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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

Clem Burke; Sheila E; Ginger Baker; Questlove; Al Jackson Jr; Ringo Starr; 18 Drumbo

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty, Lloyd Bishop/NBC/Getty, Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty

Bruce Springsteen once said of Max Weinberg, his impossibly reliable drummer for over four decades, “I ask and he delivers for me night after night.” Leave it to Bruce to come up with the perfect tribute to music’s true working-stiff warriors — the guys way in the back, behind all that stuff, giving the music its spine and drive, its cohesion and contour and a huge chunk of its personality, often without getting the credit they deserve. Ever hear any dumb-guitarist jokes? Exactly.

So this is our epic chance to give the drummer some. In coming up with our list of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time, we valued nuance and musicality over chops and flash, celebrating players who knew the value of aiding a great song more than hogging up a show with a silly solo. That means that along with master blasters such as John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon and Neil Peart, and athletic soundpainters like Stewart Copeland and Bill Bruford, you’ll find no-frills-brilliant session guys you’ve been loving on the radio for years like Jim Keltner and Steve Gadd, early rock & roll beat definers like Jerry Allison and Fred Below, in-the-cut funk geniuses and brickhouse disco titans like Clyde Stubblefield and Earl Young, and unorthodox punk minimalists like Maureen Tucker and Tommy Ramone. Bill Berry of R.E.M. once told Modern Drummer magazine, “I guess I’m not really a Modern Drummer drummer.” But the unshowy contribution he made to the band he played in is worth more than a pile of dusty VHS drum-instruction tapes (not that we couldn’t watch that YouTube video where Jeff Porcaro explains how he came up with the “Rosanna” groove until our eyeballs turn to ash).

One important caveat: we used rock and pop as our rubric, so a drummer’s work needed to directly impact that world (as we define it, of course) to make the list. This meant leaving out dozens of essential jazz artists such as Max Roach and Roy Haynes, whose innovations inspired many of the players you’ll read about below. That list is its own monument we hope to build someday soon. For now, let the arguments start. If you want to throw a cymbal at us, please do so in the comments section.

Bill Stevenson; Black Flag
89

Bill Stevenson

Bill Stevenson provided the raging backbeat for two strains of groundbreaking SoCal punk. In 1977, as a pimply 14-year-old, Stevenson co-founded the Descendents, whose heartbreaking proto-emo anthems — tattooed with Stevenson's signature machine-gun snare rolls, and often written and produced by him too — laid the groundwork for the likes of Green Day, Blink-182, Fall Out Boy and Weezer. And starting in the early Eighties, he served as the drummer for iconic L.A. punk brutalists Black Flag during the band's arguably most creative phase; as heard on albums such as My War and Slip It In, his steady yet mutable pulse fueled guitarist Greg Ginn's exploration of everything from monolithic art metal to spastic punk-gone-jazz. Stevenson, who maintains a busy touring with Descendents, their offshoot band All and the Black Flag tribute project Flag, attributes the hyperactive character of his playing to an everyday influence: caffeine. "In our band, we would drink a bunch of coffee, or I'd eat 50 Snickers bars, before we played," he said in 2014.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Jon Theodore
88

Jon Theodore

Jon Theodore is the contemporary rock world's most visible superdrummer, a player who has internalized the styles of key Seventies touchstones — the otherworldly facility of Billy Cobham, the elephantine swagger of John Bonham — and updated their approaches to fit the demands of the modern arena show. Theodore first turned heads in the early 2000s, playing dazzling Latin-infused prog with the Mars Volta. "I saw some of his first performances as a member of the Mars Volta," said Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha, who would later play with Theodore in the sinewy guerilla-funk outfit One Day as a Lion. "It was clear that music in L.A. was never going to be the same now that he was here." But it was a recommendation from Dave Grohl that led to Theodore's most high-profile role yet. "Dave was, like, 'You know, the guy who really blows me away is Jon Theodore,'" recalled Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme, who brought Theodore into the QOTSA fold in 2013. The gig apparently isn't exclusive: When Skrillex, Diplo and Justin Bieber gave "Where Are Ü Now" a live-band makeover at the 2016 Grammys, Jon Theodore was behind the kit.

