Last Updated on June 22, 2021 by Danny
The drum solo is where a drummer can showcase his talent truly. He is no longer in the background as a timekeeping machine; he takes center stage and becomes flamboyant.
You can see just how much energy, skill, limb coordination, and talent a drummer has. The drumming legends have laid down some great drum solos through the years that are just orgasmic to watch and hear.
We have listed the best drum solos of all time, from the days of Gene Krupa in the 1940s to the work of Danny Carey in 2019. Not only have the sizes of drum kits grown in that time, but even the appeal of drum solos too.
20 Best Drum Solos of all time
Enough of this intro. Let’s begin the ranking!
1.Buddy Rich — Concert for the Americas solo (1982)
Bernard “Buddy” Rich is one of the most influential drummers ever. He has, without question, inspired the generations of drummers who have come after him. Everyone from Neil Peart to Roger Taylor has praised his impressive playing.
The Concert For The Americas in 1982 in the Dominican Republic at the Altos de Chavón Amphitheater is probably his most outstanding solo ever. He has used so many innovative techniques in this concert that it is simply mind-boggling. The most standout moment in this solo is when he grabs the cymbal with his left hand, places his thumb on the top cymbal, and all the while using his other fingers to roll his left stick on the underside of the hi-hat. Remember, he is muting the cymbal with his left hand this entire time. Not only does this sound simply amazing, but it is also an incredible visual spectacle.
While this list has many of the greatest drummers who ever lived, Buddy Rich is incomparable. He was naturally gifted, had incredible technique, and without question, the king of slam. Just check out his other solos, and you will know how unbelievable he has been in his lifetime.
Fun fact, Buddy Rich never learned to read sheet music and always listened to drum parts and played from his memory.
2. John Bonham — “Moby Dick,” Led Zeppelin (1970 performance)
If you look at any list of the greatest rock solos of all time, John Bonham will be flying high on top of that list. He powered Led Zeppelin to its greatness with not just his excellent timekeeping but with impressive solos too. However, his greatest masterpiece would be his Moby Dick drum solo at Royal Albert Hall in 1970. It is about a 12-minute solo that is simply flawless. His power, energy, and finesse are profound throughout the entire solo.
The variation throughout Moby Dick is just exciting! He begins with a boomy powerful section before laying down a quick waltz. He then discards his drumsticks and plays a Latin section with just his hands. Then, in the final section, he goes berserk. There are so many overlapping fills that drive the audience crazy!
The finesse Bonham shows while laying some of the most potent beats ever is simply outstanding. While his 1970 rendition of Moby Dick is the most popular one, you should also check out his 1973 version played in Madison Square Garden. He is without question one of the greatest. Led Zeppelin would have been a lot different without him. Unfortunately, we have ran out of adjectives to describe him and his work.
3. Neil Peart — “O Baterista,” Rush (2003 performance)
Neil Peart owned the drumming scene for decades and has played some of the best drum solos during his time. Any list of the greatest drum solos of all time will be incomplete without him.
In 2003, Neil Peart set the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro ablaze with this solo. O Baterista actually means “The Drummer” in Spanish and Portuguese. Neil would have used his hybrid drum kit extensively in this solo. There is a three-by-four waltz on his toms, a Latin solo on his electronic kit, and a peppy jazz solo at the end. He would transition between each of these flawlessly. His power and precision in this solo are simply unmatched.
The most incredible thing, though, is his extraordinary control over each of his limbs. He would have his hands and legs play at different time signatures and tempos in the song. While this usually ends up being just pure noise, Neil has managed to create a just amazing blend.
4. Carl Palmer — “Rondo,” Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970 performance)
Carl Palmer might have just been at the beginning stages of his music career when he played Rando, but the solo would reach legendary status. This show in Switzerland was part of their first concert tour, and all their videos featured psychedelic effects.
This solo is a high-speed one where Palmer would have established himself as one of the greats of the progressive rock drumming world. He plays so swiftly that you would think that he has twice or thrice the number of drums than he actually has. His hands are simply magic, and they would be dishing out amazing beats without a break.
