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Top 25 Best Rock Drummers of All Time

What makes rock music rock? Sure, you need a flamboyant singer. You’ve got to have a shredding lead guitarist. And, I guess, you need a bass player, too. But without a drummer that can batter the drums to within an inch of their life, it just ain’t rock music.

That’s why rock drummers are so important, and that’s also why I’ve put together this list of the 25 best rock drummers of all time. Some have huge names already, while some are better known for the bands they’ve played in.

But they all have one thing in common – they’re the defining drummers of rock who helped to develop the genre’s sound while also pushing its boundaries. Let’s see who rocks the hardest.

Top 5 Best Rock Drummers of All Time

These are the all-time rock drumming legends who’ve picked up more accolades and respect for their drumming than anyone else. This is a group of innovative, well-known, and extremely talented masters who put everything into their drumming.

Neil Peart (Rush)

Neil Peart

Now I know this may be controversial. So many people choose Bonzo as their king of the skins, but for me, Neil Peart is the most talented, creative, and unbelievable rock drummer ever. He’s known as the “Professor” for his technical brilliance, which continued to break conventions and push boundaries.

So did his kits…

With the Canadian band Rush, Peart was known for playing enormous kits that could include up to 40 drums. Just drums! This was supplemented by cymbals, shakers, bells, and much more. And, of course, a huge gong. He also incorporated electronic drums and triggers into his set-up for a truly expansive sound.

The Professor was known for playing fast, precise beats with constantly changing time signatures that would baffle the average rocker. Songs like “YYZ” and the masterpiece “La Villa Srangiato” showcase his prowess and extreme comfort playing through a dizzying spiral of time changes. He also, quite surprisingly, wrote most of the lyrics for Rush as well. 

The ultimate in complexity…

Peart continued to adapt and modify his style throughout his career. From a straight rock drumming beginning, he worked in jazz and swing styles to add to Rush’s progressive audio landscape. His sound was full, complex, and relentless. Sadly, Peart lost his battle with brain cancer in 2021, but it’s doubtful he’ll lose his crown as King of Rock Drummers anytime soon.

Learn more about Neil Peart from his classic Modern Drummer cover stories.

John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham (Led Zeppelin)

John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham

Once again, I’m sorry for any heartbreak or shock you might experience, but I have placed Bonzo at #2 on my list of the best rock drummers of all time. Considering just how many drummers there are and have been out there, second place is nothing to sniff at.

John Bonham is definitely a legend. Even if you don’t know much about drumming, you’ll have heard of Led Zeppelin, the band he powered to rock glory. Bonzo was a founding member and, in many ways, the spirit of the band. Led Zeppelin broke up after he died tragically due to alcohol, feeling that they couldn’t continue without him.

Like so many drummers on this list, Bonzo was a self-taught drummer who began on the snare drum and was inspired by jazz greats like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. He brought this jazz influence into the 1970s rock world, producing beats that were complex and unlike what anyone else was doing.

Bonzo also hit hard!

He used the biggest, thickest drumsticks he could find and called them trees. His sound is full, hard, heavy, and explosive but also fast, especially his kick drum. He has influenced basically every rock drummer who has come after him. Many have tried to emulate him, but there has never been another drummer quite like Bonzo.

Want to learn to play like him? Check out his beats and drum techniques here.

Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater)

Mike Portnoy

If Neil Peart was the original master of changing time signatures, Mike Portnoy is the master of fast and heavy time travel. And it’s no surprise that Peart was one of his biggest influences, as well as Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain, and Bonzo himself.

Coming a generation later, Portnoy was able to take what these legends had produced and learn from it to create his unique style of playing.

Mike Portnoy studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and it’s there that he met some of his future bandmates. They would go on to form the legendary progressive metal band Dream Theater in 1985. This is a brand known for complex and intricate song-scapes that float through varying tempos, time signatures, and symphonic compositions.

