15 absolutely virtuoso performances from rock and roll history

Rock and roll lends itself to great individual performances and here are 15 of the best.
Thin Lizzy At The Marquee
Thin Lizzy At The Marquee / Michael Putland/GettyImages
4 of 6



Gadd may have invented more iconic grooves than any other drummer. He did “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” for Paul Simon and “Aja” for Steely Dan. He has sat in with virtually every name in the recording business, especially if that name is looking for some jazz-infused backing. Apart from playing with all the jazz greats, he has performed with artists as diverse as Eric Clapton, Nils Lofgren, and Bonnie Raitt.

Gadd played drums on about half of Paul Simon’s solo albums. The groove on “Late in the Evening” is just one of many great contributions he made to Simon’s discography, but it is my favorite. The skittery cymbals feel like they might drift out of time throughout the song, but they always manage to be right where they need to be, and right on the beat.

I’ve had drummers try to explain to me the technical prowess Gadd displays, the way his hands are almost playing against each other to create a rhythmic tension. That makes some sense to me, but I choose not to think about it too hard. I prefer to just listen.


“The Grudge” is the opening track of Tool’s third album Lateralus, which may well be the best metal drumming album ever. It isn’t merely that Carey shifts tempo and attitude seamlessly throughout some long, wild forays. He often is the one carrying the melody. There are many times when the guitar and the drums seem to switch places, with Adam Jones’ guitar becoming a percussive instrument and Carey finding a range that few drummers – metal or otherwise – achieve.

The final minute of “The Grudge” doesn’t have much going on from the guitar or bass. It has Danny Carey drilling his drum kit. This was nothing new for Carey, who would contribute countless standout performances on Tool tracks. And he could do it for others as well. Listen to him blending effortlessly with the tricky rhythms coming from Adrian Belew on the guitarist’s album Side One.


Harrison has played with both Porcupine Tree and King Crimson this century. That’s a pretty fair prog-rock resume. On “Anesthesize,” you get the full palate of Harrison’s gifts. There’s an undeniable groove that prevents the heavy material from growing ponderous. As the song evolves through its stages, from rock to funk to metal to art rock, Harrison is unerring in his syncopated machine-gun rhythms.

He will eventually find room for fills despite the up-tempo groove he is providing. This carries through into the slower, more majestic final third during which he never stops throwing in ear-grabbing ideas. I don’t think there is an extended solo in “Anesthisize,” in part because the entire fifteen minutes could be a solo. Were you to simply pull Harrison's drum track out of the song, you could listen to it for that entire run time and never get bored.