When you think of singers, you imagine they probably play the guitar. Most iconic lead guitar players are also lead singers of their band. Besides lead guitarists, bassists are also considered stars compared to drummers. Although the drummer is the quintessential player of any rock ‘n’ roll band, the drummer is often forgotten and consigned to help keep the music on pace. Drummers are seldom in the spotlight. But not all drummers are destined to be side-lined in the background. There are drummers who sing. Singing lead and playing the drums is a feat in music and here’s our list of 9 of the best singing drummers who either lead or add integral vocal contributions to their bands.
9. Mickey Dolenz, The Monkees
The Monkees was a made for TV band in the 1960s. When Mickey Dolenz was cast with Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davey Jones, he had the least musical experience but the most acting experience. His natural singing voice caught the producers’ attention and he sang Last Train to Clarksville, I’m a Believer, and Steppin’ Stone, all of which rivalled the Beatles’ grip on chart supremacy.
Dolenz did not know how to play the drums at all but he could fake it convincingly for the cameras. But he was a quick learner. He learnt to play the drums and was able to play well enough live on stage and later in the recording studio,
8. Karen Carpenter, The Carpenters
Most remember Karen Carpenter as the lead singer of the iconic 70s duo The Carpenters. She is one of the best contralto singers of her era, belting out intimate hits such as “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Close to You” and “There’s a Kind of Hush.” Few would recall that she started out as an impressive drummer for the Richard Carpenter Trio. She could play complex bebop numbers as natural as her singing prowess. She was forced into the spotlight as lead singer after the Carpenters hit the airwaves with a string of radio hits. Unfortunately, Karen Carpenter was unable to stay backstage as a drummer due to the duo’s rising stardom as she suffered crippling anxiety. She ultimately succumbed to heart failure due to anorexia nervosa in 1983.
7. Peter Criss, KISS
Peter Criss trained as a jazz player and he learnt rock by listening to Mitch Mitchell. Criss’ fluid and swinging style caught Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley at an Italian nightclub in Brooklyn. His flair for showmanship made him a perfect fit for Kiss’ over-the-top aesthetic. His solo vocal performance on the band’s top 10 smash hit Beth is unmatchable.
6. Roger Taylor, Queen
We all remember Freddy Mercury as the lead singer of Queen. But Roger Taylor, the drummer of Queen has pitch-perfect pipes and was given the microphone on numerous occasions. His raspy vocals contrasted with Mercury’s smoother delivery. Taylor’s insane high-pitched falsetto gave Queen their magical harmony, especially in Bohemian Rhapsody. He sang and wrote I’m in love with my car, and led vocals on Father to Son and Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll. Taylor was noted for his drumming and songwriting for the rise of Queen.
5. Don Henley, The Eagles
You may remember Don Henley as a solo act, singing and playing the guitar. But before his solo career took off, he was part of The Eagles playing the drums. While behind the drums kit, Henley would add his distinctive tenor to a series of hits such as Witchy Woman, Desperado, Best of My Love to One of These Nights. The beauty of Henley’s drumming style lies in his simplicity and putting in fills only when absolutely necessary, giving him space for his voice to soar.
4. Sheila E
Her father is the noted percussionist Pete Escovedo of Latin big band Azteca, while Sheila E was already performing with George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye to Diana Ross when she began as a working musician at 21 years old, Prince took her under his wing, leading her to lead the vocals to the song Erotic City, A year later, Sheila E produced hits of her own such as The Glamorous Life, The Belle of St Mark, A Love Bizarre, all sang while playing the percussion.
3. Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl, unlike the list of singing drummers here, did not play the drums or sing when he began his career with Nirvana. Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of Nirvana but as the band came near the end of their brief career, Cobain let Grohl stand out more. Grohl wrote Marigold and also sang lead and backed vocals playing the drums and the guitar. After Nirvana ended, Grohl became a first-class singer and guitarist with the Foo Fighters.
2. Phil Collins, Genesis
Phil Collins played drums and percussion and sang backing vocals on Genesis albums from 1970 to 1975. His first lead vocals with Genesis is an acoustic track For Absent Friends he wrote with Steve Hackett. Collins became the band’s lead vocalist during the recording of their album ‘A Trick of the Tail’. The album became a commercial and critical success. Collins’ drum sound defined the 1980s. His husky voice produced an avalanche of pop hits encompassing art rock, pop, blues and film soundtracks.
1. Ringo Starr, The Beatles
We know Ringo Starr as the least creative of The Beatles. However, his profound creative drumming and style were what shaped the music of The Beatles. He occasionally sang lead vocals with the group, usually for one song on each album including Yellow Submarine, With a Little Help from My Friends to Act Naturally. He also wrote and sang The Beatles’ songs Don’t Pass Me By and Octopus’ Garden. Although his range barely spanned an octave, what he could do with those few notes were impressive. When Ringo sang a tune, whether it be a John Lennon or Paul McCartney number or his own, he owned the song and the tune became his.