To keep this from being an essay, I’ll split the answers in three parts, including the drummers medic8r tossed in. (For those who don’t know, I’ve known medic8r since I was about 12 years old.)
1. Neil Peart — Rush. Some think he overplays, some think his playing is cold and unemotional, but they’re missing the point. Rush is all about pushing the envelope of a power trio, and no one’s better suited for that role than Peart. It’s also fun to watch his massive drum kit evolve — chimes behind him in the ’70s, a whole electric kit behind him in the ’80s, then a couple of electronics mixed with a sprawling set of toms and cymbals for every occasion. You won’t hear more impressive drumming unless you have to the patience to wade through jazz albums to catch a Dave Weckl outburst.
2. Bill Bruford — Yes, King Crimson, brief stint in Genesis, long jazz career. Most rock drummers who claim to have a jazz background are lying. But Bruford is legit, and his jazz skills are put to great use on Heart of the Sunrise, one of the most distinctive drum performances you’ll ever hear. Yeah, so King Crimson was generally a silly Robert Fripp ego trip — they still put together a couple of decent efforts.
3. Dave Grohl — Nirvana, Foo Fighters (at times), various other guest spots (most notably Queens of the Stone Age and Tom Petty). Not spending as much time behind the drums as he used to, but still the guy who would get the first call if you were putting together a post-punk band.
4. Terry Bozzio — Missing Persons, guest spots. Yeah, he did the Zappa thing, but he and fellow Zappa alum (and future Duran Duran guitarist) Warren Cuccurullo got together with Bozzio’s then-wife, Dale, and formed a band that crammed its considerable musical skill into tight pop songs. Just check out the cymbal fills Bozzio works into Mental Hopscotch.
5. Clem Burke — Blondie and lots of guest work (the Romantics, Eurythmics). Geez, wasn’t this guy bored silly when he toured with the Romantics? With Blondie, he was a master of genre-shifting. (And not, as I almost typed, “genre-shitting.”) He played a virtual drum solo throughout Dreaming, gave Heart of Glass a distinctive disco-punk beat and effortlessly kept the beat for songs as diverse as Call Me, Rapture and The Tide is High.
6. Mark Brzezicki — Big Country; guest work includes Pete Townshend. Just before Big Country was formed, Brzezicki and Tony Butler were the rhythm section for some great Townshend songs such as Let My Love Open The Door (Butler also provides the low end of the vocals). They moved into Big Country and formed a thunderous backdrop for a great band.
7. Brian Rosenworcel — Guster. For the first few Guster albums, he had the “Look Ma, no sticks!” approach, using congas and bongos as the basis of an unconventional drum kit. It sounded great, and he was a lot of fun to watch live, even as you wondered if he’d eventually break a hand on a cymbal. He has reluctantly added a traditional kit to his instrumentation.
8. Chad Gracey — Live. Yes, he looked like a dork in the I Alone video, as Beavis and Butthead so graciously pointed out. But he’s actually pretty good.
9. Rob Hirst — Midnight Oil. Check out the opening of Feeding Frenzy to hear how well Hirst fanned the righteous anger that gave this band its power.
10. Jerry Marotta — just assume he’s played with everybody. I saw him live a couple of times with Indigo Girls. He also played a good bit with Peter Gabriel and Hall & Oates. He even popped up in King Crimson briefly.
11. Matt Chamberlain — here’s the Wikipedia list: Morrissey, Tori Amos, Pearl Jam, Fiona Apple, Christina Aguilera, Critters Buggin’, Weapon of Choice, Stone Gossard, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Tim and Neil Finn, David Bowie, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, The Wallflowers, Natalie Merchant, Kenny Rogers, Bill Frisell, the Saturday Night Live Band, Robbie Williams, Kanye West, Garbage, Anika Moa, Shakira, John Mayer, Brad Mehldau, Liz Phair, Chris Isaak, Dave Navarro, Sam Phillips and William Shatner. He keeps returning Tori’s calls, and that’s a good thing — he’s capable of handling music that’s emotionally and musically complex. Now if only he could get Tori to tone down some of the vocal effects a bit. I mean, seriously — does EVERY song have to sound like “Aiiiieeeeiieeeiieeeaiiieeee”? The ones that don’t are really, really good.
12. Jimmy Chamberlin — Smashing Pumpkins, Zwan. Word was that Billy Corgan overdubbed most of the guitar and bass work on a lot of the Pumpkins’ early (read: good) stuff, so a lot of great music was just Corgan and Chamberlin. He supposedly has a jazz background as well, but he opts for straightforward rock most of the time. Check the maelstrom he whips up in Geek USA. He was out of the band for a couple of years after keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin OD’d while doing heroin with Chamberlin on tour, but he has straightened out by all indications and gave another solid performance on the only (sadly) Zwan album. Supposedly, he’ll be in a reunited Smashing Pumpkins, but with Corgan, who knows?