There are so many top lists of drummers out there, and all of them spark some controversial conversation when they’re read. However, you’ll often find the same names being mentioned on all the lists, proving the fact of how inspirational those drummers have been over the years.
Here is yet another list of all the best drummers that have ever lived. Some of them were big in the 20th century, while others are currently in the prime of their careers.
There’s no order here, as singling out drummers by order of skill and influence is practically impossible. We’ve attached a video and a short description of each drummer so that you can see what they’re all about and then experience them playing.
- 1 Dave Grohl
- 2 Taylor Hawkins
- 3 John Bonham
- 4 Stewart Copeland
- 5 Ian Paice
- 6 Ginger Baker
- 7 Neil Peart
- 8 Ringo Starr
- 9 Danny Carey
- 10 Chad Smith
- 11 Jeff Porcaro
- 12 Bernard Purdie
- 13 Jim Keltner
- 14 Mike Mangini
- 15 Mike Portnoy
- 16 Buddy Rich
- 17 Gene Krupa
- 18 Art Blakey
- 19 Max Roach
- 20 Tony Williams
- 21 Joe Morello
- 22 Papa Jo Jones
- 23 Dave Lombardo
- 24 Dave Weckl
- 25 Steve Gadd
- 26 Larnell Lewis
- 27 Steve Smith
- 28 Steve Jordan
- 29 Nate Smith
- 30 Robert ‘Sput’ Searight
- 31 Travis Barker
- 32 Joey Jordison
- 33 Vinnie Colaiuta
- 34 Questlove
- 35 Brian Blade
- 36 James Gadson
- 37 Dennis Chambers
- 38 Tony Royster Jr.
- 39 Karen Carpenter
- 40 Anika Nilles
- 41 Josh Freese
- 42 Clyde Stubblefield
- 43 Matt Cameron
- 44 Cindy Blackman Santana
- 45 Chris Dave
- 46 Carter Beauford
- 47 Phil Collins
- 48 Matt Garstka
- 49 Aaron Spears
- 50 Omar Hakim
- 51 Final Thoughts on the 50 Best Drummers of All Time
Dave Grohl was many people’s favorite drummer back in the 90s when he was playing drums for Nirvana. He took the role of frontman with Foo Fighters, but he’s always had incredible drumming abilities.
He’s one of those drummers that plays hard, and he somehow manages to keep that energy throughout an entire show. He’s made appearances on the kit a few times over the last two decades, but he’ll always make a best drummer list due to his work with Nirvana.
Taylor Hawkins was one of the most influential rock drummers of the early 2000s and 2010s. He’s most well-known for drumming in Foo Fighters, but he played for a few big artists before joining the band in 1999.
Like Dave Grohl, he had a seriously energetic drumming style where he hit hard and aggressively. He created amazing drum parts for all of Foo Fighters’ songs, and his legacy will live on through his son, who plays drums just like him.
Sadly, he died in 2022, and there was a huge tribute concert for him that will go down as one of the best concerts in the last decade due to how many big names performed.
Bonham is very regularly considered one of the best drummers to ever live. Whether you rate him highly or not, there’s no doubting that he changed how many drummers approached the instrument.
He was known to play massive drum kits with 26-inch bass drums, and he coined the term “Bonham triplets,”which is when you play alternating hands and then a bass drum foot to create a busy sound around the kit.
He played drums for Led Zeppelin, and the band split up when he died in 1980.
Stewart Copeland made big waves with his drumming abilities when got famous as the drummer for The Police. The most iconic thing about his playing at that stage was that he mixed a lot of world music ideas into rock drumming, and it made him sound unique.
He’s also an amazing composer, providing music for various movies and video games over the years.
Ian Paice is one of the most well-known left-handed drummers in the world. He’s the drummer for Deep Purple, and his work with the band has made him a legend in the rock scene.
His playing style is incredibly precise, and Deep Purple fans have always loved watching him play drum solos live when the band performs The Mule.
Ginger Baker started as a jazz drummer in his early years, but he very quickly became known as one of the greatest rock drummers in the world when he formed Cream with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton in the 60s.
His playing style blended jazz ideas with African rhythms, and it often ended in him playing some ridiculously creative drum solos. He died in October 2019.
Neil Peart is another drummer who very regularly makes it to the top spots in best drummer lists. He was the drummer for Rush, and his progressive rock drumming abilities have been very influential for decades.
He was one of the most famous drummers in the world at a stage, and he’d always play on massive drum sets in sold-out arenas toward the end of his career. He died in 2020.
