CoS Exclusive Features

Who’s the Greatest Drummer of All Time? The Final Round

on May 23, 2014, 12:00am

It’s the final countdown! At long last, our monthly tournament in search of the Greatest Drummer of All Time comes to a close – well, almost. In the words of Patrick Bateman, “We’re not finished yet.” Of course, we have the dreaded Final Round, and this one is a doozy.

In a not-so-shocking twist, Neil Peart slugged out Mike Portnoy, while John Bonham shook off Danny Carey, which means, yes, you now have to choose between the thundering rock ‘n’ roll legends that have put Rush and Led Zeppelin in the history books.

To help out, staff writers Nick Freed and Ryan Bray offered their words of wisdom. If it’s any consolation, both of them have been drumming for years, giving them a little more insight into the art of the drum kit. See what they have to say before you check off your final answer.

When all is said and done and argued, we’ll announce next week: The Greatest Drummer of All Time.

drummers round 4

Nick Freed: It’s no surprise to me that these two are our final two. One is a drum teacher’s dream and the other a teacher’s nightmare. The late John Bonham played with pure passion and reckless abandon, but somehow with complete control and perfect rhythmic pitch. Neal Peart, on the other hand, puts on a lesson every time he hits the stage. His drum strokes never miss, his movements are like choreographed dancing, and his beats remain innovative and progressive. Ryan, what are your thoughts on these guys as a fellow drummer?

Ryan Bray: Yeah, it’s hard to argue with how readers voted on this one. Any discussion of the greatest rock drummer of all time has to be evaluated on two criteria: power and precision. By that measure, Bonham and Peart cover all the bases. Bonham gets a lot of well-deserved credit for reinventing modern rock drumming because of his hard-hitting style, but his technical chops shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Just listen to “Fool In The Rain”, my personal favorite from the Zeppelin catalog, for an example of Bonham’s range and dexterity as a drummer.

On the other hand, I tend to look at Peart as the dean of rock ‘n’ roll drumming. By keeping time and dictating the tempo, drummers are the engine that drive every good band in a lot of respects. That said, there’s a certain amount of intellect and discipline that goes into being a good drummer, and Peart’s drumming IQ is straight up off the charts. To this day, I’m still amazed by what Rush does, and Peart’s technicality behind the kit plays a huge part in the mind-blowing intricacy of the band’s songs. He was also the band’s lyricist, which admittedly has nothing to do with drumming, but shows that his music smarts extend beyond the kit.

Freed: I totally agree with that. Neil Peart is the dean — high IQ, technique, and polish. Could be safe to say that if Peart is the dean — the Dr. James Wilson if you will indulge —  then Bonham is the Dr. Gregory house of drumming. IQ just as high, technique as on point, but, y’know, with kind of a wretched substance abuse problem. I think Bonham drove Zeppelin just as much as Peart to Rush (with a little less lyrical help), but whereas Peart stands out amongst other band mates, Bonham was the quiet, mad genius behind the kit. He let Plant and Page take the glory, while he gave them the rumbling groundwork to lay everything on top.

I also agree that drummers are the engine, and both of these guys were as high octane an engine as you could get. The way both musicians fall into the rhythmic pockets of their respective bands is something awe-inspiring. Peart did it in a little more of a flashy way, as it fit Rush’s music sensibilities, and Bonham did it by force, again, as fit Zeppelin’s sensibilities.

Bray: That’s so true. Both guys fit their respective acts like a glove, and it’s important to note that their individual successes as players were due in no small part to the fact that they were surrounded by great players. As good as Bonham was on his own, the fact that he held down the rhythm alongside John Paul Jones lifted the bar of what Zeppelin could do that much higher. It was gravy on top.

You can say the same about the interplay between Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, and Peart, too. The fact that each was a member of a superstar band rounded by out some stone cold genius musicians just made their individual accomplishments that much greater.

Does that help? Yes? No? Well, take your time, but don’t forget to vote.


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Colin O’Connor
October 10, 2014 at 7:09 am

I must agree with pretty much everything nick and Ryan had to say in this very conflicting match up. I’ve been playing the drums for a little over10 years but a huge fan of Zeppelin since a child thanks to my father. Never a big fan of rush but what drummer can deny Peart his amazing talents as a drummer his is amazing…. with that said john Bonham never needed a 20 piece set to make the sound that he had. Maybe a gong here and there and a 30 in floor tom….. but Bonham was simple… his way….. Bonham takes the cake in my book.

