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The Importance of Heroes

Article by Jayson Brinkworth // November 02 2008
The Importance of Heroes

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my drum heroes and how they have influenced me as a player. In the lessons I teach, I always ask my students who their favorite drummers are and why. Some can answer right away with a name, while others might only be able to list certain bands or artists. I believe it is important for musicians to know the names of the players they are listening to and being influenced by.

When I started teaching drums many years ago, I had students bringing in songs all of the time. I remember one particular lesson when a student brought in “Come Together” by The Beatles. When I had asked who the drummer was, I was shocked to find out that the student didn’t know it was Ringo! How could someone not know Ringo? Was this possible? Needless to say after we worked on the song, we dove right into a lesson on who Ringo is and his playing on other Beatles songs. I realized after this that there were other students who didn’t know the drummers in their favorite bands.

Now let me back up a bit. When I started playing, I was fanatical about who the drummer was on a certain album. I would search the credits before listening to see if I recognized any names. Back then, the names were just names. I wasn’t really attaching a sound or style to each one; I just liked to know who it was playing those drums on the songs. As time passed (no pun intended), I was noticing certain names appearing more than others: Were these players better? Did they know more about drumming than others? These were questions that also needed to be answered (I am a very curious person, I guess).

I soon found out that certain players were referred to as “studio players.” What did this mean exactly? As I researched names like Gadd, Porcaro, Keltner, Kunkel and many others, I found out that these players had a special “thing” that they brought to the music. They were able to have great sound, great ideas, work well under pressure, and were very consistent. Wait a minute, shouldn’t this be what we all work for?

As we mature as drummers, we will understand the importance of knowing the names of players and what they have done. I can’t count the number of times I have been in a situation and the band leader or producer uses a drummer reference for a sound or feel. If I had no idea who this player was and what they do on the kit, I would be lost and wouldn’t be able to deliver what was needed. Having said this, it is impossible to know every drummer out there and be able to duplicate their style, but having a well rounded, cross section of players will serve you well, I promise. Also when searching for players we don’t know, we will discover a lot of new players, concepts and ideas that are extremely motivating.


One thing we need to always remember as a musician and as human beings is to always be completely 100% honest with ourselves. If we are struggling in certain areas of our development, be honest and work on these things. As an example, lots of players these days have trouble playing with brushes. This is becoming almost a dying art form unfortunately, but it is still a very powerful and relative technique on the drums. I have talked to a lot of players that say, “Why learn brushes? I will never get called for a gig that needs them.” But what if you do? I would hope you wouldn’t lose work over something that was in your control to learn. I am definitely not saying I am great at playing brushes, but I am proficient and can sit in on a jazz gig and sound comfortable. I know this is an area (and there are many) that I need to work on and try ,when I can, to get better in my own musical journey.

Speaking of brushes, can you name one player that excels at brush playing—if not from the early jazz days then from the past 10 to 15 years? This is what I am talking about when I state the importance of knowing the players and knowing what they do. There is an importance in knowing our own drum heroes.

Here is an exercise I get my students to do, give it a try. Write down 5 areas of drumming that you would like to improve on. It can be technique, it can be styles, it can be rudimentary, it can be hand percussion: it can be anything. Once you have done this, look at each one and figure out how you can go about getting better at these areas. In your answers, you should definitely put “searching out the greats and watching and listening to how they do their thing.” If we can’t figure it out from watching them, search their name and learn about their influences, where they come from, how they learned in their formative years. One thing we will notice about all of the great players is that they had a serious passion and desire to learn while growing up. Also you will be surprised to learn that they still have the same, if not more, desire to learn and improve as they mature as players.


I have put together a list of players we should all know something about. I have also included the style of music that they play, as well as any notes I had to include. This list could have gone on for days, and I am sure I have missed a bunch of names, but it is a great starting point. The best way to go about this is to find a name or style we are not familiar with and search it out. It is important to make our own list of heroes and understand what we like about their playing. This helps us understand our own strengths and goals as musicians.


