Christian’s Top Ten: Drummers

christian’s top 10 list, no not a christian top 10…you get it.

well where on earth do i go for my very first top 10, hmmmm how about……drummers (surprise)!

let me quantify my choices by saying that these are the dudes (sorry no girls on this list) that impacted me the most. here’s 1 thru 10 with my reasons why:

1. john henry bonham


let me start by saying i love this guy so much i named my first born after him. bonzo’s feel, power and tone were just unmatched by anybody in the game. i have never heard another drummer (although many have tried) capture his extraordinary touch on the drums. an absolute natural in the truest sense of the word. zep would have been a completely different animal without their anchor, the man also known as “the beast” — but that’s a moniker referring to another aspect of john that i will address in another of my planned top 10’s. i recently saw a keef richards clip on youtube in which they asked him about led zeppelin, and he said “they were aptly named, they never quite got off the ground to me. bonham just too heavy handed, let me just say that led zeppelin was jimmy page” (more on this on yet another upcoming list). silly keef and i do love you, and everybody is entitled to their opinion, but to slag off — and i will go on the record here and say “the greatest rock drummer of all time” — is just ridiculous. to sum up bonzo: the quintessential rock drummer that oddly learned to play drums by listening to soul drummers.

essential listening: anything he ever played on

2. vinnie colaiuta

vinnie colaiuta

a name some of you non drumheads may not recognize but should. you’ve heard him a million times and don’t even know it because he has done sessions with almost everybody. for me vinnie’s real magic came not from the hits he played on (which are countless) but from his ability to chew up and spit out frank zappa and allan holdsworth arrangements, his jazz sessions, clinics, joni mitchell, jeff beck, sting — and on and on. this dude could play anything and with an incredible feel as well. from the most wigged out over the bar 17/16 or “whatever” time signatures colauita just made everything look so easy. probably the most complete drummer of all time.

essential listening: zappa (shut up and play yer guitar), allan holdsworth (secrets) for the crazy vinnie and …. i’ll just leave it with that cause thats the vinnie i looooove!

3. neil peart

neil peart

let me start by saying that as an aspiring drummer growing up in the 70’s (especially in canada) there was one guy whose impact was like a coffin nail to the forehead delivered via a sledgehammer! neil f’n peart! he didn’t have the feel of a bonzo or the chops of vinnie but he could be the most lyrical and melodic drummer of all time. his stuff was so hooky it got into your head and never left. even non drummers seem to be able to air drum to neil competently. i don’t think there was another drummer that translated drum beats and fills into something so intrinsically catchy. the master of the “big kit” with his temple blocks, tubular bells, gongs, cowbells…man i wish guys still played like this. to me this guy was rush’s MVP, i’m not dissing alex or geddy here it’s just, well…listen to the first album and then then listen to when neil entered the picture. his influence cannot be overstated.

essential listening: farewell to kings, hemispheres

4. keith moon

mad man moon

Mad Man Moon was definitely one of the best “rock stars” to ever play the drums. he was also a truly amazing drummer that happened to be in the perfect band for his “particular” style of playing. this is a guy that probably couldn’t even get a gig in todays scene but man did he help define the instrument in his day. keith’s antics, as outrageous as they were, did not out shadow his playing. this guy was as real as it gets and by that i mean he lived it and lived large at that. his offstage and onstage lives were pathologically intertwined. i’ve known a lot of musicians in my time and i’ve seen many (myself included) mail it in every now and then, or just fake it (there’s a lot of that in this business). i do have a hard time imagining Moonie getting up off the couch and saying “well they won’t go away until we’re finished, better get on with it”. i can imagine him being too drunk to get off the couch though. a wild man, a wild drummer, and he left waaaaay to soon. that could be part of his allure, he just burned far too brightly.

essential listening: tommy, quadrophenia

5. bill bruford

bill bruford

the beat de-constructivist, nobody tore up a groove quite like bruford. a true artist who eschewed the traditional timekeepers roll of the “snare on 2 and 4”. bruford showed the drumming world that anything goes, flipping grooves around, beat displacement, jazz tunings with big rock rimshots. i had the pleasure of seeing king crimson in 1980 at the Masonic Temple and when i took my seat i looked at the stage and saw these crazy yellow octagonal-shaped things where the drums were supposed to be. i remember saying “where’s the bloody drumkit?”. of course it was right there, those crazy yellow octagonal-shaped things known as simmons (ugh) in place of my beloved acoustics. of course bill had to use them before anybody else even knew what they were. a true visionary and probably the purest “artist” on this list.

