Before I begin, let me point out that I'm stealing this idea from Leafydebater, who deserves all of the credit if this becomes a trend here on the Vine. So thanks for letting me follow your lead here... top ten lists are always a blast! Having said that, let's get to it!
One day back when I was thirteen years old, I was having a chat with a girl who lived in my neighborhood about my musical aspirations. I was getting bored playing guitar, and wanted to get into drums. Upon hearing this, she revealed to me that her parents had an old drum set sitting in their basement, untouched for decades. After chatting with her mom about it, I came to learn that I could buy that kit for a measly $25. I rushed home, begged my parents for the money, and charged back to her house, and just like that, I owned my very first drum set, a blue 1960's Slingerland. Since then, I've played drums in several bands, including my current group, Letters of Last Resort. I've never had a single drumming lesson, opting instead to teach myself everything I know today. Well, that's only partially true, really. I did get lessons from some of the greatest drummers of all time, though indirectly; watching videos of live performances, where I patiently studied every hand movement, every drum roll, is how I eventually became a serious drummer. With that in mind, this isn't really a list of the greatest drummers, so much as it's a list of my favorite drummers; the drummers who had the biggest impact on my personal playing style. There will be some very big names in percussion excluded from this list, because their styles never appealed to me, or they were too technical for me to identify their real musical soul. With that out of the way, let's do the list!
10. Matt Johnson: Whenever I tell people that Matt Johnson is on my list of the greatest drummers, they always cock their head sideways and say "uh, who?" Matt Johnson played drums with Jeff Buckley, most notably on the song Grace, which contains some of the greatest drumming you'll ever hear.
9. Dave Grohl: I was never much of a Nirvana fan. I passively enjoyed some of their music, but I could never really get into it much. In those days, I was too busy listening to the absurdly original music coming out of England to care what was happening here in the states, which led me to become a bit of a musical outcast in my clique of friends. But there was one reason I bought Nirvana's albums, and one reason only, and it had nothing to do with their music. It was all about Dave Grohl. His percussion style was easily identifiable, to me anyway, as being one of the most incredible of any act that came out around that time.
8. Steve Shelley: As the drummer of Sonic Youth, Shelley's style was as unique as it was gifted. Sometimes leading a beat with toms instead of hats or a cymbal bell, Steve Shelley has a very special, technical style that really defined that genre's percussion for me.
7. Phil Selway: Phil Selway's contributions to Radiohead are often overlooked, but his fantastically meticulous timing and technical prowess allowhim to drop calculated, perfectly-orchestrated complexities into Radiohead's music at all of the right moments, adding another million or so layers to the music of the one band that really single-handedly defines the phrase "art rock."
6. Ginger Baker: His work in Cream really stood out as being phenomenal, even with the legendary Eric Clapton sharing the stage with him. Someone once told me that "a drummer who doesn't appreciate Baker is a bad drummer, there's no way around it."
5. Mitch Mitchell: Mitchell's backing drumming for Jimi Hendrix is rarely pin-pointed for the tremendous contribution it made to the music at hand. Mitchell was sharply technical while also being firmly inventive, traits that few drummers possess.
4. Tim "Herb" Alexander: As the drummer of Primus, Tim Alexander might just be the greatest "roller" in the history of drumming. I'll never forget the first time I heard their song "Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats." Early on in the song, Alexander rolls with ungodly, superhuman speed, and I'll never forget playing that few seconds of the song over and over again while trying to emulate it, an effort that would inevitably prove futile.
3. Stewart Copeland: Copeland, the drummer of The Police, was hugely inspirational to me well before I started playing drums. Even as a guitarist, I found Copeland's impeccable timing, layered and brutally complex percussive style, and fearlessly casual simultaneous exploration of different percussion genres as influential as anything I could have learned watching some of my guitar influences.
2. Keith Moon: Often referred to by his infamous nickname, "Moon the Loon," Keith Moon had an explosively creative and extraordinarily inventive playing style that blasted you in the face with his style. He played every square millimeter of his kit, leaving nothing untouched as he formulated his monumental rhythms. The Who was one of those rare bands that had exceptionally-gifted musicians in every corner of the stage, each perfectly qualified to take center stage whenever it was needed or desired. Keith Moon certainly made that possible, and no other band tops The Who for having that ability, with one single exception... Led Zeppelin. Speaking of which...
1. John Bonham: Without question or contest, John "Bonzo" Bonham thunders his way into the #1 spot on this list. Bonham's thunderous playing was the nuclear reactor that powered Led Zeppelin, arguably the greatest rock and roll act of all time. His incredible speed with a single bass drum pedal easily tops any number of drummers who use two. His infamous "Bonzo Shuffle" is probably the most identifiable percussion signature in history. Watching Led Zeppelin's live performance film The Song Remains the Same taught me more about drumming than anything else, and if it weren't for John Bonham, I probably never would have picked up a pair of sticks.