Who Are the Best Drum Soloists in Rock? See Legendary Performances by Neil Peart (RIP), John Bonham, Keith Moon, 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 (RIP) 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 (58)
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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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • Dan says:

    Bil­ly Cob­ham!!!!

  • Rusti Yankowsky says:

    Best drum solo, EVER!!!!

  • ChuckyBill says:

    1 vote for Clem Burke being on this list.

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