Who Are the Best Drum Soloists in Rock? See Legendary Performances by John Bonham, Keith Moon, Neil Peart, Terry Bozzio & More

Drum solos, yuck, am I right? So boring. Even Keith Moon reportedly disliked them, though he played a few in his day. Can we argue with Moon's polyrhythmic assaults? His aversion was a contrarian hot take: The Who peaked at the same time the rock drum solo did, thanks to a handful of celebrity drummers led by Moon and, of course, John Bonham, who broke up live versions of Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” with 13-minute solo triplet jams.

These were times, claims Drum! magazine, “when every rock drummer worth his salt had to whip out an extended solo at a moment’s notice in order to be considered competitive.” Yet “by the mid-‘70s, rock drum solos had devolved into pointless, derivative displays of flashy chops and histrionic posing that had little in common with actual musicianship. Even worse, in concert the drum solo became little more than a noisy intermission that sent the audience running to the bathroom or bar. No wonder the art form suffered such an inauspicious death.”

No wonder so many people exhaled when punk came along and ripped out two-minute, two-chord songs that made drum solos look even more pretentiously indulgent. But the writers at Drum! aren’t rejecting the solo (a useful skill for drummers in many situations). In pointing out how the drum solo became “humiliated by its own excesses and reduced to a mere parody of itself,” they only aim to show how “creative drummers used their solos to test the limits of rock drumming.” In the right hands, and feet, the live rock drum solo is a musical experiment or a trance-inducing communal experience.

Moon makes Drum!’s list of mad scientist rock drum soloists, as do “two of the top rock drummers of the day, Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell.” These are three distinctive players, yet all part of the same classic cohort, and all inspired by jazz drummers like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams (destroying every other drum solo just above). Who else belongs in the fantasy Rock Drum Solo Hall of Fame? Who—that is—not in one of the great lumbering beasts of the British Invasion or backing Jimi Hendrix?

Rush’s Neil Peart will be on the tip of many tongues, as will Terry Bozzio, Frank Zappa’s ridiculously talented drummer. Some might say the rococo antics of Peart and Bozzio sped the decline of the drum solo into parody. Some might prefer, say, the bashing of Clash drummer Topper Headon. But let us not forget that Headon started as a jazz drummer and could rip out a smart solo when he needed. (Below, Bozzio reimagines solo drum performance as a one-man drum orchestra.)

The phrase “drum solo” may have become synonymous with boring overplaying—at least to people raised on punk, hardcore, and other self-consciously minimalist forms. But great soloists remind us that rock drumming derived from jazz, where solos are syntactic structures, not bunches of excitedly busy adverbs unnecessarily crammed together. If you needed a refresher on great drum solos to remind you of how serious they can be, see some of the finest examples in the clips here, concluding with two legendary players, Phil Collins and Chester Thompson (another Zappa drummer), below.

These are two drummers among many who emerged in the early-to-mid-70s and who continued to elevate the  drum solo after Moon and Bonham left the scene. Share your picks for the Drum Solo Hall of Fame in the comments.

Related Content:  

Watch John Bonham’s Blistering 13-Minute Drum Solo on “Moby Dick,” One of His Finest Moments Live Onstage (1970)

Isolated Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Greatest: Bonham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Watch the Evolution of Ringo Starr, Dave Grohl, Tré Cool & 19 Other Drummers in Short 5-Minute Videos

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.


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Comments (56)
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  • John Wells says:

    Tommy Aldridge “Up” Black Oak Arkansas

  • Tormod says:

    Ian Paice (Deep Purple)
    Cozy Powell (various)
    Billy Cobham (various)
    And a cast of hundreds . .😁

  • Jay says:

    One of the worst articles ever written. If punk was so great why didn’t it last as long as Rush’s 40 years? You need a new job badly!

  • John says:

    Simple, Jeff Porcaro…

  • Keeper says:

    People like Robert Plant, Rodger Daltrey, and many others have killed the genre of rock drum solos. Now it’s just egotistical singers harping their crap. Same with guitar solos. Singers killed the Rock star fun.

  • Matt says:

    Don’t forget about Nick Mason…

  • A dale says:

    What about bryn bennet of the shadows he could do it all.

  • Peter T. says:

    Carl Palmer

  • some lurker says:

    Topper Headon’s playing on the Clash’s Time is Tight is a drum clinic…if you can play that, you can play anywhere with anyone.

  • Soupy C says:

    Yes Carl Palmer. A lot of the earlier ELP songs were like solos within the boundaries of a song.

  • Jim says:

    Right on Jay.And whoever’s says that Neil Peart drum solos are boring than You have no business even writing this article.Know who Your talking about before You call a drum solo boring.

  • Darian Harvey says:

    Neil Peart one of the best drummers in the world rock drummers in the world and this is Darien Harvey

  • Fred says:

    When I see some of these drummers with their huge kits and all, they all seem a bit over compensating. Buddy Rich can do 1000 times better with just a couple of drums. Hell half the rock drummers today, can (and are sometimes) being replaced with computers.

  • Salvatore Kuntz says:

    They are all Buddy Rich or Morello fans…they did nothing in the end…

  • Christopher says:

    Simon Phillips!

  • Mike Keeler says:

    Bill Ward Black Sabbath

  • Lindy Peoples says:

    What about Don Brewer,Grand Funk,Rod Morganstein,w/ Dixie Dregs, definitely Tommy Aldridge. Yeah the music scene has changed so much since the good ol 70’s. I still play drum solos ,they’re fun. They don’t have the impact they used to have back in Buddy Rich and Gene Krupas day.

