Top 20 Rock Drummers
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Rock Drummers.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the greatest percussionists in the genre.
Did we forget one of your favorite drummers? Let us know in the comments below.
#20: Levon Helm
If ever there was a gold standard for drummers that also sang, Levon Helm would have to be in the conversation. He worked with a truly underrated group called The Band, known for touring with Bob Dylan before venturing out on their own acclaimed career. Helm was the only American in the mostly Canadian band. That fact helped bring an added authenticity to their folksy tales and Southern fables that they often explored. His singing ability also never took precedence over his percussion skills. With a charismatic style, he ensured that every track felt like its own distinct blend of roots and country rock.
#19: Michael Shrieve
While Michael Shrieve’s work with Santana isn’t mentioned as much as others in the pantheon of rock drummers, he served an important role during the group’s breakout period. He and the band received an invitation to Woodstock that put them into the history books with an amazing performance. Captured in the event’s official documentary, Shrieve’s work on “Soul Sacrifice” is forever an incredible showcase for high-powered drumming. His lively input on eight Santana records never ceased to enhance any of their productions. When the act was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the percussionist was included among the essential members that shaped their diverse sound.
#18: Steve Gadd
He might not have been known for being in a band, but Steve Gadd made a significant impact on drumming for several decades. His session work ranks among the best of the 70s, with an adaptive skill set that suited any style. Some of his greatest collaborators include James Taylor and even Paul Simon. For the latter, he played on the track “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Next to his work with solo artists, Gadd also recorded with Steely Dan on their album “Aja.” His two drum solos on the title track still blow people away with their rapid-fire rhythms. This only covers a small portion of a never-ending career where he’s added a jazz flair to many memorable rock tunes.
#17: Danny Seraphine
Of the many original members of Chicago, Danny Seraphine remains their unsung superstar. His dynamic rolls and fills provide the perfect accent on their finest work. On the band’s first album, Seraphine immediately made himself known on “Beginnings.” The group’s rapidly changing sound in the 70s always needed his drums to deliver an extra shock to the system. His finest achievements on his kit have an effortless feeling, alternating between complete control and a wonderfully freestyle quality. Although he asked to leave Chicago in 1990, his efforts on their first nineteen albums always stood out and surprised audiences.
#16: Bill Bruford
Yes & King Crimson
Most drummers are lucky if they leave an impression on one group. That’s why Bill Bruford’s work with both Yes and King Crimson is fantastic. By producing some of the more experimental and detailed music of the late 60s and 70s, each band became integral to the progressive rock scene. Bruford co-founded Yes and performed on their classic releases such as “The Yes Album” and “Close to the Edge.” Any fans of their songs “Long Distance Runaround” or “Roundabout” will hear textbook cases of his ingenuity. His later work with King Crimson on 80s albums such as “Discipline” represent some of the more daring pieces of musical excellence. Not to be outdone, his highly recognized career also included touring with Genesis and multiple solo records.
#15: Jeff Porcaro
Jeff Porcaro is generally known as the drummer for the hitmaking collective Toto. He contributed to many great singles, with his drum pattern for the song “Rosanna” regarded as an influential piece. Porcaro’s fast hands kept up any time signature with complete ease and precision. Some of his best work was for other legendary acts. His reputation as a major session player in the 70s and 80s put him in a category all his own. Over the years Porcaro played for everyone from Boz Scaggs to Michael Jackson. Whether he was with his main band or working in the studio for someone else, he never let his tracks be boring.
#14: Danny Carey
Tool is an alternative metal band that grew a considerable audience after their 90s breakthrough. Their success as a cult rock group is in part because of Danny Carey’s expertise on the drums. Honestly, it feels like no time signature is too complicated for this performer. He has the ability to run through their difficult setlist like it’s a light breeze. Any percussionist that can articulate the rhythms of “Sober” or “Schism” deserves a mention for their artistry. Studying the greatest rock and jazz drummers, Carey incorporates a whole host of techniques that have put him on lists next to his heroes. Anyone who doubts his progressive drumming prowess should look no further than his work on “Pneuma.”
