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Jim Keltner (Drummer Profile) – One of the Most Successful Session Drummers Ever

Jim Keltner is one of the most successful drummers to ever pick up a pair of sticks. He’s a living legend, as he’s recorded and played live with an incredible number of world-famous musicians and bands. 

He’s not a drummer that many people know of in a drum hero sense, such as drummers like John Bonham and Neil Peart. However, he’s a massive inspiration to drummers who are looking to do session work.

He’s been there and done that in just about every corner of the music industry. Here’s a brief look into his life, playing skills, and accolades.

Notable For

  • One of the most recorded session drummers of all time.
  • Worked with Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and George Harrison on their projects after The Beatles disbanded.
  • He’s been the go-to session drummer for many world-famous artists for over 50 years.
  • Very laidback drumming style.


Jim Keltner was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1942. He started out as a jazz drummer, as that was the booming style of music that he grew up with. However, he got more into pop and rock drumming when he decided to make drumming his career, and that opened him up to a lot more opportunities. 

You could write a book on Jim Keltner about all the famous artists that he’s played with, but the gist of it is that he got famous when playing for members of The Beatles

From there, he formed solid connections that have seen him track drums for just about everyone that you could think of, ranging from rock artists to pop artists to country artists. 

He doesn’t gig or record sessions as frequently as he used to, largely due to his old age. However, he can still rip it up on the drum kit, and you’ll regularly see him doing interviews where he talks about everything that he’s done in the music industry.

Notable Artists That Jim Keltner Has Played With

Jim Keltner has gigged and tracked drums with too many artists to mention every single one of them. He’s played on thousands of tunes throughout his 60 years of being a professional musician.

So, here’s a quick list of some of the most well-known artists that he played drums with:

  • George Harrison
  • Carly Simon 
  • Randy Newman
  • Bee Gees
  • Bob Dylan
  • John Lennon
  • Ringo Starr
  • Steely Dan
  • Roy Orbison
  • Pink Floyd
  • Brian Wilson
  • Neil Young
  • Charlie Watts
  • Simon & Garfunkel
  • The Pretenders 
  • Oasis
  • B.B. King
  • Elton John 
  • Eric Clapton
  • Michael Bublé
  • John Mayer
  • Dave Grohl
  • Mick Jagger
  • Debby Boone
  • Diana Krall
  • Celine Dion 
  • Joe Cocker
  • Yoko Ono
  • Neil Diamond
  • Toto
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Rita Coolidge
  • Dolly Parton

The Beatles

Jim Keltner is often referred to as a fifth member of The Beatles, simply due to him being the go-to drummer for every member of the band besides Paul McCartney whenever they did solo projects. 

Each member of The Beatles was world-famous in the 70s, and it was Keltner’s work with them that skyrocketed his session drumming career

He was a trusted drummer for hire with Ringo, Lennon, and Harrison, so dozens of other artists wanted to hire him to contribute drum parts for their own projects. 

His reputation as a session drummer then stuck throughout the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.

Drumming Style

Jim Keltner’s drumming style is incredibly laid back. He takes a relaxed approach to drumming, and he somehow knows exactly what to play for every song that he’s ever recorded. 

He looks quite loose when he plays, but he never seems to miss a beat, and that’s why so many artists have hired him to play drums for them. 

One thing to mention is that he’s not a very flashy drummer. He became well-known in the same era as drummers like John Bonham, Billy Cobham, and Art Blakey. Those guys were a lot busier on the kit, but none of them contributed to nearly as many songs and albums as Jim Keltner. 

He’s living proof that if you play simple parts that fit songs well, you can have an incredibly successful drumming career. 

He’s not any listener’s favorite drummer, but he was a favorite drummer of several world-famous artists.


In public, Jim Keltner mostly uses DW Drums, Paiste cymbals, Ahead drumsticks, Remo drumheads, and Roland electronic gear

However, most of his work is done in recording studios, and you never quite know what gear is used to achieve certain sounds. 

Even when drummers are endorsed by particular companies, studio producers will often make them use other gear from competing brands, as they know how to get the required sounds when using those. 

Since Jim Keltner has recorded on countless albums over the last 60 years, he’s most likely used gear from every drum and cymbal brand that is out there.

Notable Performances

Jim Keltner at Guitar Center

This clip isn’t a performance. It’s one of those Jim Keltner interviews that will take you into his career and see things through his lens. It’s funny how casually he speaks about tracking some of the biggest songs to ever be recorded. 

Jim Keltner At Guitar Center

Steve Jordan and Jim Keltner Jam

Here’s a clip of Jim Keltner doing an improvised jam with Steve Jordan. Steve Jordan is another huge name in the drumming world, and it’s great fun to see these two guys making music together. 

A lot of drummers would most likely rate Steve Jordan a lot higher than Keltner in terms of skills. However, Steve Jordan would see Keltner as an equal and someone to be heavily inspired by. 

Steve Jordan & Jim Keltner Jam at "A Tribute to Al Jackson Jr." Event - Memphis Drum Shop - 10/18/15

Final Thoughts on Jim Keltner

Jim Keltner is one of those drummers that most people have heard play, but most people aren’t aware that they’re listening to him play. He’s tracked drums for so many albums that you could most likely hear him playing by flicking through radio stations

If you want to get amazing insights into the studio industry, do yourself a favor and listen to several of Jim’s famous interviews. He’s incredibly wise, and he has so much to offer in terms of giving drummers who want to make it advice.