As the drummer, Portnoy led the whole thing…

He’s known for playing fast and hard, with technical brilliance even on the hardest and fastest of songs. After 25 years and recording 11 albums with Dream Theater, Portnoy left the band in 2010.

He continues his career today, having played with loads of heavier acts like Avenged Sevenfold, Liquid Tension Experiment, Neal Morse, Transatlantic, and many more. He continues to hit hard and fast and defy belief with his technical prowess.

Want to play like Portnoy? Try his Promark signature sticks!

Ginger Baker (Blues Incorporated, Cream, Ginger Baker’s Airforce)

Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker, whose real name was Peter, is one of the most legendary rock drummers out there. He influenced Neil Peart and John Bonham, and let’s face it, pretty much everyone else who came after him.

It was his frenzied, wild, and flamboyant style of playing was never before seen that made him into one of the first-ever superstar rock drummers.

Early Influences

Baker grew up listening mostly to jazz greats like Phil Seamen, Max Roach, and the inimitable Art Blakey. Like Bonzo, he brought these jazz influences to the developing world of rock music, developing a unique personal style.

He wasn’t a brutal heavy hitter like Bonzo but instead flew around the kit in a light and lively fashion. With Keith Moon, he was also one of the first rock drummers to incorporate double bass drums into his set-up.

Baker started in jazz and blues and also returned to this area towards the end of his career. However, in the middle of it all, he became something of a rock god. He’s best known for his work with Eric Clapton in Cream and then his own group, Ginger Baker’s Airforce, after that.

One of a kind…

Later, he spent years in Africa, mostly in Nigeria, playing with the legendary Fela Kuti. With a wild style, long and driving drum solos, and both jazz and African influences, Ginger Baker’s rock drumming was like no other.

Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience)

Mitch Mitchell

It’s strange that a man with a double name like Mitch Mitchell is all that well-known. But, it makes sense if you consider who he rose to fame playing with Jimi Hendrix. With Hendrix topping most lists of the best guitar players of all time, it’s no surprise that his drummer was a bit overshadowed.

You have to be great to keep up with a legend like Jimi…

Mitchell actually started in the entertainment world as a child actor on British TV. But, when he was older, he gained a huge interest in drumming and began to follow jazz drumming legends. Like both Bonzo and Ginger Baker, Mitchell’s style brought that influence into the world of rock.

Best known for playing with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitchell had a full driving style that complemented Jimi’s playing perfectly. He was full of energy and used it to fill up the space behind Jimi’s playing since the trio had no rhythm guitarist, just bass player Noel Redding.

Following Ginger Baker and Keith Moon, Mitchell was also an early adopter of the double bass drum set, which he used to keep a driving rhythm.

After Jimi’s untimely death…

Mitchell continued to play with other acts and as a session drummer. However, he never really produced anything as big. And to think, he got the position as the JHE drummer by winning a coin toss! The rest of these drummers are listed in no particular order, but all deserve to be in the top 25.

Classic Rock Drummers

From the 60s and 70s through to the 80s, the rock sound was growing and developing. These are the classic rock drumming legends who laid the foundations for all those to come.

Ringo Starr (The Beatles, solo)

Ringo Starr

There’s no music fan out there who doesn’t know Ringo Starr. As the drummer of the Beatles for just eight years, he gained enough fame to last a lifetime. But, even though he could have retired and rested on his laurels, as a musician, he wanted to continue to play and make music.

Ringo replaced Pete Best as the Beatles’ drummer in 1962 when they were still an up-and-coming band with limited local fame. For the next few years, he saw himself swept up in the Beatlemania that grew around the band. Starr not only held the backbeat for the group but also wrote some lyrics and sang lead on a few tracks, usually about one per album.

Ringo Starr isn’t exactly a drummer’s drummer…

As a technician, Starr isn’t all that talented. He doesn’t play with incredible speed or precision. But he does hit hard, hold perfect tempos, and produce unique fills that were his signature style. He seemed to always find the perfect use of the drums to accompany but never overpower the rest of the group.

