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The greatest drummers of all time - ranked

The greatest drummers of all time - Peart!
(Image credit: Fin Costello / Getty)

GOAT Hunt: The results are in! 

Over the last few weeks, we've been on a mission to assemble a fantasy band line-up featuring the greatest musicians of all time, and we've been asking you to choose them. 

Our hunt for a band of GOATS started with the drummer, and you've whittled-down a long list of hundreds of sticksmen and women to arrive at our final round. Below are the 25 drummers you chose as the best to ever do it. 

30. Meg White

It’s the evergreen argument: is Meg White any good? While it’s hard to argue for Meg’s technical prowess - at least from her output with The White Stripes - it’s a no-brainer when it comes to suitability for Jack White’s (a fine drummer in his own right) loose, rowdy blues riffing. 

Meg’s drumming might well be as simple as they come, but we don’t think we’d want to listen to The White Stripes any other way.  

29. Jay Weinberg

While Jay was far from unknown before (he’d filled-in for his father for a tour with The Boss, as well as playing drums for Madball and Against Me!), but his arrival in the Iowa juggernaut has well-and-truly cemented his place in not only metal, but drumming in general.

28. Tommy Lee

As one of the most influential drummers of the 80s, Tommy Lee’s stock clearly remains high today. He helped pioneer the use of electronics in heavy rock, brought us some iconic drum parts with Motley Crue,  and made drum solos more interesting by performing them while spinning around, upside-down…even on a rollercoaster. 

Hats off to one of drumming’s most entertaining and dependable heavy hitters.

27. Benny Greb

Run this poll again in 10 years, and we’d wager that Benny Greb will place even higher. A drummer since he was six years old, Benny is at the forefront of the ‘new breed’ of technical players who are pushing drumming forward for the 21st Century, while having a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of everything that came before them. 

He’s got the groove to make 2 & 4 feel interesting, and the chops to make your jaw drop.

26. Mario Duplantier

Gojira are your heroes’ favourite metal band, and Mario Duplantier is the engine room. Like a trained sniper who uses a drum kit as his weapon, he’s a technical powerhouse with the precision and speed needed to propel one of the most popular metal bands on the planet in 2021. 

Gojira are by no means newcomers, but we think their status as legends has well and truly arrived. 

25. James Gadson

Perhaps you know James Gadson from his work with Bill Withers? Or maybe Herbie Hancock? How about Diana Ross, BB King, D'Angelo? Regardless of how you discovered his unmistakable sense of feel, signature 16th-note grooves and barking hi-hats, just one listen is enough to understand why he's on this list. 

As one of the most-recorded drummers of all time, Gadson shouldn't be a stranger to anyone, and he's experienced something of a surge in popularity in recent times thanks to homage and collaboration from the new wave of funkateers such as Vulfpeck, Snarky Puppy, Lettuce and more.

24. Taylor Hawkins

It can’t be easy having one of the biggest legends of the instrument since the 90s as your boss, but Taylor Hawkins has managed to carve out his own path as the drummer in Foo Fighters. 

With a melting pot of classic rock influences - from Peart to Copeland, Collins to Cameron -  making up his style, we can’t think of a better occupant of the drum stool for one of the biggest bands on the planet. 

23. Jojo Mayer

Part drum machine, part jazz purist and capable of everything in between, we can't think of anyone else who has delved down the rabbithole of emulating digital beats in the way that Jojo Mayer has. 

This approach extends to his studies (and subsequent teachings) on hand and foot technique. Jojo goes down as one of the best in a very long time, and there's still plenty more to come!

22. Josh Freese

A prolific musical chameleon, Josh Freese has performed with the biggest and best names in the business, and even if you don’t realise it, we’re confident all over your record collection. 

We can’t think of anyone else who can comfortably hop from Sting to Nine Inch Nails to Paramore or any of the hundreds of other credits Freese has to his name. 

21. Marco Minnemann

Not only does Marco Minnemann poses unbelievable command of metre, independence and speed, but he seems to barely ever stop! Ever since his extreme Drumming DVD brought him to widespread acclaim in the first half of the noughties, Marco has gone on to continue redefining what’s possible with four limbs and a drum kit, collaborating with instrumentalists of the highest order including Guthrie Govan, Alex Lifeson, Paul Gilbert and many, many more. 

