Earl Palmer

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Earl Palmer
Earl Palmer.jpg
Background information
Birth name Earl Cyril Palmer
Born (1924-10-25)October 25, 1924
New Orleans, Louisiana
United States
Died September 19, 2008(2008-09-19) (aged 83)
Banning, California
United States
Genres R&B, rock, jazz
Occupation(s) Session musician
Instruments Drums
Associated acts

Earl Cyril Palmer (October 25, 1924 – September 19, 2008) was an American rock & roll and rhythm and blues drummer,[1] and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[2]

Palmer played on many recording sessions, including Little Richard's first several albums and many other iconic Rock & Roll songs. According to one obituary, "his list of credits read like a Who's Who of American popular music of the last 60 years."[3]


Born into a showbusiness 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 was thought to be local pianist and bandleader Walter "Fats" Pichon.[3]

Palmer served in the United States Army during World War II, eventually being posted in the European Theatre.[4] His biographer states,

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[5]

After the war ended he 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.[3] Palmer was known for playing on New Orleans recording sessions, including Fats Domino's "The Fat Man," "I'm Walkin" (and all the rest 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.

External video
Oral History, Earl Palmer shares moments of his life story and career. interview date August 3, 2002, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library

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.[3]

Palmer left New Orleans for Hollywood in 1957, initially working for Aladdin Records. Palmer soon wound up in the Wrecking Crew, a famous group of session musicians who recorded nonstop during their heyday from 1962-68.

The musicians union tracked Earl Palmer playing on 450 dates in 1967 alone.

For more than 30 years he was to play drums on the scores and soundtracks of many movies and television shows. Amongst the many artists he worked with, included: 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, as well as jazz sessions with David Axelrod, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, Onzy Matthews, and Count Basie, and appearing on blues recordings with B. B. King. He was also in demand for television and film scores.

Palmer played drums in a recording session with 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.[4]

He remained in demand as a drummer throughout the 1970s and 1980s, playing on albums by Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Tim Buckley, Little Feat and Elvis Costello.[3]

In 1982, Palmer was elected treasurer of the Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians. He served until he was defeated in 1984 and was re-elected in 1990.[4]

His biography, Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story, written by Tony Scherman, was published in 1999. In later years, Palmer played with a jazz trio in Los Angeles.[3]

Palmer died in September 2008, in Banning, California, after a long illness.[6] He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

Personal life[edit]

Palmer married four times, and had seven children: 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. His fourth wife was Jeline Palmer, with whom he had no children.


  • "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 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. 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.'"[7]


In 2000, Palmer became one of the first session musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]


Film scores[edit]

Palmer was the session drummer for a number of film scores, including:[5]


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 Jones

Television scores[edit]

Palmer was also the session drummer for a number of television show themes and soundtracks, including:[5]


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Lloyd Price Lawdy Miss Clawdy


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Smiley Lewis I Hear You Knocking
Bob Luman Red Hot
Shirley and Lee Feel So Good
Little Richard Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey Later covered by The Beatles


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Little Richard Tutti Frutti #17
Fats Domino I'm in Love Again #3
Fats Domino My Blue Heaven #19
Fats Domino When My Dreamboat Comes Home #14
Little Richard Long Tall Sally #6
Little Richard Slippin' and Slidin' #33
Little Richard Rip It Up #17
Amos Milburn Chicken Shack Boogie
Shirley and Lee Let the Good Times Roll #20


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Fats Domino I'm Walkin' #4 March 9, 1957
Roy Brown Let the Four Winds Blow #29 July 1, 1957
Sam Cooke You Send Me #1 October 28, 1957
Thurston Harris Little Bitty Pretty One #6 October 28, 1957
Don and Dewey I'm Leaving It Up To You July 18, recorded 1957 Became a #1 hit for Dale and Grace in 1963 and a #4 for Donny and Marie Osmond in 1974[8]
Hollywood Flames Buzz, Buzz, Buzz #11 December 2, 1957 Bobby Day, lead singer
Little Richard Lucille #21 April 6, 1957
Little Richard Jenny Jenny #10 June 24, 1957
Ricky Nelson I'm Walkin' #4 May 6, 1957 Palmer had previously charted with Fats Domino original of this song
Ricky Nelson Be Bop Baby #3 October 7, 1957
Larry Williams Slow Down recorded September 11, 1957 song later recorded by The Beatles
Larry Williams Short Fat Fanny #5 July 8, 1957
Larry Williams Bony Moronie #14 November 11, 1957 song later covered by John Lennon
Percy Mayfield Please Believe Me