Ringo Starr was the longest-running drummer for The Beatles. He wasn’t an original member of the group, but he became an iconic member after joining. A lot of people don’t rate him too highly as a drummer, but he had amazing timekeeping skills. His drum parts for Beatles songs were also always perfectly suited.
Danny Carey holds all the rhythmic power behind the band, Tool. The two biggest things that make him so popular are his control when playing complex rhythms and his use of weird and wonderful percussion instruments to go along with all the drum kit sounds.
He’s often referred to as the most irreplaceable drummer in rock music, as most of Tool’s songs heavily center around his playing ability.
Chad Smith has spent most of his career drumming for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He’s mostly known for being a groove drummer, but he has the ability to pull out complex patterns with ease.
If you want to hear how tight Chad Smith’s drumming is, just listen to any Red Hot Chili Peppers album.
A lot of people know Jeff Porcaro for being the drummer of Toto, but he also makes this list due to him being one of the most successful studio drummers ever. He played on thousands of albums for various different artists.
He was also the drummer to create “The Rosanna Shuffle,” which is a very popular half-time shuffle groove.
Bernard Purdie is another highly successful session musician and one of the key drummers in popularizing the half-time shuffle. His version of the groove is referred to as “The Purdie Shuffle.”
He mostly played on funk, soul, and R&B records, but he’s a proficient jazz drummer as well. He’s a legend on the instrument, and many drummers love his way of teaching you to play while he plays and speaks at the same time.
Jim Keltner is one of the most recorded drummers of all time, having an extremely successful session drumming career from the 70s through to the modern day.
He became well-known when he played drums with members of The Beatles after the band split, and then he became an in-demand session drummer for hundreds of artists in the US.
Mike Mangini is a current drummer for Dream Theater, but he was already famous before joining the band after Mike Portnoy’s departure. He’s known for his immaculate technique behind the kit, and he holds a few world records for his hand speed.
He’s always playing on a huge drum kit setup, and he somehow flies around all the parts effortlessly with his drumsticks.
Mike Portnoy was Dream Theater’s original drummer. He left the band in 2010 and has been part of a few other progressive metal projects since then.
Dream Theater has several songs that are famous for having highly technical drum parts, and Portnoy was the contributor for most of those. One of the best songs is Dance of Eternity.
Buddy Rich was one of the biggest faces of drumming in the 20th century. He was a brilliant jazz drummer with intense hand speed and finesse. He regularly made appearances on TV shows, and he toured the world with The Buddy Rich Big Band.
He would always amaze crowds with his speedy drum solos, and he single-handedly caused thousands of drummers to start playing the instrument. He died in 1987.
Gene Krupa had a similar role to Buddy Rich, but he was more of a showman and TV personality. He took on a lot of acting roles that included him playing the drums.
The other massive part of Gene Krupa’s career is that he shaped how drums are played. He was one of the first few drummers to use rack toms and floor toms in his setup.
Art Blakey had a band called The Jazz Messengers, and they played with all the biggest jazz musicians in the world throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Blakey made a huge impact in the jazz world, and he’s one of the most influential jazz drummers ever to play the instrument. He died in 1990, thus ending the long run of The Jazz Messengers.
Max Roach is regularly regarded as your favorite drummer’s favorite drummer. He was one of the most prominent drummers in jazz, as he was a huge player in the bebop movement, and he helped shape how drums were played in small jazz groups.
He was the drummer that stopped playing pulsing notes on the bass drum, and everyone started doing that after hearing him play like that with Charlie Parker. Drums became a sort of melodic instrument after that, supporting solo instruments much better in group environments.
He died in 2007.
Tony Williams is yet another jazz legend from the 20th century. He was a big part of Miles Davis’ music, and a lot of his jazz fusion music was based around Tony Williams’ drum parts. He was known to use polyrhythms and metric modulation very creatively.
Tony Williams also had plenty of solo projects where he was backed by other amazing jazz musicians. He died in 1997.
Joe Morello played drums for Dave Brubeck, and he was a big reason for the tune Take 5 becoming so popular. Morello was an expert at playing odd time grooves on the drums, and his playing shined in that tune.
He had an extremely long and successful career where he played drums all around the world. He died in 2011.
Papa Jo Jones
Papa Jo Jones gained a lot of recognition when playing drums in Count Basie’s orchestra in the 30s and 40s. He was a pioneer of several drumming techniques that became popular after people saw him doing them. One of these was the use of brushes on the drums.
He’s also highly regarded for having a very unique way of playing the jazz swing rhythm on the ride cymbal. He died in 1985.
Dave Lombardo was one of the founding members of Slayer and has been one of the biggest influential drummers in the metal scene for decades. He’s also played drums in Testament, Suicidal Tendencies, and Dead Cross in recent years.
