To be a successful session drummer, a musician must have excellent technical ability combined with the networking and people skills required to land jobs. These qualities are essential if you want to land studio work.
The most recorded studio drummers in history all possessed another key quality – a relentless work ethic to match their skills.
This article features a selection of the session drummers that have played on the most releases. We’ve analyzed their credits and discographies to find an accurate estimate of releases – including albums, singles, soundtracks, and any other studio projects they’ve played on.
If you’re a drummer, the ridiculous work ethic of these drummers will inspire you to push yourself!
- 1. Hal Blaine
- 2. Buddy Harman
- 3. Buddy Rich
- 4. Karl Brazil
- 5. Aaron Sterling
- 6. Tony Meehan
- 7. Roy Haynes
- 8. Harvey Mason
- 9. John “Jr” Robinson
- 10. Bernard Purdie
- 11. Earl Palmer
- 12. Jim Keltner
- 13. Tony Williams
- 14. Jeff Porcaro
- 15. Larrie Londin
- 16. Gene Krupa
- 17. Paul Leim
- 18. Al Jackson Jr.
- 19. Ash Soan
- 20. Vinne Colaiuta
- 21. Frank Capp
- 22. Steve Gadd
1. Hal Blaine
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 2,000
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Sam Cooke, Simon and Garfunkel, Elvis Presley
Although he may not be a household name, Hal Blaine’s impact on popular music arguably matches any other musician or artist of the past century.
Blaine worked relentlessly throughout the 1960s and 1970s, playing on countless number-one hits, including the likes of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel.
We managed to identify around 2,000 studio albums, singles, and other projects that Blaine played drums on, but some claim that he was involved in over 35,000 recordings, making him the world’s most recorded drummer!
Born in 1929, Blaine was initially self-taught, using parts of a chair to play along to songs on the radio as a young child. Eventually, he started to frequent a theater with his father every Sunday and would get to witness the likes of Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman playing with their bands.
After honing his craft in the studio and making connections in the music industry throughout the 1950s, Blaine would go on to appear on a total of 40 number-one singles, with 150 drumming credits on top 10 songs – both remarkable achievements.
2. Buddy Harman
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 680
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton
Widely regarded as the pioneer of country drumming, Buddy Harman’s long and decorated career spanned over four decades and saw him work on a huge number of records in some capacity.
Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, a place with a rich musical heritage, Harman played on records by many of the biggest stars of the 20th century. These included the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Willie Nelson, to name a few.
It’s estimated that Harman played on over 17,000 studio sessions in his career, but we have only counted the ones that could be verified. Still, playing on 680 studio projects is a remarkable achievement!
3. Buddy Rich
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,860
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Harry James, Tom Dorsey
Born in 1917, Buddy Rich was a child prodigy that was working in the music and theater industry before he reached the age of ten years old!
Rich’s talents at a young age essentially meant that he never got to experience a normal childhood, as he had already toured Australia at the age of seven. It wasn’t until he was exposed to jazz in 1937 that he really found his musical calling.
In the decades that followed, he developed his skills as a jazz drummer and began to win many accolades for his exceptional talents. He played with some of the most highly regarded jazz ensembles in history and is credited with performing on close to 2,000 studio projects.
4. Karl Brazil
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 200
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Feeder, Robbie Williams, Elton John
Although British drummer Karl Brazil may not have appeared on as many studio projects as some of the most recorded drummers in this list, it’s the number of hits that he has drummed on that is most impressive.
Making a name for himself as the drummer in the rock band Feeder, Brazil has appeared on hundreds of studio recordings, mostly for pop artists from the U.K or the U.S.
He’s played drums for the likes of Robbie Williams, Jason Mraz, Elton John, and Natalie Imbruglia, and is still active as a session drummer, so the number of recordings he appears on will continue to rise in the coming years.
5. Aaron Sterling
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 2,660
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Tears for Fears, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey
When you look through Aaron Sterling’s back catalog of credits, it’s remarkable that he is still under 50 years of age. This talented drummer has played with some of the biggest pop stars in the United States over the past decade or so.
Sterling doesn’t stick to one genre when recording and has played with a diverse mixture of artists, showcasing his versatility.
He’s also an accomplished live drummer, touring on multiple occasions with world-renowned musician John Mayer and featuring in several of his music videos.
