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Who’s the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

on May 01, 2014, 4:15pm
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Update: Voting is closed! Click here to vote in round two.

Last week, we asked you to submit your top three contenders for the title: Greatest Drummer of All Time. We received thousands upon thousands of submissions, ranging from Neil Peart to Travis Barker to even Animal of The Muppets. After spending a good afternoon collating them all together, we came up with an appropriate tournament bracket entirely based on your responses.

drummers (1)

So, over the next month, we’re going to host a round of matches each week, in which we’ll ask you to vote on each matchup to take us to the next round. By the game’s end, we’ll finally know which guy with the sticks reigns supreme. As always, we encourage a discussion in the comments below, but please be civil. In other words, more Ringo Starr and less Keith Moon.

Don’t forget: The voting booth is on the last page.

games Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

Neil Peart vs. Mitch Mitchell

peart mitchell Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

Mitch Mitchell was a journeyman drummer in the ’60s. He was a session drummer for numerous British bands–including a pre-Keith Moon The Who–but it was an audition and flip of the coin that would cement Mitchell’s place in the Experience and thus put him in the echelon of greatest drummers. He began taking cues from Ginger Baker in Cream and started pushing drums to the front as a lead instrument. He was pivotal in the development of signature Hendrix tunes like “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Manic Depression” with his incessant, chaotic lead drumming.

Neil Peart, however, also pushed his drumming to a lead position with Canadian rock immortals Rush. Peart focuses more on the technical than the inherent rhythm of Mitchell—drawing inspiration and skill from Buddy Rich and Jon Bonham. Peart’s drum solos are moments of legend, as is his 360-degree, one thousand-piece (only slight exaggeration) kit. His ability to play pretty much anything has taken Rush’s expansive and awe-inspiring prog rock menagerie to the edge of the universe. –Nick Freed

Evidence A:

Evidence B:


Keith Moon vs. Gavin Harrison

moon harrison Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

Wild, reckless, and unpredictable, Keith Moon was the balls of The Who. His scattershot precision was something intangible, the sort of madness that only made sense on record, but live… it was like watching a perfect mess. He smashed, he pummeled, and he destroyed everything in his way (including his chauffeur); hell, he blew up his drum kit. Whether erratic (“My Generation”) or determined (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”), Moon could do it all, but sadly, that same kinetic energy would lead to his demise. As his fellow rhythm section partner, the late John Entwistle, would say: “He wouldn’t play across his kit. He’d play zig-zag. That’s why he had two sets of tom-toms. He’d move his arms forward like a skier.”

On the contrary, Gavin Harrison, also a Brit like Moon, is a far more focused percussionist, having studied his father’s jazz collection and the work of Steve Gadd and Jeff Porcaro. His progressive rock work alongside Porcupine Tree and King Crimson landed him a spot as the third best drummer of the last 25 years, according to Rolling Stone, and the “best progressive drummer of the year” consecutively from 2007–2010 according to readers of Modern Drummer magazine. An easy choice here to many, but some might argue otherwise. –Michael Roffman

Evidence A:

Evidence B:

Dave Grohl vs. Ginger Baker

grohl baker Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

Even after 20 years of singing and playing guitar in one of the biggest rock bands in the world, the most indelible image of the Foo Fighters frontman remains a clean-shaven, long-haired Grohl head banging behind the skins during the explosive choruses of the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. Grohl remains true to his Scream and Nirvana roots by having climbed behind the kit for his own supergroup, Them Crooked Vultures, not to mention acts as legendary and varied as David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Nine Inch Nails, and Tenacious D.

Ginger Baker, best known for his tenure in Cream, is widely considered one of the most influential drummers of the ‘60s. Equal parts Keith Moon and jazz drummer, Baker’s innovations include incorporating African rhythms, opting for two bass drums instead of the standard lone kick bass drum, and using basic drum rudiments, like his signature flam triplet, to create a thundering, driving style. –Matt Melis

Evidence A:

Evidence B:


Mike Portnoy vs. Ringo Starr

portnoy starr Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

One is a great drummer. The other was a great Beatle.

Ringo Starr may have never been the most revered member of the Fab Four (and not even the original drummer), but he certainly was the backbone to many of their tracks. Whether it was the offbeat drum pattern of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the psychedelic style for “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, or even his homage to the sea with “Octopus’s Garden”, Starr played his role to perfection until the Beatles called it quits in 1970. Even following the band’s demise, Starr never seemed to stop working. To date he’s released 17 solo albums and seems to constantly be on the road with his All Stars.

