The Best Drummer In the World Is…

by Omar on October 5, 2008

in Editorials

When I was a kid, not only was Neil Peart my favorite drummer, I thought he was the best drummer in the world. No question. Indisputable. No one could tell me anyone was better. But what was that based on?

As you may have noticed, my theme generally in my writing has mostly a rock slant. That’s because I grew up listening mostly to what today we call classic rock. Of course there were (and are) many great jazz and Latin drummers, and in other genres, but I listened to what my older brother listened to, and that was rock: Kiss, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, and the like. My absolute favorite drummer at the time was Peter Criss. I loved Kiss! And since we were four boys, you guessed it, we each were a different member of the band (ironically, I wasn’t Criss, I was someone else, and I ain’t sayin’ who!). To me, Peter Criss was the best drummer in the world! But what was that based on?

Peter Criss; Neil Peart – why the change in opinion? I loved Kiss. They could do no wrong. Peter Criss (or the band, I don’t remember) won awards of some kind, so since they were my favorite band, he must’ve been the best drummer! Wasn’t too hard for me to figure out. Little did I know that there was a particular drummer named Buddy Rich who could play circles around, oh I don’t know, everybody! My cousin’s husband, who was a drummer himself, tried to explain that to me, but I would have none of it. I guess I was too young and naïve to reason.

So one day, one of my brother’s friends asks me who I like. I said Kiss. He laughed a little, then said, “Here, listen to this tape, then let me know what you think.” It was Moving Pictures from Rush, 1981. Well I listened, and right there, with all due respect to Kiss, that chapter of my musical taste was closed. Rush blew me away, and the drumming: who was that? I’d never heard anything like it. He was so technically precise, and it wasn’t just about patterns and fills. It seemed like the drumming told a story of its own, like if every single note, every strike, was deliberate. Guess who I thought the best drummer in the world was now?

Around this time I started to pay a little more attention to other drummers, but mainly just to compare them to Peart. To me, there was no comparison. I guess I was a little stubborn! I would find it amazing that anyone spoke of their favorite in the same breath as Peart. I asked a girl in high school who I knew liked the drums who she thought was the best drummer (expecting her to say Neil Peart, of course). She said Stewart Copeland! She had some explaining to do! As much as she tried, I was not convinced. She did mentioned that she loved his hi-hat work (which is quite amazing, needless to say), but it wasn’t enough for me.

I asked a high school buddy of mine the same question and he said Alex Van Halen. Now I liked Alex a lot, but to me, he wasn’t Neil Peart.

I started to realize something, however. There wasn’t really a way for me to explain, or even justify, who the best drummer in the world is. It was looking more and more like, people were equating best drummer to favorite drummer. This is obviously not the same thing, but it goes to show that the terms ‘best’ and ‘favorite’ are often confused. And it tends to occur more in the younger audience than in the older.

I learned that whoever moves you to play, or to listen intently to every nuance, could qualify as the best drummer, but to the listener only. If that drummer made you want to play to the utmost best of your ability, inspire you to try new things, that could qualify as the best drummer in the world, but again, only to the listener. If you just love drums for listening only and not to play, whatever drummer (probably mostly jazz in this case) made you listen in awe and ‘move’ you, that could qualify as the best drummer in the world, but again, only to that listener. ‘Favorite’ drummer applies much better than does ‘best’ drummer.

Well I’m older now, and my tastes are expanding. Neil Peart continues to be my favorite drummer. But is he the best? Well in my book, there’s no such thing. In the future I’ll go into detail as to why he’s my favorite drummer and how his playing has influenced my playing, but suffice it to say that he is an excellent all-around creative drummer. Not just technique, but letting the drums speak for themselves, not just for timekeeping or the occasional fill. Steve Smith has crept up to be my number two (or maybe 1b to Neil’s 1a), for different reasons altogether.

So who’s the best drummer in the world? Last chance scenario could be who most drummers consider to be the best, and the name that usually comes up as the best drummer of all time is the aforementioned Buddy Rich. Arguably. But unfortunately, he’s no longer with us. So the question will remain – always.*
*Please read the follow-up to this article, "Passion for Our Favorite Drummer"

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill October 3, 2015 at 7:44 pm

In addition to all of the “Vital Tech Tones” and “Vital Information” albums with Steve smith, I highly recommend Neal Schon’s two recent solo albums “The Calling” and “Vortex.” Steve Smith is the drummer on both albums, and it gives a great example of how he’s not just a great Jazz drummer, he’s a great Rock drummer as well!


Sticks Downy April 25, 2013 at 3:24 am

I don’t believe there is any “Best” drummer. As music comes in all styles, so do styles of playing drums. I am just returning to playing after a 16 year hiatus.

I was playing main showrooms in Las Vegas and in fact was the house drummer in the most admired showroom of the day, the Circus Maximus at Caesar’s Palace.

