Following a competitive 10-6 countdown, we have narrowed down a list of the top 5 dead rock drummers. Plain and simple, music would have gone in a different direction without the contribution of these innovators…
5. Randy Castillo: A heavy-hitter with warp speed double-bass attack; A showman with limitless charisma and boundless energy… Randy Castillo was nothing shy of amazing; as a performer, an artist, and a teacher. He was taken by cancer in 2002, after a successful run with some of the biggest rockers in the world including Lita Ford in the early 80s, Ozzy Osbourne in the 80s and 90s, and Motely Crue during the late 90s (the years Tommy and Vince couldn’t bare to look at each other). Castillo discovered the drums after succumbing to Beatlemania in 1964. From there, he performed in his own bands until making the move to LA in 1981. He became a household name and a go to guy on the LA scene. Motley Crue didn’t even audition him when he joined the band. Unfortunately, his stint with the band was short-lived, as his health worsened. After gaining some control over cancer, rumors circulated that Castillo would join Ozzy on his 2001 tour. Several months later the cancer returned. He died at age 52, which is older than most guys on this list.
4) Cozy Powell: Powell stood out as one of the great rock drummers with sophisticated technique. He made it look so easy and with such controlled motion. The inspiration of John Bonham is glaringly obvious through his feel, power, emotion, and raw energy. He’s almost like a Bonham with classical training and impeccable double bass precision. Powell has worked with legendary acts like Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Roger Daltrey, Jack Bruce, Jeff Beck, and Brian May through a three-decade period, though never quite becoming a household name. He died in a car crash in 1998, leaving behind a life full of accomplishments and a style we have all but forgotten.
3. Earl Palmer: Son of a Vaudevillian mother, Earl Palmer was exposed to rhythm at a very early age. Many would agree that Palmer single handedly invented rock drumming by adding a heavy backbeat to a fusion of Second Line and Be-Bop. Jazz was his first love, but his implementation of subtle nuances took his playing in a direction the world would unanimously call Rock and Roll. He became an in-demand session drummer for reputable names such as Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Sam Cooke, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Sonny & Cher, the Supremes and the Monkees. Palmer wasn’t quite the party animal as some of the other drummers on this list, but probably inspired their playing in some way. He died in 2008 from health-related causes, but lives on in our minds as a rock legend.
2. Keith Moon: Moon’s unconventional style was quickly appreciated in mainstream music. His busy phrasing and poor technique were almost discouraged by drummers before him. These extraordinary imperfections were key ingredients in The Who’s recipe for greatness. A band with such wild stage antics thrived on Moon’s madness to excel. His reckless abandon was central to his character, as a drummer and as an intense partier, creating a complex synonymous with Rock and Roll. As a performer, his showmanship was uncanny – drum stick twirls, body movements, drum set destroying…. all part of the Moon legacy we admire. The most impressive thing about him is his ability to make the drums sound great. Take away the fancy antics, the alcohol, and excessive lifestyle and you have a drummer who always impressed. Plain and simple. Moon was a stunning soloist, an innovative beat maker, and a very dynamic musician. He will always be at the top of lists like these and for obvious reasons.
1. John Bonham: Relentless power, undeniable innovation, and an exemplary model for modern day rock drummers…. Ladies and Gentlemen, John Bonham. Drummerworld.com calls him “the most influential rock drummer of all times.” Bonham was the type of drummer that stole the show (in a band of superstars and on an instrument that was more commonly in the background)… Not an easy feat. He was also a tireless soloist, performing renditions of the infamous “Moby Dick” that reached up to 30 minutes. Many drummers have reported discouragement after listening to Bonham solos, as his ideas are very difficult to imitate. In addition to his soloing, one of his most recognizable trademarks was his cheetah-fast right foot, allowing for bass drum patterns that were often full of power and very speedy. Bonham is accredited with Keith Moon-like lunacy. His excessive drinking and maniacal behavior sculpted his demeanor on and off the drum set, giving him a reputation as one of Rock and Roll’s most notorious mad men. We lost him in 1980 after a morning, afternoon, and night of heavy drinking. He was 32 years old. Although his career was short-lived and ended 3 decades ago, he is a Rock God and always will be.