He’s most notable for his double bass drumming techniques, and a lot of metal drummers have based their playing styles on his.
Slayer was one of the first big thrash metal bands, so Dave Lombardo is highly regarded in that subgenre of metal as well.
Dave Weckl is another drummer who regularly makes it to the top spots in lists of best drummers. He’s more of a jazz and fusion drummer, though, whereas rock drummers always top the overall lists due to having wider audiences.
Weckl’s drumming has always been incredibly intricate, and he’s played with some of the best jazz and fusion musicians out there.
He’s also a fantastic educator, releasing dozens of educational courses over his career.
Steve Gadd is one of the great groove drummers of our time. He’s a highly successful session musician who has played on countless studio albums. He’s most well-known for his work with Steely Dan and Paul Simon, but he’s worked with too many famous artists to mention.
He famously coined the phrase, “Fills bring the thrills, but grooves pay the bills.”
Larnell Lewis is a jazz drummer who gained worldwide fame when he recorded all the drum parts for one of Snarky Puppy’s best albums after only hearing every song for the first time a day or two beforehand.
He’s one of Snarky Puppy’s regular drummers, but he also does a lot of work with his own band where he writes a lot of the music.
Steve Smith is one of drumming’s greats. He was the drummer for Journey for three different periods of time, and he’s also played with several jazz groups throughout his career.
He was regularly regarded as one of the best drummers in the world in the late 20th century, and he’s still highly respected in the music industry today.
Steve Jordan is another amazing drummer well-known for his grooving abilities. He’s been a house drummer for various popular live TV shows, and he’s played with big artists such as John Mayer, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones.
He’s the type of drummer that you can listen to play a groove for ten minutes and continue to bob your head the entire time.
Nate Smith is one of the most popular modern jazz and funk drummers in the world. He performs everywhere with his own band project, and he’s part of other musical projects with funk musicians like Cory Wong, Mark Lettieri, and Joe Dart.
He has a unique way of playing the drums that allows him to play with immense speed and power at the same time.
Robert ‘Sput’ Searight
Robert Searight is one of the busiest working drummers in the industry. He’s a master drummer, pianist, and music director, working with some of the biggest names in pop music.
He has roots in gospel music, but he gained a lot of fame as one of the founding members of Snarky Puppy. He also has his own band called Ghost Note, which is a percussion-focused group.
Travis Barker gained worldwide recognition as the drummer for Blink-182. He was everyone’s favorite drummer in the early 2000s, and he was a huge reason for thousands of people starting to learn how to play the instrument.
He’s gotten more into hip-hop music in the latter stages of his career, but he’ll always be one of the best punk drummers out there.
Joey Jordison was an iconic member of Slipknot before his departure from the band in 2013. He was a massive influence on metal drummers, and he had speed around the kit that many people hadn’t seen before watching him play.
He suffered from a degenerative disease that stopped him from being able to play the drums properly, and he died in 2021.
Vinnie Colaiuta is a session drummer who is highly regarded in the jazz and jazz fusion world. However, he’s also played with plenty of artists in other styles, such as Sting, Joni Mitchell, and Frank Zappa.
Vinnie Colaiuta is another drummer on this list that has tracked drums for countless studio albums of various groups.
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is most well-known for drumming on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. However, The Roots, which is his band, have been frequently performing since the 80s.
Questlove is widely regarded as one of the best hip-hop drummers in the industry, and he’s also a highly successful producer.
Brian Blade is a jazz drummer who formed The Fellowship Band in the late 90s. He’s been playing with the group ever since, and his eclectic style of drumming has pushed him to be a highly influential drummer in the improvisational jazz world.
James Gadson is one of music’s original funk and R&B drummers. Some of the biggest names that he’s played with are B.B. King, Quincy Jones, Freddie King, and Paul McCartney.
He has an incredibly light touch on the drum kit, but he somehow plays seriously powerful grooves that drive music dramatically.
Dennis Chambers’ first major gig was with Parliament/Funkadelic. He also became an integral member of John Scofield’s band.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, he became one of the go-to drummers in the jazz fusion scene, and that pushed him to be recognized as a leading force in drumming at the time.
He’s still highly regarded, and he plays the drums even better than he did in his prime years.
Tony Royster Jr.
Tony Royster Jr. won the Guitar Center Drum-Off competition when he was only a child, and since then, he’s gone on to become one of the most in-demand drummers in the pop and hip-hop industries.
He’s played drums with Jay-Z, Charlie Puth, Katy Perry, Joe Jonas, and Mac Miller, just to name a few.
