Home » Feature » Who is the greatest rock drummer of the 80s?

Who is the greatest rock drummer of the 80s?



In 1980, Led Zeppelin disbanded after the sudden death of drummer John Bonham. Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC, also passed away in 1980. With these deaths, the first wave of “classic” hard rock bands ended. Some bands, such as Queen, moved away from their hard rock roots and started leaning towards pop.

The 80s saw the rise of drummers in a dual role. Some were composing while others were singing. Along with this drummers also played an active role in the band’s sound, deals with labels and overall functioning.

Last week we looked at some of the greatest drummers of the 70s, this week we talk about a few of them from the 80s.

Mike Portnoy

Arguably one of the best progressive rock bands to emerge in the 80s was Dream Theater. Mike co-founded the band and was highly influential on the band’s sound. Mike is known for his innovative ways to produce sound that was unique to the band. A student of Berklee College of Music, Mike also plays the bass, xylophone and has even contributed with vocals in many projects.

Tommy Lee

Mötley Crüe build up a massive fan base with the release of their debut album ‘Too Fast For Love’ in 1981. Lee was the showstopper of the band. Though there was no questioning on his talent, Lee was infamous for his lifestyle. He was an entertainer first. The most theatrical drummer of the 1980s, Lee would showcase his prowess by drumming upside down or on a roller-coaster-style track. Lee lived the life of a rock star and was one of the best drummers of his time.

Chad Smith

Smith made his mark with the alternative, funk rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers and is still one of the most sought-after drummers. His claim to fame is playing ghost notes, a rhythm without pitch. Known for his funk style, solid groove work and also as the Will Farrell look alike.

Dave Lombardo

The ‘the godfather of double bass’ Lombardo is one of one the best metal drummer. His fast and aggressive style had a massive influence on the sound of his band Slayer. Lombardo’s work has been a source of inspiration for many rock and heavy metal drummers. Lombardo is often cited as a ‘natural’. Through his career of almost 40 years, he has performed with Testament, and Suicidal Tendencies, in addition to Slayer.

Lars Ulrich

Co-founder of one of the biggest bands in the world, Metallica, Lars is known for his unique style which is instantly recognizable. His composing/arranging prowess are critical to the Metallica sound. His signature drum moves are playing double-bass pedal and playing in synchronicity with James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar, a sound which became the trademark of Metallica. He also acts as the spokesman of the band and even as a manager at times. He is involved in making business decisions and also the compositions of all songs. Lars Ulrich has become one of the most recognizable drummers in the world. He has many die-hard fans, as well as many haters. Lars certainly isn’t the most technically sound drummer in the world and his playing skills are somewhat limited.

Rick Allen

Rick joined Def Leppard as a 15 year old. ‘The Thunder God’ lost his left arm in a car accident in 1994. This did not deter him from continuing to play the drums and the group stood behind their fallen band mate. Allen constructed an electronic drum set, which he could trigger with his feet. He uses four electronic pedals for his left foot to play the pieces he used to play with his left arm.


It is not possible to name any drummer as the greatest of the time. We all have our own tastes and preferences. When listing the best rock drummers, there are many aspects to consider. Style, flare, technique and showmanship all play a part.

Next week we shall look at the drummers from the 90s.

Leave a Reply


Get Music Plus’s top stories, interviews
and gig updates delivered to your inbox.

We won’t spam you. Promise!