Above all things, I’m a drummer. It’s what I love the most: it’s what I listen to when a song comes on the radio; it’s what makes me feel the most alive as a musician. When Colin asked my impressions of Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Drummers, I told him I’d write my reflections on it. It would take too long to reflect on all 100, so I thought I’d focus on 10 points that are significant to the list.
94. Meg White – Sadly, she shouldn’t be on the list. She probably shouldn’t even be on a Top 200 list. I’m not trying to disparage women and drumming—I’ve had several chick drummers as students—but I know a seventh-grade girl who plays better than Meg. I imagine you probably do, too.
54. Questlove – I’m sorry, but Questlove is a mediocre drummer in a mediocre band that just happens to be on television five times a week. That doesn’t qualify. For him to be ahead of such luminaries as Manu Katche, Mick Fleetwood, Max Weinberg and Tony Thompson is a travesty, IMHO.
15. Buddy Rich and 14. Ringo Star – Again, I’m not sure what the powers-that-be were thinking, but Buddy Rich completely revolutionized the Big Band/Swing era and Ringo was the least influential Beatle of the four. Buddy was one of the first drummers to add an extended solo into the choreography of a concert; (click here for a sample video) Ringo is the reason for drummer jokes. Ringo was an average drummer in a great band; his only noteworthy contribution (IMHO) was his unique drumming on “Come Together.” Everything else was pretty much par for the course. His son, Zak Starkey, is far better, and he’s not even on the list. Buddy Rich should be top 5 and Ringo should be in the 50's or 60's, if not further down.
12. Charlie Watts - A prime example of a jazz drummer who took the better-paying gig. His musical contributions to the Rolling Stones were vanilla at best; he took no risks in his playing, minimized his role to the backbeat (and backseat) and looks bored out of his skull in the process. This drummer is so lazy: he takes the 4th beat of every measure off…watch him play the hi-hat and you’ll see he skips the fourth beat practically every time. I know he plays for the band this magazine was named after, but 12 is 88 spots too high. I’ll give him props for his beat on “Beast of Burden,” but that’s it. People don’t go to a Stones concert to watch Charlie Watts. Never.
7. Gene Krupa – I’m very glad he was voted this high on the list. He begat the modern era of drumming, putting the drums on a level-playing field with other instruments. He influenced Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker with his bombastic playing, showmanship, stick twirling and double-bass kit. He really was the first showman behind the drums, so I’m glad he’s given props for this. Well played, RS. (click here to see Gene Krupa vs Buddy Rich)
4. Neil Peart – Neil sits at number 4, and I think that number is too low. Neil revolutionized rock drumming: he actually created compositions with his drumbeats/fills/solos and anyone who sees him live knows he plays these parts with consistency. He plays with precision and intention—the same way a guitarist or keyboardist would write a solo. Whether or not you’re a Rush fan (I happen to be), Neil’s contribution to drumming is in a class by itself. Fans of his obsess over his drumming, his drum-kits, his lyric writing, his travel books and his legacy to rock drumming. People take pictures of his rotating drum-kit the same way others take pictures of models. He brought a beauty and originality to drumming that is unsurpassed by any of his contemporaries. By the fact that he played in the same band with the same guys for over forty years also says something about the staying power of his genius. In my opinion, he should be number one. (Click here to see Neil playing at the Buddy Rich tribute) and ( click here to see Neil playing a drum solo on David Letterman. Yes, he got his on solo spot on network TV)
3. Ginger Baker – Ginger is great, but not number 3. Definitely better than Charlie Watts and Meg White, but Manu Katche? Bill Bruford? Carter Beauford? Not so sure about that. Top 15 for sure. His marriage of jazz and rock is his greatest contribution, on par with Bruford and Beauford. ( Beware of Mr. Baker is an excellent movie about Mr. Baker )
2. Keith Moon. The Who is my favorite band, bar none. I love Keith Moon. But Keith peaked around ‘71 or ’72 and became victim to the excesses of rock and roll shortly after that. His playing diminished considerably by ’74 or ’75. That said, what Keith Moon did to rock and roll from ’65 to ‘69 was a quantum leap for rock drummers. Prior to him, drummers sat in the back and were rarely seen or heard; their job was to be a metronome for the other players. Keith put the drums at the forefront of rock music and made the instrument as loud, bombastic and unforgettable as the guitarist or lead vocalist. He completely changed the face of rock drumming. If you want to get a sampling of his skills, watch The Who perform “A Quick One” on video and you’ll see genius pouring out of that man. Sadly, drugs and drink affected his playing so much that by the time his career (and life) ended he was a shadow of his former self. For that reason, he should be top 5, but not number 2. (click here to see Keith in action on Amazing Journey)
1. John Bonham. He’s great. A beast. A back-beat god. A groovemeister. But not number 1. How about number 2? With Neil being number 1? Works for me. He’s been dead since 1979; I think longevity, staying power, and creating an everlasting legacy should be included as qualities for the “greatest.” I give the nod to Neil on this. Bonham is number 2. (listen to this)
Dishonorable unmentionables: What about Carl Palmer? Mark Brzezicki? Dave Weckl? Omar Hakim? Simon Phillips? Mark Portnoy? John Panozzo? Zak Starkey? There were a lot of greats that were a no-show here. At times it seems like these lists go the way of American Idol: more of a popularity contest than a critical examination of talent. For Travis Barker to get the nod over Simon Phillips is just wrong.
I also want to address two great drummers from Columbus who should be on this list: Pete Retzlaff (who hails from Bexley, but teaches in NYC), and Tony McClung: who is the best drummer in town. These guys are at the top of my list!
I’m happy to report that I’m at the top of two peoples’ list: my brothers Jim and Andy. I’m glad somebody out there likes me! ;-)
Pete Vogel is a drummer, musician, teacher, movie director and many other things. Click here to visit his website.