16. Bill Bruford
A percussionist with a classical musician's technical prowess, a jazz improviser's subtlety and spontaneity, and a rock drummer's emphatic drive, Bill Bruford was a fully formed artist when he first came to the public ear on the first five albums by Yes. In 1972, with that band on the brink of global superstardom, Bruford jumped ship for King Crimson, for the next two years showing how a rock drummer could find fresh angles in set-list staples, night after night, while also conjuring new music out of thin air. In two more stints with King Crimson – "my spiritual home, albeit with a bed of nails, for a quarter of a century," he wrote in his 2009 autobiography – Bruford reinvented himself as a polymetric funk savant (1981–84), and as a chaos agent in a double-drummer lineup (1994–96), while reserving plenty of time for his postbop passion project, Earthworks. Retired from the stage since 2009, he completed his Ph.D. in February – you can call him Doctor Bruford now.