history. Few before or since have managed to combine such speed and power to create such a distinctive sound. “Drumming was the only thing I was ever good at,” he said. “I remember in the early days when we played six nights a week for a month and I was doing my long drum solo every night. My hands were covered in blisters.”

6. Neil Peart

With seemingly endless and undeniably incredible solos, Rush’s drummer and main lyricist has won innumerable accolades for his drumming prowess. Nicknamed The Professor, Neil Peart not only brings consummate skill to the drums but is also renowned for his complex time signatures and for constantly honing and developing his craft. “The real test of a musician is live performance,” he has said. “It’s one thing to spend a long time learning how to play well in the studio, but to do it front of people is what keeps me coming back to touring.”

7. Ginger Baker

As the founder of Cream in the ‘60s, Baker soon become known as rock’s first ‘superstar’ drummer and is generally credited with ‘inventing’ the drum solo. His intuitive approach to playing and ability to improvise saw him meld jazz, rock and even African beats in a way that set the bar high for other drummers who followed later. “Keith Moon was a friend of mine,” he acknowledged, “but I wouldn’t say he was a great drummer.”

8. Alex Van Halen

The drummer of the band Van Halen, this Dutch musician is known for his incredible speed with the sticks and for providing a solid rock scaffolding to the band’s offerings; the 1978 release of the album ‘Van Halen’ is still seen as the moment when rock screamed its way back into a scene dominated by punk and disco. And their dedication to their music comes from both internal and external perspectives: “Whatever our personal differences are,’ he has said, “there are no bigger fans of this band than the people who are in this band.”

9. Mick Fleetwood

The fact that Fleetwood Mac’s music is often so dreamy and floaty just makes this guy’s talent on the drums even more noteworthy - without the backbone provided by the strength of his rhythms, the whole band would be in danger of just floating away. Nevertheless, he says that’s there’s no greatness to his drumming, insisting that he lacks the ability to be consistent. “There’s no discipline,” he has said. “I can’t do the same thing every night.”

10. Lars Ulrich

Critics point out his random and unwarranted shifts in tempo to prove that he’s not a talented standalone drummer - but there’s a certain greatness to being a team player and it’s Lars Ulrich’s contribution to Metallica that makes him a drummer worthy of a place on a ‘greatest’ list. “I’ve always looked at drums as more of a group instrument,” he says. “I've never been very interested in playing drums by myself — you know, sitting down in a basement, practicing drum solos for hours at a time, that's not my thing."

11. Phil Rudd

With his economic, minimalist style, AC/DC owes much of its iconic status to Rudd, who joined the Aussie band in 1975 and played on seven of their albums, before being fired in 1983 after dramas relating to substance abuse and violence. Rejoining the band 10 years later, his trademark sparse approach returned to another four or so albums, including Ballbreaker and Black Ice. Following allegations that he made arrangements to have an assistant killed, he’s once more out of the band, with guitarist and band mate Angus Young saying, “He's a great drummer, and he's done a lot of stuff for us. But he seems to have let himself go. He's not the Phil we've known from the past."

12. Chad Smith

And to think that the Chili Peppers were reluctant to even audition this guy on the basis that his looks weren’t right for the band. What a mistake that would have been. Widely regarded as one of the best drummers in the world, Smith is known for his fast right foot and flawless beats. He’s modest, too, saying: “Playing well with others is important - not being too flashy, just keeping good time and, of course, coming up with cool beats. A good snare drum, kick drum, high hat. Just getting good at the hand feet coordination.”

13. Buddy Rich

Legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich began his career in the 1930s and his contributions to the profession, thanks to his speed, technique and precision, are applauded not only in the world of jazz but across many other musical genres. “As regards my feelings about drummers - there’s Buddy Rich, and then there’s everybody else,” American musician Mel Tormé once said. “He is one of a kind; he’s a genius, and that’s all there is to it.”

14. Rick Allen

Few people can lay claim to being the drummer in a band as hugely popular as Def Leppard; fewer still to relearning to play the drums after a car crash caused one arm to be amputated. Rick Allen was told he’d never play again after the accident but returned to the stage with the band a mere 18 months later. “Getting back to a place where I could rejoin the band had been a very tough process,” he said. “At first even walking was a trial, but I locked myself away in a room at my parents’ house and just played and played. There were times when I thought I just couldn’t do it and wanted to curl into a ball and give up. But I persevered.”

15. Billy Cobham

Hugely influential and technically brilliant, Billy Cobham’s fusion of jazz, funk rock saw him experiment with electronics and work with the likes of Miles Davis. Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, he started playing when he was 4 and passed his audition for New York’s High School of Music and Art at the age of 14. His first solo album, Spectrum, in 1973, was massively successful but criticized for the ‘largeness’ of his role. “Drummers need to know their place,” he was told. “I went, ‘No, this is me. Like it or lump it.’”

