“Your personal history is a part of what happens with your hands and your head as you play music.” — Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl may well be one of modern rock’s greatest frontmen, taking Foo Fighters from lowly alt-rock gems on to stadium-sized success and worldwide recognition. But, arguably, some of his finest work has been done away from his guitar and the microphone and sat behind his drum kit — pounding away at the skins as a man possessed. Not only as the seminal stickman behind Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in the grunge heroes Nirvana, but also helping out Josh Homme in Queens of the Stone Age from time to time. Grohl is, at heart, a drummer first.
As well as being an all-round talented musician, able to pick up almost instrument and get something close to a tune out of it, Grohl is also an all-round nice guy. The kind of man who will happily kick through an amp, smash a bottle of JD and yet still find time play with the kids in the room.
It means he, far from the rest of the industry’s macho-competitive nature, has always been more than happy to heap praise on his counterparts. Most notably picking out some of his favourite drummers of all time.
Our interest was piqued by his incredible legend status and led us to think who were Grohl’s favourite drummers? Especially after an exchange in 2015 gave a solid indication. The story goes that after Neil Peart decided to hang up his sticks and retire from working with Rush, there were rumours that Dave Grohl could help out Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson and sit behind the kit and take on Peart’s role. It was a frightening proposition for longtime fan Grohl.
After Peart passed away, Grohl led tributes saying: “An inspiration to millions with an unmistakable sound who spawned generations of musicians (like myself) to pick up two sticks and chase a dream. A kind, thoughtful, brilliant man who ruled our radios and turntables not only with his drumming, but also his beautiful words.
“I still vividly remember my first listen of ‘2112′ when I was young. It was the first time I really listened to a drummer. And since that day, music has never been the same. His power, precision, and composition was incomparable. He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: we all learned from him.”
When asked by Rolling Stone in 2015 what he would say if such an offer to replace Peart for a show did come his way, he replied: “I’d say ‘I’m not physically or musically capable, but thanks for the offer.’ Neil Peart, that’s a whole other animal, another species of drummer.
“I know the arrangements, but I’m like Meg White to Neil Peart,” continued Grohl. It may have seemed like a small dig at the acclaimed drummer ut Grohl quickly cleared up that he thinks of White as equally favourably. “She’s one of my favourite drummers!” Grohl explained, “she is one of those drummers that if you hear 15 seconds of her recording, you’ll know who it is and that to me has always been the gold standard.”
“That’s always been the challenge. You want to know when you hear it, like, you’re like, “Oh, that’s John Bonham. Oh, that’s Charlie Watts. That’s Ringo. That’s Stewart Copeland. That’s Meg White.” It’s high praise indeed for a unique player who has often been overlooked for her crucial role in The White Stripes domination.
One drummer on this list of Grohl’s favourites has been constantly compared to the Foo Fighters man ever since he exploded onto the scene as the man behind the kit for Nirvana—the late, great John Bonham. Most of that comparison came after during an interview Kurt Cobain referenced the legendary Led Zeppelin drummer as being comparable to Grohl.
It’s fair to say that Grohl held the utmost respect for Bonham, often referring to him as the greatest to ever pick up the sticks. “John Bonham is the greatest rock drummer of all time,” wrote Grohl for a piece in Mojo. “Bonham played directly from the heart. His drumming was by no means perfect, but when he hit a groove it was so deep it was like a heartbeat. He had this manic sense of cacophony, but he also had the ultimate feel. he could swing, he could get on top, or he could pull back.
“Led Zeppelin, and John Bonham’s drumming especially, opened up my ears.” We’re thankful he did as without Grohl we would be without two of modern rock’s better bands. Listening to band’s from the very beginning is often the way they become our favourites. The same can be said of another Grohl favourite, The Police’s drummer, Stewart Copeland.
“I grew up listening to The Police, man” reflects Grohl. In the same interview, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins reminisced about their long term friendship with the Police percussionist. Grohl says: “One of the craziest things that this band has ever done is bring Stewart with us on a private jet from New York to Los Angeles, we had Stewart come out and play ‘Next To You’ with us which was super fun.
“Then we got on the private plane and I just kinda sat there and thought ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life right now?’ Just to sit and listen to the stories of ‘the band’ and that was something I will never forget.”
Grohl does have a special place in his heart reserved for one drummer and one drummer only, the wonderfully talented and far too often maligned talent of Ringo Starr. With The Beatles, Starr developed an idiosyncratic style that endeared him to everybody who heard him and made kids start picking up drumsticks.
We needn’t bore you with all the reasons you’re wrong if you think Ringo isn’t up there with the best. Instead, we’ll let Dave Grohl sum it up for you, “Define ‘best drummer in the world’,” Grohl said in a tribute video for Starr’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame presentation, clearly aware of the unfounded rhetoric around Ringo’s playing style. “Is it someone that’s technically proficient? Or is it someone that sits in the song with their own feel? Ringo was the king of feel.”
Below we’ve pulled together a perfect playlist of Dave Grohl’s favourite drummers of all time.
Dave Grohl’s 5 favourite drummers:
- Neil Peart
- Meg White
- John Bonham
- Stewart Copeland
- Ringo Starr