essential listening: fragile (yes), close to the edge (yes), larks tongues in aspic (king crimson)

6. carl palmer

carl palmer

rock’s big band drummer is summed up by two words: speed and stamina. i seriously critique his feel but man could he fly. another master of the big kit and a pure circus performer. he was referred to once as the buddy rich of rock, i’d throw a little stravinsky in there as well. palmer had incredible power and his left hand (traditional grip) was second to none but the amazing thing was he was playing like this while weaving through very dense musical pieces at warp speed. some of ELP’s stuff was fast on the originals but live it was even faster. a really fun guy to watch play and, like peart and bonham, turned the extendo drum solo into a concert staple (for good or bad. have to admit sometimes they were a bit long). i would have to say that after putting in a night behind the skins with the brilliant emerson lake and palmer (another list, hah) nobody earned it like carl.

essential listening: brain salad surgery (ELP), emerson lake and palmer (first album)

7. terry bozzio

terry bozzio

one of the most entertaining drummers to watch. “skinny little terry bozzio” is/was an extremely powerful player who is/was also a visionary behind the kit (i don’t know why i’m waffling on the past tense thing the dudes not dead he’s just getting on i guess). what i’m saying is bozzio plays drums like an athlete and like all athletes they lose their stuff as age sets in. i’ll sum up bozzio like this: big chops, insane energy and capable of playing very complex arrangements. after all he was the first human to play the dreaded “black page”. i also have to add that he has taken the “big kit” kit to a whooooole new level. i saw him at a clinic about 10 years ago and his kit was sooo big they referred to it as the HMS bozzio and him as “the admiral”. i have to say i really do believe he hit everything at least once.

essential listening: zoot allure (frank zappa), heavy metal be bop (brecker brothers)

8. stewart copeland

stewart copeland

rarely has a drummer added so much to a band’s sound. the police without stewie is unimaginable, and that’s despite sting’s insane ramblings about copeland and guitarist summers being mere baggage (i believe he did apologize for that comment when he finally came to his senses not too long ago). copeland was a pure bombs and accents guy with a cannon for a left arm. a sonic visionary who instead of following the rules of the “late seventies fat & tubby” drum sound cranked up the heads, and this may be a drumming myth but apparently he used to raid toy drum kits for the tiny cymbals they came with because splash cymbals were to hard to find back then. sick chops and a penchant for playing on top of the beat, he of the tall, lanky, long levered frame really owned the eighties as far as drummers go in my opinion. you knew who it was playing by the crack of the first note. probably the most multi-talented guy on this list as well, as he scores, produces, and plays a variety of instruments. a very funny, distinctive character guy.

essential listening: the police (all of it)

9. phil collins

phil collins

i guess if you have made it this far you have realized that i’m a bit of a prog guy. where to start with phil, such a long & distinguished career. for me, my favourite era for monsieur collins would be the peter gabriel years of genesis and the few albums subsequent to gabriel’s departure. he had chops for days and could bob and weave through some very elaborate arrangements and time signatures but there was something very raw and unpolished about him that i completely dug. he also had a much lighter, jazzier sound and feel than the later cannon sound he would be known for in the late seventies and eighties. i guess what i loved about him the most in the early days was his sense of dynamics, something that seems to be a lost art these days i’m afraid. as we all know phil has had a massive career off the drums as well that completely overshadows the early days of early genesis. that being said, for the diehards that old stuff was drumming gold.

essential listening: lamb lies down on broadway (genesis), trick of the tail (genesis)

10. virgil donati

virgil donati

probably the most committed guy to ever pick up stix. with massive chops, speed, stamina, and focus he almost seems more like an athlete than a drummer. he is not a groove guy at all but if it’s circus tricks all day you’re looking for, look no further. virgil is on this list because he is a fun guy to watch and between him and thomas lang they have shown how far the technical aspect of extreme drumming can go. i do get kind of bored listening to this kind of playing these days and my aging ass is definitely lovin more of the groove guys but still have crazy respect for guys that can push themselves so far and so hard. salute!

essential listening: youtube (clinics)

honorable mentions:

tony williams, narada michael walden, dave weckl, steve gadd, jim keltner, michael giles, mitch mitchell, billy cobham

next up:

guitar players!

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