The most memorable part of this video would be when he plays so hard that he ends up overheating himself and has to take off his shirt. He then continues to play the solo at lightspeed!
5. Phil Collins and Chester Thompson — “Drum Duet/Los Endos,” Genesis (1987 performance)
Drumming duos are pretty rare and hard to pull off, but Phil Collins and Chester Thompson did just that. Their 1987 performance at Wembley stadium is one of perfect unison.
This drum solo (drum duet?!) was awe-inspiring because of how many different moods it was able to capture. Soothing open ones followed high tension sections. They’ll be playing perfectly in unison at one point before diverging off and riffing one another. The audience was left astounded, and you can hear just how amazed they were by their thunderous roaring!
This kind of unison and synchronization does not just come naturally; Phil Collins and Chester Thompson would sit down before each tour and practice together until they had their entire duet (solo?!) figured out. While their relationship has recently soured, this performance will be forever remembered as one of the best drum duets.
6. Steve Gadd — 1989 solo
Steve Gadd is best known for being one of the top sessions and studio drummers ever. However, many people don’t realize that he was also an incredible live drummer who had entire stadiums thundering. He has had many memorable solos, but this 1989 performance stands out for a few reasons.
Steve Gadd would have complete mastery over both technique and timekeeping in this. He will be playing with the feel of the drum solo throughout and would have the audience on their toes. There are multiple linear drumming sections sprinkled throughout the song, and he has used his signature drum fills throughout the piece ( the one he popularised in the 1977 Steely Dan track “Aja”).
As incredible as the rendition of such complex techniques is, what is even more astounding is how perfect his timekeeping is. He never misses a count and is a human metronome.
7. Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart — “Drums,” Grateful Dead (1989 performance)
If Phil Collins and Chester Thompson made unforgettable duets out of a whole lot of planning, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart relied primarily on intuition and understanding of each other. The performance of “Drums” at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in 1989 was their masterpiece.
Bill and Hart work in perfect harmony throughout this eight-minute-long duet; they let each other shine without overstepping. They take turns taking the lead, and somehow the groove keeps developing even through the multiple switcheroos. The best part is that they are just riffing with each other; no one is actually saving time. Yet, they somehow manage to stay in rhythm.
It is nice to think that “Drums,” which was part of a tour of global percussion in the 80s and 90s, was initially just a small 2 or 3 min transition into “Not Fade Away” in the ’70s.
8. Jojo Mayer — 1998 drum solo
Jojo Mayer has been earmarked by Modern Drummer magazine to be destined to become a Drum God. That is how great he has been. He has built himself a reputation for being a very skilled creative solo performer. He has appeared in multiple major gigs and was a familiar presence in almost all the international Drum Festivals.
His drum solo in the 1998 Modern Drummer Festival is one where he has showcased all his skill and creativity. From his subtle brush strokes on his snare drum to his powerful cymbal crashes, you can see his mastery over his hands.
He never seems to be strained; he will be just having fun with this piece. He produces his beats with ease and uses his wide range of skills to keep us engaged.
9. Terry Bozzio, “The Black Page #1 and #2,” Frank Zappa (circa 2008 performance)
The Black Page is one of the most complex drum solos ever. In fact, it earned its name because Frank Zappa (the composer) had so many notes on the sheet that it looked like a blank page.
Terry Bozzio is one of the few humans who are capable of playing this piece perfectly, and he does just that in this 2008 performance. You might think that he might have improvised sections of it, but he has actually played the piece to perfection. He has somehow developed complete mastery over this incredibly complex piece.
Frank has written this piece quite unconventional, and the rhythms are bizarre. However, Bozzio has nailed each odd beat and percussive runs of his to the millisecond. What makes this feat even more impressive is that he performs it live. It is one thing to record a complex solo in a studio where you can have multiple redos, but it’s a whole other game when you have to perform it live in front of thousands without missing a beat.
Frank is known to want absolute perfection from his drummers, and Bozzio has been delivering that forever.
