Being an excellent drummer is one thing. Being a great drummer, though, is something entirely different. A great drummer maintains the rhythm, performs in tune with the song, and gives his work a distinctive personality.
Let’s think about singers now. There are many people who can sing well. But how many of them can actually convince you to buy a song that has personality and raw emotion? Few people actually have the magical ability to convey a sense to the listener through singing, whether they are belting or crooning.
Okay, let’s mix the two to create drummers that can actually sing lead vocals. This article salutes the 12 best singing drummers of all time with some honorable mentions, players that shatter the myth that you need to get on stage to create magic, while banging a gong and letting the melismas fly. With all of this right side/left side brain stuff in mind, who are they? And what makes them so great?
Top 12 Greatest Singing Drummers Of All Time
1. Sheila E
Not many drummers can sing, and it’s even harder to find a woman who can do both. Sheila Escovedo’s father, renowned drummer Pete Escovedo, was the longtime leader of the Latin big band Azteca, so you might say genetics gave Sheila E a slight advantage in the drumming area.
Sheila met Prince at a concert in 1978. She was a working musician by the time she was 21 and had performed with George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, and Diana Ross. Sheila was mentored by The Purple One, and as a result, she provided lead vocals for the song Erotic City (the B-side of Let’s Go Crazy).
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2. Dave Clark
Let’s be honest: Dave Clark bases this ranking largely on formalities. Although the band’s talented keyboardist Mike Smith really sang lead vocals, Clark was in charge of steering the ship and assumed the role of the group’s celebrity.
The Dave Clark Five rode the height of Beatlemania for two years beginning in 1964 and amassed a remarkable run of hit songs. Most radio listeners concluded that Clark was the lead vocalist simply based on the band’s name.
Not that the drummer did much to dissuade the notion: whether he was leaning back on a ballad (Because) or giving his Rogers kit a good four-on-the-floor thrashing on rockers (Glad All Over, Bits And Pieces), Clark – who was frequently in the front and center – commanded the camera’s attention and was frequently caught singing.
Appearances, as they say, are everything.
3. Roger Taylor
Roger Taylor accomplished the nearly unachievable with Queen. In addition to providing the kind of powerful beats and thundering fills necessary to counterbalance Brian May’s enormous guitar sound, the singer demonstrated enough versatility to work well with Freddie Mercury’s operatic, larger-than-life vocals.
No drumming style or feel has eluded Taylor, whether it is swinging (Crazy Little Thing Called Love), funking out (Another One Bites The Dust), or rocking hard (take your pick). (Up until 2008, he used drum sets from Ludwig or Sleishman; these days, he prefers DW.)
Taylor performed harmonies and co-leads on many classic Queen songs (his falsetto screams in Bohemian Rhapsody are a particular highlight). But during solo performances on songs like I’m In Love With My Car, Modern Times Rock ‘N’ Roll, Fun It, Father To Son, and many others, he claimed center stage—or the center drum stool.
Roger Taylor was Queen’s secret weapon because he was more than just a brilliant drummer and more than just a fantastic drummer who could sing well.
*** Read more: How To Tune Your Drum In 7 Steps – 2022
4. Mickey Dolenz
Mickey Dolenz had the greatest acting experience when he was chosen to join Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Davey Jones to form the 1960s made-for-television band The Monkees. He also have the least musical background.
Regardless, producers were drawn to his natural singing talent, which helped him compete for chart supremacy with The Beatles with songs like Pleasant Valley Sunday, I’m A Believer, Last Train To Clarksville, and (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.
Dolenz was completely unable of playing the drums when he was hired. But with the assistance of the instructors, he was able to pass for it in front of the cameras. He could perform well enough for the stage and finally the recording studio within a year.
Dolenz continues to perform with his former bandmates Tork and Jones and is equally at home on the drums and the microphone today.
5. Karen Carpenter
The talent of Karen Carpenter’s vocals is undeniable; she and her brother Richard formed one of the most popular musical groups of all time. Karen’s velvety and somewhat haunted voice commanded the airways in the 1970s on song after hit (Close To You, Rainy Days And Mondays, We’ve Only Just Begun, Superstar, For All We Know, etc.).