On that gig I worked with George Burns on three different occasions. Each time he had a different pianist…I guess because they kept dying on him.

Anyway, after the rehearsal on one of Burn’s appearances, the piano player took me aside and explained to me how to play ragtime. Real ragtime.

Most of you probably have never even heard the term. But let me tell you, an experience and lesson from that pianist was one of highlights of my career. It’s like the WWII vets just now, at the end of their lives opening up about the experiences, horror and acts of valor performed. The terrible and wondrous things they saw and did. Why, because their all dying, and want the world to know what they went through. What the World went through.

Well that 15 minute ragtime lesson was like that. You can’t read in a book, see in a movie or find a personal instructor to teach you how to play ragtime drums. Why, because most, it not all of the milestones of that era are either dead or incapacitated to the point of where they can’t do it, much less teach it.

I grew up in a jazz household listening to Max Roach, Ed Thigpen (actually met him at a clinic) Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Louis Bellson and the latin music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. My Dad played. Not a great chops player but could lay down a groove deep enough to swallow your house. He was my teacher, but not at his insistence; at my desire to learn. He started me on a snare drum with the Carl E Gardner method and the 26 basic rudiments. The way a drummer of any style should start IMHO.

He mentored me and set me up with other players, not necessarily other drummers to mentor me. Talk about concepts, play some. Gig some. I was gigging at age 12. I loved music, but had yet to open myself up to ALL of it due my highbrow Jazz attitude. NEVER make that mistake. Before I left my home state of Michigan I had the honor of playing with a bass player I’d wager none of you have even heard of…Ronnie Harvell R.I.P.

Ronnie taught me more about groove and pocket than anyone else I’ve ever met, let alone worked with. You can hear him on old Ike and Tina Turner records and some of Junior Walker’s stuff. He was a slapper when now one else, save for Larry Graham was slapping. We’d tape our gigs and listen back to the tapes with Ronnie telling me where I was headed down the right road and when I was not. And most importantly WHY!

Like the George Burns experience, you can’t buy that shit at any price.

I know I’ve gotten way off topic here, but it is my belief that there is no World’s greatest drummer. Nor will there ever be. There is some 12 year old kid out there that will someday blow the doors off of the drumming community. And one yet to be born yet that will do the same. Being brought up in a jazz environment I shunned country music terribly. Especially after learning about R&B from Ronnie. Then in Vegas I had to sub for a friend in his country band for two nights. On the second night of that gig we dug into a groove as deep as any one I’d played with Ronnie. To me Country, old school Country is nothing more or less than white mans R&B. It serves to lighten the load of the working man’s life. It just does so on 1 & 3 instead of 2 & 4. Let me tell you, you can swing just as hard on 1 & 3 as 2 & 4.

So listen to and become comfortable if not master music you know nothing about. And incorporate what you’ve learned into your preferred style.

I’m more of Vinnie Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers or Steve Jordan kind of player. Or at least are influenced by them. Groove is EVERYTHING. And there are many types of grooves, on the beat, behind the beat or ahead of the beat…maybe all in the same tune. I’m digging on Nine Inch Nails, Steve Vai and especially Jeff Beck.

As I said earlier I’m returning to playing after a 16 year hiatus which occurred from playing too many Vegas production shows. Hit the cymbal when the dancers kick their legs 12 times a week. Showroom drumming takes a lot out of you a little at a time. When I hung ’em up it was because I wasn’t playing music. I was making car bumpers in a GM plant. I was knocking down over $700.oo a week with health care and a pension. I ended up getting fired from that gig. The one and only time I’ve been fired from any gig, musical or not, because I was sending in too many subs. I Hated it and had started a recording studio dedicated to the broadcast industry. TV and Radio commercials, doing dialog replacement for feature films, doing episodic TV. I did 2/3ds of Criss Angel’s MindFreak second season. I fired him because we was (and is) an asshole. My studio can do anything. Except record music. I’d grown to hate it that much.

The point is that the studio was demanding more of my time and gave me more satisfaction than the GM gig I was playing. So I quit. Then about 3 months ago something snuck up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder from behind and said “Where have you been?” It was music calling. Because again I was making bullshit TV spots with a legacy of 13 weeks dedicated to selling you shit that you don’t need . I once again had no way to express myself in the manner that music can. There are things we can only say by playing music. And I’ve got a lot of unsaid emotions pent up for 16 years.

So I’m back at it. It is hard, knowing what you want to say but can’t. Because the mind is still agile, but the limbs are not. But if I can catch a deep groove now and then, it pours out of you and you can’t stop it. Music is the one and only place that I feel that unbridled joy and innocent happiness.

