behind the scenesMore than any instrument, drums are often a calling, not a job. How many times have you heard a drummer say something akin to, “They started me on trombone in band, but I just wanted to play drums”? On what other instrument would players spend half their time learning on a pad? Great drummers are drummers in the way Jimi Hendrix and Les Paul were guitar players—totally committed.

But hey, we know that. Drummers love heroes, the uniqueness of the gear, and that special place where one is king or queen at the back of the stage. That’s why it’s called a throne.
Let’s see what your fellow drummers, and one bassist, say about the importance of their craft. I’ve included multiple quotes from Tony Williams, John Bonham, and Jeff Porcaro because, well, you know.


Sheila E.

“Playing drums feels like coming home for me. Even during the White Stripes I thought: ‘I’ll do this for now, but I’m really a drummer.’ That’s what I’ll put on my passport application.”

Jack White


“I love being a drummer. Everyone thinks you’re dumb. What they don’t realize is that if it weren’t for you, their band would suck.”

Dave Grohl

“I like being in the back. I’ve done that for so many years. I don’t like the solo thing as much as I like playing drums behind someone.”

Sheila E

“I’m not a singer who plays a bit of drums. I’m a drummer who sings a bit.”

Phil Collins

“I’m still the best Keith-moon style drummer in the world.”

Keith Moon 


“I consider every drummer that ever played before me an influence, in every way.”

Buddy Rich

“I have had five wives and one drummer.”

–[Bassist] Charles Mingus speaking of his longtime drummer Dannie Ritchmond

“To be able to play as slow as Al Jackson is almost impossible.”

–Charlie Watts

“I actually cloned myself after Jim Keltner when I was 17 and 18. I even thought it was cool to wear a vest and I copied his style. A drummer’s own style comes from eventually being on his own, but I copied [Jim] Gordon and Keltner and all these guys I dug. I remember realizing this, but after a while, the accumulation of all the guys you copy becomes your own thing, hopefully.”

Jeff Porcaro

“Pound for pound he [Papa Jo Jones] is the greatest drummer who ever lived.”

Drummer/author Chip Stern



Tony Williams

“I’m a freak, everything has to be totally flat when I play. Ed Will, my jazz teacher, set up everything completely flat, and then you’d tilt your snare drum away from you, so I do that too. So my snare tilts away from me.”


Travis Barker

“Mistreating your drum set is just one step below child abuse.”

John Bonham

“As a drummer, you’re always fighting for a level that you never quite attain.”

Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

“It’s all about time. But if you only play time, you might as well be a plumber.”

Tony Williams

“Sometimes you’d come up against a brick wall… or sometimes you go into a fill and you’d know halfway through it was going to be disastrous.”

John Bonham

“When you understand something, it’s not the same as being able to play it in any situation on stage. If you feel like you still think about something, then it’s not internalized.”

Anika Nilles

“Sometimes when drummers complain about music sounding too mechanical, they’re just jealous. There’s nothing wrong with a band being tight.”

Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz



Cindy Blackman Santana

“I found to really make money, you had to give up music. So I gave up money.”

Mel Lewis

“The life of music is bigger than all of us.”

Cindy Blackman Santana

“Playing fast around the drums is one thing. But to play music, to play with people for others to listen to, that’s something else. That’s a whole other world.”

Tony Williams

“The drum is the heart of music. The saxophone can play and then rest, as can all of them except the drums; the drummer keeps going. He can’t afford to stop.”

Jo Jones

“All we sell is the greatest feeling on earth.”




“Don’t get too caught up in the typical ideas of what makes a good drummer. Those things are sort of unattainable, and they’re not always creatively your most useful things to know.”

Janet Weiss

“Jazz is one of the few things that let you know there is a God and there is creation.”

Billy Higgins

“We’re one of the few bands that hasn’t had to play any lame fashion games. We always have gotten to put art first.”

Danny Carey



Jeff Porcaro

“I know I could have fun playing any kind of music. I’ll tell you, though, I really miss playing the R&B stuff. I miss playing that probably more than anything—playing those old Motown hits in the high school band. Basically, I like listening to records. I like keeping time.”

Jeff Porcaro

“Life is about rhythm. Our hearts are pumping blood—we are a rhythm machine, that’s what we are.”

Mickey Hart

“You are never, ever gonna get a drummer to dis another one. It’s part of the drumming rules, as important as being able to keep pace or smashing up hotel rooms. Drummers do not dis!”

Philip Selway

“If you’re playing live, I like to think of the ensemble—whether it’s the duet or a 40-piece orchestra—as one person. And the entire audience—whether it’s 12 people or 12,000 at Madison Square Garden—is the other person. The two of you are going to dance together tonight.”

John Densmore



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