The skills she possessed behind the drum kit must therefore be taken into consideration, and it is true that they were significant. Joe Morello, the drummer for the Dave Brubeck Quartet, had a big impact on Karen as an adolescent. Despite having only a few years of expertise, she taught herself the odd-time patterns of some of Brubeck’s favorite compositions, such Take Five and It’s A Raggy Waltz.
It is well known that the Carpenters’ records feature the Wrecking Crew’s Hal Blaine on drums. Even yet, Karen’s skill with the sticks was enough to put him out. In 1983, Blaine admitted to Modern Drummer, “I always said that Karen was a good drummer. “When she would sit down at my drum kit during sessions, I could see she could play right away. She participated in many of the album cuts as well as their live performances.
Sadly, Karen Carpenter passed away from a heart attack in 1983 at the age of 32 as a result of a seven-year fight with anorexia. The legacy of her music is undeniable.
6. Dave Grohl
We’re probably letting Dave Grohl off the hook a little here, too, like we did with Dave Clark. While it’s true that Grohl has more than proven himself as a first-rate singer and guitarist in the Foo Fighters, Grohl initially came to our attention as the drummer in Nirvana.
What a drummer, too! Dale Crover of The Melvins, Neil Peart, John Bonham, Earl Hudson of The Bad Brains, and many other musicians served as inspiration for Grohl’s energetic, classic rock meets punk style, which gave Kurt Cobain’s songs a seismic force.
Cobain was Nirvana’s main guy, but as their all-too-short career came to a close, he started to let Grohl step out more, as can be heard on the wonderful cut Marigold.
In addition to writing the exquisite ballad, Grohl also performed lead and backup vocals, played the drums, and played the guitar.
Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box’s B-side would initially feature Marigold. The song would be performed by Grohl and the Foo Fighters thirteen years later, and it would be included on the live album Skin And Bones.
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7. Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr was part of a pretty excellent band, but it can be convincingly argued that The Beatles wouldn’t have changed the course of history without his always creative drumming, endearing character, dry sense of humor, and yes, his distinctive style of singing – no, owning – a song.
Simply put, he was the component that was lacking in the compound—that crucial, nigh-undefinable factor.
There is no need to even provide a Cliff Notes version of Beatles history because it is a full-time activity for millions of people worldwide. Let’s go right to the point: The music of The Beatles cannot be separated from Ringo Starr’s incredibly inventive drumming and that one-of-a-kind swing that only Ringo can play. Ringo would claim ownership of whatever song he sang you.
And he continues to do it. The year 2011 saw Starr go on a tour with his All-Starr Band’s most recent roster. In the years to come, may we witness many more tours and Ringo Starr.
8. Phil Collins
Phil Collins can be pardoned for the entire Miami Vice incident. He also sang a few of gloppy ballads, but we can overlook that. Even the fact that he was so utterly ubiquitous in the 1980s is acceptable.
The truth is that during those years, Phil Collins was at the peak of his powers, having a multifaceted career that saw him top the charts with Genesis and as a solo performer while also producing, drumming for, and singing with everyone under the sun.
Early in the 1980s, the Phil Collins drum sound pretty much summed up the decade. Both the gated reverb explosion heard on In The Air Tonight and the wallop without cymbals present throughout Peter Gabrial’s third solo album had a significant influence and were frequently imitated. (And with the help of films like The Hangover the power of Phil’s fills continues to find new audiences.)
Blessed with the kind of vocal chops that allowed him to handle prog-rock masterpieces like Supper’s Ready, Collins’ expressive, husky voice wrapped around an avalanche of pop hits like nobody’s business. Throughout the years, his musical reach has been virtually limitless, encompassing art rock, pop, blues and even film soundtracks.
9. Levon Helm
Imagine being Bob Dylan’s support act in 1965, the year the legendary folk singer made history by going electric. For most people, that’s a good result.
Imagine an album called Music From Big Pink that helped revolutionize rock ‘n’ roll. It was so full of heartfelt musicianship that it inspired Eric Clapton to leave Derek And The Dominoes and join the band that made the album. Not bad at all.
Levon Helm was in charge of all of this. His drumming for The Band (originally The Hawks), a rootsy, rustic shuffle that blended southern country, blues, and rockabilly, fit like a well-worn glove with the group’s natural musicianship.