16. Stewart Copeland

Charismatic frontman Sting may have garnered most of the attention in the Police’s career, but his skill with sticks are undoubtedly a huge part of the band’s success. Complex hi-hat patterns are a signature move for the drummer, with jazz influences giving his playing a unique and subtle sound and his commitment to broadening his musical prowess a factor in his ability. ‘Drummers shouldn’t just think of themselves as drummers,’ he explains. ‘If you’re going to be a musician, you should expand your horizons, compose things and work with other instruments.’

17. Mitch Mitchell

Surely any drummer who held his own on stage alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix deserves to be on a list like this - and in fact, Mitch Mitchell not only did this but also pushed Hendrix further, with the two furiously performing and outperforming one another in a powerhouse of onstage energy. Many modern drummers point to him as a huge influence on their approach, with Quiet Riot’s Frankie Banali saying, “When I was growing up, the three drummers that set the high-water marks were Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, and John Henry Bonham. Of the three, Mitch was the creative leader.”

18. Phil Collins

Although his 80s pop star status may have eclipsed his earlier incarnation as the drummer in Genesis in the minds of the general population, true music aficionados recognize Phil Collins as one of the greatest shredsters ever to pick up a pair of sticks. Nimble, fluid and constantly pushing the boundaries - not to mention able to maintain mind-boggling speed and injecting his playing with genuine feeling - Collins not only created, but effortlessly played, some incredibly complex pieces. “I’m not a singer who plays a bit of drums,” he says. “I’m a drummer that sings a bit.”

19. Bernard Purdie

As one of the most innovative funk drummers ever known, Bernard Purdie’s signature use of triplets against a half-time backbeat has become known as the “Purdie Shuffle” - but having worked with the likes of Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Simon & Garfunkel, James Brown and Roberta Flack is just a miniscule part of the story. “I’ve recorded a lot of reggae. I’ve recorded a lot of jazz; I’ve recorded a lot of calypso; I’ve done Latin. I’ve been one of the most versatile drummers of the world as well as the most recorded,” he says. “Whether it was rock and roll, rhythm & blues, jazz, pop. I teach all the different rhythms and all the different facts of the music.”

20. Jimmy Chamberlin

Like Chad Smith under the eyes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimmy Chamberlin nearly fell foul of that book/ cover judgement, with the Smashing Pumpkins less than impressed with his outward style. Lucky they saw sense: technically flawless, his playing is flooded with emotions, combining fills and beats and a seemingly effortless ability to keep time. "You can't just grab somebody and say, 'Play drums on this Smashing Pumpkins song,’” Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has said. "Jimmy's drum parts are so incredibly technical and nuanced that it's a very rare class of people that can step in and play."

21. Sheila E

Think girls can’t drum? Tell that to Sheila E who, as the daughter of percussionist Pete Escovedo, was jammin’ with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock even as a child. Probably best known for her work on ‘Purple Rain’, it would be a mistake to think that she was overawed when Prince approached her; it may actually have been the other way. "When I went to introduce myself … he said, 'I know who you are already. I've been following your career for a long time, and you're amazing and I'd love for you to play in my band.'"

22. Charlie Watts

With a frontman like Mick Jagger gyrating on stage, it couldn’t have been easy to make your mark in the Rolling Stones - yet that’s exactly what Charlie Watts managed to do. Receiving his first drum kit as a teenager, his early influences were jazz music, a genre that’s continued to inform his musical activity outside of the Rolling Stones. Despite being recognized as one of the world’s best drummers, he remains low-key about his abilities, saying “It’s been years and years I’ve been playing the drums, and they’re still a challenge.”

23. Elvin Jones

Widely regarded as the most influential jazz drummer of all time, Elvin Jones’ passion, coupled with his trademarks broken ride patterns and asymmetrical phrasing, as well as his approach to soloing, took the world of drumming down a path hitherto unexplored. “The greatest contribution jazz has made in music has been to replace the role of the conductor with a member of the ensemble who, instead of waving his arms to keep time and convey mood, is an active member of the musical statement,” he said. “That person is the drummer.”

24. Karen Carpenter

Not only gifted with a heartbreaking vocal ability, Karen Carpenter, one half of the the 1970s act The Carpenters, which she formed with her brother, was also a force to be reckoned with on the drums. She would “speedily maneuver the sticks as if she had been born in a drum factory,” said her brother - in fact a 1975 magazine poll put her at best rock drummer of the year, ahead of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.

25. Gene Krupa

Possibly one of the first drummers to bring that modern day poster-boy appeal to the craft, Krupa’s personal charm and joy were qualities that he also brought to his drumming. His solo in “Sing, Sing, Sing,” was iconic and brought the standalone role of the drummer into the limelight, paving the way for drummers in all genres in the future. “I’m happy that I succeeded in doing two things,” he said. “I made the drummer a high priced guy, and I was able to draw more people to jazz.”

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