So I’m coming back. I’m not there yet, but look over your shoulder cause one day I will be back. But I will NEVER play for money again. I play music that makes me and my bandmates feel good and I could give a rat’s ass if you or anyone else like it. This is my time and I have a lot to catch up on which is one of the reasons I joined this site.

Oh, and that invisible guy that tapped me on the shoulder 3 months ago? I like to think it was the Best drummer in the world.
My Dad.


Omar April 26, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Mr. Downy, I don’t think I could’ve said it better myself! Your story is most inspiring. If you ever post your playing online, please let us know. Can’t wait for that! 🙂


Robert February 26, 2013 at 2:04 am

The only drummer in the world that outbests all of them is the late BUDDY RICH, period.. No one even, remotely, comes close to his improvisational skills, speed and endurance. He played drums starting at the age of 2 years old. He played right up until his death in 1987. So basically he played for 67 years, more than anybody. I know people like to here like to say who the best drummer is but they are only thinking of Rock and Roll and not all the other genres of music.

For me, the best drummer must be the best improvisational drummer. The only other drummers I consider the best, besides Buddy, are Steve Smith (Journey) and Stewart Copeland, without a doubt, and late John Boham.

Finally, there are unknowns that I consider to be better than most professionals. In 1984, I was in Hawaii in that Ala Moana Shopping Mall and there was a Japanese band playing music for all to hear for free. I have no idea what the drummers name was in that band but he knocked my socks off with his licks. That was a memorable moment in my life I’ll never forget. I wish I had asked for his name and the name of that band. Oh well.


Bill February 4, 2013 at 10:57 pm

IMO Steve Smith is the greatest all-around drummer ever.
Anyone that has never heard Steve Smith in Vital Information or Vital Tech Tones is really missing out on some mind-blowing drumming.

I also HIGHLY recommend that all drumming fans listen to Aynsley Dunbar’s drumming on Journey’s first three albums, “Journey” “Look Into The Future” and “Next!” Seriously, every serious drumming fan needs to hear those three albums.


James Hernandez March 23, 2009 at 11:28 am

Omar, I too am a frustrated drummer who just started playing again as I enter my second childhood. I feel your pain bro. I’ve always loved watching the incredible work that Buddy Rich did. Joe mentioned Steve Smith as not having the name in music circles as Peart, but I know in drumming circles, Steve made his name with Journey and has evolved into one of the premier drummers in the business. As for the best drummer in the world? There is none. It all comes down to who is your favorite, not who is the best. My favorite is Steve Gadd. I just really enjoy his style of drumming. P.S. Neil Peart is pretty darn good too!!


Omar March 24, 2009 at 11:08 am

Hi James.

My main problem right now is time – I have so little of it! So my progress is slower than I like it to be, but it’s fun nevertheless.

I think at this point Steve Smith definitely needs to be mentioned among the elite drummers in the world, hence he’s one of my favorites! And thanks very much for commenting!


Joe January 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I also worshipped Neil Peart when I was young.. he was very influential to many drummers.

but….then there are “Jazz” drummers.

The Smith I mention above is Steve Smith.
He just finished up a tour with other members of Buddy Rich’s horn section.. (yes, he plays actual Rich songs)

Though I like,respect Peart.. Steve Smith runs circles around him..(in EVERY aspect of drumming)
Victor Wooten vs Steve Smith on YOUTUBE is a “small sample” of what he is about.
Anyone who gets a chance to see Steve Smith play live,please don’t miss it.

He has won “best All-around drummer” as many times as a drummer is allowed for that magazines polls.

he doesn’t have the “name” in music circles like Peart,Bonham,etc…but jazz/fusion drummers that follow drums know him.


Omar January 29, 2009 at 10:23 am

Hi Joe.

Thanks for your comment. Very interesting. I think that the “best” drummer issue is so subjective, that it’s probably better to just have a “legendary” category and put that type of drummer there. There’s usually no dispute on who those are. I would say Neil Peart belongs there, as does Steve Smith for sure. The other drummers you mention for sure go there too.

I’m not sure if Steve Smith runs “circles” around Neil Peart, but there’s no doubt that there are things Steve can do (or play) that Neil cannot, and Neil would probably be the first to admit it!


Jean Paradis December 29, 2008 at 8:35 pm

I saw other drummers do the work of NEIL PEART.
But i never saw someone do the same or equal To Stewart Copeland. He plays a very different way and i think is the best of all time !


Omar December 30, 2008 at 8:09 am

Hi Jean.

Yes, many drummers imitate Neil Peart, and you don’t hear as many say the same regarding Stewart Copeland. And Stewart definitely plays in a unique way, which does make him hard to imitate. I have no beef with Steward being your best; he’s definitely up there! If you haven’t already, you can read my take on his performance in the 2006 Modern Drummer Festival at this link here. Thanks so much for your comment, and don’t forget to subscribe!


Chris October 9, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Very refreshing view of playing “favorites”. To each their own!


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