July 28, 2014 at 12:36 am

Wow this comment section is a joke. I hate to be an annoying ass about it, but really??? John Bonham is the greatest drummer of all time, there shouldn’t even be an arguemeant because that is a fact not an opinion. Yeah Neil is a great drummer, but just because you can play super fast and loud doesn’t make you the best. Bonham was simple and innovative, yet heavy and monstrous. He didn’t need a Fucking huge ass flashy set up b/c he was genius enough to create sounds that leave you wondering how the fuck did he do that. He invented the style of drummer Peart plays, without him and LZ Rush probably wouldn’t exsist so that alone wins the “argument”. Bonham is the god of drumming and no one will ever match him. Complex yet simple, even Peart himself couldn’t deny Bonham of his rightful title as greatest drummer of all time. In Rolling Stone’s poll for greatest drummer Bonham won by a landslide so clearly I’m not alone in this. Nothing about Rush compares to Led Zeppelin, the level of influence Led Zep has had on music will never be matched. But whether you like Led Zep or not, Bonzo hands down is the best of the best and I will not submit myself to the embarrassment of arguing with someone who thinks otherwise. I am sorry for sounding pretentious but it just had to be said. Sorry Rush fans.

July 29, 2014 at 7:02 am

Hiya, Rush fan here. Very interesting to read but just to clear up a few misconceptions – yes Peart would put more than 50 drummers ahead of himself in terms of skill but his biggest influence was Keith Moon, not Bonham. So to say Rush would never have existed without LZ is a bit of an overstatement (considering also that Geddy’s main influence is Jeff Beck and Alex’s are Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend). I personally would put Bonham second because yes he is one of my all time favourite drummers, so not trying to put him down or anything. And another point to consider is that skill and playing ability are an entirely different category to influence. Yes Keith Moon is an amazingly influential drummer (as is Ringo for that matter) but I wouldn’t say either of them are incredibly advanced drummers.
Anyway it’s been nice debating with you!

June 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm

” whereas Peart stands out amongst other band mates” is that a joke? Neil has been actively dodging the spotlight for pretty much his whole career. I’m sensing a little Bonham bias here.

May 30, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Are you kidding…. pretty much everything Neil does is better.

Robert c
May 29, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Jon Bonham has way better drum solos that show his full potential, that song was a bad example. Anyway, in my opinion I really like buddy rich :)

May 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Neil Peart! Love Bonzo and Zep but Neil is the best. Ever.

Geddy senpai
June 13, 2014 at 8:02 am

I agree man, I love Led Zep but I have to go with Pratt on this one.

May 25, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Plus, even the name of the competition pays gratitude to Peart’s works… COS – Caress of Steel?

May 25, 2014 at 12:39 am

Neil still plays three our shows at over 60 years old. He rides his motorcycle from one gig to the next. Sometimes hundreds of miles, even on show days. He is a freak of nature. A monster that comes around once in a life time. Neil states that there are around 50 drummers on the planet that he thinks are better than him. And maybe there are drummers who do this or that better. You’re splitting hairs. But when you combine the many elements that make up a drummer, Neil is the man. No bullshit! No drama! Just hard work, determination, and professionalism.

May 26, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I agree. When you combine all the elements, even keeping healthy (not going out and dying stupidly thanks to some overdose), Neil comes out on top.

May 24, 2014 at 9:53 pm

Peart did it longer and better than anyone else. Rush is by far, hands down, the best band ever!!!!!

May 24, 2014 at 9:56 pm

LZ hasn’t put out a decent album since 1980. Rush continues to put incredible music, going into their 6th decade.

Cat Steppings
June 10, 2014 at 4:34 pm

That’s because Zeppelin respected John Bonham enough to disband after he died. Any new Zeppelin material would be an affront to their legacy. Even their one off reunions were respecting their old material.

Rush were fortunate to not lose their drummer.

May 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Peart is so overrated. You can’t just be technically proficient to the point that your whole band is competing with itself to be “the star.” Bonham is at least as talented and knows how to support a band OR solo. There’s no Red Barchetta/Vital Signs messes happening anywhere in Bonham’s career.

May 25, 2014 at 12:43 pm

??? Huh those two songs are classics you have the right to your opinion on who’s the better drummer but you’re an idiot with that,

May 26, 2014 at 2:16 pm

I don’t get what you mean by Red Barchetta. My teacher introduced me to Peart’s drumming with that song 30 years ago. The tablature was awesome and it still is. What are you talking about? I was playing Black Dog and Rock n Roll before I could ever dream of drumming Rush. Today, I still can’t play all 9 minutes of La Villa Strangiato without a miss. If you have not played Red Barchetta perfectly by tablature you shouldn’t point it out for any reason.

