Behind every great singer is a brilliant drummer. That’s the case with most groups, but a woman behind the kit is a rarity. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and many females have thrashed away, usually in all-girl groups.
Who will be remembered as the greatest of all time? There are more contenders than you might think.
1. Gina Schock
The all-girl band the Go-Gos had an early hit with “We Got the Beat,” and Gina Schock was the person driving that beat. At a time when electronic drums were edging out humans, Gina Schock kept it real, and she’s still drumming behind Belinda Carlisle and the rest of the band today.
2. Denise Dufort
The United States had The Runaways, while the UK had Girlschool. Taking full advantage of the movement known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Girlschool was an all-female band, with Denise Dufort taking over the drums. Drumming ran in the family, and Denise is the sister of Dave Dufort, who played in Angel Witch, another NWOBHM band.
3. Sandy West
Speaking of The Runaways, how could we not include their drummer, Sandy West? While there had been many female drummers before her, nobody had used such pace and passion to back up one of the most essential bands in the early punk scene. The Runaways were pioneers, and West played her whole part.
4. Meg White
When your band only has two musicians, you must make your instrument count, and Meg White did just that. With that thumping percussion, she was as much a part of The White Stripes sound as Jack. It’s a shame that she’s been out of the limelight since the group split, as there are legions of fans who want to hear more.
5. Fliss Kitson
Fliss Kitson of The Nightingales is a drummer with a more regular vocal role. She joined the post-punk group and injected new life into the band led by iconic singer Robert Lloyd. I’ve seen the Nightingales live, and I’d highly recommend seeking out King Rocker, the documentary on Lloyd, and this unique group.
6. Sheila E
During her early career, after her stint with the George Duke Band in the 70s, Sheila E was another musician whose image may have masked her talent. As a glamorous part of Prince’s entourage, some may have thought she was there for decoration, playing occasional percussion while providing vocals. Fortunately, she was later unleashed, and all music fans saw Sheila E as the powerhouse she indeed was.
7. Patty Schemel
Hole drummer Patty Schemel overcame personal demons and a high-profile firing from the band. Her skills with the sticks were never in doubt, and she introduced complex patterns to the more basic styles of the grunge era. Courtney Love eventually decided she couldn’t perform without her, and Schemel made an unlikely but fully deserved return to the band.
8. Brie Howard-Darling
While known as Brie Brandt, this exceptional female drummer was a groundbreaker with one of the first all-female rock bands to make a mark in a male-dominated world. Her time with the group was brief, but she has enjoyed a long career working with artists such as Glen Campbell, Carole King, and Jimmy Buffett. In 2024, at the age of 74, Howard-Darling is still drumming.
9. Karen Carpenter
She will best be remembered for her beautiful voice, but Karen Carpenter was an accomplished drummer. She learned her skills in the school marching band and played on The Carpenters’ hits. She was highly respected among her peers and once edged out Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham in a best drummers poll.
10. Viola Smith
One of the first female drummers to break through and truly make a name for herself, Viola Smith became a legend on the jazz scene. A native of Wisconsin, she was given her chance primarily due to the outbreak of World War Two when women began to fill traditional male jobs in many industries. Smith recorded very little but featured extensively in Broadway Shows and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show five times.
11. Samantha Maloney
At one time, Samantha Maloney was a gun for hire, replacing well-known drummers in several noted rock bands. She replaced Patty Schemel in Hole, took over from Tommy Lee during a break for Motley Crue, and covered for Josh Homme in Eagles of Death Metal. This hasn't kept Maloney from her regular day job as A&R Vice President at Warner Bros.
12. Cindy Blackman Santana
If you’re unaware of Cindy Blackman Santana, you’ll likely have seen her in rock videos. She was the woman providing the soul of some of Lenny Kravitz’s greatest tracks and was a distinctive figure behind the kit. Blackman Santana is still working, and in 2020, she released a solo album with the appropriate title, Give the Drummer Some.
13. Debbi Peterson
The glamour of The Bangles sometimes meant that they weren’t fully taken seriously as musicians. They had a much more punky sound in their earlier days before they evolved as the 1980s progressed. They were all seriously and equally talented, and behind it all was their drummer and occasional vocalist, the brilliant Debbi Peterson.
14. Yoshimi P-We
Boredoms is a band that has to be heard to be believed. They are tricky to categorize and are often pigeonholed as noise metal, but there are weird psychedelic overtones. I’m not a fan, and my cat has just run out of the room following the start of the Vision Creation Newsun album, but I can admire these seriously talented musicians. Yoshimi P-We is a star and one of the most individual female drummers ever.
15. Paloma Romero
Many female musicians who formed part of the punk movement in 1970s England have been largely forgotten. Paloma Romero is better known by her stage name Palmolive, and she was the drummer in the all-girl punk outfit The Slits. Her passionate, tribal drumming provided an essential part of The Slits’ sound.
16. Honey Lantree
As one-fifth of the 1960s beat group The Honeycombs, Honey Lantree was a distinctive figure as the only female member. Sadly, this was when she would have been perceived as unusual, but it’s hoped that '60s music fans would have appreciated her contribution. The Honeycombs were one-hit wonders, but “Have I the Right” is a classic, built around the pounding drum style of Honey Lantree.
17. Dawn Richardson
Their very name was a backlash against how some musical artists were perceived. 4 Non Blondes could also be bracketed as one-hit wonders, but I’d urge any reader to look beyond “What’s Up” and consider their whole back catalog. Dawn Richardson occupied the drum stool for much of the band’s existence, taking over for Wanda Day, and she’s worked with many additional artists since the demise of 4 Non Blondes.
18. Bobbye Hall
By the very nature of their role in the band, drummers tend to fade into the background. Bobbye Hall was never front and center, and most music lovers will be unaware of her name, even though they will have undoubtedly heard her play. Hall played with many legendary stars, including Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, Carole King, and Pink Floyd.
19. Moe Tucker
Moe Tucker made drumming accessible for women as she became a cult figure in the 1960s alternative rock scene. She played with the ultimate cool band, Velvet Underground. She had a distinct stage presence, standing up at a small kit and using percussion mallets usually seen in classical orchestras. Tucker left music after the group disbanded but later returned to release four solo albums.
20. Tobi Vail
A crucial element of the Bikini Kill sound, Tobi Vail is also credited with creating the phrase “Riot Grrrl.” She was a founding member of Bikini Kill and has since worked with other well-known underground bands. When Vail plays, you can hear Moe Tucker's and others' influences in her work.
21. Jody Linscott
Any drummer deemed good enough to play for The Who demands everyone’s respect. Jody Linscott stepped in to play on the band’s 1989 tour, covering parts laid down by the legendary Keith Moon. She’s also worked with Elton John, Dido, Billy Bragg, and Mike Oldfield.
22. Torry Castellano
How we miss Torry Castellano’s contribution to The Donnas’ sound. The band released some self-penned classics, but I particularly like their cover versions, including “Dancing with Myself” and “Strutter.” Castellano’s playing style and attitude helped to define the band, but she was forced to retire from music due to tendonitis.
23. June Miles-Kingston
This is another name that will have gone under the radar, especially if you live outside of the UK. June Miles-Kingston spanned several genres during her drumming career, initially starting in the 1970s punk era. She co-founded her band, The Mo-dettes, before drumming with Indie royalty such as Everything But the Girl and Fun Boy Three.
24. Roxy Petrucci
All-girl metal band Vixen hails from Minnesota and made a positive impression on a male-dominated scene. Their look mixes glamour and grunge, and they were taken more seriously as a female band. At the heart of their intense, powerful sound is Roxy Petrucci, a drummer who played with Madame X.