Over the years there have been many incredible drummers, but lots are no longer with us. This guide highlights some of the legends that have passed away.
One of the greatest things about music is that it can be recorded and enjoyed at any time. This allows us to enjoy music made by people who are sadly no longer with us.
There have been countless outstanding drummers since the beginning of popular music history, many of whom have passed away. Their legacy lives on through their songs, albums, live performances, and of course, the stories about them.
Some drummers enjoy long and decorated careers in the music industry while others create their legacy in a relatively short time, leaving us wondering what they could have accomplished had they lived longer lives.
In this list of the best drummers that passed away, we’ve selected drummers that are no longer alive but will live forever through their musical achievements. Whether you’re a rock, jazz, or metal fan, you’ll discover drummers that suit your tastes.
1. John Bonham
Few drummers can claim to have had the level of impact on music as Led Zeppelin’s rhythmic maestro John Bonham. His heavy and thunderous style of playing helped the band to achieve unprecedented success, and his influence can be heard in countless other bands today.
Born in Redditch in 1948, Bonham first got behind the kit at aged 5. After joining several bands, he eventually became part of Led Zeppelin in 1968, alongside the iconic lineup of Rober Plant on vocals, Jimmy Page on guitars, and John Paul Jones on bass.
Some of the key examples of Bonham’s innovative drumming style include the tracks “Immigrant Song,” “When The Levee Breaks,” and “Kashmir.”
Bonham’s style included the heavy use of double and triple kick drums, fat snare sounds, and energetic solos at the band’s live performances. He tragically passed away in 1980 at the age of 32 and is remembered for his influence on rock and metal drumming styles.
2. Keith Moon
No list of famous drummers would be complete without mentioning the Who’s legendary Keith Moon. His somewhat manic style of playing and flamboyant stage presence helped define the sound of the band, and his influence can still be heard today.
Moon was born in 1946 in Wembley, London, and started playing drums aged 12. In 1965, he joined the Who, replacing Doug Sandom.
His style of drumming was quite unique due to his use of tom drums and the heavy, syncopated way he grooved with bassist John Entwistle.
Moon’s untimely passing occurred in 1978. However, his legacy lives on through countless bands that continue to cite him as an influence and The Who’s commitment to continue playing in his honor.
3. Charlie Watts
When The Rolling Stones’ iconic drummer Charlie Watts passed away in 2021, it marked the end of an era for one of rock’s all-time greatest bands. His style was a combination of precision and finesse, marked by his heavy use of brushwork and unique triplet grooves.
Born in 1941 in London, Watts started playing drums at 13, inspired by the jazz music he heard on the radio. He joined The Rolling Stones in 1963 alongside Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Brian Jones, and, from then on, helped shape the sound of the band.
When Watts passed away, many wondered whether The Rolling Stone would continue. However, the band decided to carry on in his honor, but no one will ever be able to replace the unique style that he brought to the group.
4. Neil Peart
Renowned for his insane technical skills and widely regarded as one of the greatest drummers to ever pick up a stick, Rush’s Neil Peart penned some of rock’s most innovative and progressive drum parts and is undoubtedly one of the best drummers no longer with us.
Peart was born in 1952 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He joined the then-fledgling Rush in 1974, and with his help, they went on to become one of the biggest bands in rock history.
His drum solos are the stuff of legend, and his ability to combine intricate fills with highly complex grooves was unparalleled.
Additionally, Peart’s understanding of different time signatures is one of his most apparent qualities. He sadly passed away in 2020 at the age of 67.
5. Joey Jordison
The late Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison has incredible skills, but he was also famous for things like playing his drum set upside down during live shows. He was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1975 and started playing drums at a young age.
Jordison joined Slipknot in 1995 as the band was beginning to get traction, and his unique style of drumming helped them become one of the biggest metal bands in the world, penning hits like “Duality” and “Psychosocial.”