#13: Roger Taylor
Queen simply personified glam rock. And Roger Taylor’s drums were every bit as integral to their bombastic sound. While Freddie Mercury and Brian May were often considered the two stars of the band, Taylor competed for the spotlight in many noteworthy tracks. His intensity kicks off the hard rock sequence of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” shining bright on an already awesome song. As the group transitioned into their arena phase, the performer also adapted his playing to suit crowd-pleasing tunes like “We Will Rock You.” If his varied talents behind the kit weren’t enough, he’s also got a killer voice.
#12: Dave Grohl
Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, & Them Crooked Vultures
Dave Grohl’s chemistry with his Nirvana bandmates created a strong bond that helped to catapult them to success. On “Nevermind,” Grohl fills the entire record with career-best recordings. His opening part to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is only one of his welcome additions to rock history. Grohl brought them the same energy to their follow-up “In Utero,” defining his role as the premier drummer of grunge music. After the group dissolved, the musician played on the early Foo Fighter albums and as a one-time player for Queens of the Stone Age. He even got to play with hero John Paul Jones in supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. This epic gig further established him as an alternative rock star with a natural rhythm.
#11: Ian Paice
Deep Purple doesn’t always get the credit they deserve for their 60s and 70s output. Drummer Ian Paice was part of their winning formula in their prime, playing on “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star.” The latter includes just one example of his style that went on to inspire many metal and hard rock drummers. He’s also the one member that stuck around for every incarnation of the band, bringing his loud and driving sound to each and every track. Paice’s ability to keep up with the group’s forays into psychedelic, metal, and other rock subgenres show how his enduring presence is in music.
#10: Charlie Watts
The Rolling Stones
Until his death in 2021, Charlie Watts was a vital piece of The Rolling Stones’ lineup. While his bandmates stole the spotlight, he made sure that every track was rhythmically whole. Watt’s also the perfect case for a drummer who didn’t need to be flashy. “Miss You” is entirely incomplete without his instantly recognizable beats behind it. Other classics from their early 60s period to their more daring 70s releases all feature Watts as a constant and reliable element. He was also regarded as the heartbeat to rock’s longest-serving band. For a band as notable as the Rolling stones, that is no small feat.
#9: Phil Collins
Sometimes it’s important to remind people of Phil Collins’ contributions to drumming beyond “In the Air Tonight.” Before taking center stage in the music world as a solo artist, he honed his skills in Genesis. His early days in the band consisted of elaborate and progressive compositions. He mainly plays drums behind lead singer Peter Gabriel. Once Gabriel left, Collins filled the void with his own distinctive vocals. He guided the group through the end of their progressive period and into a more pop-oriented sound to great success. Regardless of the subgenre, Collins brings the heat with assured drum patterns.
#8: Mitch Mitchell
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
There’s only a handful of drummers that could keep up with Jimi Hendrix. Playing with the best guitarist in rock, Mitch Mitchell held his own as a formidable musician himself. His lasting impact on The Jimi Hendrix Experience permeates through every second of their recorded material. There are normal cymbals and then there’s Mitchell’s cymbals, which create a beautiful cacophony on the track “Foxey Lady.” He and Noel Redding backed up the legendary shredder and, in the process, became legends themselves for their efforts on other classics like “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” If anybody could deliver the goods and standout out next to a true artist, it was Mitchell.
#7: Nick Mason
Nick Mason is as important to the sonic landscape of Pink Floyd as Roger Waters or David Gilmour. While his drum parts don’t always receive the same attention as Gilmour’s solos, his work on “Live at Pompeii'' is a particular standout. Mason’s presence is deeply felt on every single studio album because it spans the many diverse eras of the group. Any listener who enjoys “The Dark Side of the Moon” has to salute Mason’s songwriting credits that include “Speak to Me” and “Time.” He disregarded any one style in favor of his own imaginative approach to percussion on Floyd’s many concept albums.
