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The greatest drummers pre-1980 revealed

John Bonham GOAT?
(Image credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot / Getty)

We recently began our epic GOAT Hunt: the search to put together a fantasy band line-up made up entirely of the players who are considered the Greatest of All Time. 

Starting with the most important band member, we asked you to choose the greatest drummers to emerge before 1980 - no easy task considering it covers the prolific era that consists almost exclusively of pioneering players.

Now, the votes are in and we have our Top 10, as decided by you. But it's not all over yet, the top five drummers from each era will eventually face-off to claim the throne in our band of GOATS. Check out the results below.  

1. John Bonham 

Given that Neil Peart pipped Bonham to the post in our Greatest Rock Drummer poll in 2020, we were interested to see how each would fare in our hunt for the overall GOAT. Here, you’ve crowned Bonham as the best of our first round.

2. Neil Peart

The late Rush drummer continues to be one of the most popular drummers in history as you voted him in a very close second place to Bonzo. Peart proves once again that chops alone do not a GOAT make: feel, songwriting and in his case, lyricism all combine to make him one of the best to ever do it.

3. Ginger Baker

Ginger’s influence on the drums was as bold as the man himself. Call him a pioneer, call him a jazz drummer who found himself playing backbeats, just don’t ‘dismiss’ him as a rock drummer. If he was still with us, we’d be hiding from his cane.

4. Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich would have been 100 in 2021. The fact that his legacy still holds as much influence over every generation of drummer to come since speaks volumes to just how mind blowing Buddy’s speed and finesse really was. Formidable, intimidating, and with a personality to match, he wasn’t just one of the greatest drummers to ever live, but one of the finest musicians in popular music.

5. Keith Moon

As the inspiration for the cliche that drummers will drink all of your booze and smash the place up, Mooney’s playing shouldn’t be overshadowed by his antics. He turned the ‘beat combo’ from polite to quite literally explosive with his frenetic fills and busy beats, putting the drums in the spotlight where they belong.

6. Stewart Copeland

The Police might have emerged alongside punk, but it’s clear from the off that Copeland’s rock-reggae style was more than just attitude. While these days his output is predominantly as a composer, there’s still more than enough in the back catalogue for us drummers to unpick.

7. Steve Gadd

Dr Steve Gadd has been considered a master for decades, and rightly so. From his unrelenting sense of feel to turning rudimentary concepts into signature parts to getting the perfect sound from his kit, if you’ve ever made the mistake of thinking that ‘simple’ is the same as ‘easy’, learn some of Gadd’s grooves and prepare to have your mind well and truly opened. 

8. James Gadson

Charles Wright, Bill Withers, Diana Ross, Gloria Gaynor, BB King, Herbie Hancock, D’Angelo…the list goes on, and on. James Gadson’s ability to make any song hit with just the right amount of funk has seen him perform on a ridiculous number of hit soul, funk and r’n’b hits. Arguably under-appreciated, if you’re not familiar with Gadson’s work then check it out and thank yourself later.  

9. Phil Collins

Very few drummers have had a career like Phil Collins. Having made his name as the drummer in Genesis before becoming the frontman and embarking on a solo career that is the stuff of dreams, Phil’s distinctive drumming has seen him perform at the highest of heights. When sitting in for the late John Bonham isn’t your biggest achievement, it’s fair to say you’re important.

10. Billy Cobham

As one of the pioneers of fusion, Billy Cobham’s merging of jazz, funk and rock put him at the front of the pack when it comes to pushing the boundaries of technique and improvisation, but he can lay back and groove with the greatest too. Check out The Billy Cobham Anthology as a great entry point into his own band.