1. Neil Peart
I’m putting The Professor #1 for one simple reason: I don’t want to be hunted down and drawn and quartered by the Legionnaires of the Rush Army.
Also, Peart is precise rock drumming personified. I’ve seen Rush in concert five times, starting with “2112” tour and ending with “Moving Pictures” (Rush’s last good album) tour. To have watched him live, in his prime, is one of my life’s joys.
Overhead shot of Peart’s kit by John Arrowsmith.
A lot of media publications and sites have of course written “top ten drummer” stories, but Buzzfeed hadn’t. Well, now BuzzFeed has a drummer-writer.
My qualifications? I began playing drums right out the womb, according to my father. I used to arrange the pots and pans around me on the floor in a semi-circle, and pound on them with wooden spoons. Now, my dad’s one of the biggest bullshitters in the world, but my mom backs up the story.
I got my first real set when I was six, a used Ludwig 4-piece my parents bought for $100. I shit my pants (probably literally) when I saw it. I took six years of lessons from an old jazz drummer who taught me a thing of two.
I was “first snare” in my high school concert and marching bands (hold the applause).
I played in 6 shitty bands between the ages of 15-28, including one punk band that was less shitty than the others. My favorite show ever was a CYO church hall dance in my South Jersey hometown when I was 16, and we played “Freebird” as an encore. I never sweated more in my life, and that church never again hosted a band dance.
I now play drums on my desk and the floor at work, and drive my BuzzFeed co-workers insane — particularly Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith.
2. Keith Moon
Moon edges out Bonham, IMHO.
I’m not old enough to have had the chance to see him live, but if you’ve seen clips, (go look on YouTube now) he was a fucking maniac on the kit with a style unseen before or since. It was comical to watch, but the results were percussive magic.
Long Live Rock, Be It Dead Or Alive.
(Moon Premier ad scan from my personal collection).
3. John Bonham
I was at a Rush concert (“Permanent Waves” tour) at Philadelphia’s old Spectrum the night after Bonham died. It was amazing to see all the Bonham tribute signs that had been hastily made.
Anyway, if you’re a drummer you already have your opinions about him. He was a beast. He often used sticks the thickness of tree trunks. What he could with one foot and one bass drum defied physics.
Photo by Carl Dunn.
4. Ginger Baker
(Mainly Cream and Blind Faith)
The first major rock drummer to use two bass drums, Baker prefers to be called a jazz drummer. Too bad. Technically, he’s probably the best drummer on this list (with Copeland). Known for his solos, listen to “Toad” on Cream’s first album, Fresh Cream (1966). In fact, listen to the whole damn album, if you haven’t.
Gingers represent! (He is/was a redhead.)
5. Danny Carey
Carey is my personal favorite current rock drummer.
Again, like Baker and Copeland, he is jazz-trained, BUT, the man can fucking pound. He is a master student of the entire drum set: to him, drumming is a religion.
Check out the following Tool tracks: “Ticks and Leeches, ” “Hooker with a Penis” (awesome), and “Intolerance” (actually listen to the whole “Undertow” album).
6. Dave Lombardo
I’m not a fan of Slayer, but if I didn’t included Lombardo, I again risked death.
Drummers often argue over who is the “fastest.”
I have no idea who is, and don’t give a fuck, but Lombardo’s hands and feet, in his prime, were pretty damn fast.
I like his work with DJ Spooky, look it up if haven’t heard it.
7. Stewart Copeland
Music royalty, Copeland sends his critics a message, above.
Copeland is a little too, well, not-poundy enough for many of you metal fans, but he is/was phenomenal, and made the Police “sound” like they do more than any of their other musical elements, again, IMHO.
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith.
8. ?uestlove (Ahmir Thompson)
(The Roots + too many bands/artists to mention)
He is also music royalty, and started playing drums, on stage, when he was seven (according to Wikipedia).
Watching him, he makes playing the drums look too damn easy.
9. Janet Weiss
(now with Wild Flag, formerly Sleater-Kinney)
I love her drumming style, and she is a pioneer and inspiration for women in rock, and deserves to be on this list, despite what many male drummers say about “women” and “drums.” Listen to S-K’s song “Dig Me Out.”
Photo via and for npr, taken at SxSW, 2012.
10. Danny Seraphine
Founding member of the “Chicago Transit Authority” (shortened to “Chicago” after legal threats form the actual Authority). You won’t find the big band- and jazz-trained Seraphine on many other top ten drummer lists, but he’s here because he’s the first drummer I listened to and loved as a kid. Check him out on tracks “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4.”
Buy his book, Street Player: My Chicago Story, right here.
Photo via his book.