George Hurley; Minutemen; fIREHOSE
87

George Hurley

Hardcore punk barely existed when San Pedro, California's monumentally innovative trio the Minutemen made their recorded debut in 1980, but they'd already transcending it, fusing funk, avant-rock and folk into beautifully abbreviated blasts of knotty revelation. The band's frenetic and counter-intuitive — yet weirdly natural-sounding — music might've blurred into chaos without George Hurley, a jazz fan whose impossible speed, versatility and nuance made him the most inventive drummer to emerge from the American indie-rock scene of the 1980s. A few examples among dozens: the biting swing on "Search" and "The Big Foist," the fleet syncopation on "I Felt Like a Gringo," the jagged jazz tumble of "Split Red" and the pummel of "East Wind/Faith," which features of punk rock's rare drum solos. "I like R&B music," he said. "I like the space and the relaxation of it. At the same time, I like things jerky and piecey too, so I try to put the two together. I guess it's kind of like corn nut soup!"

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Phil Rudd
86

Phil Rudd

Longtime AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd has recently has received more ink for threatening to kill a former employee and for possessing meth and weed than he has in all his 29 years of simple, rock-solid beats and immaculate timing. That's a shame, since Rudd's economic style and monster groove helped pave the way for the iconic band's stardom. One of the most consistent minimalists in hard-rock drumming, Rudd influenced a wave of international players from Rammstein's Christoph Schnieider to Kiss' Eric Singer. "He lays it down in the most economical, yet effective way," Singer said. "His feel is really the heart and soul of the band." Rudd joined AC/DC in 1975, replacing Peter Clark, and played on seven studio albums before vocalist Bon Scott died from "death by misadventure." Following a bout with substance abuse and a physical altercation with rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, Rudd was fired in 1983. He returned to AC/DC in late 1993 and played on another four albums — his lean, mean trademark feel remained gloriously intact on 2014's Rock or Bust — before derailing in his recent scandal.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Tommy Lee
85

Tommy Lee

Tommy Lee's gravity-defying drum solos and penchant for wearing as few clothes as possible made him one of metal's truly great showmen. But his bashing in Mötley Crüe was just as important as his star power. Lee's frenetic clatter helped define the glam-punk appeal of Mötley's debut Too Fast for Love, while the earth-shaking beat that powered Dr. Feelgood's title track sounded as menacing and overwhelming as that song's tales of drug-fueled Eighties decadence. His "dream drum kit," which he took on Mötley Crüe's final tour in 2015, is in line with his stripped-down aesthetic: "I have a fully see-through kit now so people can check out exactly what I'm doing," he said. "Most drummers are covered with a million drums and everyone is like, 'What are you doing back there?'"

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; John Stainer
84

John Stanier

"When you’re playing with loops, the loop is really the drummer," John Stanier said in a 2011 interview, speaking to the high-tech approach favored by his band Battles. "That really, indirectly, is kind of running the show." Still, there's no question that whenever Stanier is onstage, he's the one in charge, powering the performance with lean, pulverizing, furiously danceable beats. When Nineties alt-metal kingpins Helmet burst into the mainstream in 1992 with their million-selling album Meantime, they redefined the sound of heavy rock — and their rise owed a lot to Stanier, whose meaty yet mathematical approach to the kit pushed Page Hamilton's sculpted riffs into new realm of precision pummel. Reared on Neil Peart and drilled in drum-corps technique, Stanier distilled rock drumming to its bare essentials, a trend that would reached peak austerity in Battles. "It was in reaction to the multi-instrumentality and complexity of the other guys," he said of his stripped-down kit, outfitted with one towering crash cymbal, "but also to what I had done before and what drummers of the time were doing." Stanier's gift is making the minimal feel monolithic.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Ronald Shannon Jackson
83

Ronald Shannon Jackson

If Ronald Shannon Jackson had done no more than play with avant-garde jazz icons Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor during a span of 12 years between 1966 and 1978, his stature would be secure. But Jackson, who incorporated parade-drumming patterns, African rhythms and funk into a singular, instantly recognizable style, went on to form his critically acclaimed Decoding Society, from which emerged Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and Rollins Band bassist Melvin Gibbs. "He synthesized blues shuffles with African syncopations through the lens of someone who gave vent to all manner of emotions," Reid said of the late drummer-composer in a 2003 Fort Worth Weekly article. "I feel that the collision of values in his music really represents American culture." Jackson's seismic rumble also drove sessions led by John Zorn and Bill Laswell, and reached peak extremity in Last Exit, a take-no-prisoners punk-jazz quartet featuring Laswell, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and guitarist Sonny Sharrock.

