The 5 Most Insane Drummers in History, With Videos Showing You Why.

Posted on 24 February 2009 by jordan


Guys like drummers. Guys especially (myself included here) like insane drummers, legends who could pound those drum-skins into complete oblivion, who had a strange, reckless, devil-may-care abandon when it came to drumming, who seemed possessed by satan and never once apologized for it. These guys were madmen, kings on earth, usually with outsized personalities that made them near-impossible to work with but amazing to listen to when all was said and done.

We’ve thought long and hard, and have now come up with what we think are the definitive five most insane drummers in history. There might be a few more technically skilled (you can find me 20 metal drummers who can probably do more insane things than these guys) and others who we just don’t feel like putting on here (Neal Peart), so take issue all you want. It doesn’t matter.

There are plenty of tributes to those wonderful studio musicians all over the internet and in every tired classic rock magazine out there, but that’s not what we’re looking for. We want that inspirational drumming, that weird drumming, that insanley over-the-top drumming that doesn’t just make you think “wow, this guy sure is talented!” but instead “holy shite my ears are melting in the face of such thundering drum power” and other such hyperbole.

These and these guys alone would make the cut for the celestial all-star drumming team, if God were somehow forced to assemble a super all-star team of monster drummers. He will be, one day.


Gene Krupa

Benny Goodman’s drummer for a long period, Krupa started the whole drummer-with-insane-facial-expressions movement, as I like to call it. One of the most entertaining classic jazz drummers ever, Krupa isn’t the most technically accomplished, but is extremely fun to watch and brings giant personality to everything he did. Check out this youtube video for proof. Or this one. There’s nothing like a sweating, insane Krupa all dressed up in his 1940s-era band uniform, going absolutely mad on a minimalist jazz kit.


Buddy Rich

Our other jazz choice. Although I think other drummers have better recorded stuff, Buddy Rich is a classic oversized musician, with the domineering personality, the straight-A asshole behaviour pattern, and the madman drumming chops to back it all up. Here he is battling Animal from the Muppet Show (in Italian, no less). There are secret recordings of Buddy Rich’s rants against his bandmates, several of which were cherished for many years by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, who actually used direct lines of his on Seinfeld. You can hear some of those classic tapes here. A true madman.


Keith Moon

The only drummer on this list to actually be certified insane (no), Ketih Moon was a psychopathic musician who did for rock drumming what… well, what a ton of other innovators did for a bunch of other instruments. Mostly using a stripped-down kit like his jazz heroes, Moon managed to make the Who’s early recordings sound so damn full of energy and life, thanks to his insane rolls and incredible speed, that he became an instant legend. The best story ever about him: he never owned a drumset, and would only practice in studios or at other people’s houses before the Who were about to go out on tour. He’d forget most of what he knew, but by the time he re-learned everything (in a matter of days) he was better than before. See him here.


Terry Bozzio

Frank Zappa’s drummer. I guess that’s all that needs to really be said, since Frank Zappa was rather insane, thus making Terry Bozzio equally nuts when onstage with him. Check out this clip from Baby Snakes to see him in action. Youtube is full of slightly boring footage of Bozzio setting up his billion-drum set and drumming for Korn and all the rest of it, but to really appreciate the weirdness of this guy, you have to see him playing with Zappa. Just watch this clip and listen to the lyrics of this song, and try to think of another mainstream drummer who’s done stuff like this before. Ignore his later stuff and he easily fits on this list.


Jon Bonham

Led Zeppelin’s drummer was booming and massive and didn’t really play with the technical skills of the rest of these guys, but was amazing because he pounded away behind a bunch of Led Zeppelin’s heaviest, loudest stuff, and his massively long solos for Moby Dick are, instead of being technical examples of superfast drumming, big showcases for how much he could pound the hell out of his drumkit. Like Keith Moon, he died relatively young from some excessive drinking and partying, but while he was around, he was a massive force behind the drums. Check out a part of Moby Dick here, and listen to a song like Rock and Roll from the remastered How the West Was Won (youtube clip here, but you need good quality for this stuff, so buy it) to understand how loud and awesome he could get.

Thoughts, comments, other drummers you think fit this bill? Tell us! Now!

46 Comments For This Post

  1. John Says:

    At last, an intelligent and interesting article…

  2. Maatt Says:

    so… where’s danny carey?

  3. Dave Says:

    What about Phil Collins??

  4. Aaron Says:

    The syncopated beat is where it’s at. Therefore… Neil Peart in Tom Sawyer can’t be beat.
    I don’t see Sandy Nelson on here either…

  5. jon Says:

    Forgot Neil Pert-Rush

  6. jon Says:

    Sorry Aaron didnt see your Neil Pert

  7. heterogene Says:

    Steve Gadd is not on …
    Shame on you
    I sell all your “woodcutters”
    (except Terry Bozzio)
    For him

  8. jordan Says:

    I only put Terry Bozzio on this list because he drummed for Frank Zappa and is a bit weird. The other dudes you guys mention are all incredibly skilled, but neither Rush nor Genesis are anywhere as cool, exciting, or “insane” as The Who or Led Zeppelin. Since the category was “insane drummers”, I didn’t want nerdy studio guys with 400 drums who can play them all really fast and preciesly. The world is full of those guys.

    Phil Collins is an extremely talented musician, but to suggest that he’s anywhere near as cool, exciting, or insane as a guy who practically exploded his band after putting too many explosives into his kit is missing the bigger picture.

    I only wanted people like Keith Moon, who blew up drums, made a mess, never practiced, looked mentally challenged behind his kit, and was still one of the best ever. It’s easy to find drummers in every city who are technically brilliant, and then there are the legendary ones that have cymbals named after them and a million crazy youtube videos. But there’s only one Ketih Moon.

