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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Clifton James
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30. Clifton James

"When I made the record 'Bo Diddley' in 1955, it turned the whole music scene around," said the eponymous guitar slinger. "Caucasian kids threw Beethoven in the garbage can." While the tom-heavy pattern anchoring the song has been dubbed the "Bo Diddley beat," drummer Clifton James deserves just as much credit for birthing that iconic proto-rock rumble. Born in Chicago with 13 siblings, James learned to play on chairs and tin cans. He played on records for a who's who of Chicago blues legends – Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson – but his biggest contribution has been his role as Diddley's drummer from 1954 to 1970. "That actually was Clifton James’ idea of a beat more than it was Bo Diddley’s at that time," claimed Dixon. "Out of all the different drummer that Bo Diddley ever had, he never had one that pleased him anymore than Clifton James…. By mixing the two of them together, they had such a beautiful thing that one was actually no good without the other."

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