Glenn Kotche; Wilco
82

Glenn Kotche

Surrounded onstage by what bandleader Jeff Tweedy calls his "in-Glenn-tions," Glenn Kotche brings Wilco an orchestral percussionist's sensibility, an indie rocker's experimental urges and some solid dad-rock chops. Kotche, who joined the band in time for their sea-change album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, has outfitted his kit with a vibraphone, MIDI effects, gongs, a hubcap, tuned antique cymbals, pellet-filled ping-pong balls and an air tube connected to his floor tom. He sometimes "prepares" his drums by laying chains on them or scattering beads and rice across drumheads. In his own compositions, Kotche explores accidental and coincidental rhythms (i.e., unintentional polyrhythms) in collaboration with So Percussion and other adventurous contemporary music ensembles. "I think he's one of the world's greatest drummers," said Tweedy, "and we have an incredible musical trust." To which the Jim Keltner–John Cage hybrid would reply, "I'm there to serve the songs."

JR Robinson; Michael Jackson
81

JR Robinson

John "JR" Robinson calls himself the "Most Recorded Drummer in History," which should give you some sense of the voluminous discography of one of pop's go-to slammers: the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited," Steve Winwood's "Higher Love," Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody," a chunk of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and no song less titanic than "We Are the World." Most importantly, Robinson laid the disco-rock-funk-pop concrete of Michael Jackson's tectonic-shifting Off the Wall. Robinson's perception of drummers as timekeepers only helps his innate ability to supercharge songs with subtle gestures. "He's the only drummer I could ever in my life ask to do a bar introduction on Michael Jackson's 'Rock With You,' Quincy Jones said at the Montreux Jazz Festival's celebration of his 75th birthday. "I said, 'I want a drum lick that the whole world can sing' … and they sang it."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Steve Jordan
80

Steve Jordan

Raised from a strong tradition of R&B and soul, Steve Jordan was in his teens when he started playing with Stevie Wonder and soon evolved into a versatile performer equally skilled in extemporaneous jazz fusion and sparse, straightforward, soulful rock. A decade younger than most Sixties rock royalty, he's been the man to provide some juice for a second act — he's a member of Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos, played for Eighties Neil Young, toured extensively with Eric Clapton and even was part of fictional reunion band the Blues Brothers. (He has also established strong ties to a younger generation, anchoring John Mayer's signature trio.) Loose and confident, Jordan became a master of all trades, imbuing whatever he played with his quintessential swing. "If you're a rigid person, I don't think you can swing or make other people swing," he said of his technique. "I would take a drummer who has no technique any day of the week over a more efficient drummer, if he swings better."

Mick Avery; Kinks
79

Mick Avory

"If it never got beyond the hard-hitting things, I wouldn't have been very suitable," said Kinks drummer Mick Avory. It might be one reason the Kinks' used a session drummer on their proto-metal missile "You Really Got Me" (though Avory contributed tambourine). But as Kinks' frontman Ray Davies matured as a songwriter, Avory would emerge as one of the Sixties more quietly innovative drummers. "I don't know if Ray's writing blended into my way of playing or if I blended into the way he was writing." With his jazz-tutored versatility and witty drum cadences, Avory, who'd been courted by the Rolling Stones in 1962, was indeed the ideal rhythmic foil for Ray Davies' sardonic, mature style. While Avory's playing was refined and low-key, his onstage fights with guitarist Dave Davies were the stuff of legend; when Dave trashed Avory's drum kit to close off a 1965 Cardiff gig, he got a drum pedal launched at his head in return. Yet, somehow Avory managed not to get kicked out of the band until 1984.

Mickey Waller; Jeff Beck; Rod Stewart; 100 Greatest Drummers; Rolling Stone
78

Micky Waller

A jazz-trained fixture on the London blues scene, Waller came into his own when he joined the Jeff Beck Group in 1967. His distinctive "Waller wallop" powered much of Beck's Truth, the missing link between hard blues and heavy metal. Waller also drummed on Rod Stewart's earliest solo albums, his finest moment arising from a 1971 session he showed up to sans cymbals. Rod couldn't afford to blow the studio time so he recorded "Maggie May" anyway, with Waller's bashing so fierce and steady that critic Greil Marcus quipped that he deserved the Nobel Prize in physics. "We overdubbed the cymbals later, so you hear them more faintly," Stewart recalled. "Micky forgetting to bring his cymbals actually gave 'Maggie May' a sharper beat."