  • MrTooL says:

    Nick Mason??? WTF??? Nick Mason fxckung SUX!! Are you serious??? Hey knucklehead…DANNY CAREY… check into it there poor misguided simpleton. Nick Mason pffft wtf?? Thanks for being a useful idiot tho 🤨

  • Dave says:

    Overseen Zep, Sabbatth Rush my oppion Bonham, Pert, Dave Groul, Alan white

  • JoeC says:

    Don’t forget Barrimore Barlow from Jethro Tull. Conundrum solo.

  • Jesse Wolf says:

    I’ve never seen a decent rock drum solo in my life. And I’ve seen up close Bonham, Moon, Mitchell, Baker, etc… All boring soloists. Notwithstanding their extraordinary talent when actually playing with others in their respective bands. Just saw Charlie Watts last Monday with the Stones. Awesome show, band and specifically drummer.
    And not a solo in sight.

  • Alexander Nevermind says:

    Chad Wackerman, with the right guitarist (Frank Zappa, Andy Summers, Allan Holdsworth…)

  • Jerry says:

    Seriousely…i don’t think you know much about this subject

    Have you ever heard of Carl Palmer?

  • Jerry says:

    That has to be the most ridiculous comment I have ever heard!

  • Shannon Van Patten says:

    Ginger Baker?

  • Rayray says:

    Tim Alexander of Primus.

  • Bob mcfarland says:

    Michael Schreive with Santana at Woodstock.

  • Domenic A. Laurenzi says:

    I liked Carmen Appice. He played with Jack Beck.

  • Robert Buckley says:

    The worlds greatest drummer…Ginger Baker

  • Domenic A. Laurenzi says:

    Stupid talk to text… It’s Jeff Beck!

  • Domenic A. Laurenzi says:

    Ginger was awesome.

  • MJ Critchley says:

    All Drummers mentioned are great in their own way but Carl Palmer is an amazing percussionist.There are no best players it’s all about personal preference.
    Peace and love
    MJC

  • Charles McGarry says:

    Billy Cobham will always be at the top of my list. Though I always enjoyed Bonzo’s solo during Moby Dick, too( saw him do it twice!).

  • James Costello says:

    Clive Bunker of Jethro tull

  • Pat Reidy says:

    Butch Trucks,raised drumming to an art form. Trucks was the force behind the Allman Brothers sound Trucks,Jaimoe and Mark Quinones raised drumming to a conceptual art form with 15 minutes of drums.It was nt quanity but quality for 24 years.Best drummer look no further than ABB and Butch Trucks. Eat a Peach and MT.Jam give a listen and judge for yourself.

  • Nirav Shah says:

    Do all you guys just like naming drummers that are not in the article just to show you know drummer names? Sheesh.

    Peart has the most interesting solo (reminder: interesting is more important than technical ability)… followed by his hero, Phil Collins.

    The rest of them are not particularly interesting to listen to.

    (P.S. Nick Mason?? Get the f**king hell out of here with that sh*t! lol)

  • Bill W. says:

    Peter “James” Bond of Spinal Tap. Died after spontaneously combusting on stage.

  • R. Rogers says:

    You don’t know what your talking about. Back in the day(1970’s) the drum solo showed off the true talent of the artist behind the drum kit. It was a feature attraction in most concerts
    Rush was an amazing live act and
    a Neil Peart drum solo was always a highlight of the show.
    The singer and the guitarist got all the attention while the drummer and base player just did back up to the song…
    The drum solo by all the artist mentioned where good
    But Neil Peart was the best!

  • Open Culture says:

    Chuck Ruff drummer for the Edgar Winter Group played the drum solo on the hit Frankenstein.

  • Henson Taylor says:

    Personally (and going back a fair bit) I would give CTA’s I’m a Man consideration from around 1968/69 . . . Perfect timing (definitely not too long). Can’t name the percussion guy but the 45rpm single version is succint and to the point (ie NOT the album version) . . . Who were CTA ? Chicago Transit Authority of course . . . Cheers folks . . .

  • Matt says:

    Hey not knocking Anybody because Everybody named great drummers here and I’m not saying he’s one of the best soloists ( even though he has produced some really good ones) but what about Dave Lombardo?

  • Zachary R Martin says:

    Vinnie Colaiuta
    Steve Gadd
    Steve Smith
    Monsters!!

  • Stephen Joyce says:

    Who would write an top ___ article about something they clearly hate.
    The writer is clearly closed minded and uneducated, enjoy your two chord minute and a half punk songs…I like skill and I like well Crafted songs and solos.

  • Harlan Scott says:

    Ansley Dunbar.

  • Timothy L weber says:

    Phil Collins is a dam good drummer but John Boehner is the all time hands down the best drummer ever

  • Faik Çelik says:

    Buddy Rich, Buddy Rich and Buddy Rich

  • Bobh says:

    I saw moby dick preformed at the Spectrum in Philly in the late 60s early 70s. Bonham used his hands on the cymbals as well as the drums. It was amazing to watch.

  • Ron says:

    Neil Peart.

  • Leroy Frogge says:

    Hands down John Henry Bozo Bonham was the best drummer ever.

  • Ron says:

    Buddy rich…best drummer in the world..all time ..

  • Fusseltier says:

    For me, and the style i play, I’m a mix of John Bonham, Bill Ward, and Les Binks.
    They’re the best rock drummers mix of to strive for.

  • Carter says:

    Can you say Matt Abts of Govt Mule.

  • George a Wilson says:

    Ringo star ? Yikes .Barrymore Barlow,Jethro tull. Live album. bursting out song conundrum.simon Phillips is always great as well .non rock Tony royster jr

  • Michael Rayburn says:

    Neil Peart – Nothing more to say. The name says it all.

  • Doug Hitchcock says:

    Papa Jo Jones.

    /endthreadnow

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