Steve Albini is the man to thank for getting the “THWACK” sound just right on Surfer Rosa opening track “Bone Machine”; David Lovering is the one who provided a beat heavy enough to make it work. Lovering is the member of the Pixies who likely received the least amount of ink over the years, but, ironically, he’s also the one who had the strongest musical ability. The band’s melodic punk-pop tunes definitely had character and dazzle, and with Lovering’s beats to back them up, they had impact as well. For the most part, the Pixies’ songs were pretty simple, enough that Lovering’s fills made the difference between a good song and a great one, and even at his most restrained, he kept control when everything seemed like it was about to run amok. – Jeff Terich
[Unwound; Corin Tucker Band]
Unwound began life in a similar vein to East Coast peers Unsane, not just in name but in abrasive, gut-churning aggression. Yet by their final album, the breathtaking double-LP Leaves Turn Inside You, the Tumwater, Washington trio had revealed a whole different side of their songwriting, which made for a fitting album on which to bow out. The decade-long ascent to that point, however, provided drummer Sara Lund with the opportunity to apply the energy and ferocity of her early performances to a more progressive and atmospheric side of the band. In the golden days, she certainly wailed. And even when the sound grew more atmospheric, she pretty much still wailed. Lund could be terrifyingly rigid or spacious and loose, and her 10 years in the band showed that being a good drummer is about versatility more than speed or aggressiveness. She just happened to have all three. – Jeff Terich
[The Jimi Hendrix Experience]
The Jimi Hendrix Experience is probably the only example in rock `n’ roll of a trio whose members were all showing off at once, and it didn’t completely fall apart. On the contrary, the interplay between Hendrix, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding was a thing of intricate beauty. Mitchell wasn’t the headlining player, mind you, but the heat he cooked up behind the set ensured that the Experience wasn’t just a great guitar band, but the complete package. To date, I’ve never felt the urge to air drum more consistently than when I hear “Manic Depression,” which is the finest example of a drummer combining the complexity of jazz dynamics with the precision and repetition of factory machinery. – Jeff Terich
Whether its his drumming with the essential New Orleans group the Meters, side projects like Wild Tchoupitoulas, or in sample-form on countless hip-hop and R&B tracks, Ziggy Modeliste has been keeping America funky for 40 years. If you have one of the fortunate ones who possess an ass, you’ve probably shaken it to something Zigaboo has played on. Modeliste pioneered “second-line” drumming, named for the joyous dancing behind the main line in a NOLA funeral procession. But Modeliste also knows how to make near quiet sound as funky as last Sunday’s gumbo. It’s a thrill to listen to his cymbal teases and subtle tom playing on the classic “Look-Ka Py Py.” The other instruments drop out for a second, but Ziggy is there to keep the song moving and you dancing. – Stephen Chupaska.
Keith Moon’s reputation as a hedonistic wild man who trashed hotel rooms and stuffed his bass drum with explosives doesn’t necessarily precede that of being a world-class drummer, but it at least equals it. His self-destructive side got a lot of press, but his sheer skill and unique ability to make any song into a theatrical production by way of his suspenseful rolls and explosive, exclamatory flumes. Moon was less about groove or keeping a solid beat than he was about making an already big production even bigger. The biggest challenge to making Who albums, according to Pete Townshend, was getting Moon to stay put in the studio. After that, the rest is gravy. – Jeff Terich
Larry Mullen Jr.
It’s kind of crazy to think that one of the initial conditions of U2′s record contract was that drummer Larry Mullen Jr. be fired. More than 30 years down the line, he remains an integral part of one of the only bands ever to keep the same lineup for three decades straight, not only providing the rhythm, but songwriting contributions as well. His own sense of rhythm, however, is described as something of a superhuman ability, Brian Eno once noting that Mullen was able to tell that a click track was off-rhythm (by six milliseconds, mind you) during a recording session. Some of his drum intros from the band’s earlier days are classics on their own, and as the band has grown from post-punk to a much more expansive stadium rock, he’s given U2 a more textured backing, having done his crucial part in making them the biggest band on the planet. – Jeff Terich
Amir “?uestlove” Thompson has the most recognizable afro in hip-hop, a long list of production credits to his name, and a pretty incredible gig as bandleader to both one of the most consistent groups in hip-hop and the house band for “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” The Roots. With hip-hop, it’s important to note, rhythm is almost everything, so making a commitment to leading an actual hip-hop band means the beats have to be outstanding, and ?uesto holds up his end of the bargain and then some. In sharp contrast to the group’s more chilled out early days, Thompson has spent the last decade spreading his percussive wings and bolstering The Roots’ organic rap with a little more funk and a lot more heft. – Jeff Terich
There are drummers who steal the show (Bonzo, Moon), drummers who bash like they’re trying to cause bodily injury (Yoshimi, Tucker), and then there are drummers like Steve Shelley, whose work has never overshadowed that of his bandmates, yet always makes a Sonic Youth song stronger. Now, in a band like Sonic Youth, trying to make more noise than Thurston Moore or Lee Ranaldo is probably futile anyhow, but in both the group’s atonal no wave phase and in their more bombastic alt-rock period, Shelley lent their songs either the gravity, the looseness or the intensity they required. I’d suggest paying closer attention to his drumming the next time they play live, but seeing as how the band’s future is uncertain at this point, hold that thought. – Jeff Terich
[Battles; Helmet; Tomahawk]
First noticed for his tight yet complicated drumming for heavy post-hardcore rockers Helmet, John Stanier has become a legend among drummers throughout the industry. While his rhythms drove the sound of Helmet, he broke new ground with noise-pop group Battles. Stanier’s beats are simple yet driving, and almost impossible to replicate perfectly. Above all else, he is always pushing himself, performing in a handful of ensembles and even being featured on songs by artists as eclectic as glitch-electronic producer Prefuse 73. He’s not afraid of innovation and always seems on the forefront of the industry. Keep it up, John. – A.T. Bossenger
There’s something inherently humorous in making the now fashionable claim that Ringo Starr was some goofball that wandered into the good fortune of having his percussive ineptitudes obscured by three of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known, which must account for its popularity considering neither close scrutiny nor expert testimony bear this layman’s claim out. As the Legend goes, when asked if Starr was the best drummer in the world, John Lennon replied: “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles!” The fact of the matter is that Lennon stuck with Ringo for his first solo outing saying, “If I get a thing going Ringo knows where to go, just like that..” Ringo, while not flashy, or given to drum solos (thank God) was adept at pretty much any style The Beatles cared to play, and even some they made up during the experimental years. For Rubber Soul Ringo detuned the drums and muffled the tonal rings, and was also instrumental in mic’ing the kit up, making it sound closer, revolutionizing the sound of recorded drums. On the rare occasion Ringo plays what could be described as a solo, critics are harsh at the lack of virtuosity, but if you set off an electronic metronome set to a perfect 126 bpm alongside Ringo’s playing leading into “The End” on Abbey Road, the two remain perfectly synchronized. Go, Ringo, GO! – Chester Whelks