Is Buddy Rich REALLY the greatest drummer of all time?

TK-421

Senior Member
I've been playing drums since the early 80s, and that entire time it's been a "known fact" that Buddy Rich was the greatest drummer of all time. Ask any of the big name drummers who the greatest is, and everyone from Neil Peart to Weckl will all pretty much say the same thing.

But is he really the greatest of all time? Taken literally, that means he's the best drummer who has ever lived. But when I see the amazingly intricate polyrhythms and four-limb independence of drummers like Marco Minnemann and Thomas Lang, the extreme creativity of drummers like Gavin Harrison and Benny Greb, and the new crop of ultra-talented jazz virtuosos like Antonio Sanchez, Eric Harland and Keith Carlock, I can't help but think that drumming has really evolved to a whole new level since Buddy's days.

I've watched a lot of Buddy Rich videos, and while he was obviously great, I think his biggest strength was his showmanship. He had a very flashy way of playing that endeared him to audiences, yet to my ears he's a very busy player who relied mostly on his ultra-quick hands, and did little with his feet. Of course intricate double bass drumming didn't really begin to be a thing until years after his death, but to me that's kind of the point. Today's top drummers are doing things that Buddy and his contemporaries couldn't even conceive of back then. So yes, I think drumming has evolved, and perhaps Buddy isn't the greatest of all time.

Is he one of the greats? Of course. Is he the greatest of his time? While I prefer Elvin Jones and Joe Morello, I have no problem giving Buddy that title. I'd even be okay with calling him greatest big band drummer of all time (with apologies to Tommy Igoe). But greatest drummer of all time? I think that may have been the case at one point, but if you really think about it, probably no longer holds true.

A bit sacrilegious, I know.
 
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Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
In the same way that Ali is "The Greatest" boxer of all time.

They managed to transcend their chosen fields and become so much more than just their vocation.

Did they have equals? Yeah. Have people come along since and raised the bar? Sure. But some people just seem to have that indefinable quality that puts them at the top of the heap.......in spite of the fact that there were others who could do it just as well.

Why some men shine so brightly over another of equal talent and ability, is God's own private mystery. But if you ever figure out the formula, be sure to come back and let me know.
 

Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
Agree. He’s the greatest big band drummer, no question. Morello is the greatest small jazz combo player, and Papa Jo Jones gets props for innovating so much of the modern drumset setup.

As far as modern players go, I have my faves, like Johnny Rabb and Carter Beaufort, but it really is tough to compare the new to the old, simply because 4-limb independence and double bass work have really changed the game.

Buddy inspired a lot of people, though. He had that fire that very few have.
 

oldskoolsoul

Silver Member
..But when I see the amazingly intricate polyrhythms and four-limb independence of drummers like Marco Minnemann and Thomas Lang, the extreme creativity of drummers like Gavin Harrison and Benny Greb, and the new crop of ultra-talented jazz virtuosos like Antonio Sanchez, Eric Harland and Keith Carlock, I can't help but think that drumming has really evolved to a whole new level since Buddy's days..

The question is more if drumming would have evolved the same if he wouldnt have been there..And i think that would not have been the case..

Thats the reason why people like him belong to the best in history..

And besides that, i dare to doubt that those 'technique-guys' that you mention have the same level of hand-technique like Buddy Rich had..
 

Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
The question is more if drumming would have evolved the same if he wouldnt have been there..And i think that would not have been the case..

Thats the reason why people like him belong to the best in history..

And besides that, i dare to doubt that those 'technique-guys' that you mention have the same level of hand-technique like Buddy Rich had..
You think Johnny Rabb couldn’t have beaten Buddy at hand technique? Or Mike Mangini?
 

TK-421

Senior Member
You think Johnny Rabb couldn’t have beaten Buddy at hand technique? Or Mike Mangini?
That's essentially the point I was trying to make. Drummers like that can match (if not exceed) Buddy's hand technique, yet are leaps and bounds better at foot technique. Combined, they're able to create new rhythmic possibilities that were unthinkable back then.

But more than just the insane polyrhythmic techniques some of today's top drummers possess, there's also a whole new level of creativity going on as well. Especially when it comes to drummers like Gavin Harrison and Benny Greb.

Of course, oldskoolsoul makes a valid point as well. Without Buddy, would there even be a Gavin or Benny? That's impossible to answer, but I can at least picture any of the current drummers I mentioned pulling off a decent Buddy Rich impression. I can't picture Buddy doing a decent Mangini impression.
 

williamsbclontz

Silver Member
I think that drums are a really interesting instrument because it's relatively pretty young and new. Guitars and bass and violins and pianos and such have been around for hundreds of years, and throughout history there have been amazing musicians playing them. Drums aren't new obviously but the drum kit is only about 100 years old give or take?

