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.
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.
Tommy Aldridge “Up” Black Oak Arkansas
Ian Paice (Deep Purple)
Cozy Powell (various)
Billy Cobham (various)
And a cast of hundreds . .😁
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!
Simple, Jeff Porcaro…
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.
Don’t forget about Nick Mason…
What about bryn bennet of the shadows he could do it all.
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.
Yes Carl Palmer. A lot of the earlier ELP songs were like solos within the boundaries of a song.
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.
Neil Peart one of the best drummers in the world rock drummers in the world and this is Darien Harvey
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.
They are all Buddy Rich or Morello fans…they did nothing in the end…
Bill Ward Black Sabbath
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.
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 🤨
Overseen Zep, Sabbatth Rush my oppion Bonham, Pert, Dave Groul, Alan white
Don’t forget Barrimore Barlow from Jethro Tull. Conundrum solo.
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.
Chad Wackerman, with the right guitarist (Frank Zappa, Andy Summers, Allan Holdsworth…)
Seriousely…i don’t think you know much about this subject
Have you ever heard of Carl Palmer?
That has to be the most ridiculous comment I have ever heard!
Tim Alexander of Primus.
Michael Schreive with Santana at Woodstock.
I liked Carmen Appice. He played with Jack Beck.
The worlds greatest drummer…Ginger Baker
Stupid talk to text… It’s Jeff Beck!
Ginger was awesome.
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
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!).
Clive Bunker of Jethro tull
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.
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)
Peter “James” Bond of Spinal Tap. Died after spontaneously combusting on stage.
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!
Chuck Ruff drummer for the Edgar Winter Group played the drum solo on the hit Frankenstein.
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 . . .
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?
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.
Phil Collins is a dam good drummer but John Boehner is the all time hands down the best drummer ever
Buddy Rich, Buddy Rich and Buddy Rich
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.
Hands down John Henry Bozo Bonham was the best drummer ever.
Buddy rich…best drummer in the world..all time ..
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.
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
Neil Peart – Nothing more to say. The name says it all.
Papa Jo Jones.
Best drum solo, EVER!!!!
1 vote for Clem Burke being on this list.