While he was mostly known for his incredible speed around the drum kit a decade ago, musicians now love him for his groovy and intense drum parts.
Karen Carpenter was a celebrity female drummer. She made appearances on several TV shows, and she was in a band with her brother called The Carpenters.
She started as a drummer, but she eventually took the front stage due to having an incredible singing voice as well.
She was a massive influence on female drummers in the 70s, but she also died young due to anorexia complications in 1983.
Anika Nilles is regularly regarded as the top female drummer in the modern music industry. She first gained fame with a series of YouTube videos where she was playing drums to songs that she wrote, and she’s since become respected as a high-level performer and educator.
A lot of her music and drumming is based around complex subdivisions, and those ideas have become her specialty.
Josh Freese is a successful session drummer who specializes in rock music. He’s played with Paramore, Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, Weezer, and Guns ‘n’ Roses. He’s also tracked drums for hundreds of studio albums throughout his career.
He’s arguably not as well-known as many of the other drummers on this list, but his drumming is loved by people who listen to all the bands that he’s played with.
Clyde Stubblefield was James Brown’s drummer, and he’s known to be one of the funkiest drummers to play the instrument. He had incredible grooving skills, and dozens of his grooves have become highly popular samples in the hip-hop world.
His solo section in James Brown’s Funky Drummer is one of the most famous drum grooves of all time. Sadly, he died in 2017.
Matt Cameron has been a long-running drummer for both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, and he was one of the most groundbreaking drummers of the grunge movement in the 90s.
He’s always been a highly reliable drummer on stage, supporting the music with his flawless drumming abilities.
He’s won two Grammy’s with Soundgarden, and he’s a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame with Pearl Jam.
Cindy Blackman Santana
Cindy Blackman was a long-standing drummer for Lenny Kravitz, and she later joined Carlos Santana’s band and married him. She’s been successful in both the rock and jazz scenes, and she plays the drums very powerfully.
One of her standout features is that she regularly plays lengthy drum solos that are musical, exciting, and enticing.
She does a lot of solo work as well, getting various artists to perform with her that she’s built relationships with over the years.
Chris Dave is a proficient drummer who most commonly plays with jazz and hip-hop artists. He’s been the drummer for Robert Glasper for several years, and jazz drummers often look up to his playing due to the creative ways he approaches the instrument.
He regularly plays with several snare drums in his setup, and those have become an iconic feature of his playing style.
Carter Beauford has been drumming in the Dave Matthews Band for most of his professional career. His work with the band has made him one of the most loved drummers due to his complex but musical drum parts.
He plays the drum kit with an open-handed stance, and that makes his drumming sound fairly unique compared to many other drummers with common patterns falling in different places.
Phil Collins is one of the most popular musicians ever, with one of his most notable roles being the drummer and lead singer for Genesis.
His iconic drum fill for In The Air Tonight has been air drummed by people around the world for decades, and his music has been heard everywhere.
He was an amazing drummer in his prime, but back issues have stopped him from being able to play drums regularly. His son, Nick Collins, now plays drums with Genesis and his solo work.
Matt Garstka plays drums for Animals as Leaders, and he’s been pushing the boundaries of drumming for several years. He’s one of the best drummers right now when it comes to technical playing, but his playing oozes with musicality and creativity as well.
He’s still quite young compared to the other drummers on this list, so it’s going to be crazy to see how much he progresses over the next few decades.
Aaron Spears is another monumental drummer in the hip-hop, pop, and gospel industries. He’s played with massive pop artists like Ariana Grande, Usher, Jordin Sparks, and Adam Lambert. His roots are in gospel music, though, and he had a decent run with Israel Houghton.
Everyone knows Aaron Spears for his ability to play quick and complex chops around the kit. He makes it look easy, but everything he plays is seriously challenging to pull off.
Omar Hakim is a bit of an underrated drummer in the music industry. He doesn’t get mentioned in many best drummer lists, but he’s played with some of the biggest artists through the decades. These include Daft Punk, Weather Report, David Bowie, Celine Dion, and Miles Davis.
He’s one of the most versatile drummers out there, as he’s highly proficient when playing jazz, fusion, pop, gospel, funk, hip-hop, and blues.
Final Thoughts on the 50 Best Drummers of All Time
The beautiful thing about music is that there are so many different styles and subgroups, so everyone will have their interests catered to.
This is the biggest reason why no drummer can be labeled as the best of all time, as someone who isn’t into rock music won’t think that highly of a pure rock drummer.
All the drummers that we mentioned on this list are masters of their craft. They all have something to learn from, and they’re all drummers that we should look up to. Some have naturally gained a lot more fame than others, though!