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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Rob Monk / Future Publishing/Rex48/100

48. John "Drumbo" French

John "Drumbo" French joined Captain Beefheart's Magic Band in 1966, bringing with him a toms-heavy, polyrhythmic style that would become as integral to the group as Don Van Vliet's modernist-blues croak. French served as music director for the Magic Band's avant-garde masterpiece Trout Mask Replica, though he came away embittered. "Never have so many worked so hard for so little [money]," said French of the sessions that produced the album, adding, "I've never received a dime for it." During Replica's recording, a group visit to a Salvador Dali exhibit "changed [his] concept of drums" and inspired French's knack for rhythmic superimposition. Drumbo's style only grew more advanced on 1970 follow-up Lick My Decals Off, Baby, perhaps the best example on record of his clattering and chaotic yet fiercely controlled approach. In later life, French would lead his own Magic Band, channeling the Captain's vocals in a strange sort of karmic payback for his rocky initial stint.

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