May 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Neil Peart.

Bruno Innocenti
May 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm

lol no sabe duda Peart es el mas grande de todos los tiempos y por muuuucho,

Daniel Feichas
May 24, 2014 at 3:49 am

So, when do we know which one is the winner?

May 23, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Can someone tell me where Billy Cobham is on this chart? I think a 10 year old chose these drummers.

Charles McGarry (@chasman1957)
May 28, 2014 at 11:33 am

I think I said the same thing during the first round. Cobham was the best I ever saw. He still flies into New York from Paris for a few shows a year.

Repo Man
May 23, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Neil Peart: Completely overrated. What are you doing with all of those drums Neil? A real drummer needs a quarter of his ridiculous set. Quality over quantity.

May 23, 2014 at 7:47 pm

All of the drums are for showmanship, among other reasons. It’s part of being a live performer. He also doesn’t need to twirl his sticks during a show, but he does. Again, he’s a performer. You are free to make the claim that he is overrated (one that I disagree with vehemently), but back your claim up with something better than “he has three times too many drums”.

May 23, 2014 at 11:13 pm

repo man. you can add clueless to your resume.

Scott Rae
May 24, 2014 at 11:25 am

Neil Peart is the greatest…have you ever seen a Rush concert?…Although i loved Zep…Neil gets my vote by miles!

May 26, 2014 at 2:43 pm

A real singer doesn’t need to wear leotards and do antics on stage…you shoulda told that to Freddy Mercury. A real guitarist doesn’t need long hair…tell that to ALL the greats. In Peart’s case, for the fill ins HE does, he NEEDS the 6″, 8″, 10″, 12″, 13″ and all that, including the 16″ and 18″ floor toms. What you are saying is ridiculous. He even has same size toms tuned differently. DW actually installed pressure gauges on his heads and hardware at his request and specifications. Yes, Neil Peart invented the use of gauges and dials to tighten his drums at precise measurements. That’s called PERFECTION. Besides, his 360 set is ALSO part of his show. It blows people away when they see that massive kit. Compare that to Pink Floyd’s stage props (they didn’t need that either). Maybe he could play some of his stuff just on his Roland electronics, but then comes the problem of the fast switches. Anyway, I’m wasting my time… you don’t know what you’re talking about.

July 29, 2014 at 7:06 am

Yes yes yes ^^

May 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Neil overcame a LOT of grief in life and came back all the better for it. He was the best before then, and now he’s monumental.

May 23, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Peart doesn’t just play drums he orchestrates them.

May 23, 2014 at 11:21 am

The vibe of Neil Peart on the Drums always laminate the stage …

May 23, 2014 at 10:32 am

HEY!! I’ve ALWAYS said for the LONGEST time (as long as I’ve been playing bass guitar for quite sometime)!
BONHAM had been setting the bar for years and without him, we probably WOULD NOT have a percussionist like Neil Peart!!
HOWEVER…the “PROFESSOR” was a prodigy that learned much from “BONZO”, took from himand DID NOT just set the bar!!
NEIL PEART BECAME the bar to be set in the drumming world….PERIOD!!
Don’t get me wrong….much love to Bonzo and his contribution to the drumming world (Traveling Rivrtside Blues being my ALL TIME fav from Zepplin), but Peart has confounded the best of the best for a LOMG time!!
(listen to the HEMISPHERES disc and let’s debate afterwards! )

Mike O’Donoghue
May 23, 2014 at 10:28 am

I really do believe Neil Peart is the Greatest Drummer at this point in time. Of course it’s difficult not to be subjective and there have been drummers who preceded that could be considered the greatest at ‘their’ time, but I think it comes down to longevity, hunger to constantly woodshed and strive to hone your craft, and in this technical age we live in, staying current with new innovative ways to use that technology in your drumming. He truly is the professor and no offense to alot of great drummers(Bonham and Moon stand out to me), he hit the nail on the head with the song he inked, ‘Marathon’:

You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don’t burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you’ve got to last…

May 23, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Well said!

May 23, 2014 at 10:19 am

Just listen to Peart play with Lifeson during the guitar solo to “Limelight” or go back to La Villa Strangiato. Just un-toppable.

danny brister
May 23, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Had the opportunity to see both of these great drummers in their prime, and while both are amazing players Neil Peart is the greatest of all-time. I just hope I can live long enough to see somebody more advanced him, I won’t hold my breath though!!!!


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