Moe Tucker; The Velvet Underground
77

Moe Tucker

Hers was the off-kilter thump that spawned a million bands. That's how influential the deceptively primitive, artfully sophisticated pocket Maureen "Moe" Tucker brought to the Velvet Underground's classic lineup was, impacting artists ranging from Patti Smith to R.E.M. to Galaxie 500 to Nirvana. Indeed, Tucker held her own with the Velvets leaders Lou Reed and John Cale when it came to Sixties-era avant-garde sonic iconoclasm — standing instead of sitting behind the kit, playing with mallets instead of sticks, avoiding cymbals unless absolutely necessary or unexpected. On VU classics like "Heroin," Tucker seems to dispense with keeping time altogether, swelling and stuttering with the emotional ebb and flow of the song. "I think Maureen Tucker is a genius drummer," Lou Reed said in 2003. "Her style of drumming, that she invented, is amazing."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Young
76

Earl Young

In 1973, on Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' Number One R&B hit "The Love I Lost," Earl Young invented the disco beat — all four beats of a bar played on the kick drum. This endlessly adaptable rhythmic pattern was the pulse of a decade and is still omnipresent wherever dancers are getting down. As part of session crew MFSB, Young also laid the musical framework for Philly Soul, contributing to records by the O'Jays, the Spinners and his own band the Trammps — but his singular contribution lives on the loudest, predicting more than 30 years of house music still filling festivals. "I don't have a drum machine," he said. "I was the drum machine back then."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Earl Hudson
75

Earl Hudson

Ferocious D.C. hardcore band Bad Brains started life as a jazz fusion crew, and Earl Hudson kept his superb chops when the tempos were cranked up to light speed and hurled against a wall. Nirvana’s Dave Grohl admits to swiping his moves for the intro to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and told Modern Drummer, “I would learn all of [his] licks verbatim.” When hard rock drummer Chad Smith joined the punkified Red Hot Chili Peppers, frontman Anthony Kiedis told him to get familiar. Eventually Bad Brains slowed down, stretched out into metal, reggae and funk, giving Hudson more room to flaunt his supple versatility. But he’ll always be best known as the chief architect of American hardcore.

Mike Shrieve; Santana
74

Michael Shrieve

When Santana took the stage on the second day of the Woodstock Festival, sandwiched between Country Joe McDonald and John Sebastian, they faced an ocean of listeners who had never heard a note of their music, since the group's debut LP had yet to hit shelves. But from the opening note of "Waiting," the audience was mesmerized by the band's unique fusion of infectious Latin rhythms and explosive psychedelic rock. Holding it all together was 20-year-old drummer Michael Shrieve, the youngest performer at the entire festival. With conga player Michael Carabello on one side and timbales player Jose "Chepito" Areas on the other, Shrieve laid down a tumbling, jazz-infused solo midway through "Soul Sacrifice" that remains absolutely stunning nearly 50 years on. Santana would shed nearly all of his original bandmates just two years later when he embraced fusion and other non-commercial styles, but Shrieve stuck by his side and even co-produced 1973's Welcome and 1974's Borboletta. The drummer went on to work with everyone from the Pat Travers Band to the Rolling Stones, showcasing his formidable range. "Michael Shrieve turned me onto Miles Davis and John Coltrane," Carlos Santana said in 2013. "He opened a whole new dimension for my heart." (Fittingly, the collaboration continues: Shrieve will appear on Santana IV, out April 15th, which reunites the majority of the lineup last heard on the group's 1971's self-titled LP.)

Pete Thomas; Elvis Costello & the Attractions
73

Pete Thomas

In under a year, Elvis Costello moved from the wiry pub-rock of My Aim Is True to the bilious punk frenzy of This Year's Model, and he couldn't have made the great lurch forward without Mitch Mitchell fan Pete Thomas behind the kit. On those earliest Attractions records, Thomas played how Elvis sang, with a pent-up-then-spurted anger, a hesitant stutter of kick or snare suggesting a failed attempt at restraining an inevitable explosion. (Cue to the thrilling intro to "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea.") As Costello's songwriting came to demand greater nuance, Thomas remained his ideal rhythmic accomplice, playing with an intuitive sense yielded by long-term collaboration. "Pete Thomas is the rock and roll drummer of his generation by some considerable distance," Costello tweeted last year, "and that you never read that in polls tells you everything you need to know about 'polls' and nothing about drummers."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; James “Diamond” Williams
72

