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Top 5 Punk Drummers of All Time

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Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 3:30 AM
click to enlarge Tré Cool / Green Day - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the Artist
  • Tré Cool / Green Day
The common misconception is that punk musicians aren't very good at their craft. For the most part, that might be true — Dee Dee Ramone did get laughed out of an audition for Television in 1973.

But for a musical genre so driven by the beat, where lightning fast technique is a prerequisite for acceptance, the punk drummer rises above the rest. Unlike the guitar and bass players, drummers can't turn down their instrument or increase the distortion. Sid Vicious relied on Steve Jones for direction, but Paul Cook (the drummer of The Sex Pistols) had his balls on the line every night; a lesson he first learned from Tommy Ramone, the original drummer of The Ramones. 

Tommy, who passed away over the weekend, was the prototype of modern punk drumming. After him, the position of punk drummer meant you needed to be talented, machine gun fast, and in the case of Green Day's Tré Cool, part human, part mutant — the secret weapon of a punk outfit.  

So here it is, a short list of the most dangerous secret weapons in punk history. It's an homage to the genre's original drummer, Tommy Ramone, who remains the blueprint for every name on this list. 

If we've left someone off, it's because they're not punk enough.
click to enlarge The Original Ramones Lineup: Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, and Joey - COURTESY OF SIRE/WARNER BROS. RECORDS
  • Courtesy of Sire/Warner Bros. Records
  • The Original Ramones Lineup: Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, and Joey
5. Tommy Ramone - The Ramones

The prototype isn't always the best. Sure, Tommy Ramone played fast before anyone else even dared to get on the freeway of punk (“Blitzkrieg Bop” started it all), but the drummers that came after him, even as early as the Clash's Topper Headon, took what Tommy did and added disparate influences like reggae and jazz, stuff Tommy never touched. He was the petrol that powered the motorbike rumble of the leather-clad Ramones, but the cats that came after him were plutonium gone nuclear. 

click to enlarge Descendents (Left to Right): Milo Aukerman, Stephen Egerton, Bill Stevenson, and Karl Alvarez - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the Artist
  • Descendents (Left to Right): Milo Aukerman, Stephen Egerton, Bill Stevenson, and Karl Alvarez
4. Bill Stevenson - Descendents

Bill Stevenson should be credited for inventing the modern pop-punk sound—both as the drummer and frequent songwriter on Descendents' 1982 debut, Milo Goes to College. But it's his creativity and feeling behind the kit that makes him the architect of punk's evolution in the '80s and '90s. To date, no drummer has been able to better channel the South Bay scene's bitter resentment of humanity better than Stevenson, who also played with Black Flag for a stint. But Descendents were his band. 

click to enlarge Topper Headon / The Clash - CURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Curtesy of the Artist
  • Topper Headon / The Clash
3. Nicky “Topper” Headon - The Clash

Topper Headon became the drummer of The Clash in 1977, taking over for Terry Chimes. He may not have been the drummer on their punk debut, but Headon became the catalyst for The Clash's evolution from out-and-out punk band into something more profound — incorporating funk, jazz, and reggae into their sound. "I think the band would have died with punk if I hadn't joined," said Headon, who in 1982 was sacked by Joe Strummer. After he left, the Clash never played another great gig. But for those five years, between '77 and '82, Headon was drummer, composer and experimenter — the forgotten genius of the Clash. 

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