Jordison tragically passed away in 2020, leaving behind an impressive catalog of work that is sure to continue inspiring drummers for many years to come.He’s one of the most revered dead metal drummers in history.
6. Al Jackson Jr.
Despite only living to the young age of 39, legendary American drummer Al Jackson Jr. had a lasting impact on popular music. Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1935, he started playing drums at seven and quickly made a name for himself on the local scene.
Jackson was a regular session drummer at the famed Stax Records, playing on classic recordings by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Carla Thomas. He also co-wrote classic hits such as “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, showing that he was more than just a percussionist.
Jackson was tragically murdered in 1975, but his influence can still be heard today. His unique grooves and style remain timeless. The drummer will be remembered for his immense talent and creative contributions to popular music.
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7. Jeff Porcaro
Another exceptional drummer that is no longer with us is Toto’s Jeff Porcaro, who passed away in 1992.
Porcaro was born in 1954 and started playing drums at 8. He honed his skills playing in his father’s band and then later became one of the most sought-after session drummers in Los Angeles.
His style was characterized by his use of subtle grooves and ghost note accents to create a unique, laid-back funk feel, as is heard with his expert use of the Purdie shuffle in the hit track, “Rosanna.”
Porcaro achieved an insane amount in the short time he was on the planet, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 to recognize his contributions to popular music.
8. Ginger Baker
Supergroups don’t come much better than the British three-piece, Cream, who consisted of Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, Eric Clapton on the axe, and of course, the legendary, hot-headed Ginger Baker on the drums.
Baker joined Cream in 1966, helping to firmly establish them as a legendary rock and blues outfit. His style was characterized by his jazz-influenced techniques and the use of large cymbals to achieve a hard-hitting sound. Ginger Baker was also known for having a short fuse, which only added to his legend!
Later in life, he moved to South Africa and lived humbly out of the limelight. He sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 80. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest drummers of all time.
9. Tommy Ramone
Tommy Ramone was the original drummer and last surviving member of The Ramones, one of punk’s pioneering bands. He was known for his simple yet effective style that was perfectly suited to the style of the band.
Born Erdelyi Tamas in 1952 in Budapest, Hungary, he was the band’s longest-serving drummer and co-producer of their first three albums. He left the group in 1978 to focus on producing and engineering other bands, but he will always be remembered for his contribution to punk rock.
The Ramones were considered one of the bands who spearheaded punk, but eventually, they transcended the genre, becoming cult heroes around the world.
10. Tony Williams
Tony Williams was an American jazz drummer who worked with some of the most iconic musicians of his time. He was born in Chicago and quickly gained a reputation as one of the most promising young drummers in the city.
Williams joined Miles Davis’s group at the age of 17, and his playing helped to shape the sound of jazz fusion as we know it today. His work with Davis, as well as the seminal fusion group Lifetime and his own solo albums, is still revered by jazz fans worldwide.
He passed away in 1997 but his influence and legacy live on as one the most influential drummers of all time, and he will be remembered for his incredible skill and creativity behind the kit.
13. Hal Blaine
As one of the most prolific session drummers to ever live, the legendary Hal Blaine has had a tremendous impact on popular music.
The American drummer was born Harold Simon Belsky in 1929 and started his career as a studio musician in 1958. He worked with many of his generation’s most influential artists, including The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, and Frank Sinatra.
His list of studio credits is incredibly long, with over 35,000 recordings to his name. Blaine was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and passed away in 2019.
14. Clyde Stubblefield
Heralded as the original “funky drummer,” Clyde Stubblefield was a major influence on the development of funk, soul, and R&B music.
The American drummer was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1943 and is most famous for his worth with the renowned James Brown. Stubblefield played with Brown from 1965 to 1971 and is credited for creating many of the funk grooves that have been sampled and covered throughout the decades.
In addition to his work with Brown, Stubblefield also had a successful solo career which saw him working with artists like Bootsy Collins and Prince. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 73.
