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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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Buddy Rich
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15. Buddy Rich

A self-taught childhood vaudeville star, Rich's unrivaled technique and unsurpassed hand speed allowed him to quickly overtake reigning big-band drummer Gene Krupa, who dubbed him "the greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath," and land a career-making gig with Tommy Dorsey, where he met rival/friend/benefactor Frank Sinatra, who delivered his eulogy four decades later. But Rich's influence extended far beyond the big-band era or even jazz: He was the first American drummer that many of the earliest British rockers ever heard, teaching fans like John Bonham and Bill Ward to blast past a simple backbeat toward hard-hitting improvisational patterns, encouraging Phil Collins to abandon a two-bass-drum set-up and focus on his hi-hat work, and just plain flooring Roger Taylor. "I would say of just sheer technique he's the best I've ever seen," recalled the Queen drummer. "I remember he did a sort of press-roll thing which lasted for about five minutes. It started off as a whisper, which you could barely hear, and it got so it filled the whole room of about 3,500 people and it was like thunder."

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