6. Tony Meehan
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 350
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Hank Marvin
Born in 1940, Tony Meehan began playing when he was 14 years old. He joined the British rock band The Shadows in 1959 and played on more than 300 recordings with the group.
In 1961, he became the first drummer ever to play on Top of the Pops, a popular television music program that showcased the music that was currently in the Uk charts.
Meehan left The Shadows in 1966 and went on to play for several other bands, including Wee Willie Harris & His Bluesicians, The Nashville Teens, and The Hollies, becoming one of the most prolific session drummers to ever come from the U.K.
7. Roy Haynes
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,360
- Notable Artists Drummed For: John Coltrane, Charles Mingus
Roy Haynes was born in 1925 in Detroit, Michigan, and started drumming when he was just five years old after his uncle taught him basic rudiments on an old barrel. He played his first gig at the age of 6, drumming with his father’s jazz band at a local hotel.
Haynes has recorded on over 1,000 albums and played on countless more sessions in some capacity. His work as a solo artist has also been prolific, and his career has spanned over eight decades, making him one of the longest-standing studio drummers in the world.
Some of the most notable artists that Haynes has worked as a session musician for include Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie.
8. Harvey Mason
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,600
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Herbie Hancock, George Shearing, Errol Garner
Harvey Mason Sr. is a highly accomplished drummer who originally specialized in jazz but has done session work across a variety of genres. Mason has drummed for some of the biggest acts in popular music history.
With over 1,500 studio sessions under his belt, Mason at one time found himself recording up to three sessions per day! His expert timing and ability to play exactly what the song required have earned him much praise in the music industry.
His son, Harvey Mason Jr., has enjoyed a successful career in the music industry as a producer and businessman, working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
9. John “Jr” Robinson
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 890
- Notable Artists Drummed For: The Weeknd, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson
John “Jr” Robinson is widely regarded as one of the most recorded musicians in popular music history, with a career stretching over forty years.
Robinson has worked frequently with legendary producer Quincy Jones, which led to him playing on Michael Jackson’s legendary album Off The Wall, amongst other singles.
Remarkably, JR has drummed on over fifty tracks that have won Grammy Awards – an achievement that isn’t matched by any other session drummer. To this day, he’s still recording drums for the likes of Lady Gaga and other prominent artists.
10. Bernard Purdie
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 380
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock, B.B. King
Bernard Purdie is an iconic drummer best known for inventing the “Purdie shuffle,” a complex groove that has been used by countless drummers. Purdie has worked with legends in the genres of pop, R&B, and blues over the years.
We found over 380 studio projects that Bernard Purdie is credited with playing on, and he’s also released several solo projects.
In addition to his prolific session work, Purdie has toured extensively throughout his career. He’s also worked as a musical director and is an accomplished jazz ensemble leader.
11. Earl Palmer
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,200
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Miles Davis, Fats Domino, Little Richard
The late Earl Palmer is credited with being one of the first rock and roll drummers, playing on thousands of recordings. He worked on the majority of Little Richard’s studio albums and singles and also worked heavily on music for TV and movies.
Palmer served in World War II and, upon returning, began to take his music career seriously. He was a talented pianist in addition to being an exceptional drummer.
For over thirty years, Palmer was one of the go-to drummers for the biggest names in music, film, and television. He’s recorded drums for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Costello, and Tom Waits.
Earl Palmer’s legacy has been immortalized in countless hit recordings, and he has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
12. Jim Keltner
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,000
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Traveling Wilburys, John Lennon, George Harrison
Jim Keltner was one of the most popular session drummers in the 1960s and 1970s when rock music was the dominant force in America.
Keltner was initially interested in jazz, but as he saw that the genre’s popularity was waning in the late 1950s, he chose to focus more on rock n’ roll.
He is best known for his sessions drumming for ex-members of The Beatles – the best-selling band of all time. He recorded drums for John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, also joining the latter on tour in 1989.
13. Tony Williams
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 550
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Miles Davis
Tony Williams was one of the most respected drummers of all time. In his career, he worked with many iconic musicians as a session drummer including Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
After looking at his performing credits, we found that Williams played on over 500 records. His untimely death at the age of 51 leaves you wondering how many more recordings he would have made had he lived longer.
14. Jeff Porcaro
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,200
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Toto, Elton John, Michael Jackson
Despite passing away at the young age of 38, Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro is one of the most recorded session musicians in music history. With over a thousand sessions under his belt, Porcaro’s talent can be heard on many albums and singles.