15. Taylor Hawkins
The tragic passing of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins in 2022 shocked the music world. One of the most talented and charismatic drummers of his generation, Hawkins was instrumental in creating the sound of his Dave Grohl-led band.
Hawkins came from humble beginnings, having grown up in La Habra, California and his passion for drums was obvious from a young age. He joined Foo Fighters in 1997 and quickly became an integral part of their sound, playing with a unique style influenced by his punk rock roots.
His death was met with an outpouring of grief from the music industry and fans alike, who remembered him for his incredible talent and passion.
16. Earl Palmer
Aspiring young drummers, regardless of their style or genre, can benefit from studying the work of Earl Palmer.
The Louisiana-born drummer was an important figure in the development of R&B, rock and roll, and jazz music during the 20th century. He began his career as a jazz drummer in 1947 and went on to become one of the most recorded session drummers ever.
Palmer worked with a long list of iconic artists throughout his career, including Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and The Beach Boys. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 84, leaving a lasting legacy in music.
17. Vinnie Paul
Perhaps not the best-known on this list, Vinnie Paul is still one of the most unique and influential musicians in history. Paul, who was born in Abilene, Texas, in 1964, is best known for his work with the pioneering heavy metal band Pantera with whom he released tracks like “Walk” and “Cemetery Gates.”
Stylistically, he was known for his aggressive playing style, and creative drum fills, which helped shape the sound of the metal genre.
Paul also had a successful solo career and was an in-demand session drummer, performing with artists like Dimebag Darrell, Motorhead, and Ozzy Osbourne. He tragically passed away in 2018 at the age of 54.
18. Buddy Rich
The iconic Buddy Rich is considered by many to be one of the greatest drummers of all time. A jazz drummer by trade, Rich was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1917 and first started playing drums at the age of two!
He had a long and successful career, recording with big names like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Gene Krupa. He also had a successful solo career, with his 1984 album Burning For Buddy being one of his most acclaimed recordings.
Rich was known for his energetic solos, expert timing, and unique playing style. He passed away in 1987 at the age of 69.
19. Cozy Powell
The late Cozy Powell was a hard-hitting drummer who made a name for himself playing in some of the 70s and 80s most influential rock bands. The musician was born in Cirencester, England, in 1947 and started playing drums at the age of 12.
Powell had a highly successful career, playing with the likes of Jeff Beck, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath and Emerson Lake & Palmer – not a bad resume! He was also a successful solo artist, releasing his debut album Over the Top in 1979.
Powell passed away in 1998, but his legacy lives on through the music he left behind. He was a true pioneer of rock drumming and will always be remembered fondly by fans and fellow musicians for his contribution to rock music.
20. Gene Krupa
A pioneer of the big-band era, the late Gene Krupa was one of the most influential jazz drummers of all time. Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1909, he was considered one of the first jazz drummers to become a star. He was known for his high-energy performances and innovative use of the drum kit.
He played in some of the biggest big bands in history, including those of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
Krupa passed away in 1973 at the age of 64. He left behind an impressive legacy in the world of jazz, having inspired generations of drummers with his undeniable talent and skill.
21. Mitch Mitchell
Imagine being tasked with playing the drums in a band with arguably the greatest electric guitarist ever to live – well, that was a challenge that Mitch Mitchell relished.
Born in Ealing, London, in 1947, Mitch Mitchell was the drummer for Jimi Hendrix’s iconic band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Mitchell was known for his creative and often wild playing style, which perfectly complemented Hendrix’s groundbreaking guitar work.
Along with bassist Noel Redding, the trio released some of rock’s greatest classics, including “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady,” he certainly deserves to be mentioned on this list of the best drummers that are dead.
Although The Jimi Hendrix Experience was relatively short-lived, the band left behind some of the most influential and iconic music in history.
Mitch Mitchell passed away in 2008 at the age of 61. He left behind an array of great recordings, as well as a legacy as one of rock’s greatest drummers.