#6: Stewart Copeland
More than almost any drummer from the late 70s and early 80s, Stewart Copeland was more interested in the drums than just hollow showmanship. His work with The Police combines elements of classic rock, punk, and jazz into an effective approach. He played his instruments with an amazing ear for unique beats and reliable grooves. Contributing pristine parts to a collection of unmistakable hits, Copeland was the true backbone of the new wave group. Few artists can play on tracks as varied as “Roxanne” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger” without breaking a sweat. While he’s achieved much more than his efforts with The Police, he’ll forever be known as an essential piece of the successful trio.
#5: Ringo Starr
It almost goes without saying that Ringo Starr is the most famous drummer in music history. His steady pulse helped build the early pop sound of the group. Before they went into the studio full-time, Starr was already experimenting with more refined beats. His work on “Ticket to Ride” makes for one of his better performances due to its unique patterns. Another one of his best efforts is on “Rain,” an underrated Beatles’ single with wonderful drum rolls. If anything, Starr’s achievements were largely ignored until reappraisals reminded everyone of his genius. His fame and namesake aside, this artist has a catalog full of worthy tracks to rediscover.
#4: Ginger Baker
A drummer’s drummer through and through, Ginger Baker influenced a generation of performers with his work in Cream. His rhythms progressed the artform beyond just a simple drum arrangement. Backing Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, Baker infused his beats with a variety of influences from the jazz world and beyond. Although his work with the band only lasted two years, he was an essential part of their four studio albums. The drum solo on “Toad” is only a fraction of his accomplishments behind the kit. Even if you didn’t count his work in Blind Faith or other efforts, his presence in rock history wouldn't be lost on any of his countless admirers.
#3: Neil Peart
Neil Peart was known by many Rush fans as the true heart of the band. With one of the biggest kits in rock music, the drummer played the instrument as well as anyone in the history of the genre. Not to be outdone, Peart also had time to write lyrics for the group. His one-of-a-kind skills and lightning-fast reflexes produced beats for many progressive classics. “2112” is just one of a slew of musical projects that the performer released for the world. Alongside two of the best instrumentalists ever, the technical wizard never failed to wow a crowd with a signature fill or a masterful drum solo.
#2: Keith Moon
A true wild child of rock and roll, Keith Moon was also a master at controlled chaos. His work with The Who stands the test of time as awe-inspiring percussion. As his bandmate Pete Townshend wrote many epic songs, Moon layered in some heavy hits and cymbal crashes. The likes of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” wouldn’t feel the same without the musicians’ signature performance. Beyond his powerful showmanship, Moon also broke ground as a destructive stage presence. His sudden death in 1978 was a massive tragedy. Who knows how much he could’ve achieved with his inimitable talents.
Before we get to our top pick, here are some honorable mentions.
Travis Barker, Blink-182
This Pop-Punk Drummer Belongs to Several Bands & Has Collaborated with Hip Hop Artists
Chad Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Not to Be Confused with Will Ferrell, He’s Part of One of the Best Rhythm Sections Ever
Taylor Hawkins, Foo Fighters
The Late Drummer Even Gave Dave Grohl a Run for His Money
Tommy Lee, Mötley Crüe
The Heavy Metal Musician Became Known for Entertaining Crowds with His Drumming Antics
Rick Allen, Def Leppard
The Thunder God Helped Bring the Band to Heavenly Heights - Despite Having Lost an Arm!
#1: John Bonham
Often considered the greatest drummer of any rock band, John Bonham earns his title with every single track in Led Zeppelin’s history. His contributions to the group are integral to their success and enduring legacy. Bonham’s beats are the definition of “in the pocket,” providing the hypnotic pulse of rock’s greatest singles. The performer’s work has been taught, sampled, and copied for good reason. Songs like “Whole Lotta Love” or the band’s rendition of “When the Levee Breaks” never fail to get listeners pumped. He’s also a skilled technician with “Fool in the Rain'' being among the more difficult patterns to replicate. Even after dying much too young, Bonhman’s continued to inspire rockers for generations.