What I'm getting to is that today in guys like Thomas pridgen and tony royster we are seeing what is actually possible on the drum kit. But buddy was doing stuff like that on an instrument which was pretty close to the same age as himself. He didn't have YouTube to learn good hand technique or see the new fills drummers are using up

Because of all that he kind of revolutionized and changed the drum kits role, and I don't even think he meant to. People saw how fast and perfect he played and then years later we have guys like Dennis chambers and Dave weckle etc
 

Hummada

Senior Member
I believe drum set playing has NOT evolved. You also need to remember guys like Alan Dawson. He could could do more technical things than Buddy, but didn't have the insane energy that Buddy had. Also I think Buddy could just look or listen to what someone does on a drum set (no matter how technical)and play it back immediately, but it will be way cleaner! Lol!

Look at all the guys that did a drum battle with him. It was one sided every time.

The crazy poly coordination thing was invented by those guys back then, and you can see that Buddy learned it from other drummers through his life and made it his own thing.

There's a ton of drummers I like just as much as Buddy for different reasons. Buddy just had that natural ability to do things without practice. He could just look, listen, and play. No one else has been able to do that or we would have heard about that person by now. I know I have to work a lot harder than a lot of the very talented drummers of today and can't imagine being able to step into a big band drummers shoes from back in the 40's-60's.

The top drummers of these days watch too much internet and are too perfect sounding in my opinion. Ha ha.. There's something missing these days that those guys had but I don't know what the word for it is. I don't know how to explain it. Does anyone else have the same feeling?
 

markdrum

Silver Member
People tend to forget that drums are a musical instrument. Playing for the song is a lot different than seeing how many notes you can play in under a minute. Any time I see one of these speed racers I think of what Buddy himself said about Chick Webb:" CH-the daddy of 'em all." They had lots of great drummers who were great musicians like Gene Krupa, Louis Bellson, Jo Jones. The list goes on forever. Another thing that Buddy said was: "You either swing a band or don't swing a band." Too much emphasis is being put on how fast you can play, not how musical. Another thing is that the equipment of today is miles ahead of what those folks had to deal with. Calf heads are great until the room starts to heat up and the air in the club gets more humid. I think back on how rickety the old bass drum pedals were and those damn railette tom holders! Listen to Joe Morello on "Take Five" if you want to hear pure technique being applied in a musical manner. He uses silence as a note. That's real drumming! Buddy was a great, natural drummer but he wasn't the best. No one was or is the best. We have really great drummers but they're all great in their own, unique way.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I don't know if I would ever say "he wasn't the greatest". I don't know enough to know if that were true. You have to consider the whole package: the man was a dancer, an actor, a comedian, a drummer, a band leader, a celebrity - from the era that you had to be the entire package. Not just good hands and good feet - which is why as incredible as today's drummers are, I'm not sure if they have everything to be a bonafide star. And that's what Buddy was.

Also, you have to consider how musicians carried themselves in that era too. Or maybe more specifically, all jazz musicians. It's a scary thing to see a number top jazz players walk on stage together and just start creating stuff out of thin air. I play in cover bands, and those guys still want to rehearse to make sure they have the material down. It takes a good amount of bravado to just sit down with musicians and do stuff on the spot like that. This kind of behavior really enhances the "greatness" factor to people who can't relate to booking a gig and just showing up the day of the gig.

So I would say, yeah, he's one of the greatest that ever lived, even if his hands and feet didn't move at mind-bending rates like they do today.
 

TK-421

Senior Member
Buddy was a great, natural drummer but he wasn't the best. No one was or is the best. We have really great drummers but they're all great in their own, unique way.
I wholeheartedly agree with this.

So I would say, yeah, he's one of the greatest that ever lived, even if his hands and feet didn't move at mind-bending rates like they do today.
Also in agreement. I don't dispute at all that Buddy was one of the greats. Of course he was, there's absolutely no denying that. And perhaps he did more to put drums in the spotlight than anyone else. Of course, the same may also be said about Ringo. Regardless, I think the point of my original post got lost: that calling someone--anyone--the greatest of all time is a bit of a misnomer. They may be head and shoulders above everyone else during their prime, but eventually others will catch up and even surpass the greats. This doesn't diminish our past heroes, it just means that labeling them as the greatest who ever lived can be a little misleading.

And I'm not just talking about drumming, as this also applies to sports, or anything else for that matter.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I wholeheartedly agree with this.



".....it just means that labeling them as the greatest who ever lived can be a little misleading.
I must ask the question though, misleading from what? This is really just a bit of hero-worship, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's like politics, or religion, you either accept it or don't. But if you don't think so, and somebody else does, are you saying one of them is wrong? In instances like this, we can all be right, because it certainly doesn't change anything by believing one way or the other.
 
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