Following the demise of the Beatles, Ringo Starr continued to write and play music of his own, as well as working with innumerable other acts. He has had a long and illustrious career and has influenced generations of drummers across the world.

Keith Moon (The Who)

Keith Moon

I’ve already touched on Keith Moon a bit. He was an early adopter of the double bass drum kit with Ginger Baker. He was also a fan of jazz and brought that feel into the previously strict backbeat-led rock world. And like Ginger Baker, he was also flamboyant and an absolute wild man on the kit.

And also, great name!

Moon played with a few local groups before joining The Who in 1964 after blowing them away in a successful audition. His style of playing is best described as wild and relentless. He didn’t so much play fills between phrases and play all over the kit just about all the time.

Although this was difficult for his bandmates to keep time to, it created a signature sound for The Who, which set them apart from other 60s and 70s groups. Keith Moon is also the origin of most of the destructive rocker tendencies we’ve all heard about.

He was the first musician wild enough to destroy his equipment on stage before Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar or even Pete Townsend smashed his. He was also known for destroying hotel rooms, smashing TVs, and blowing up toilets. Sadly, his wild lifestyle also caught up to him early, and he died at the age of 32 from an overdose of anti-alcoholism medication.

Phil Collins (Genesis, solo)

Phil Collins

To many, Phil Collins is known only as an 80s and 90s pop-rock singer. But, while he may be best known for “Another Day in Paradise,” Collins began his long and full career as a drummer. And he still is a great drummer. He has even filled in for the deceased John Bonham, a drummer he influenced, for Led Zeppelin’s 1980s reunion shows.

Collins reputedly started playing the drums at age four and became quite adept as a teen. He joined Genesis in 1970 as the band’s new drummer and drummed with them until 1975. Then Peter Gabriel left the band, and Phil Collins took over as the lead singer.

He continued to sing for the group until 1996. At the same time, he took off on a successful solo career, writing and singing his own music and becoming hugely popular.

As a drummer…

Collins is known for hitting hard and keeping steady, consistent beats. He’s also known for his full drum sound, with big cymbals, a heavily dampened snare, full loud toms, and strong bass. He basically invented the 1980s rock kit sound. And the ten note fill in “In the Air Tonight,” though simple, is the stuff of legends.

Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake, Black Oak Arkansas, Dio, Ozzy Osborne)

Tommy Aldridge

Perhaps not a household name, Tommy Aldridge is a classic rock drummer who has played with plenty of big names. He’s probably best known for playing in Whitesnake and Black Oak Arkansas, and also with Dio, Ozzy Osborne, Motorhead, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy, and many other acts.

That’s one heck of a resume right there!

As another self-taught drummer, Tommy Aldridge was heavily influenced by Ringo Starr, Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, and the great Bonzo. Adopting a double bass set-up, he learned quickly to master the bottom end to create heavy, driving rhythms that were fast and furious when hardly anyone else was doing the same.

Aldridge is one of the most powerful rock drummers, as that list of names proves. He has a great combination of power, speed, technique, and a feel for the music. His drum parts are thoughtful and considerate while also strong and bold. While no longer a part of any major band, this rock legend is still highly in demand as a session artist and clinician.

Ian Paice (Deep Purple)

Ian Paice

Here’s another classic rock drummer this list couldn’t do without. Ian Paice is yet another drummer whose list of experience and accolades goes on and on and on. He grew up listening to jazz greats like Gene Krupa, Bobby Elliot, and Buddy Rich and later became influenced by Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker, and Mitch Mitchell, to name a few.

At age 15…

Paice started drumming and, by 16, was playing with his father’s dance band to gain experience. In 1966, he joined the band MI5, which later became Maze with vocalist Rod Evans. Both moved on to help form the iconic band Deep purple in 1968.

