Saturday, September 20, 2008
Earl Palmer: 1924 - 2008; seminal New Orleans drummer in Rock n Roll Hall of Fame
Inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, the first year for the category "Sideman," Palmer was the session drummer whose pioneering backbeats helped define Rock and Roll.
He moved to Hollywood in 1957. He played on sessions from the Monkees to Frank Sinatra.
Born in New Orleans October 25, 1924, he was the drummer at Cosimo Matassa's legendary J&M Studio on Rampart and Dumaine in the 1950s. Fats Domino, Little Richard and many others had million sellion singles with Earl on the drums. He was on the drum kit in 1949 when "The Fat Man" was recorded there. It was Fat's first hit and a contender for the first Rock n Roll record ever.
His playing on that song featured the back beat that has come to be the most important element in rock and roll. Palmer said, "That song required a strong afterbeat throughout the whole piece. With Dixieland you had a strong afterbeat only after you got to the shout last chorus. . . . It was sort of a new approach to rhythm music."
When Shreveport's "A" Train band first got booked at the Los Angeles Street Scene festival in 1983, one of the first persons they contacted was Earl Palmer for his assistance and guidance. The "Live at Humpfrees" LP had just been released and he was sent a copy. He told bandleader Bruce Flett he thought it was "very exciting", and steered him to Columbia A&R head Bobby Colomby (former drummer w/ Blood Sweat & Tears) for consideration. Bobby, evidently not so excited, never replied.
Palmer famously said, "You could always tell a New Orleans drummer the minute you heard him play his bass drum because he'd have that parade beat connotation."
Listen to John Bonham's drum intro on Zeppelin's "Rock n Roll". It's Earl Palmer's drum intro on "Keep a Knockin'" by Little Richard.