The 11 best drummers according to Black Stone Cherry's John Fred Young

John Fred Young is the toweringly tall, wild-haired percussionist in Black Stone Cherry. He’s been with the Kentucky quartet since their formation in 2001.

But his background in music goes back even further, to a childhood travelling the States with country rockers The Kentucky Headhunters – a band in which both his father and uncle played.

Here, the Black Stone Cherry sticksman counts down his top 11 rock drummers of all time…

Black Stone Cherry's John Fred Young at Sheffield's Motorpoint Arena in 2014

Black Stone Cherry's John Fred Young at Sheffield's Motorpoint Arena in 2014 (Image credit: Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns via Getty)

John Fred:
“As far as rock drummers go, I’d have to go ahead and pick Mitch Mitchell first. He obviously played with The Jimi Hendrix Experience and he’s one of my favourite drummers ever. Growing up, I used to listen to him play all the time and I loved hearing him do all the short bursts of jazz, especially on Crosstown Traffic. Fire is another one of my favourite tracks of all time, and those rolls in Foxy Lady are amazing, too. He was monumental to me growing up.”

“I once got to see another great drummer by the name of Buddy Miles – who played on the Band of Gypsys album with Hendrix – when he played a show with The Kentucky Headhunters. The concert was called Blues Aid, and Buddy was incredible. He played the song Machine Gun that he used to do with Hendrix, and I just remember watching him do like these 30-second drum rolls and thinking to myself, ‘This guy is so bad ass.’ He was a big dude, and watching him move around the kit was incredible.”

**“Honestly, I’d have to say my uncle Fred Young! He’s one of the greatest, most underrated rock drummers out there. Obviously, The Kentucky Headhunters are known for being one of the biggest country rock bands around, and Fred was one of those guys that really changed the face of country drums. You didn’t have drums in country music until he came along. The drummer was always in the background. Then The Headhunters came along and Fred had this huge double marching bass drum that he got from our high school’s band class, and he’s been playing with them ever since. He was pretty much the first guy to bring rock drums into country music in America, and after him you had all these other guys like Milton Sledge [Garth Brooks’ drummer] come out and slaying it. It was funny to see that transition, and Fred literally turned me on to every great drummer that I know about. I owe him a lot.”

**“You have to go with John Bonham, man. He’s one of my absolute favourite drummers of all time. He’s a beast. Tracks like The Ocean, D’yer Mak’er and Fool in the Rain are epic songs, and I still listen to that stuff and try to take hints. The stuff he would do was really powerful, but it was really precise as well – it wasn’t just a bunch of bashing. When you isolate the drum tracks in songs like Communication Breakdown and Dazed and Confused, you can really hear how deep into the pocket he went with those grooves.”

**“He was such a versatile drummer. Bernard came up with the ‘New Orleans Purdie Shuffle’, which is where John Bonham got the Fool in the Rain groove from. He was incredible, an absolute beast behind the drums. He had this great band back in the day, and I remember watching them all the time. He killed it, man. He’d even sit around and talk whilst he was playing drums. There’s this whole controversy around how he supposedly played on The White Album by The Beatles, but nobody knows the real truth about whether he did or not.”

“Next would be Ginger Baker. I remember listening to Disraeli Gears and trying to figure out all those polyrhythms that he’d do. He was on a whole different level, man. I remember seeing the film about him [Beware of Mr. Baker] where he went to Africa in a frigging Land Rover; he visited all these tribes and learned all the different rhythms that those guys were doing. The documentary totally showed him in his rawest form, but listening to him play drums on tracks like Sunshine of Your Love and White Room, he’s untouchable. He was like Mitch Mitchell in the way that he was a jazz drummer, but he was playing in a rock band. I’d like to meet the guy one day, I just hope he doesn’t try and hit me over the head with his stick.”

“Tommy started out playing in Black Oak Arkansas and he’s a killer drummer. He plays double bass, two rack toms and two floors, and he’s the epitome of straight-up rock drumming. He’s played with Ozzy, he’s played with Whitesnake – he’s played with everybody – and he was another one of those guys that I used to listen to all the time. I had a VHS tape of him called Hot Licks, and in it he’d break down all these bass drum rolls that he did. He’s such a great drummer. He had one hell of an afro, too, so I loved him from day one.”

“Keith Moon has to be on here, without a doubt. I remember my dad had me watch all kinds of crazy footage of old rock bands when we’d go out on the road, and people would always bring bootleg tapes along. The first time I ever saw Keith Moon play was on one of those tapes, and I just remember it was the first time that I’d ever seen anybody play lead drums. He didn’t even use a high hat sometimes, and he was a real influence on me hitting heavy as a drummer.”

“He’s not a rock drummer, but for me, Buddy Rich is hands down maybe the greatest drummer that ever lived. Like Ginger Baker, he was marked up as being a lunatic sometimes, but he was also such perfectionist and a real stand-out drummer. No one plays like him.”

“My uncle turned me on to Carmine when I was really young, and I noticed that the stuff he was playing was really cool, but I didn’t really know what I was listening to. I rediscovered him later on listening to a band called Cactus, with Jim McCarty, Rusty Day and Tim Bogert – who also played in The Amboy Dukes with Ted Nugent before he started his solo career – and Carmine Appice was their drummer. I remember my uncle telling me I had to listen to a song called Parchman Farm, which was so brutal. It was almost in swing time, but the drums were incredible and he was a double bass drummer from hell. When Led Zeppelin came to America, Carmine actually got John Bonham his first endorsement, because before that, he didn’t have any kind of drum deal. I think Bonham was inspired by a lot of stuff that Carmine was doing, too.”

“I have to give an honorary mention to Vinnie Appice as well – Carmine’s younger brother. He’s a very different drummer, but he’s just as great. He’s more of a metal guy, and he’s known for playing in Heaven & Hell and bands like that. We actually got to play with Heaven & Hell in France before Ronnie James Dio passed away, and Vinnie came up to me after the show and said, ‘Man, let me tell you, I’ve played with a lot of drummers, but you are the absolute heaviest hitting drummer I have ever seen play in my life… well, besides me!’ I thought that was really cool, so I have to mention him in there with Carmine.”

Black Stone Cherry will release their new album Kentucky on April 1 through the Mascot Label Group. You can pre-order it here or on iTunes.

Matt Stocks

DJ, presenter, writer, photographer and podcaster Matt Stocks was a presenter on Kerrang! Radio before a year’s stint on the breakfast show at Team Rock Radio, where he also hosted a punk show and a talk show called Soundtrack Apocalypse. He then moved over to television, presenting on the Sony-owned UK channel Scuzz TV for three years, whilst writing regular features and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine. He also wrote, produced and directed a feature-length documentary on Australian hard rock band Airbourne called It’s All For Rock ‘N’ Roll, and in 2017 launched his own podcast: Life in the Stocks. His first book, also called Life In The Stocks, was published in 2020. A second volume was published in April 2022.