Although the band split up in 1976, Paice returned to a reunited Deep Purple in 1984 and remains a member of the band currently. After Deep Purple, Paice worked for three years as the drummer for Whitesnake (and was replaced by Tommy Aldridge when he left).

And after that, a string of collaborations, tours, recording sessions, and clinics have filled his very full career. This is a drummer who played fast and hard, with a tremendously speedy left foot. Yes, Paice is a left-handed drummer and an inspiration to lefties everywhere.

Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson)

Bill Bruford

If you’ve noticed that all of my classic drummers to this point have been Brits, you may not be surprised to see Bill Bruford, another Englishman, here, too. From the 60s to the 80s, psychedelic rock, prog, and heavy metal charges were all led out of the UK. And Bill Bruford was at the drum throne for 2 of the biggest progressive rock bands in history.

Bruford was a big influence on and precursor to technically brilliant drummers like Neil Peart and Mike Portnoy. His ability to play tight grooves across multiple time signatures was made evident in the 8 Yes records and 14 King Crimson records he has played on.

He did two stints with Yes and three with King Crimson while also finding time to run his own bands, Bruford and Earthworks, and collaborate with countless other acts.

What sets Bruford apart?

Some would say his inventive, jazz-inspired licks. Others would cite his ability to keep everything in perfect time, even when playing the weirdest of time signature combinations. And his heavy, powerful, driving rhythms don’t hurt either.

Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra, solo)

Billy Cobham

In many ways, Bill Bruford was a rock and jazz fusion drummer, and so is the next pro on my list. Billy Cobham brings us back-to-back Bills with incredible technical ability. Cobham may be primarily a jazz drummer, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing fusion and straight-up rock when he wants to.

Billy Cobham was born in Panama but came to New York at a young age. His musician father helped get him started drumming. He also played in a US army band after being drafted in 1965. Not a bad way to weather the Vietnam war.

In the late 60s…

He worked as a session drummer and also played with several bands. He then got a big break, working with Jazz legend Miles Davis. Most notably, he recorded the drums on Bitches Brew, one of Davis’ most influential albums.

In the early 70s, Cobham joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitar prodigy John McLaughlin. This psychedelic jazz-rock fusion band combined virtuosos on every instrument, forcing Cobham to show his best beats to keep up.

A long career…

Following this group, Cobham has released many works as a bandleader and composer and has collaborated with numerous artists in the jazz and funk arenas.

Billy Cobham is a strong and powerful drummer. His beats are confident, loud, and perfectly placed. He is one more master of time that deserves a place on the list of best drummers of all time.

Max Weinberg (E Street Band, Max Weinberg 7)

Max Weinberg

After a long line of British drummers, we finally get the chance to cross over the pond to the US. Max Weinberg is a classic rock drummer and a staple of American music who has surprisingly kept his work very narrowly confined to a few different acts.

Having begun drumming as a teen, Weinberg got one lucky break in 1974. He auditioned as the drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and won the role. He was the backbone and backbeat for this band for the next 15 years.

In 1993…

With a host of touring and recording experience behind him, Weinberg was selected as the bandleader for Late Night with Conan O’Brien band, The Max Weinberg 7. In this role, he arranged and played music across numerous genres and also acted as a personality on the show. For the next 16 years, he was a bandleader and also played with the E Street Band off and on.

Weinberg is known for his quick and charismatic playing. He developed a big drum sound perfect for stadiums and has been a big influence on standard rock drummers.

Stewart Copeland (The Police)

Stewart Copeland

American-born Stewart Copeland grew up partly in Lebanon and the UK as well as the US. Perhaps it was this international influence that helped him to become one of the most unique drummers in rock music.

Copeland started playing the drums as a teen and soon found himself proficient at it. He joined the British progressive rock band Curved Air for two years, from 1975-76, and gained experience as a touring drummer.

