The feel of rock and roll would have been a hell of a lot different without the input of New Orleans musicians, and at the top of that class was drummer Earl Palmer. He provided the distinctive backbeat for the seminal sound of rock starting with the likes of Fats Domino and Little Richard and Eddie Cochran. Earl Palmer died last Friday in his home in Banning after a long illness. He was 83.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, Palmer played on thousands of rock, jazz and pop music sessions, as well as on countless movie, television and commercial scores. In the late fifties and early sixties he played on such rock classic singles as Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin” and “Walking to New Orleans,” Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally," Ritchie Valens' “Donna” and "La Bamba," Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and "I Hear You Knockin"' by Smiley Lewis. Legendary producer Phil Spector used him to build his Wall of Sound on such songs as “You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'” by the Righteous Brothers and Ike and Tina Turner's “River Deep, Mountain High.” Palmer’s work was rarely off the charts for two decades.
Palmer left New Orleans for Los Angeles in 1957 to work for Aladdin Records. His career as a session drummer included work with a who’s who of 20th century musical icons: Frank Sinatra, Rick Nelson, Ray Charles, Bobby Day, Don and Dewey, Jan and Dean, Larry Williams, Gene McDaniels, Bobby Darin, Dick Dale, Tim Hardin, Tom Waits, Tim Buckley, Roy Brown, Neil Diamond, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duane Eddy, Sceamin' Jay Hawkins, Barbara Streisand, Taj Mahal, David Axelrod, the Beachboys, Elvis Costello, Everly Brothers, the Mama and the Papas, the Monkees, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Johnny Otis, Thurston Harris, The Byrds, Marvin Gaye and Lloyd Price, just to name a very few. Not to mention the fact he recorded with practically every great New Orleans musician who ever tracked a song to vinyl, like Professor Longhair, Huey Piano Smith, Doctor John, James Booker, Dave Batholomew and Lee Allen.
Palmer was also the session drummer for a number of television show themes and soundtracks, including -- Flintstones Theme Song, 77 Sunset Strip, I Dream of Jeannie, Green Acres, Ironside, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, The Odd Couple, and M.A.S.H.
Much of Palmer's work took place at the legendary Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles located at 6252 Santa Monica, near Vine Street, right down the street from Amoeba Records. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll states that Palmer was "possibly the most inventive drummer rock and roll has ever had.” In 1999 he was the subject of a biography, Backbeat, written by Tony Scherman, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press. A companion CD collects 30 of his most famous tracks.
Earl Palmer was born in New Orleans on October 25, 1924. He was tap-dancing professionally at age 5, touring with his mother Thelma, a singer in Ida Cox's jazz and blues revue on the black vaudeville circuit. According to hearsay his father was most likely the bandleader and New Orleans legend, Walter "Fats" Pichon.