Along with his prolific output with Toto, Porcaro worked with many of the biggest names in popular music, recording drums in a variety of different styles.
15. Larrie Londin
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 430
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Neil Young, Chet Atkins, B.B. King
Other than perhaps Hal Blaine, Larry Londin is the sessions drummer that performed on the most hit singles. He worked with a variety of Motown artists, then moved to the vibrant musical city of Nashville in the 1960s, where he was regarded as the top session drummer.
Lodin’s ability to play simple grooves with expert timing and tightness, along with his likable personality, was what made him such a success in the recording studio.
16. Gene Krupa
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 2,000
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan, Buddy Rich
Gene Krupa was a multi-talented individual. Not only is he one of the most prolific studio drummers in jazz history, but he also worked as a band leader and as an actor.
Krupa is credited with contributing to thousands of albums and singles and was renowned for his energetic, eccentric live performances. His skills earned him gigs with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.
17. Paul Leim
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,380
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Shania Twain, Whitney Houston, Randy Travis
With over 1,000 recordings to his name, Paul Leim is a highly sought-after session musician. Rather than sticking to one genre, he’s played on many jazz, pop, rock, and country tracks, laying down drum recordings for the biggest names in the music industry.
Raised in Texas, Leim began to play drums at a young age and eventually moved to L.A in his 20s pursuing a career as a drummer. This proved to be a wise decision, as he gained a reputation for being a highly reliable and hard-working session musician.
18. Al Jackson Jr.
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 2,000
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Tina Tuner, Bill Withers, Al Green
Nicknamed “The Human Timekeeper,” Al Jackson Jr. is one of the tightest studio drummers of all time. He also had an insane work ethic, which led to him being credited on thousands of studio releases.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 for his work with Booker T. & the M.G’s, Jackson Jr. also played on the recordings of legendary artists like Otis Redding, Eric Clapton, and Wilson Pickett.
19. Ash Soan
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 630
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Snow Patrol, Cher, Billy Idol
British drummer Ash Soan has worked extensively as a session drummer since 1994. He’s one of the most prolific session drummers to ever come from the UK, and has worked with many of the country’s top pop stars over the past two decades.
Ash Soan is one of the most sought after modern session drummers today, and he is renowned for his impeccable groove and superb playing feel.
His playing style combines technical proficiency, musical sensitivity, and a deep understanding of groove and rhythm.
In addition to his session work, Ash Soan also shares his passion for drumming through teaching and educational platforms. He is widely recognized as one of the UK’s top-selling drummers, emphasizing his influence and impact on the drumming community.
20. Vinne Colaiuta
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,500
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Steve Vai, Sting, Brian Wilson
Winning an audition to rock legend Frank Zappa’s band was something that not many musicians got to experience, but Vinne Colaiuta did. He played on four Zappa albums, before embarking on a prolific career that saw him record over a thousand studio sessions.
Colaiuta has recorded with the likes of B.B King, Leonard Cohen, The Temptations, and more. He’s still an active session musician over forty years since he made his first recording.
21. Frank Capp
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 1,100
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Chet Baker, Miles Davis
American drumming legend Frank Capp recorded countless hits in the genres of jazz and rock. He refined his skills playing with the renowned jazz pianist Stan Kenton, then found success working in the television and film industries before becoming a full-time session drummer in the 1970s.
Capp’s career spanned several decades, and he performed with numerous notable artists and bands. He played drums for renowned musicians such as Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Harry James, and Stan Getz, among others.
Capp’s ability to adapt to different musical settings, whether in a big band or small ensemble, showcased his sensitivity and style.
22. Steve Gadd
- Estimated Number of Studio Projects Played On: 650
- Notable Artists Drummed For: Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Chick Corea
Steve Gadd’s incredible career spans over five decades, during which he has worked as a studio drummer with numerous iconic artists and bands across various genres.
Gadd’s mastery behind the drum set and his exceptional musicality, technical proficiency, and versatility, has made him highly sought-after for studio recordings and live performances.
Throughout his career, Steve Gadd has collaborated with renowned musicians such as Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Al Jarreau, and many others.
Steve Gadd is one of my favorite drummers, and he plays drums with such a wonderful sense of groove. I love his incredible musicality and creativity. He has a profound ability to play in the pocket in a way that very few drummers can.