No player in history could so confidently—and inarguably—wear the title of “the world’s greatest drummer.” Buddy Rich
was simply a phenomenon, astounding vaudeville audiences in the late 1910s and early ’20s, well before most children began their conventional schooling.

Indeed, there was nothing conventional about Buddy Rich. On the drums, he simply went places that no one else could go. For sure, he knew the value of dazzling an audience. But Buddy also understood the value of hard work, and he was notorious for the demands he put on himself and on the players in his bands.

Ultimately, it was his loyalty to the music and to the concept of greatness that drove him. Even though he was paid historically well early in his career, later he risked his savings, his friendships, and even his health taking the music—his music—to the people. What he left us with was a treasure trove of recordings featuring the most exciting drumming of all time, a lifetime’s worth of staggering performances, and the notion that magic, in the form of drumming wizardry, is a very real thing indeed.

Here we celebrate the century that has passed since the greatest drummer of all time was born.


1917

On September 30, Bernard “Buddy” Rich is born in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn to Robert and Bess Rich.

1921

At four years old, Rich becomes known as “Traps, the Drum Wonder.”

1923

Buddy, now the second-highest-paid child star in the world, tours Australia at age six.

1937

Rich joins his first major jazz group, led by clarinetist Joe Marsala.

1938

Rich joins the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, beginning a long personal, artistic, and business relationship with singer Frank Sinatra.

1939

Buddy joins the big band led by Artie Shaw, one of the most popular acts of the swing era.

1942

Rich enlists in the Marine Corps in the midst of World War II. He and drum instructor Henry Adler coauthor the popular method book Buddy Rich’s Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments.

1944

Buddy, following a discharge from the Marines for medical reasons, rejoins Tommy Dorsey.

1946

Frank Sinatra provides financial backing for Rich to start his own band.

1950

Rich appears on most of Bird and Diz, a studio album by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Max Roach plays on two tracks.

1953

Rich begins a twelve-year, on-again-off-again stint with trumpet player Harry James. Buddy marries Marie Allison on April 21.

1954

Rich reportedly earns $1,500 a week with the Harry James Orchestra, making him the highest-paid sideman in the world. In April, Buddy’s only child, Cathy, is born.

1955

Rich and Gene Krupa, the two most popular drummers in the world at the time, team up for the album Krupa and Rich. They appear on only one cut together, “Bernie’s Tune,” which features a six-minute drum battle between the two heavyweights.

1959

Rich suffers his first heart attack.

1962

Rich begins his longtime friendship with TV stars Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin. He will appear on the variety shows hosted by both men throughout his career. Buddy’s 1970s appearances on Carson’s Tonight Show in particular influence an entire generation of drummers.

1966

Rich performs a big band arrangement of a medley from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, and records it as the “West Side Story Suite” for the album Swingin’ New Big Band.

1968

One of Rich’s most popular performances, a live recording from Caesars Palace of “Channel One Suite,” is featured on the album Mercy, Mercy

1973

PBS TV broadcasts Buddy’s performance at the Top of the Plaza in Rochester, New York. It’s the first widely seen full-length concert by the Rich band, and subsequently becomes a touchstone for thousands of nascent jazz drummers.

1974

Rich opens his own New York club, Buddy’s Place.

1977

Buddy appears on the cover of the debut issue of the world’s first major drum magazine, Modern Drummer.

1980

Rich is inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

1981

Buddy appears in an episode of The Muppet Show that features a drum battle with the Muppet character Animal, whose drumming is provided by English musician Ronnie Verrell.

1983

After playing Rogers, Slingerland, and Ludwig drums at different points in his career, Buddy tours with a custom kit built for him by Drum Workshop.

1984

Rich’s grandson, Nick, is born on September 9.

1985

Mr. Drums: Live on King Street hits the shelves. It’s the last of Buddy’s albums released during his lifetime.

1987

On April 2, at age sixty-nine, Rich dies of heart failure, following surgery for a malignant brain tumor.

1991

Longtime friend and confidant Mel Tormé’s Buddy Rich biography, Traps, The Drum Wonder, is released.

1994

Burning for Buddy: A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Rich is released. Produced by Rush’s Neil Peart, the album features performances by Joe Morello, Steve Gadd, Max Roach, Billy Cobham, Dave Weckl, Simon Phillips, Steve Smith, Kenny Aronoff, and Peart himself, accompanied by the Buddy Rich Big Band. A second volume is issued in 1997.

1998

Genesis drummer and solo star Phil Collins performs at a tribute concert organized by Cathy Rich, A Salute to Buddy Rich, which is later released on DVD. The event also features Steve Smith and Dennis Chambers.

2002

Rich appears on the cover of the April issue of Modern Drummer, his fifth time.

2012

Rich is voted the greatest drummer of all time by Modern Drummer readers.

2014

The popular film Whiplash is released, featuring music recorded by Rich.

2017

Cathy Rich, along with Gregg Potter and the Buddy Rich big band, celebrates the hundredth anniversary of Buddy’s birth with shows in Los Angeles, New York City, Texas, Chicago, Italy, and the U.K.


Check out our video interview with Buddy Rich writer/arranger, John LaBarbera!