  • Steve Smith
  • Vinnie Colaiuta
  • Jeff Porcaro
  • Jim Keltner
  • Steve Ferrone
  • Kenny Aronoff
  • Steve Jordan
  • Abe Laboriel Jr
  • John “J.R” Robinson
  • Steve Gadd
  • Josh Freese
  • Hal Blaine
  • Matt Chamberlain


  • John Bonham
  • Alex Van Halen
  • Keith Moon
  • Ringo Starr
  • Frank Beard
  • Aynsley Dunbar
  • Phil Rudd
  • Chad Smith
  • Matt Sorum
  • Dave Grohl
  • Charlie Watts
  • Carmine Appice
  • Stewart Copeland


  • Keith Carlock
  • Randy Cooke
  • Nir Z
  • Liberty DeVitto
  • Mickey Curry
  • Pat Steward
  • Mark Craney
  • Mark Schulman
  • Larry Mullen Jr.
  • Phil Collins
  • Shawn Pelton


  • Bernard Purdie
  • Billy Ward
  • Rick Marotta
  • Earl Palmer
  • Richie Hayward
  • Mick Fleetwood
  • Stanton Moore
  • Jim Gordon
  • Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson
  • Levon Helm
  • Cindy Blackman

*All the players mentioned in this article have serious groove, these drummers just deliver it a little differently*


  • Neil Peart
  • Gavin Harrison
  • Mike Portnoy
  • Bill Bruford
  • Alan White
  • Tim Alexander
  • Gary Husband
  • Terry Bozzio


  • David Garibaldi
  • Dennis Chambers
  • Aaron Spears
  • Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste
  • John “Jabo” Starks
  • Clyde Stubblefield
  • John Blackwell
  • Harvey Mason
  • Andy Newmark
  • Bobby Colomby


  • Billy Cobham
  • Marco Minnemann
  • Virgil Donati
  • Thomas Lang
  • Kenwood Dennard
  • Mike Mangini
  • Grant Collins


  • Chris Layton
  • Roger Hawkins
  • Uriel Jones
  • Benny Benjamin
  • Zoro
  • Richard “Pistol” Allen
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Al Jackson Jr.


  • Eddie Bayers
  • Paul Leim
  • Greg Morrow
  • Buddy Harman
  • Larrie Londin
  • Shannon Forrest
  • Chris McHugh
  • Rich Redmond


  • James “The Rev” Sullivan
  • Nicko McBrain
  • Dave Lombardo
  • Gene Hoglan
  • Joey Jordison
  • Tomas Haake
  • Travis Smith
  • Bill Ward
  • Tommy Aldridge
  • Chris Adler


  • Sly Dunbar
  • Carlton Barrett
  • Winston Grennan


  • Warren “Baby” Dodds
  • Jimmy Cobb
  • Shadow Wilson
  • Buddy Rich
  • Gene Krupa
  • Louis Bellson
  • Elvin Jones
  • Tony Williams
  • Joe Morello
  • Carl Allen
  • Peter Erskine
  • Billy Hart
  • Kenny Clarke
  • Chick Webb
  • Max Roach
  • Art Blakey


  • Clayton Cameron
  • Jeff Hamilton
  • Ed Thigpen
  • Billy Higgins

*Jazz has so many sub-categories such as bebop, big band, trio, vocal. This section alone is an article or two*


  • Giovanni Hidalgo
  • Poncho Sanchez
  • Pete Lockett
  • Luis Conte
  • Tito Puente
  • Walfredo Reyes (Sr. and Jr.)
  • Lenny Castro
  • Alex Acuna
  • Jack Ashford
  • Ed Mann
  • Selvaganesh Vinayakram


  • Horacio Hernandez
  • Antonio Sanchez
  • Dafnis Prieto
  • Mark Kelso
  • Efrain Toro
  • Sheila E


  • Dom Famularo
  • David Jones
  • Akira Jimbo



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About the Author
Jayson  Brinkworth

Jayson Brinkworth is an accomplished drummer, percussionist, vocalist, educator and writer based out of Canada. He is co-owner of the Saskatchewan music school Music In The House, as well as the founder of both the Regina Drum Festival and The Stickman Drum Experience.

Jayson proudly endorses Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, Impact cases, Kickport, Flix, Future Sonics and Mountain Rhythm. Visit Jayson online at www.jaysonbrinkworth.com.

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