James “Diamond” Williams

Jazz-trained and ambidextrous, James Williams was sitting in with Dayton bar bands in his early teens. By the time he joined the Ohio Players in 1974, the group already been kicking around for a decade and a half, but their streak of dance hits for Mercury Records was just beginning. Williams' unfussy but intermittently explosive drumming would motor these tracks along – his steady funk bottom could burst unexpectedly into rambunctious fills, even on ballads like "I Want to Be Free." Though he cooked up his share of tricky rhythms, by the time a given song's chorus came around, Williams would land on the snare with a dance-commanding rhythm that was rarely subtle or negotiable.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Butch Trucks
71

Butch Trucks and Jaimoe

Allman Brothers Band drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson have been inseparable since the group's inception, powering everything from the intricate rhythms of the iconic "Whipping Post" to subtle workouts like their rendition of Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More." Jaimoe's pedigree as a Sixties soul drummer with the likes of Otis Redding meshes with Trucks' bluesy, rock-steady pulse to form a syncopated beat-logic all their own. As Jaimoe recounted to Relix, he and Trucks tried to take drum lessons from Elvin Jones in 1974, only to have the jazz legend tell them, "What do you guys want? I know who you are. What am I supposed to teach you?"

Tommy Ramone
70

Tommy Ramone

"He gave punk rock its pulse": so read the obituary headline from The New York Times, remarking on the 2014 death of one Tamás Erdélyi — better known by his stage name, Tommy Ramone. With his furiously metronomic eighth notes and tribal floor-tom bombs, he provided the speed-freak beat on the Ramones' groundbreaking first three albums, matching tempos with Johnny Ramone's buzzsaw guitar. ("Not unlike a fast drill on a rear molar" was how Erdélyi characterized his style.) He also made key songwriting contributions to the band's immortal canon, even penning "Blitzkrieg Bop," which Joey Ramone called a "call to arms for everyone to start their own bands." That would include artists from the Clash and Metallica to pretty much any band that has ever played Warped Tour; indeed, Erdélyi's signature thump still resonates as loudly as ever.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Dale Crover
69

Dale Crover

"A drummer like Dale Crover, you can tell when Dale is playing in Nirvana because he's the best drummer in the world," said no less an authority than Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. "I've always thought if things didn't work out [with me], they could always get Dale." Though he can be heard bludgeoning on nine officially released Nirvana Bleach tracks and B-sides, Crover's main gig is his ongoing 30-year-plus stint in unstoppable art-sludge institution the Melvins — equal parts earthquake machine, hard-sticking showman and ad hoc mathematician following the ebb and flow of Buzz Osborne's Beefheart–ian riffs. Fueled by his love for Kiss and Zeppelin, Crover's distinct sound comes from tom-toms that explode like cannons, metal slats that sizzle, double kick that sputters and a sweat-soaked attack that still hits harder than your favorite teenage punk.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Bigfoot Brailey
68

Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey

In 1975, when George Clinton first heard David Bowie's "Fame" on the radio, he turned to his new drummer and said "Remember that beat for me." Jerome Brailey, the fresh recruit to Parliament-Funkadelic, proceeded to filter the style of JB stickman Jabo Starks through Bowie's hazy cosmic jive on "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)." Brailey would remain aboard the mothership till 1978, driving many of P-Funk's biggest hits with his steady kick drum, shifty hi-hat action and intricately unpredictable snare pattern, before distrust of Clinton's accounting techniques lead him to form Mutiny, a group whose own funk hit hard enough to let you know why they called him Bigfoot. "Doing funk is really simple," Brailey told an interviewer in 2010. "It's about the thrill of the time. Funk is from within. … I've done shows with Parliament where I was so funky I could feel it inside my bones and that's when the audience can feel it too."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Greg Errico
67

Greg Errico

Greg Errico was all of 17 years old when Sylvester Stewart invited the San Francisco native to join his new group Sly and the Family Stone. Errico would help helm one of funk music's most important rhythm sections from their first recordings through the epochal There's a Riot Goin' On. In 2015, Errico told Rolling Stone that at their height, playing with the Family Stone "made my hair stand up, where that stage lifted off like a 747 and flew." By 1971, with the Family Stone entering into disarray, Errico was the first to peel off and ended up working with the likes of Lee Oskar, Betty Davis and Funkadelic as not just a drummer but a producer and arranger.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Kenny Aronoff
66

Kenny Aronoff

Best known as John Mellencamp's hard-bashing drummer from 1980 to 1996, Kenny Aronoff is fully capable of banging out flashy fills — let's not forget the tumble that leads into the bridge of "Jack and Diane." But he's equally at home sitting in the pocket and keeping a sturdy beat. "[As the drummer], I'm the employee," he told Esquire. "My job is to listen, learn, lead. And I understand I'm not the boss." With a sixth sense for what makes music pop and the patience to take direction, he's ended up as a go-to studio beatsmith for the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton, John Fogerty, Sting, the Smashing Pumpkins, Lady Gaga and tons more.

