When we think of great rock bands, what comes to mind? Often a shrieking, flamboyant lead singer. Or a shredding, powerful guitar player. Rarely, though, do we think of the drummer first.
Videos by American Songwriter
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A drummer may be the most important part of any band. The backbone of the group, the one who keeps the time—the drummer is essential. What would Dave Matthews Band be without the octopus-armed Carter Beauford? What would Led Zeppelin be without the heavy-playing John Bonham?
Well, sadly, we learned the answer to the latter question when Bonham died early in his career. It’s only then, it seems, that we know the role and importance of the one behind the kit.
[RELATED: 6 Bands With Lead Singers Who Died Way Too Early]
Here, we wanted to dive into a handful of drummers to both lament their early departure and to give them props. Yes, let’s make sure we “give the drummer some,” as they say.
1. John Bonham, Led Zeppelin
Bonham was more than the backbone of the British-born rock band Led Zeppelin. He was the whole pulsating skeleton. Sadly, though, on September 25, 1980, the hard-living Bonham died, unresponsive after a day (well, a life) of excessive drinking. He was just 32 years old. Reportedly, that morning, he drank four quadruple vodka screwdrivers, totaling 16 shots, and then continued to booze throughout the day. This was just his life, sadly, as an alcoholic and someone who let the lifestyle of a “rock star” dictate his routine.
According to doctors, an examination of his body showed that he had consumed around 40 shots of alcohol in a 24-hour period leading to his death. He ended up dying from choking on his own vomit. Today, Bonham’s son Jason is a drummer and he has even sat in multiple times with Led Zeppelin. But the day Bonham died was the day Led Zeppelin broke up.
2. Keith Moon, The Who
Keith Moon was the spastic, flurry of a drummer for the British-born rock band The Who. In 1978 at the height of the band, Moon moved into an apartment previously owned by Harry Nilsson. Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas had died there four years earlier and people thought the place might be haunted.
After moving in, Moon started taking medication to help with alcohol withdrawal. He tried to get sober but also feared hospitals and wanted to detox at home. Soon, the pills began to take their toll on Moon. He became sluggish and couldn’t play drums for too long. Soon, he was dead. Moon died shortly after dining with Paul and Linda McCartney before seeing a new movie, The Buddy Holly Story.
Moon died on September 7, 1978. He was just 32 years old. His death occurred shortly after the release of the band’s album, Who Are You, the cover of which shows the band. Moon is straddling the back of a chair to hide his weight gain. The words “Not to be taken away” are ironically shown on the chair. The investigation of his band showed there were 32 pills in his system. Six were enough to kill him.
3. Taylor Hawkins, Foo Fighters
Taylor Hawkins, the drummer for the contemporary rock band Foo Fighters and lead singer for NHC, died last year on March 25, 2022. Since then, many around the world have mourned his passing. Two tribute shows were held for his memory, one in London and one in Los Angeles. Hawkins died while on tour with the Foo Fighters in Colombia, with a toxicology report showing several drugs in his system. Some say he was suffering from extreme exhaustion. He was just 50 years old. Sadly, his passing left two bands, the Foos and NHC, without a central member. In his wake, his son Shane has been recognized for his drummer prowess, following his father’s musical footsteps. With hope, Hawkins’ memory will keep others from an early exit.
4. Vinnie Paul, Pantera
Drummer Vinnie Paul was a veteran of the heavy metal scene. When he died on June 22, 2018, he was just 54 years old. Authorities said he died from heart trouble, specifically “dilated cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease.” After his passing, the band he rose to fame with, Pantera, alerted fans via its Facebook page. During his career, Paul had played in Pantera, as well as the groups Damageplan and Hellyeah. His final performance came just five days prior to his death at The Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
His death prompted tributes from many bands, including Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Megadeth, Alice in Chains, Slipknot, and more. Today, he is buried beside his mother Carolyn, and brother Darrel at the Moore Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Texas.
5. Neil Peart, Rush
When you’re a giant band like Rush you need a drummer who can keep up and push the sonic envelope. That was Neil Peart. But sadly, Peart’s life and career were cut short due to a severe illness. Peart died of an aggressive form of brain cancer on January 7, 2020, in California. He’d been diagnosed a few years early but not many people knew about it outside his close friends and family. He was 67 years old.
His family announced the news and then on the Rush official website, the band wrote, “It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and bandmate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans, and media alike understandably respect the family’s need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil’s name.”
6. Tommy Ramone, The Ramones
Tommy Ramone was the original drummer in the New York City-born punk rock band The Ramones. He died at age 65 at his home in Queens after unsuccessful treatment for bile duct cancer. By the time he passed, he had left the band, but his memory and his influence still loomed large. His high-energy, pulsing drumming is often what kept The Ramones on track and pushing forward like a locomotive.
7. Rick Allen, Def Leppard
Today, thankfully, Rick Allen is still with us. But that fact came very close to not being true when he endured a severe car crash that forced him to amputate his left arm. But it also could have killed him. So, while he and the band had to endure a bit of a scare, his presence in this piece is something of a positive and hopeful one. He was involved in a crash on December 31, 1984. He was trying to pass another car at a high speed when he lost control of his vehicle. The car hit a stone wall. His left arm was severed. Doctors tried to reattach it but it was later amputated due to an infection. Nevertheless, he continued drumming. Amazing stuff, even if it was touch and go there for a while.
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