Truly one of the all-time GOATS, we get the sense that Marco Minnemann is going to be around for a long time to come!  

20. Joey Jordison

When Slipknot broke through with their self-titled album at the tail-end of the 90s, drummers knew exactly where to focus their attention. Joey Jordison brought technical playing back to a genre that - in the mainstream - was mostly being powered by hard rock and hip-hop beats. 

Not only that, but Joey’s sense of musicianship actually helped shape a lot of Slipknot’s melodic material too. Fast-forward to the next decade and his tenure in the band was cut short due to his battle with transverse myelitis, but not before he’d influenced millions of drummers worldwide to buy a double pedal.

19. Clyde Stubblefield

We don't want to continue the debate about which of James Brown's most iconic drumming duo was best - Clyde has come out on top according to your votes. Clyde was criminally under-rewarded for providing us with multiple breakbeats that went on to shape entire genres. 

Cold Sweat's displaced snares provided a framework (along with the Amen Break) for drum 'n' bass, and Funky Drummer remains the standard that built hip-hop. He even went as far as recording his own album of breakbeats in order to gain some form of compensation.

But Clyde's playing shouldn't be boiled-down to simple loops, no sampler can truly capture the sublime groove that Stubblefield was capable of - go back and listen to his output with James Brown and you'll discover not only some of the funkiest playing ever committed to tape, but also some of the most disciplined. 

18. Matt Cameron

Matt Cameron’s work with Soundgarden gave drummers in the ‘90s a masterclass in understanding and feeling odd-time signatures, while still maintaining an accessible pulse. He went on to perform double-duty, holding down the drum stool with fellow grunge titans, Pearl Jam (the two bands had previously formed a ‘supergroup’ side project, Temple of The Dog in the early ‘90s) simultaneously until Chris Cornell’s tragic death in 2017. 

Cameron remains active with Pearl Jam, and outside of his two main gigs has collaborated with The Prodigy, Smashing Pumpkins and many more, as well as releasing two solo albums.

17. Nicko McBrain

He might not have been Iron Maiden’s first drummer, but the band’s golden-era line-up clicked into place with Nicko’s arrival. Locking-in with Steve Harris for nearly four decades, Nicko has galloped his way through Maiden’s catalogue with his distinctive style: incredible barefooted single bass drum speed, busy round-the-kit fills while laying into his almost-vertical ride cymbal to give us way more than just straight timekeeping. 

16. Travis Barker

We don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the drummers on this list played in bands that found success directly after their appointment. Travis Barker is one of them, taking Blink 182’s music from decent pop-punk to the next level with his busy playing. 

Barker has continued with unstoppable output ever since most people first heard him on Enema of the State, and has currently chalked up an entire career in hip-hop alongside setting a whole new blueprint for what punk drumming can mean. Give the drummer some!

15. Chad Smith

The long-serving Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer has been the gateway from rock to funk for millions of drummers since the band’s huge album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Part Bonham, part Clyde Stubblefield, Chad’s monstrously heavy hitting is combined with his appreciation for ghost notes and groove that make his parts addictive to learn. It’s no wonder he’s half of one of the best-loved rhythm sections rock has ever seen.

14. Dave Lombardo

Dave Lombardo broke new ground with thrash titans, Slayer. His lightning-fast double-kick and hand speed, doubletime hardcore-inspired beats and inclusion of outside-the-box tribal and Cuban influences all cut a new path for ‘heavy metal’. 

Dave will always be the preferred Slayer drummer, but his time away - and after - the band has seen him chalk up an impressive discography with the likes of Fantômas, Suicidal Tendencies and most recently, Mr Bungle. 

13. Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl’s drumming with Nirvana quickly elevated him to legendary status: it was easily accessible, full of hooks and signature moments and inspired countless would-be drummers to pick up sticks. 

While he’s the frontman of one of the biggest bands in rock, Grohl has rarely been far from the kit since his Nirvana days, chalking up a CV that reads like a teenagers diary fantasy. 

Whether he’s sitting in with members of Led Zeppelin or Queen, jamming with Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, or taking time off to perform on era-defining albums for fin, Dave Grohl’s impact and love for drumming is surely here to stay.

