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Animal/Ronnie Verrell (Drummer Profile) – One of Britain’s Iconic Big Band Drummers

Ronnie Verrell was a drummer that made a huge impact in the big band scene throughout the 20th century. While Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich got all the spotlight, Ronnie Verell was one of the drummers getting a lot of attention in the UK

He is also highly regarded due to his role in providing all the drum parts for Animal from The Muppets Show.While one gig was comical, all his others were serious and involved skilled playing from his side. 

Here’s a brief overview of Ronnie Verrell’s career. We’ll explain a bit about his playing style and mention the groups that he played with.

Notable For

  • Drumming in The Ted Heath Orchestra
  • Drumming in the Syd Lawrence Orchestra
  • One of the leading jazz drummers in England from the 1950s to the 1990s
  • Played all the drum parts for Animal from The Muppets


Ronnie Verrell was born in Rochester, Kent, in 1926. He only took an interest in music at the age of 12 after seeing Benny Goodman’s band perform, and that’s where his love for big band music started. 

He started performing on stages by the age of 14 and became a professional drummer a few years later after he returned from the second world war. 

He became the drummer for the Ted Heath Orchestra in 1951 and remained with the group until 1964. That’s where he really started to get noticed as a performing drummer

For the next two decades, he worked as a session drummer and played with dozens of big jazz musicians. 

He became a member of the Syd Lawrence Orchestra in 1980 and continued playing with the group until shortly before he died. 

He formed his own band in the 1990s that performed regularly. Throughout most of his later career, he also tracked all the drum parts for Animal’s drumming scenes in The Muppets Show

Sadly, he died from a chest infection at the age of 76 in 2002.

Notable Artists That Drummer Ronnie Verrell Has Played With 

The Ted Heath Orchestra

The Ted Heath Orchestra was already incredibly successful before Ronnie Verrell joined as the drummer, but he joined just in time before the group went on a US tour. That tour further skyrocketed the group’s popularity. 

The Ted Heath Orchestra recorded over 100 albums, and Ronnie Verrell was the drummer on many of those. 

Some of the biggest songs that he recorded with the band were Hot Toddy, The Champ, and Hawaiian War Chant.Hawaiian War Chant was the song where he played a lengthy drum solo.

The Syd Lawrence Orchestra

The Syd Lawrence Orchestra was the other popular big band that Ronnie Verrell played drums in for a lengthy period of time. He joined the group in 1980 and tracked several albums with them as well. 

He also made various television appearances with the group, as big bands were commonly given spots on live TV shows to perform. 

Ronnie Verrell was no stranger to TV due to his role with The Muppets Show.

The Muppet Show

The Muppet Show first aired in 1976, and it continued airing for five seasons until it stopped in 1981. Throughout all the seasons, the music was run by Jack Parnell

Jack Parnell was a drummer himself, but he led the band as a conductor while getting Ronnie Verrell to play the drums. As Ronnie did this, he ended up playing all the drum parts for Animal, who was a character on the show who could play the drums. 

Ironically, this is where Ronnie Verrell’s drumming has been listened to the most, as The Muppet Show became incredibly popular around the world. Most people didn’t know who the drummer was behind the puppet, though. 

The most famous Muppet scene for Animal was when he did a drum battle against Buddy Rich. Buddy Rich was one of Verrell’s favorite drummers, so it was an incredibly special moment for him to work with Rich.

Drumming Style

Ronnie Verrell’s drumming style was very standard for what you would hear drummers play when sitting in with big bands. He would switch between traditional and matched grip, and he was incredible at keeping time with his hi-hat foot. 

He and Jack Parnell were regularly noted to be the best two drummers in England for most of the 50s and 60s, and remained being the popular British big band drummers for decades after that. 

His drumming style when playing the parts for Animal was a bit more aggressive to match the personality of the character


Ronnie Verrell played a wide variety of drum and cymbal brands throughout his career. The ones that are clear enough to see on old video clips are Premier and Yamaha. Most of the big band drummers in the 20th century were also using Zildjian cymbals, but it’s unclear if he exclusively used those or not.

Notable Performances

Hawaiian War Chant in 1956

Hawaiian War Chant was a tune that featured Ronnie Verrell on the kit when playing with The Ted Heath Orchestra. The rest of the group often had drums of their own to play to do a call-and-response bit with Ronnie, which is what you see in this clip.

RONNIE VERRELL "Hawian War Chant "1956

Skin Deep by the Syd Lawrence Orchestra 

Here’s a clip of Ronnie Verrell playing Skin Deep with The Syd Lawrence Orchestra. It’s a big band chart that allowed Ronnie to play a few solo bits that always sounded incredibly tasteful. This is also one of the best-quality clips you can watch of him playing on the drums with a big band. 

Skin Deep | Vintage Syd Lawrence Orchestra

Animal vs Buddy Rich

Here’s the famous Muppets Show bit where Animal did a drum battle with Buddy Rich. Buddy Rich was the most famous drummer in the world at the time, so it was a fantastic idea to have him line up against the Muppet character that was known for being excellent at drumming. 

While it’s meant to be a competition, it ends up being a drum kit duet that sounds incredible with Verrell and Rich both playing tasteful patterns that blend together. This was a dream opportunity for Ronnie Verrell, as he was a big fan of Buddy Rich himself. 

The Muppet Show - Buddy Rich vs Animal Drum Battle

Final Thoughts on Ronnie Verrell

If you like jazz big band music, Ronnie Verrell is an amazing drummer to listen to. He was incredibly popular in the UK big band scene for most of his career, and he ended up recording drums for dozens of albums. 

His drumming for Animal was also an iconic gig, seeing as The Muppet Show became so popular around the world at the time. 

Unfortunately, his name gets outshined by drummers like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, who were always on American TV with bigger audiences. That shouldn’t stop you from listening to his work, though!