Earl Cyril Palmer (October 25, 1924 – September 19, 2008) was an American rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues drummer.
He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Palmer played on many recordings, including Little Richard's first several albums and many other well-known rock-and-roll records. According to one obituary, "his list of credits read like a Who's Who of American popular music of the last 60 years."
Born into a show-business family in New Orleans and raised in the Tremé district, Palmer started his career at five as a tap dancer, joining his mother and aunt on the black vaudeville circuit in its twilight and touring the country extensively with Ida Cox's Darktown Scandals Review. His father is thought to have been the local pianist and bandleader Walter "Fats" Pichon.
Palmer was 12 when he headlined a floor show at the Rhythm Club in New Orleans, "a very beautiful spot where one can enjoy a floor show, headed by Alvin Howey and Little Earl Palmer."
Palmer served in the United States Army during World War II and was posted in the European theatre. His biographer wrote,
Most Negro recruits were assigned to noncombatant service troops: work gangs in uniform. "They didn't want no niggers carrying guns," says Earl; they carried shovels and garbage cans instead. Earl's job, loading and handling ammunition, was relatively technical, but his duty was clear: to serve white infantrymen.— Tony Scherman, Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story (2000), p. 47
After the war ended Palmer studied piano and percussion at the Gruenwald School of Music in New Orleans, where he also learned to read music. He started drumming with the Dave Bartholomew Band in the late 1940s. Palmer was known for playing on New Orleans recording sessions, including Fats Domino's "The Fat Man" and "I'm Walkin" (and several more of Domino's hits), "Tipitina" by Professor Longhair, "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard (and most of Richard's hits), "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" by Lloyd Price, and "I Hear You Knockin'" by Smiley Lewis.
His playing on "The Fat Man" featured the backbeat 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." Reportedly, he was the first to use the word funky, to explain to other musicians that their music should be made more syncopated and danceable.
Palmer left New Orleans for Hollywood in 1957, initially working for Aladdin Records. He soon started working with the Wrecking Crew, a loose-knit group of session musicians who recorded nonstop during their heyday from 1962 to 1968.
The musicians union tracked Palmer playing on 450 dates in 1967 alone.
For more than 30 years he played drums on the soundtracks of many movies and television shows. Amongst the many artists he worked with were Frank Sinatra, Phil Spector, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Eddie Cochran, Ritchie Valens, Bobby Day, Don and Dewey, Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, Larry Williams, Gene McDaniels, Bobby Darin, Neil Young, the Pets, and B. Bumble and the Stingers. He also played in jazz sessions with David Axelrod, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, Onzy Matthews, and Count Basie, and he contributed to blues recordings by B. B. King.
Palmer played drums in a recording session with the West Coast folk singer-songwriter Jim Sullivan around 1969 or 1970. The album was released twice with different audio mixes. On the Monnie Records album, U.F.O., Palmer's drumming can be clearly heard, but on the Century City Record, Jim Sullivan, the drums, percussion and bass were moved back in the mix.
He remained in demand as a drummer throughout the 1970s and 1980s, playing on recordings for albums by Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Tim Buckley, Little Feat and Elvis Costello.
In 1982, Palmer was elected treasurer of the Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians. He served until he was defeated in 1984. He was re-elected in 1990.
A biography, Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story, by Tony Scherman, was published in 1999.
In later years, Palmer played with a jazz trio in Los Angeles.
Palmer died in September 2008, in Banning, California, after a long illness. He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.Personal life
Palmer married four times and had seven children: In addition to his wife Jeline, he is survived by Earl Cyril Palmer, Jr., Donald Alfred Palmer, Ronald Raymond Palmer and Patricia Ann Palmer from his marriage to Catherine Palmer; Shelly Margaret Palmer and Pamela Teresa Palmer from his marriage to Susan Joy Weidenpesch; and Penny Yasuko Palmer from his marriage to Yumiko Makino.
- "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."
- Late in his career, Palmer appeared in a music video with the band Cracker on the song "I Hate My Generation." As Addicted to Noise tells the story, "According to Cracker leader David Lowery, when Palmer was asked if he would be able to play along with the songs, he gave Lowery a look and said, 'I invented this shit.'"
- "I've been asked if people could borrow my drums because they like their sound. What the hell, they think the drums play themselves? I said, 'You really want 'em? Really? Okay. Cost you triple scale and cartage.'"
- When asked by Max Weinberg what more of the recording sessions he'd played on Palmer replied, "Don't ask me which ones I played on. I should have done like Hal [Blaine]. Hal used to get gold records for all the things he played on. I never did that, you know. I would like to have a room with all those things in them. It would have been nice—show my grandchildren when they grow up so they don't say, 'Oh shut up old man and sit down.' I could just say, 'Look. I don't have to tell you nothing. There it is.'"
