The EditoriaList: Ten Best Drummers-turned-Singer

How do you know there’s a drummer at your door? The knocking keeps slowing down and speeding up.

How do you get him to go away? Pay for the pizza.

It’s cruel and inhumane jokes like these that surely led the following musicians to come out from behind the kit and take center stage. Please note that it was difficult and pointless to rank these artists against each other, so they are listed in no particular order.

10. Steven Tyler

Let’s not talk about what Aerosmith has become, and focus on the good times, when they made great records and rocked faces off with regularity, all while totally zonked on drugs. You know, the good times. Anyway, Tyler was and, okay, kind of still is a great frontman, but he got his start on the drums, pre-Aerosmith. While singing and songwriting were clearly his calling, he still bangs it up from time to time.

9. Karen Carpenter

The mellow, easy-listening tones of The Carpenters belie Karen’s utter ruling of the drums. She was the drummer on many of their hits, and often fronted from the kit. Pour one out for K.C.


8. Chris Cornell

When Soundgarden formed in 1984, Chris Cornell was both lead singer and drummer. Sadly for many drummers, this is rarely a recipe for success, and so Cornell surrendered the drums and screamed his ass off as one of the biggest frontmen of the ’90s.

No videos of him drumming, but I love this 007 theme:


7. Don Henley

Don Henley was always a drummer-singer, from his first band, Shiloh, through his years with The Eagles. For his successful solo career and for Eagles’ reunions, however, Henley left the drumming, for the most part, to session players. The Eagles evoke strong feelings, one way or the other, and his solo music is pretty tepid, but he’s got a hell of a voice, that Don.

I could show you a video of him playing with the Eagles, but instead here’s Grohl and Ferrell as Henley and Nicks:


6. Levon Helm

Levon was one of The Band’s three main vocalists and their only drummer. He’s such a great, tasteful drummer and it’s great to go back and watch the films to see him so swinging and yet so restrained while singing the hell out of a song. Both solo and with The Band, Helm often stepped to the front to sing and play other instruments.

Here’s Levon giving free drum tips. Pay attention:


5. Belinda Carlisle

The Go-Go’s singer was known first as a Los Angeles-area drummer. She reportedly once sat in with The Germs for a set. She then morphed into, by her own account, an utterly debaucherous frontwoman.


4. Moby

It makes sense that Moby got his start as a drummer, rhythmically-based as his material is. I once went backstage to meet Moby at a concert, only to find him standing there, in front of a few assembled guests, with his pants down. I decided that meeting Moby was definitely not worth it and left. This has nothing to do with drumming, but it is burned into my memory forever.


3. Ringo Starr

By sheer power of his personality and riding the wave of having been the drummer in the most successful band ever, Ringo Starr has forged an enduring, if uneven, solo career as a singer and songwriter. His ’70s albums are brandy-soaked fun, often featuring contributions by his former bandmates and other stars of the day. Today, he releases the occasional solid set of tunes, though he does a bit too much self-reflexive referencing of The Beatles. You won’t catch me dead at one of those All-Starr Band shows, a.k.a. The Endless Circus of the Washed-up and Damned. Tragic.

Just don’t ask for his autograph. He’s warning you with peace and love, asshole:


2. Phil Collins

With the caveat that I will blast Easy Lover anytime it is on the radio, let me say that I don’t like Phil Collins. But when Peter Gabriel left Genesis, Collins saved the band from going down as a historical footnote to Gabriel’s solo career by taking over vocal duties and steering them from their prog roots into becoming a hugely successful commercial pop juggernaut. He is/was a really great drummer. OK, That’s All is pretty good, too. And his solo career was even bigger than all that. Oooh, Against All Odds”great melody. Oh shit, I like Phil Collins. This is startling. I need to call my therapist.

Meanwhile, enjoy ten minutes of drums:


1. Dave Grohl

What needs to be said about Dave Grohl? You like him or you don’t, and I’ve found that this is often a judgment on his personality and celebrity. It’s disingenuous to deny that he’s a pretty sick drummer and a great frontman. It could not have been easy to step out from the Nirvana shadow to front his own band, but he built Foo Fighters into the huge success it is today slowly, facing many of the same obstacles faced by bands just starting out (of course, he must have been kind of a rich dude at the time, so there’s that). Hell of a musician and a dynamic frontman.


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