Sly Dunbar; Bob Marley
65

Sly Dunbar

Nearly ubiquitous reggae drummer Lowell Fillmore Dunbar played with everyone and, due to how frequently his riddims have been sampled, is quite possibly the world's most recorded musician. Nicknamed for his devotion to Sly Stone, Dunbar recorded his first track, "Night Doctor," with the Upsetters at age 15. His 1972 introduction to bassist Robbie Shakespeare led to a life-long working relationship, notably in Peter Tosh's and Black Uhuru's bands as well as the Rolling Stones' 1978 Some Girls tour. Sly and Robbie translated dub reggae to the stage better than anyone. "Me and Robbie didn't realize what we were doing until Jamaican music went dubwise and the bass and drum would come right in your face," he explained. The distance between Carlton Barrett's relaxed swing and Dunbar's fierce metronomic playing marks the place where roots reggae evolved into its dancehall successor.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Chad Smith
64

Chad Smith

Since debuting with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1989, Chad Smith has consistently mixed the quick-footedness of classic funk with an arena-rocker's power and volume. "He plays hard, man," said Sammy Hagar, who recruited Smith for his band Chickenfoot. "The guy's from Detroit, for God's sake!" After first working with RHCP, Rick Rubin was so impressed with Smith's versatility he began utilizing the drummer's "mighty power and great vibes" on his other productions. Former Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez calls him "a monster virtuoso … with a sophisticated, well-honed sense of what's appropriate." And Anthony Kiedis credits Smith with inspiring his own idiosyncratic full-body gyrations: "All I have to do is close my eyes and listen to Chad. It'd be acting if I didn't do it."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Dennis Chambers
63

Dennis Chambers

Coming from the same Parliament-Funkadelic school that birthed Ramon "Tiki" Fulwood and Jerome Eugene "Bigfoot" Brailey, Dennis Chambers combined those players' funk acumen with the fusion of Tony Williams, in turn inspiring countless gospel and hip-hop drummers. Working as a house drummer for the Sugar Hill label (Chambers played on "Rapper's Delight") and alongside funky jazz guitarist John Scofield, the Baltimore native honed a style built around bombastic grooves and scorched-earth Buddy Rich–esque fills that seemed to defy time. (Blink-182 showstopper Travis Barker concisely summed up his appeal: "I've always liked Dennis Chambers, he's real flashy.") Since the Nineties, Chambers has gigged extensively with Carlos Santana, Steely Dan and John McLaughlin, while staying busy as a bandleader. Chambers' solo albums — such as Big City, Getting Even and Outbreak — are sadly ignored examples of his mighty wallop and adroit compositional sense.

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone;
62

Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson laid down the merciless four-on-the-floor grooves for Chic, the hardest-rocking band of the disco era. His reputation ballooned in the Seventies but his influence poured into the Eighties, playing on pop juggernauts like Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" and Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Thompson was even considered as a replacement for the late John Bonham when there were talks of Led Zeppelin revival. And, of course, he laid down the groove for the original "Good Times," the Chic song replayed by multiple drummers as the bedrock for the first wave of rap records and cut up in "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel." "All these years, people wanted to sample me. Everyone always assumed that there was some kind of special knobs turned, Thompson told Modern Drummer. "All it basically was, was a brand-new Yamaha kit in a very live, brick recording studio. I hit the drums very hard. That's it!"  

Clem Burke; Blondie
61

Clem Burke

Blondie's Clem Burke brought unexpected rhythm to the raw punk and New Wave roaring out of Seventies New York clubs like CBGBs. The band did name their breakthrough album Eat to the Beat, after all — and Burke's combo of crisp backbeat and kinetic, Keith Moon-influenced bluster helped set Blondie apart from the pack. With Burke behind the kit, Blondie put everything from disco grooves and reggae to hip-hop beats into the group's smash hits. And he had a presence and charisma beyond your typical sticksman. "He was into jumping over his drum kit fairly regularly," lead singer Deborah Harry told the Chicago Tribune. "Clem showed up, and he was a real star. He could play, and you could tell that it was his life."