10. Ginger Baker — “Toad,” Cream (1968 performance)
Ginger Baker has laid down a highly complex solo that is somehow completely mad sounding and musical at the same time. Not many have replicated the intricacy of this solo since him!
This is primarily a jazz solo that is very melodic and has many cymbal-heavy sections. However, you will realize that Baker is still, at his core, a rock drummer from the snare-heavy sections. He has excellent control over his limbs and was just filled with energy.
While this 1968 performance in Royal Albert Hall is him playing at his prime, he continued to perform Toad well into his 60s. He performed the same piece at the same location in 2005, when he was 65 years old!! No wonder he is called rock’s first superstar drummer.
11. Billy Cobham — “Tenth Pinn” (1974 performance)
Billy Cobham was one of the most prominent pioneers of his period. He was one of the earliest fusion drummers; he was able to merge jazz and rock drumming harmoniously. He was also one of the earliest adopters of the open-handed technique. You can see many of his pioneering techniques and methods in this Tenth Pinn drum solo.
Performing in 1974 at the Kongsberg Jazzfestival, Cobham would showcase his incredible speed and control along with his innovations. He would be playing single-stroke rolls at light speed, any new drummer who saw that would feel demotivated because of how impossible it looks.
Cobham has helped develop many unconventional techniques like having the ride on the left side, open-handed technique, and fusion drumming. He would end up influencing so many drummers with his innovations.
On a fun note, he is wearing a SpongeBob T-shirt. This was before that was cool.
12. Keith Moon —1974 drum solo
If there was ever an insane drummer, it is Keith Moon. He was just mad behind his kit. He would be manically smashing across his equipment and would yet be producing something so melodic (Fun fact, he used to put cherry bombs in his drums). The audience loved his insane playing and raw energy.
Keith Moon was an emotional drummer who was never too serious. He would play his heart out without much care. This drum solo captures that perfectly.
He would be playing a four-beat on his floor all the time, yet you will find the timekeeping to be erratic. He has wild, loud tribal beats and sporadic crashes. He quite literally pounds on his snare and crashes cymbals. If this is confusing to read, think how insane it would be to play.
Keith was a showman throughout and quite simply owned the spotlight, which is not easy considering that Pete Townshend was breaking his guitar to pieces next to him. Many of the drumming legends of today all followed Moon’s bombastic drumming.
13. Bill Bruford — “Long Distance Runaround,” Yes (1989 performance)
Bill Bruford was one of the earliest adopters of electronic drum kits. He brought these drums to the global stage and showed just how great these drums were to the masses. This particular performance at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, in 1989 featured just an electronic drum kit without any acoustic components. This was an audacious move at that time, and boy did it pay off.
Bruford would have showcased the exceptional versatility of an electronic drum kit during this drum solo. He would be playing traditional tom sounds with one hand while triggering middle eastern drums and woodblocks with the other. This made a harmony of various genres. However, he remained true to his period and laid down punchy drum tones, which were the signature of the 80s.
14. Tony Williams — drum solo (1992)
Tony Williams has had many great solos in his career, but his performance at Lugano, Switzerland, in 1992 is probably his best. This performance was actually a tribute to the great Miles Davis ( an American Trumpeter and one of the pioneers of jazz music).
He would have used call and response along with repetition to guide this piece. Each of his limbs works in perfect coordination to deliver some of the most insane beats. You can also see him changing between intense, powerful sections into calm, graceful sections without breaking a sweat. And the crazy thing is that he has only used a single bass drum without a double pedal!
15. Gene Krupa — “Lover/Leave Us Leap,” (the 1940s)
Gene Krupa is considered to be the first-ever rock drummer, and rightly so. Without him, drummers would have remained in the background and would have never had the limelight on them. He was a flamboyant drummer who was celebrated for his incredible solos. They were nothing too technically impressive by today’s standard, but they were simply spectacular. He laid down the first steps for every rock drummer.
Drummers of his period were usually a little restrained, but not Gene Krupa. This solo has loud and booming fills that could fill an auditorium. He then goes on to sprinkle his splash cymbal, making an excellent, bright sound that’s in line with his drum fills.