12. Phil Collins

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: if filling in for the late John Bonham in front of millions of people isn’t even your most memorable achievement, you’ve definitely earned GOAT status. 

Phil Collins has sold over 150 million records to-date: that’s enough for every human in the UK to own his entire catalogue twice, plus a few spares. Not bad for a drummer who started out playing challenging progressive rock. Big Phil’s popularity might have fluctuated over the years, but he’s currently experiencing a resurgence. 

While he may have put down the sticks for good, we’re still hopeful that we might catch a glimpse of him at a kit alongside his son Nicholas for Genesis’ postponed reunion tour.

11. Jeff Porcaro

We’ll never know what Jeff Porcaro would have gone on to deliver if it wasn’t for his untimely death in 1992 aged just 38. But what we do have is his legacy: a wealth of inspiration from one of the absolute best to ever step foot in the studio. 

From Toto to Steely Dan, Michael Jackson to Bruce Springsteen and a very long list of other legends, Porcaro’s exacting feel and impeccable knack for playing exactly what the song needed sees him place high. He perfected the half-time shuffle, but if you haven’t dug deeper, what better time than now?  

10. Billy Cobham

Cobham’s blend of groove and chops allowed him to write the blueprint of fusion, and his influence has spread far and wide outside of ‘jazz-rock’ since with many modern progressive metal bands citing his work as an influence. 

With a kit tuned to sound unmistakably ‘him’, Billy wowed drummers everywhere with his application of orthodox rudiments, but has caused just as much excitement with producers sampling his deep pocket (see Lil Wayne, Massive Attack, Common and more). 

Billy Cobham’s output with Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as his solo band is dense, and that’s before you consider cuts with James Brown, Ron Carter, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and many more. Dig in, and you’ll be rewarded with years of inspiration!  

9. Mike Portnoy

As a founder of Dream Theater, he put progressive metal drumming into the spotlight. As an educator, he’s somehow made it all seem achievable, and outside of his original gig, Mike Portnoy has spent the last decade hammering out a ridiculous amount of music with everyone from Avenged Sevenfold to his old Dream Theater bandmate, John Petrucci. 

There aren’t many drummers who have made such a mark in the mainstream with such challenging music, but Mike Portnoy is one. If you need evidence (and we definitely don’t), just check out the brand new Liquid Tension Experiment album, LTE3.  

8. Stewart Copeland

The Police weren’t the only band to merge reggae and rock, but they were certainly the most successful. Arriving as clearly-schooled musicians underneath the Trojan horse of punk, Copeland’s drumming was integral to the feel and sound of The Police. 

His traits were so strong that even thinking about a drag or ruff on the hi-hat, accenting a ride bell or playing anything other than 2 & 4 with a cross-stick will give you up as a fan. Frustratingly, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see The Police do it live again, but when they did return, Stewart did it with all of the energy and finesse that captured our attention in the first place.  

7. Steve Gadd

Dr Steve Gadd will go down in history as the ultimate sideman. His playing is often described as being all about the groove and feel, but make no mistake, the Dr has chops too! 

That said, it’s his ability to make the complex appear simple without ever overstepping the mark that has helped him clock up a CV featuring Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, George Benson and hundreds of others. If you’re yet to truly ‘get Gadd’ then start with 50 Ways… (as many have) and you’ll begin to understand.  

6. Danny Carey

Five albums and an EP - that’s the extent of Tool’s output since emerging in 1992, and Danny Carey’s place as a force to be reckoned with was pretty much sealed from the start. Merging the power and groove of Bonham with the prog of Bruford and Cobham, Danny Carey’s drumming introduced a whole generation to polyrhythms and odd time signatures. 

It’s simultaneously intuitive to listen to yet difficult to learn, with years of studying on each album. His use of custom Mandala pads and heavily-studied tabla playing all translates to one of the most original and influential drummers we’ve seen in the last three decades. If you need more to digest, check out Danny’s other projects, Volto!, Pigmy Love Circus and Zaum.  

5. Keith Moon

Keith Moon went after his drum kit in the same way he approached his life: eccentric, excessive and unpredictable, and we can’t imagine The Who sounding anything near the same without him. 