Mick Fleetwood; Fleetwood Mac
60

Mick Fleetwood

Along with steady rhythm-section mate John McVie, Mick Fleetwood has remained a constant through his namesake band's many stylistic shifts, from the late Sixties blues-rock of Peter Green to grown-up pop of the ongoing Stevie Nicks–Lindsey Buckingham lineup. Fleetwood's rhythmic personality shines through on every cut from the band's classic best-seller Rumours: The stylish fill that introduces "Dreams" is as hooky as any chorus, and the gut-punch tom-tom counterpoint he provides to Buckingham's rhythm guitar is integral to "Go Your Own Way." Buckingham has praised Fleetwood's "instinctive" style and tells a story about the distinctive cowbell break the drummer added to the band's first single, "Oh Well." "Mick did that real off the cuff and then when he tried to repeat it, he couldn't do it! It took him a week of rehearsals to learn what he'd done in an instant." As a performer, Fleetwood's instinctive flair and childlike glee behind the kit remain intact to this day.

Jim Gordon
59

Jim Gordon

Hal Blaine's protégé was among the top session players of the Sixties, drumming on everything from Pet Sounds to "Classical Gas." While touring with Delaney & Bonnie, Gordon met Eric Clapton, who enlisted the drummer (and several of his bandmates) to form Derek and the Dominoes. Gordon's combination of bluesy feeling and professional finesse powered the classic double LP Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Gordon went on to record with the likes of Randy Newman and Steely Dan, and became an unlikely figure in the rise of hip-hop once DJ Kool Herc started inspiring Bronx dancers with Gordon's drum break from the Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache." "Everybody started searching for the perfect beat, trying to beat that record," Herc recalled. "They still can't beat that record until this day."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Sheila E.
58

Sheila E.

Born Sheila Escovedo, daughter of percussionist Pete Escovedo, Sheila E. was a drum-kit prodigy playing at a young age with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. She came into fame bringing her crisp, pristine, polyrhythmic style to Prince's post-Revolution band in the late Eighties, helping shape the decade's rock, pop and R&B. Sure, she also sang on her own solo hits like 1984's "The Glamorous Life," but it's her eminence as a still-in-demand drummer that's secured her musical legacy. "It's pretty interesting everyone says how [Prince] influenced me, but actually I influenced him first," she told Fox News. "When I went to introduce myself he already knew who I was, which I was shocked, and he said, 'I know who you are already. I've been following your career for a long time, and you're amazing and I'd love for you to play in my band.'"

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Manu Katché
57

Manu Katché

Artists like Peter Gabriel and Sting refused to sit rhythmically still in the late Eighties and the early Nineties; and they called upon wildly dynamic French-via-Ivory-Coast drummer Manu Katché to translate their expansive worldbeat visions. Instantly recognizable thanks to his nuanced splash cymbal work and stuttering beats, he provides the West African pulse of Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and the trip-hop groove of the singer-songwriter's "Digging in the Dirt." For Sting's schizophrenic "Englishman in New York," he vacillates between reggae lite, a jazz break and some mid-Eighties hip-hop boom 'n' pound with the smoothness of a DJ. "When we did the Amnesty tour [in 1986], I asked Manu Katché if I could sit down behind him and watch," said U2's Larry Mullen Jr. "He was freaked and didn't know what I was doing, but I just wanted to see what real drummers get up to!"

Richie Hayward; Little Feat
56

Richie Hayward

As drummer for surrealist boogie band Little Feat, Richie Hayward tended to play over, under and around the beat. After answering Lowell George's L.A. Free Press ad ("Drummer wanted — must be freaky"), Hayward stuck out the Feat's critical success and commercial failures. As the band's prime mover, he made Little Feat the colorful, swinging and fun dancehall version of the Band's serious, sepia-toned proto-Americana. According to Phish drummer Jon Fishman, "The easiest way to predict what he might play on the set at any given point was to listen to the phrasing of the lyrics." Hayward navigated the Feat's discombobulated prog-boogie and unorthodox song structures on his drums while adding high vocal harmonies. He brought a swampy Louisiana slide to their sound, instigating the second-line funk that would make fans of future employers like Robert Plant and Bob Dylan.

