As a musician, or someone aspiring to be one, I consider myself well aware of the technicality of playing an instrument, even if it is not a melodic instrument such as the drums.
As with any instrument a lot of internet flame wars have been waged over who is the best drummer ever, living or dead. I believe such talk to be futile, if nothing than because of the fact that being a good drummer is a multi-faceted thing. There are several sides to being a good drummer, namely:
Every drummer needs to have a decent level of technique before he can proclaim himself able to play his instrument. But when does this learning curve stop? And how significant is this to the drummer’s status as a drumming great? Some of the best drummers can easily be annihilated, technique-wise, by some bedroom drummers in their home. But, as with every instrument, technique is nothing without soul.
The Soul, The Groove, Creativity etc.:
A drummer is nothing without his own style, groove and creative mark. It’s the decisions one makes when writing a drum line that make a drummer unique, as well as the way he plays them. Lars Ulrich is technically not a very good drummer, but his drumming has influenced thousands of people, including drummers far more technically proficient than him. Matter of fact, sometimes its these very technical inadequacies that lead to creative decisions in drumming – a line that would otherwise be filled with complex ghost notes or odd timing would be played in a simpler but unusual beat, and so on. Vinnie Paul of Pantera has so much groove it seeps of his drumming, even though again, there are far more technically proficient drummers out there.
The Style and Appearance:
It’s easy to underestimate this part, but let’s not forget, drumming is a physical, performance based profession. You can be the most amazing drummer, technique or groove wise, but if you look like you're doing calculus while drumming, maybe you should be a studio drummer alone. A good looking, cool performance can not only make a show, it can inspire other drummers to drum more and better. I remember several drummers who inspired me with their performance, the way they hit their drum or spin their sticks. Travis Barker is hugely over-rated when it comes to technique, but it cannot be disputed he made a brand of himself and brought a cool physicality to drumming that was gone after the wane of the glam metal extravaganza of the 80’s.
To sum it up: A great drummer needs to have the technique to be considered a professional, the groove and soul to be considered unique, and the physical style to be memorable on stage.