But it was Helm’s singing that stood out; it is virtually impossible to replicate his truly heartfelt, almost painful delivery that contributed to the lasting artistic value of songs like The Weight, Up On Cripple Creek, and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
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10. Don Henley
The look and sound of Don Henley seated behind the drums while singing timeless Eagles classics is one of those things in life that’s utterly perfect – so much so that, at the start of his solo career, when he stepped to the mic with a guitar around his neck, it came as a total shock.
Now that he’s an Eagle again, Henley is playing the drums – effortlessly, cleanly, with a Ringo Starr-influenced less-is-more groove – and applying his distinctive tenor to a veritable greatest hits show. Witchy Woman, Desperado, Best Of My Love, Life In The Fast Lane, The Long Run, One Of These Nights and a little something called Hotel California – all sung by Henley.
It’s almost a fake-out, this thing Henley does. He works hard, but it looks like no sweat. That’s the beauty of his style: by keeping his drumming simple and putting in fills only when absolutely necessary (signature hooks, by the way), he finds the space for his voice to soar.
11. Peter Criss
Despite the fact that everyone who saw KISS in their heyday in the 1970s will always remember the picture of a catfaced Peter Criss commandeering his kit from atop a lit riser (cue the lasers and flashpots), it was actually Criss’ vocals that landed him in the group.
In Brooklyn’s Italian nightclub where he first met Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, Criss began to impersonate Wilson Pickett. The two Kiss leaders exchanged glances and remarked, “Just that. He is our drummer.”
Criss was a professional jazz musician who discovered rock music through Mitch Mitchell, and his swinging, fluid playing made Kiss’ hits soar. And he more than fit into their garish image with his flare for showmanship (at one time he played a 20-piece Pearl set with 34 Zildjian cymbals!).
Criss proved himself as a singer on classic Kiss songs like Black Diamond, Hard Luck Woman, Baby Driver, and Getaway. However, nothing could compare to the drummer’s solo vocal performance on the Top 10 hit Beth, which Criss and his Kiss bandmate, guitarist Stan Penridge, co-wrote.
12. Kelly Keagy
Kelly Keagy’s unconventional approach to stage presence appeared perfectly suited for Night Ranger, a ’80s hard rock band that featured two lead guitarists (Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson) and a singing bassist. Keagy had his drum equipment flipped sideways and aligned with the rest of the band (Jack Blades).
Blades wasn’t Night Ranger’s only singer, though. On several of the band’s songs, including Sentimental Street, Sing Me Away, and Sister Christian—the tune that begs the age-old musical question: Just what the hell does’motorin” mean anyway—Keagy handled vocals fairly competently.
Actually, what exactly is a “Night Ranger”?
13. Grant Hart – Hüsker Dü
Grant Hart is another drummer who also doubles as a singer on this list. Hart collaborated on the songs with his punk rock band Hüsker Dü. Some would contend that he possessed a more melodious voice than Bob Mould, the lead singer.
He continued to perform and sing even after the bands broke up, this time as a vocalist and guitarist, despite the fact that his primary experience is as a drummer and singer, which is why he is involved in this discussion today.
14. Avenged Sevenfold
The Rev, also known as James “Jimmy” Owen Sullivan, was a well-known Avenged Sevenfold drummer who frequently provided vocal contributions.
15. Mike Portnoy
Mike Portnoy, who was also a co-founder of the legendary Dream Theater, served as the group’s drummer as well as its back vocalist.
With so many completed and ongoing projects, Portnoy has been busy playing drums and singing in a variety of bands, including Adrenaline Mob, Transatlantic, Yellow Matter Custard, Flying Colors, and others.
His singing abilities are as outstanding as those of others on our list since being a back vocalist is more difficult than people realize. He also participated in many more projects as a singer, pianist, and drummer.
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Drummers who can sing are a rare breed, and those who are good at it are even rarer. I’ve selected some of the greatest rock drummers who are also excellent singers in this list.
These musicians are not only skilled on their instrument of choice, but they are also competitive singers. These drummers make sure their voice is heard, whether they are the lead singer in their band or only provide supporting vocals.
Check out some of the musicians on this list if you enjoy excellent singing and energetic drumming!