This style of drumming was totally against the norms and even from the fundamentals of jazz that Krupa used to use with his band. There are many great classic drum solos, but this began them all. He has revolutionized the world of drumming and pretty much laid down the path for drum solos.
16 . Carter Beauford — intro to “Say Goodbye” (2011 performance)
A smile is always contagious. You will be smiling throughout this drum solo because Carter Beauford is smiling all the time. You can see how much he wholeheartedly enjoys doing his solos from just that smile. The whole audience would be having fun watching him smile and perform at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, in 2011.
He would have used accents and dynamic ranges elegantly and has produced a sort of musical solo. However, he still managed to imprint his signature sound onto it with generous usage of splash and china cymbals.
Like many great drummers, he had an unconventional drum orientation that allowed him to produce this fantastic solo. He is a left-hander who plays open-handed, so he doesn’t have to cross his hand to play the hi-hat. He has also moved the ride cymbal to the left, enabling him to play on the hi-hat and cymbal synchronously. His right hand is also now free to play on his toms and auxiliary percussion instruments like the cowbell.
All this has allowed for unique sounds that help establish this as one of the most awesome drum solos.
17. Danny Carey — “Chocolate Chip Trip,” Tool (2019 performance)
Danny Carey drummed in one of the best songs with great drum solos, Pneuma. He would have been absolutely bombastic in that piece, but sadly we cannot consider it to be a pure drum solo. However, he has used the polyrhythms and odd time signatures in this drum solo at the Mercedes Benz Arena in Berlin, making it feel pretty close to that iconic song.
You would be able to really appreciate his mastery of time at the beginning, where he plays along to the electronic beat he programmed. The beat is a fusion of progressive drumming and tribal beats that give a unique rhythm. He hasn’t stopped there and thrown in funky accents and rhythmic variations to engage the audience even more. The fact that he performed this perfectly is a testament to his technical prowess.
He has taken much inspiration from Neil Peart for this solo, with double bass infill patterns and crashes in his rolls. He also moves each limb utterly independent of each other; you might even think he has a separate brain controlling each of them. The man is nearly 60 years old in this performance, but you would never know it from his energy and sound.
18. Sheila E. — “Solo de Bateria” (2011 performance)
Sheila E is not only one of the most talented female drummers; she is, in fact, one of the most talented drummers. Period. The only sad thing is that she is grossly underrated even with this much talent.
She would have performed a mixture of Latin and metal textures in this solo from David Letterman’s 2011 drum solo week that will drive you crazy. It has high-speed frills along with changing dynamics. One moment she is smashing her double bass drum at light speed, and then at the next, she is playing a slow pop-funk beat. Her insane double bass drum usage becomes even more insane when you realize that she is doing it in a skirt and 3″ heels.
She moves from one drum to another at lightspeed and performs impressive rolls. You should definitely be following her from today.
19. Art Blakey — drum solo (1959)
Art Blakey has had many cool drum solos throughout his career, which have shaped the world of drumming, but this drum solo from at the héâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris in 1959 is the most iconic of them.
This bebop solo is filled with various changing flavors. He begins playing with mallets for a soft sound before switching to drumsticks for a louder sound. You can see his astonishing talent when he transitions out of the solo. He would be syncing up his bass drum, his accented strokes, and his thundering crashes to create a very rhythmic exit. His performance wasn’t technically clean, but you would never notice it because you would be amazed by just how incredible he sounds.
20. Michael Shrieve — “Soul Sacrifice,” Santana (1970)
The drum solo of Michael Shrieve at Tanglewood in 1970 was his best work. He even outdid his incredible drum solo at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair performance a year earlier. Both these solos were of Soul Sacrifice and were simply outstanding.
This is such a joyful drum solo to listen to. It begins with songs that set an excellent, fun beat. Shrieve doesn’t play yet and just remains in the background as the other musicians build up the groove. Then Michael takes over and sets everything ablaze. He starts rolling on his snare and smashing his crashes. He remains energetic throughout this extended solo and just rolls like crazy. Everything from his hand movements to his unique rhythms just elevates this solo.