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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Earl Palmer
100
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty25/100

25. Earl Palmer

One of the most recorded drummers in history, Earl Palmer was an artist-craftsman who defined the role of sideman. An expert reader, improviser, pocket player and accompanist, the New Orleans–based Palmer played on region-defining songs like Little Richard's "Good Golly, Miss Molly," Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" and Professor Longhair's "Tipitina." After moving to California, he promptly became one of the most sought-after session musicians around. As his fellow Wrecking Crew member Carol Kaye said, "Earl took over … he was the greatest drummer I'd ever heard." The sheer volume of his recordings means his rhythms have helped define the beat of America: Richie Valens' "La Bamba," Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" are just the tip of an iceberg that even includes novelty fare like the Flintstones theme. "When the pulse of rock & roll grabs you and won't let go, it becomes the Big Beat," said Max Weinberg. "That's how it was when Earl Palmer laid into Little Richard's 'Lucille,' sounding as if he were using baseball bats and kicking a 30-foot bass drum."

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