Best known for playing with The Police…

From 1977 to 1986, Copeland laid down track after excellent track of drumming with this incredibly popular band. Although pop-driven, they experimented with a diverse range of styles from rock to reggae to jazz. And, Copeland was able to create a unique and special beat for every occasion.

In addition to diversity and flexibility in his playing, Stewart Copeland is also known for his unusual sounds. He added Octobans, mini-toms, and tiny splash cymbals to his kit to add range and create flairs in his playing. He also played a lot of stripped-down beats where other drummers would focus on the standard kick and snare combination.

After The Police, Copeland changed careers to work as a composer, especially for film scores. This makes sense as he composed lots of early Police songs and even sang on a few as well.

Heavy Drummers

From the 70s, rock music started to get harder, faster, and heavier. And it was all driven by the powerful pulsing rhythms of some of the fastest and hardest-hitting drummers ever.

Bill Ward (Black Sabbath)

Bill Ward

Black Sabbath is known as the godfather of metal bands. So, Bill Ward has to be the godfather of metal drumming, right?

This heavy drummer hits so hard it looks like he’s going to completely destroy his kit. And sometimes, he did. And besides laying down hard, heavy beats, Ward also had the chops to create thunderous fills.

He also had to create full, noisy, and complicated beats to fill in the background when guitar whiz Tony Iommi was soloing, which was pretty frequently in Sabbath.

Bill Ward’s start might be surprising…

Since metal wasn’t even a thing yet, you might expect him to have been heavily influenced by whoever was rocking the kit before him. And he was, looking up to Ringo Starr and John Bonham in particular. But, he got his start in drumming by listening to and copying from the jazz greats, like Buddy Rich, Louie Belson, and Gene Krupa.

Ward struggled with alcohol abuse and health issues throughout his career. But he was also pranked a lot. His bandmates lit his hair and beard on fire multiple times, and all of him once. I don’t know why – his drumming was already on fire.

Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden)

Nicko McBrain

Iron Maiden picked up the torch from Black Sabbath in 1975 and started running with it. While Sabbath played a slower, heavier, and darker form of proto-metal, Maiden arguably invented the speedier chugging of modern heavy metal music.

He wasn’t a founding member…

However, Nicko McBrain is known as the definitive Iron Maiden drummer. He joined the band in 1982, replacing original drummer Clive Burr. With the band, he has recorded 14 albums and embarked on a lifetime of touring that continues today.

McBrain brought a thunderous speed to rock his huge drum kit. He plays an 11 piece kit with about 13 cymbals, forcing him to strike in all directions like an octopus (if one played drums, that is). His playing is faster and fuller than most anything that was happening before him.

Likewise, his incredible stamina enabled Maiden to go harder and faster, basically spawning the spin-off genre of speed metal. Without McBrain driving the furious rhythms, it’s questionable whether Iron Maiden would have been able to become such a hugely popular and successful band.

Carmine and Vinny Appice

Carmine and Vinny Appice

I know, I know. Anyone with a brother knows how unfair it was when he did something rotten, and you both got punished for it. So why am I grouping these two hard-hitting brothers into one entry on my list of the best rock drummers of all time?

Carmine Appice is the elder brother, and is Vinnie is younger by 11 years. Both are known for hard-hitting and technical playing, with Vinny associated with heavier acts. Carmine, being older, played with 60s psychedelic rock and fusion bands for much of his early career.

Brothers in beats…

Both were classically trained by the same drum teacher and were influenced by jazz before getting into rock. Carmine is known for his work with Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Rod Stewart, and the trio Beck, Bogart, and Appice.

But he has also played with Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, and Pink Floyd, among others. He is also cited as an influence for many drummers on this list, such as Nicko McBrain, Dave Lombardo, Ian Paice, and even Neil Peart and John Bonham.

Vinny got his first break playing with John Lennon when he was just 16 years old. He quickly moved on to heavier acts, most notably Black Sabbath, Dio, Heaven and Hell, and the Hollywood Monsters. Holy smokes – can you imagine these two powerhouses coming from the same powerful house?