    So no, there’s no way Neil Pert is getting on this list ;)

  9. Hurr Says:

    Maaaaybeee… George Kollias or Derek Roddy too?
    Note: Derek Roddy has done some experimental trance drumming outside of Nile and Hate Eternal :/

  10. Kinmio Says:

    Hey, what about Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater!!! he’s like the best of them all!

  11. ethan-ol Says:

    travis barker’s damn awesome too.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    travis barker can suck a nut

  13. Yogurt Says:

    Neil Peart.

  14. brian Says:

    robert wyatt

  15. stefano Says:

    what about GINGER BAKER??! he probably should be number one in terms of insanity.

  16. blasher Says:

    yeah travis barker is not as good as people think he is

  17. Ken Says:

    Jordan. Do you/have you ever played a drum kit?

  18. Anonymous Says:

    virgil donati, dave weckl and vinnie colaiuta

  19. Barney Says:

    Bernard Purdie

    You can’t deny the purdie shuffle, and he is a character to boot.

  20. hipster Says:

    aaaahhhhhhh!!! neil peart

  21. Anon Says:

    Thomas Pridgen

  22. silasj Says:

    stanton moore

  23. Fuckin A Says:

    Neil Peart’s skills are insane and that should be enough…He is the greatest drummer ever hands down…

  24. Insane? Says:

    If you want modern day insane watch Shannon Larkin play

  25. A noneymus Says:

    Gavin Harrison

  26. daigorocub Says:

    Neil Peart is just one guy with too many toys. That’s not a drumset… give him a classic small drumset, let him play and compare him to the other guys.

  27. hipster Says:

    Neil Peart’s was so insanely brilliant

  28. cunt Says:

    Max Roach?

  29. Beatkat Says:

    Why do people keep mentioning Travis Barker when talking about good drummers?? The guy sucks, he’s just a basher- you people should be looking at drummers like Marco Minneman, Virgil Donati, Thomas Lange, Terri Bozzio, Kieth Carlock, Dave Weckyl, Carter Beauford, Dennis Chambers- GET A CLUE PEOPLE!These are the insane ones with the technical skills and lunacy that sets the bar for drummers everywhere…

  30. Melman55 Says:

    I agree with the list…but I’d drop Bonham for Carl Palmer. I’ve seen all the great rock drummers….Moon, Peart and Bozzio…and Palmer’s got them all beat. He’s a technical dynamo!

  31. Shill Says:

    ginger baker isn’t listed!

  32. Namuhni Says:

    Nice list.
    Everyone seeing this should know about:
    Zach Hill (from Hella)
    and Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt, wears a homemade mask with a telephone receiver in it for vocals, and has an interesting minimalist kit.)

    both show a staggering amount of energy, and insanity.

  33. David Says:

    Am I allowed to mention Jojo Mayer. Such an original style… Not quite crazy though.

  34. drug Says:

    awesome rank the best of all
    i hope you can rank jojo mayer and steve smith in your top ten
    have a nice trip!

  35. Rikko Says:

    Great list…..
    I’d add Jerry Mercer of April Wine. He’s almost 70 years old and still kicking out blast beats better than 1/3 his age.

    Donati is overated.

    Jeff Porcaro, Terry Bozzio, Jojo Mayer, John Bonham, Mel Lewis and Bernard Purdie are all Insane and restrained drummers.

  36. Rikko Says:

    Great list…..
    I’d add Jerry Mercer of April Wine. He’s almost 70 years old and still kicking out blast beats better than “kids” 1/3 his age.

    Donati is overated.

    Jeff Porcaro, Terry Bozzio, Jojo Mayer, John Bonham, Mel Lewis and Bernard Purdie are all Insane and restrained drummers.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    where the hell is neil peart?

  38. Preston Says:

    so neil peart is good but he can only play rock/progressive.
    travis barker is ok but only ok at rock

    i like drummers that are the most “MUSICAL” not just the ones that can play rediculously fast. most amazingly talented drummers/percussionists are never recognized. they dont care about publicity, they just play music because thats what its all about.

    and the video of Bozzio does not show his true talent. if you listen to his solo albums you will see why he has so many drums. he creates melodies on the drumset. trying to be innovative and change drumming for the rest of us. also Ari Hoeing is a master as well.

  39. Peter Says:

    Ok u say that Neil Peart Is not insane!!!!!!!! Have u ever heard the songs spirtit of radio or yyz? Listen to them and then try to tell me he is not insane!

  40. Project_Heavy_Drummer Says:

    I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Gene Hoglan. The man is a 6-and-a-half-foot MONSTER behind the drums, and while being very technical and well-versed, has some of the weirdest licks and grooves I’ve come across, in heavy metal or any other genre. You’d be hard pressed to find a drummer more diverse and able and all-around insane as Gene. The man’s known as “The Atomic Clock” for crying out loud…

  41. Anonymous Says:

    If I had more drums than follicles of hair like Bozzio, I’m sure the term unorthodox wouldn’t be the only thing I’d be branded with. What about Steve Gadd? Or Thomas Lang?

  42. Anonymous Says:

    Also, thank god someone mentioned Jeff Porcaro. TOTO!

  43. Anonymous Says:

    Where’s The Rev?!?

  44. Jacko Says:

    Nobody mentions Steve Moore?!

  45. gerg Says:

    john bonham didn’t have the techincal skill? agree to disagree…Bonzo did things no one else could even do with an incredible feel…

  46. TDRUMS Says:

    OK I HAVE HEARD So many solos in my 30 plus years of drumming , I have been able to understand almost all of them , except a select few , Buddy Rich of course . And the solo from The studio Album FOCUS 3 . YOU Want [email protected]%&@#G Unique hell bent weirdness . Check it out if you can find it , 8 to 10 minutes long . Priceless !!! .

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