Max Weinberg; The E Street Band
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Max Weinberg

In the spring of 1974, Max Weinberg saw a notice in the Village Voice that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were looking for a new drummer, cautioning would-be applicants that they didn't want any "Junior Ginger Bakers." Weinberg was a steady-handed pro schooled in the pits of Broadway shows: in other words, the complete opposite of Cream's wild-man drummer. He blew Springsteen away at an audition and was hired just as work began on Born to Run. It's impossible to imagine how that album would have sounded without Weinberg's taut pulse — closer in spirit to the Sixties studio kings than the Seventies arena giants — and after its success, the drummer found himself working with everyone from Meat Loaf to Bonnie Tyler. When the E Street Band split in 1989, he found work as Conan O'Brien's bandleader, though when the band reformed in 1999, he managed to fit both jobs into his busy schedule. "Max found a place where Bernard Purdie, Buddy Rich and Keith Moon intersected, and he made it his own," Bruce Springsteen said during his 1999 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech. "I ask, and he delivers for me night after night."

Questlove; The Roots
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Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

Ahmir Thompson has taken on many roles — neo-soul superproducer, polymathic author/raconteur, talk-show bandleader, Broadway musical consultant, celebrity superfan — but those opportunities arose because he's foremost a wickedly versatile drummer whose playing has consistently upended expectations. Jaws that had previously been set skeptically against "live-band hip-hop" first dropped at that moment in the Roots' "You Got Me" when Thompson's steady pulse skitters into a simulation of the frantic breakbeats that drum 'n' bass producers had been stitching together electronically. The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon could be an easy money gig, but he accepts it as a nightly challenge to add new pages to his ever-expanding encyclopedia of rhythm, blending seamlessly with the style of any guest who shows up. "That's what's so cool about Ahmir," guitarist Charlie Hunter, who worked with Thompson on D'Angelo's classic Voodoo LP, told The New Yorker. "He can sit in that pocket and drive it and think in terms of a wider landscape."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Jimmy Chamberlin
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Jimmy Chamberlin

According to Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin showed up for his first rehearsal "wearing a pink T-shirt, stonewashed jeans and a mullet haircut. … We were thinking, 'This is not the guy.' [But] he'd learned all our songs, and within one practice, we were ready to play. He's that good." Unlike grunge-era Zeppelin-ites like Nirvana's Dave Grohl or Soundgarden's Matt Cameron, Chamberlin played like a deadly serious, jazz-indebted muso, suggesting deep familiarity with the fusoid likes of Dennis Chambers and Return to Forever's Lenny White. Filling 1993's Siamese Dream with tight snare rolls and 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness with orchestral fervor, he became as intricate to the band's sound as Billy Corgan's pedal chain. "You can't just grab somebody and say, 'Play drums on this Smashing Pumpkins song,'" Corgan told USA Today. "Jimmy's drum parts are so incredibly technical and nuanced that it's a very rare class of people that can step in and play."

100 Best Drummers; Rolling Stone; Matt Cameron
52

Matt Cameron

More than any other drummer, Matt Cameron laid the rhythmic foundation for the Nineties rock revolution, reconciling proggy technicality with overwhelming force. He aptly characterized his rotary-blade rhythms on the 1991 Soundgarden track "Jesus Christ Pose" as "a pure assault of the senses," but that efficient brutality wasn't necessarily characteristic of Cameron's work with the band – his drumming on Superunknown is as thoughtful as it is heavy, from the fluid asymmetry of "Spoonman" to the unshakeable backbeat of "Fell on Black Days." Twenty years after its release, Dave Grohl was still raving, "Nobody played drums like Matt." When Soundgarden suddenly disbanded in 1997, Cameron wasn't out of work for long: Pearl Jam invited him on tour the following year. "They didn't try to tone me down at all," he told an interviewer near the beginning of his ongoing stint with the band. "I'm kind of known for playing weird, crazy fills and sometimes playing things I shouldn't be playing, but they loved it — at least that's what they told me."

Alex Van Halen; Van Halen
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Alex Van Halen

Alex Van Halen's arena-sized ambitions and jazz-influenced nimbleness made Van Halen one of rock's most vibrant bands — millions of young drummers all over America drove themselves nuts in the Eighties trying to replicate the skip-stone tom-tom work and galloping swing he brought to "Hot for Teacher" or the tricky opening groove of "Finish What You Start." His devotion and toughness were pretty impressive too: A 1984 Rolling Stone feature described a show opening for the Rolling Stones where Alex played the entire with his hand broken in four places. "He couldn't even hold a drumstick," journalist Debby Miller wrote. "So he tied the stick to his wrist with a shoelace and went on with the show." Van Halen ascribed his career choice to his childhood: "[My father] was a musician, and it's hard to put into words, but musicians are different than the 9-to-5ers," he told MTV's Kurt Loder in 1991. "It's a different mentality … the whole planet is your home."

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