Mike Portnoy, however, has been called a drummer’s drummer. Not only did he smash the skins for Dream Theater from 1989 to 2009, as well as co-produce six of the band’s albums, he’s taken home 29 awards from Modern Drummer magazine and was the second youngest person, behind Rush’s Neil Peart, to be inducted into the Modern Drummer‘s Hall of Fame at age 37. Following his departure from Dream Theater, Portnoy continued on as the drummer for Avenged Sevenfold for a brief stint, and then started two of his own side projects, Adrenaline Mob and Flying Colors. –Sami Jarroush

Evidence A:

Evidence B:


John Bonham vs. Bill Bruford

bonham bruford1 Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

On paper, this contest pits power against technique. John Bonham was the ultimate powerhouse drummer, playing with ferocious intensity and shaping the sound of heavy rock for countless bands that emerged in the wake of Led Zeppelin. Bill Bruford pioneered a more considered percussive approach with Yes and King Crimson, his jazz leanings making him a natural to employ tricks from displaced backbeats to variations on the paradiddle.

Bruford coaxed a highly individual tone from his snare drum and was no fan of dampened drumheads, preferring the natural harmonics to ring out and be part of the sound mix. Bonham used some of the heaviest sticks around in tandem with an energy-conserving low arm action helpful for those seminal 30-minute drum solos. Comfortable with odd meters and time signatures, Bruford emerged as a great technician yet with an intrinsic feel for the style of music he was playing. In that sense both drummers shared a common gift and purpose. –Tony Hardy

Evidence A:

Evidence B:

Buddy Rich vs. Matt Cameron

butch cameron Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

For all intents and purposes, Buddy Rich was the world’s first superstar drummer. Long before Ringo, Bonham, and Grohl picked up the sticks, Rich’s astonishing combination of technique and power made him a star attraction, dispensing with the commonly held myth that a drummer’s place was to hang back in the shadows. Matt Cameron might not have the same kind of immediate name recognition, but his drumming highlights Soundgarden’s best musical moments. With Cameron’s help, Soundgarden was able to push the grunge envelope in a way that many of its Seattle contemporaries couldn’t, throwing in off-kilter time signatures and freewheeling in almost prog-like directions at times. Now comfortably settled in behind the kit with Pearl Jam, Cameron remains instrumental in bringing smarts and chops to modern rock music. –Ryan Bray

Evidence A:

Evidence B:

Stewart Copeland vs. Phil Collins

copeland collins Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

At the age of 12, Stewart Copeland stepped behind the kit, and the rest is history. Okay, quick lesson: He also founded The Police in 1977, recorded under the Klark Kent pseudonym for a short term, and has since become a prominent composer in Hollywood, responsible for scores in film (Wall Street, Rumble Fish), television (Dead Like Me, Babylon 5), operas (Holy Blood and Crescent Moon), ballets (King Lear), and even video games (Spyro). He also created a nutbar side project with Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio called Oysterhead; they played Bonnaroo.

Phil Collins, on the other hand, bangs the drums and notoriously sings, his metallic vocals one of pop’s greatest assets. Whether solo or alongside Genesis, he’s always been a commanding presence, and his work outside of music, namely in film, has nabbed him an Oscar, two Golden Globes, a Disney Legend Award, and the list goes on. Would it help you to know he’s not only responsible for the epic drum fill of “In the Air Tonight”, but also for Miami Vice‘s Phil the Shill? Tough one. –Michael Roffman

Evidence A:

Evidence B:

Danny Carey vs. Jimmy Chamberlin

carey chamberlin Whos the Greatest Drummer of All Time? Round One

There’s a reason that, despite the frequent coming and going of the other musicians that surrounded them, Billy Corgan dragged Jimmy Chamberlin along from Smashing Pumpkins to Zwan and back to the Smashing Pumpkins, and it’s not just that they might have gotten along well. In replacing a drum machine, Chamberlin turned the Pumpkins into the powerful unit that went on to become legend. But he’s also capable of much more than technical thunder, as the jazz-trained percussionist has further highlighted his fluid, expressive playing with the fusion outfit the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex.

Danny Carey is in demand with some big names as well, from King Crimson’s Adrian Belew to singer-songwriter Carole King. Oh, and he’s also the guy behind the massive kit for Tool (and a handful of other pummeling side projects). Also jazz-trained and comfortable in myriad styles, Carey’s as capable with the tabla as he is with the double-kick drum, all in Tool’s trademark eccentric time signatures. –Adam Kivel

Evidence A:

Evidence B:


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