100 Greatest Drummers of All Time

From rock thunder machines to punk powerhouses, we count down the kings and queens of slam

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Billy Cobham
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45. Billy Cobham

In the early Seventies, Billy Cobham set a new benchmark for fusion drumming, marrying jaw-dropping jazz-honed dexterity with pulverizing rock power. The Panama-born drummer appeared on Miles Davis' groundbreaking Bitches Brew and, more strikingly, on A Tribute to Jack Johnson, where his interplay with guitarist John McLaughlin set the tone for what the pair would accomplish together in the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Cobham's influence stretched far beyond jazz: Prog contemporaries Bill Bruford of King Crimson listened closely to what he was up to, younger drummers like Danny Carey of Tool learned from him, and even Prince plays a version of Cobham's "Stratus" in concert. There's maybe no bigger fan than Phil Collins, who has named Mahavishnu's Inner Mounting Flame as a key influence on his early style. "Billy Cobham played some of the finest drumming I've ever heard on that record," he said.

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