Dave Lombardo (Slayer)

Dave Lombardo

One of the best heavy metal drummers of all time, and one who was influenced by the Appice brothers, is Dave Lombardo. This drum kit slayer grew up listening to 60s/70s rock and early metal like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, The Who, and Black Sabbath.

These influences encouraged an interest in heavy playing. But with Slayer, he would also push things faster than they’d ever been before.

In 1981…

Slayer was founded as a garage rock band. They started pushing the envelope faster and harder and darker, creating the foundations of speed metal.

Very surprisingly, after 1986’s Reign of Blood, now known as a metal classic, Lombardo quit Slayer because they weren’t making any money. However, he returned in 1987 and has recorded a total of 9 albums with this metal legend.

But that’s not all…

Lombardo has played with numerous other projects, all on the hard and heavy side, like Testament, Fantomas, Dead Cross, Suicidal Tendencies, Mr. Bungle, and the Misfits. That’s one heck of a metal resume.

Lombardo is known as the “Godfather of Double Bass” for his intense and rapid playing technique. He still plays two bass drums rather than a double bass pedal, which gives him great control and a signature sound.

Lars Ulrich (Metallica)

Lars Ulrich

We’re not going to end the Heavy Drummers section without tipping our hats to Metallica. When he was just ten years old, Lars Ulrich’s dad took him to a Deep Purple concert where he witnessed Ian Paice rocking the kit. This inspired in him a love of music and a desire to smash the skins.

What a Year for Metal

In 1981, the Danish Lars Ulrich met James Hetfield in California, and together they founded Metallica, one of the longest-reigning and best-known metal bands ever.

Ulrich has always splayed his drum kit fast and furiously. Like Dave Lombardo, he plays two bass drums and is well known for creating beats that focus on rapid-fire footwork like on the epic song “One” from the seminal album And Justice For All.

He helped to develop what is now known as the “thrash metal” style. Playing hard, ripping fast beats with a steady head-banging groove. A bit of trivia – Ulrich was the first Danish person inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2009). He’s also a knight in Denmark, in the Order of the Dannebrog. That’s right, it’s Sir Lars to you!

Modern Rock Drummers

While many of the best rock drummers of all time are retired or have even passed on to rock heaven, some top drummers are still in the game. These are drummers who have paid their dues, seen ups and downs, and are still around to rock you right tonight.

Matt Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam)

Matt Cameron

Matt Cameron started his wicked drumming career playing in a 1975 cover band called KISS (imitation). At just 13 years old, it seems like his drumming prowess was already recognized when the band was threatened with legal action by the real KISS. Jealous much?

Cameron started playing with the band Skinyard in the growing Seattle grunge scene. This led to a spot in Soundgarden which brought him renown. In Soundgarden, Cameron played heavy and strong beats in multiple time signatures and sometimes breakneck tempos.

After the break-up of that band following singer Chris Cornell’s death, Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam, a group he had known and collaborated with since the early 90s Temple of the Dog days. His style has relaxed to see him focus more on grooving than smashing, but he always seems to have just the right beat for each song.

Matt Sorum (Guns ‘n’ Roses, The Cult, Velvet Revolver)

Matt Sorum

While his name might not be as well known outside of drumming circles, there’s no doubt that Matt Sorum is one of the best rock drummers around today. Also, he sports a very impressive resume. He started out playing in a band called Y Kant Tor Read with the later famous Tori Amos.

From there, he played with The Cult for a short stint, then was poached away to join Guns ‘N’ Roses. Replacing original drummer Steve Adler, Sorum played on the Use Your Illusion I and II at the height of the band’s popularity. He was with the band for seven years. He also worked with Slash’s side project, Slash’s Snakepit, and with the supergroup Velvet Revolver.

On top of all this, he filled in for a Motorhead tour in 2009 in case you wanted any more proof this guy can rock.

Cindy Blackman Santana (Lenny Kravitz, Buckethead, etc.)