In 2000, Palmer became one of the first session musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Drumsville (Liberty Records, 1961)
- Percolator Twist (Liberty Records, 1962)
- Here's Little Richard - Little Richard (1957)
- Swinging Flute in Hi-Fi - The Strollers (1958)
- The Fabulous Little Richard - Little Richard (1959)
- At the Cinema! - Buddy Collette's Swinging Shepherds (Mercury, 1959)
- This Must Be the Plas - Plas Johnson (Capitol, 1959)
- Julie...At Home - Julie London (1960)
- Sinatra and Swingin' Brass - Frank Sinatra (1962)
- Twistin' And Twangin' - Duane Eddy (1962)
- Color Him Funky - Howard Roberts (1963)
- H.R. is a Dirty Guitar Player - Howard Roberts (1963)
- The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell - Glen Campbell (1964)
- Mr. Eliminator - Dick Dale (1964)
- Gil Fuller & the Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra featuring Dizzy Gillespie - Gil Fuller (Pacific Jazz, 1965)
- Latin In The Horn - Al Hirt & Lalo Schifrin (1966)
- Music from Mission: Impossible - Lalo Schifrin (Dot, 1967)
- There's a Whole Lalo Schifrin Goin' On - Lalo Schifrin (Dot, 1968)
- Accent on Africa - Cannonball Adderley (1968)
- The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees - The Monkees (1968)
- Head - The Monkees (1968)
- Song of Innocence - David Axelrod (1968)
- Songs of Experience - David Axelrod (1969)
- The Natch'l Blues - Taj Mahal (1969)
- U.F.O. - Jim Sullivan (1969)
- Memphis Jackson - Milt Jackson (Impulse!, 1969)
- People Like Us - The Mamas & the Papas (1971)
- David Clayton-Thomas - David Clayton-Thomas (1972)
- Look at the Fool - Tim Buckley (1974)
- Sweet Harmony - Maria Muldaur (1976)
- Strange Ladies - David Axelrod (1977)
- Ins and Outs - Lalo Schifrin (Palo Alto, 1982)
- King of America - Elvis Costello (1986)
- The Ultimate School of Rock & Roll - Gene Summers (1997)
- In 3-Dimensions - Deke Dickerson (2003)
- Seasons in the Sun (Unreleased) - The Beach Boys
- "The Fat Man" - Fats Domino (1949)
- "Messy Bessy" - Dave Bartholomew (1949)
- "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" - Lloyd Price (1952)
- "I'm Gone" - Shirley and Lee (1952)
- "Doin' The Hambone" b/w Thinkin' 'Bout My Baby - James Booker (1954)
- "In the Night" - Professor Longhair (1954)
- "I Hear You Knockin'" - Smiley Lewis (1955)
- Red Hot - Bob Luman (1955)
- Blue Monday - Fats Domino
- The Girl Can't Help It, Rip It Up, Long Tall Sally, Slippin' and Slidin', Ready Teddy - Little Richard (1956)
- Chicken Shack Boogie - Amos Milburn (1956)
- "Ooh-Wee-Baby" - Art Neville (1956)
- Let the Good Times Roll, - Shirley and Lee (1956)
- You Send Me - Sam Cooke (1957)
- I'm Walkin' - Fats Domino (1957)
- "I'm Leaving It Up to You" - Don and Dewey (1957)
- Little Bitty Pretty One - Bobby Day and Thurston Harris (1957)
- "Busy, Busy", "My Heaven" - Dan Bowden (1958)
- Donna - Ritchie Valens (1958)
- Summertime Blues- Eddie Cochran (1958)
- "Slow Down", "Dizzy Miss Lizzy", "Bony Moronie" - Larry Williams (1958)
- "Polly Molly", "Forever And A Day" - 5 Masks (1958)
- "Patricia Darling", "Whatta You Do" - Ray Willis (1958)
- Nervous, Gotta Lotta That, Twixteen, "Crazy Cat Corner", Gene Summers (1958)
- Rockin' Robin - Bobby Day (1958)
- Willie and the Hand Jive - Johnny Otis (1958)
- La Bamba - Ritchie Valens (1959)
- Walking to New Orleans - Fats Domino (1960)
- The Lonely Bull - Herb Alpert (1962)
- "High Flyin' Bird" - Judy Henske (1963)
- "Please Let Me Love You" - The Beefeaters (who later became the Byrds) (1964)
- The Little Old Lady from Pasadena, Dead Man's Curve - Jan and Dean (1964)
- You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' - The Righteous Brothers (1964)
- Please Let Me Wonder - The Beach Boys (1965)
- Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me - Mel Carter (1965)
- River Deep - Mountain High - Ike & Tina Turner - (1966)
- I'll Be Back Up On My Feet, "We Were Made for Each Other", "Magnolia Simms" - The Monkees (1968)
- "The Old Laughing Lady", "I've Loved Her So Long" - Neil Young (1968)
- "She Gets Me Where I Live", "God Sheds His Grace on Thee" - Al Kooper (1970)
- "Whistlin' Past the Graveyard", "Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun" - Tom Waits - (1978)
Palmer was the session drummer for a number of film scores, including:
Judgement at Nuremberg, score by Ernest Gold
Hud, score by Elmer Bernstein
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, score by Ernest Gold
Baby the Rain Must Fall, score by Elmer Bernstein
Ride the Wild Surf score by Stu Phillips
Robin and the Seven Hoods, score by Nelson Riddle
Boeing Boeing, score by Neal Hefti
Harlow, score by Neal Hefti
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, score by Les Baxter
A Patch of Blue, score by Jerry Goldsmith
Pretty Polly, score by Michel Legrand
Cool Hand Luke, score by Lalo Schifrin
In the Heat of the Night, score by Quincy Jones
A Dandy in Aspic, score by Quincy JonesTelevision scores
Palmer was also the session drummer for a number of television show themes and soundtracks, including:
- Flintstones Theme Song
- M Squad
- 77 Sunset Strip
- Bourbon Street Beat
- Hawaiian Eye
- Peyton Place
- I Dream of Jeannie
- Green Acres
- The Outsider
- It Takes a Thief
- The Leslie Uggams Show
- The Brady Bunch
- The Partridge Family
- The Odd Couple
- The Pearl Bailey Show
- The Midnight Special
- Mission: Impossible
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