The sheer energy and explosiveness of his style and personality means that the more serious side of Keith’s contributions to drumming are sometimes overlooked - from being an early adopter of playing with a sequencer to popularising the use of a huge drum kit compared to his ‘beat combo’ contemporaries. He may have left us way too young, but Moon’s definitive roll as the over-zealous drummer means he’ll always be remembered.

4. Ginger Baker

As we approach the top of your rankings, there’s a theme emerging: many great drummers also had the personalities to match, and Ginger Baker was no exception. He was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word, incorporating his jazz backround into the birth of British rock, but woe betide anyone who dared ‘tarnish’ him with the Rock brush. 

Ginger helped invent the genre, popularising - if not giving it - many ‘firsts’. His double bass drums, his groundbreaking drum solo with Toad, yet he viewed ‘Rock’ and its associated drummers with contempt to the end, identifying closely instead with his early heroes such as, Max Roach, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones. 

Post-Cream, Baker continued working with Clapton briefly in Blind Faith, collaborated heavily with Afro Beat artist Fela Kuti, as well as notching up - sorry Ginger - a large number of credits in the rock world with PiL, Hawkwind, Masters of Reality and more. Ginger spoke his mind right until the end, and while he claimed to hate interviews, 2012’s Beware of Mr Baker gives fascinating insight into one of the instrument’s pioneers, whose legacy will keep his name alive for decades to come. 

3. Buddy Rich

Drummer, innovator, band leader: to many, Buddy Rich is and always will be the definitive GOAT. 

Bursting to prominence during the golden age of jazz and big band, Buddy Rich had actually been performing in Broadway since he was a toddler, giving him the perfect grounding to shock the world with his speed around the kit, showmanship and ability to play complicated arrangements from memory (Buddy did not read music).

Like many on this list, Buddy Rich’s talent was matched by his uncompromising and outspoken nature - sure of his abilities and dismissive of band members who he felt didn’t match up (you can hear examples on YouTube). 

Ultimately, though, Buddy Rich was, is and always will be a household name to drummers and non-drummers alike. 

2. John Bonham

Brace yourself. This is a poll of the greatest drummers of all time, and John Bonham isn’t number one. Surprising, given that Bonzo is widely celebrated as the absolute best by so many, and the evidence is all there. 

His sound is still the benchmark for recorded rock drums and his influence runs right up to this day thanks to the thundering nature of the oversized shells. 

When he wasn’t bouncing out ridiculously fast 16th-note triplets with one foot, or performing deceptively blistering triplets between his hands and feet, Bonham was smacking the drums with his bare hands. 

But it wasn’t all heavy hitting - Bonham had the subtlety and feel to complement the harder side of his playing with an ever-present bouncing groove and plenty of texture to fill-out Zeppelin’s guitar/bass/drums instrumentation. 

He wasn’t the first, but he pretty much perfected it. We say pretty much, because there’s one more to go.  

1. Neil Peart

There’s never been a band quite like Rush, and there’s certainly never been a drummer quite like Neil Peart. Consider the reasoning and it’s clear to see why you have voted the Rush drummer as the definitive GOAT. 

Everything about Peart’s drumming broke new ground, from the carefully orchestrated arrangements of Rush’s progressive peak to the mindblowing technical ability displayed throughout his career. 

He played a kit the size of a spaceship, and he played it like he came from another planet, incorporating not only a large amount of acoustic drums, but electronics, orchestral and tuned percussion, all of which served a purpose rather than being there as part of the show.

Rush’s impact in the 70s was infectious, with the band’s beginnings set more in the ‘classic rock’ style  leading thousands of teenagers straight to the nearest drum kit in order to try and bang-out Peart’s beats and fills. 

As the band progressed, so did the music’s sophistication, but the riffy, classic rock side of what drew fans to their music in the first place was never too far away. 

Neil Peart famously wrote the bulk of Rush’s lyrics, and his passing in 2020 after a battle with brain cancer not only put and end to the band, but shook the drumming world to its core. 

As with so many drummers on this list, we may not be able to experience new music from Neil Peart, but the man you’ve selected as the Greatest of All Time has given us an entire legacy to enjoy forever.