Cindy Blackman Santana

She may be the only female drummer on this list, but Cindy Blackman Santana isn’t here as a token. She’s here because she can rock.

Blackman has laid down both jazz and rock beats for acts as diverse as Lenny Kravitz, Joss Stone, Pharoah Sanders, and Buckethead. And it’s no surprise because she started playing at age 7. Inspired by jazz legend Max Roach and taught by Alex Dawson at the Berklee School of Music, her chops are solid and proven.

Blackman has toured with Lenny Kravitz for 18 years and also tours with her now-husband Carlos Santana. Her rock style intertwines jazz beats and techniques as well as Latin beats for a distinct flavor that is 100% Blackman.

Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters)

Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl is a musician that needs little introduction. As the current frontman of the Foo Fighters, he wails on the vocals and shreds on the guitar. And occasionally, he’ll jump on the drum kit to show off his stuff. After all, Dave Grohl got started as a drummer.

In 1986 he began playing with DC hardcore band Scream after their old drummer left. He was later recruited into Nirvana in 1991 and played with that legendary grunge-punk outfit until the death of Kurt Cobain brought the band to an end. He was known for his hard-hitting style and for tossing his hair around as he played with extreme energy.

Check out my article on Who was the Drummer for Nirvana for more about Grohl’s work with that band and more. Grohl also plays drums with Them Crooked Vultures and sometimes with the Queens of the Stone Age. And once in a while, he’ll rock the kit with the Foo Fighters, just to remind us all who’s boss.

Danny Carey (Tool)

Danny Carey (Tool)

Maybe Danny Carey should be included in the Heavy Drummers section since Tool is a pretty heavy, if not metal, band. But with a jazz and studio background, Carey is much more than just a heavy drummer.

With Tool, he has been able to experiment with a wide variety of soundscapes, polyrhythms, and time signatures. You can hear influences like John Bonham, Neil Peart, and Billy Cobham in his work. He hits hard, plays technically demanding pieces brilliantly, and also composes music.

He has also worked all over the shop with groups from Skinny Puppy, to Green Jello, to Volto!, to Les Claypool.

Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Chad Smith

Rounding out the last spot on my list of the 25 best rock drummers of all time is a crowd favorite – Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This hard-hitting, fun-loving drummer was influenced by Sabbath, Deep Purple, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and The Who. But he got his start playing funk with acts like Pharroh and Toby Redd.

This funk influence and a solid rock foundation was the perfect combination to get him into the RHCP. He replaced their old drummer in 1988 and has been with the band ever since. And most of the time, he wears clothes while he plays with the band.

Smith has also played with supergroup Chickenfoot and Chad’s Smith’s Bombastic Meatballs, in addition to studio work with just about everyone. Smith plays big, funky beats that rock hard and drive his bands forward perfectly.

Interested in Drums and Drumming?

We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Snare Drums, the Best Electronic Drum Pads, the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Electronic Drum Sets, the Best Bass Drum Pedals, the Best Drumsticks, and the Best Drum Cases you can buy in 2022.

You may also enjoy our handy articles on Who is the Famous One Arm DrummerHardest Songs to Play on the DrumsThe Nashville Number System for Drummers ExplainedSongs With Incredible Drum SolosDerek Roddy’s Double Bass Technique, and Rolling Stones Drummer – Charlie Watts for more information about drumming.

The Very Best Rock Drummers of All Time

That’s my list of the 25 greatest rock drummers ever. Many are downright legendary, while others might have rung a few bells. Some may be new names for you. But all of these masters of the drum kit deserve to be here. They hit hard, creating steady rock beats that underpin the biggest bands and most well-known songs in rock and roll.

I hope you learned something new about each of them. Some are still rocking your socks off, while others have had their time in the sun. As for the drummers who’ve moved on to another plane, their contributions continue to influence and shape rock drumming now and into the future.

Until next time, may the beat go on.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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