Artist Song title Highest position in US charts Miscellaneous
Eddie Cochran Summertime Blues #8 August 25, 1958
Bobby Day The Bluebird, the Buzzard and the Oriole
Bobby Day Rockin' Robin #2 August 4, 1958
Bobby Day Over and Over #41 covered by the Dave Clark Five for a #1 hit
Doris Day Everybody Loves a Lover #6 August 4, 1958
Eddie Cochran Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie #94
Fats Domino I Hear You Knocking previously (1955) recorded with Smiley Lewis
Don & Dewey Koko Joe recorded March 27, 1958 song written by Sonny Bono and released as a single for the Righteous Brothers in 1963
Jan and Arnie Jennie Lee #8 Jan and Arnie later changed their name to Jan and Dean
Johnny Otis Show Willie and the Hand Jive #9
Little Richard Good Golly, Miss Molly #10
Art and Dotty Todd Chanson D'Amour #6
the Burnette Brothers
Johnny Burnette & Dorsey Burnette
Warm Love, Boppin' Rosalie recorded February 5, 1958
Eugene Church Pretty Girls Everywhere
Ritchie Valens Come On, Let's Go
Ritchie Valens Donna #2, 12/15/58
Ritchie Valens La Bamba #22, 1/19/59
Larry Williams Dizzy Miss Lizzy later covered by The Beatles
Sheb Wooley The Purple People Eater #1 Remained #1 for 14 weeks


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Edd Byrnes Kookie, Kookie, (Lend Me Your Comb) #4 the female voice on the song is Connie Stevens
Eddie Cochran Teenage Heaven #99
Anita Bryant Till There Was You #30
Ernie Fields In the Mood #4
Don and Dewey Farmer John
Don and Dewey Pink Champagne
Jan and Dean Baby Talk #10
Chan Romero Hippy Hippy Shake later covered many times, notably by the Swinging Blue Jeans
April Stevens Teach Me Tiger
Don Ralke Bourbon Street Beat
Connie Stevens Sixteen Reasons #3
The Teddy Bears Oh Why
Larry Williams Bad Boy recorded by The Beatles in 1964
Richie Valens Stay Beside Me


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Bobby Vee Devil or Angel #6
Bobby Vee Rubber Ball #6
Bobby Bare Book of Love
Dante & The Evergreens Alley Oop #15
Dinah Washington Love Walked In
Walter Brennan Dutchman's Gold #30
Dorsey Burnette Hey Little One #48


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
B. Bumble and the Stingers Bumble Boogie #21 a reworking of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee
Glen Campbell Turn Around, Look at Me #62
Timi Yuro Hurt #4
Jimmy Witherspoon Warm Your Heart
The Castelles Sacred
Bobby Vee Run to Him #2
Bobby Vee Take Good Care of My Baby #1
Paul Anka Dance On Little Girl #10
Sam Cooke Cupid #17
Sam Cooke Twisting the Night Away #9
Bobby Darin You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby #5
Simms Twins Soothe Me #5 on the US R&B charts written by Sam Cooke
Jackie DeShannon Heaven is Being with You
The Fleetwoods Tragedy #10
The Fleetwoods (He's) The Great Imposter #30
Lou Rawls Above My Head
The Lettermen When I Fall In Love #7
Gene McDaniels Chip Chip #10
Gene McDaniels A Hundred Pounds of Clay #3
Gene McDaniels Tower of Strength #5


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass The Lonely Bull #6
Walter Brennan Mama Sang a Song
Vicki Carr He's a Rebel #115
Ray Charles I Can't Stop Loving You #1
Ray Charles You Don't Know Me #2
Nat King Cole Ramblin' Rose #2
Johnny Crawford Cindy's Birthday #8
Bobby Darin You're the Reason I'm Living #3
Duane Eddy Ballad of Paladin #33 Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time. (#36) [9]
The Everly Brothers Don't Ask Me to Be Friends #48
Ketty Lester Love Letters #5
Willie Nelson Half a Man #25 on the US Country charts
Clifford Scott The Kangaroo/Skee-dattle to Seattle
Frank Sinatra Everybody's Twistin'
Bobby Vee The Night Has a Thousand Eyes #3


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Roy Clark Through the Eyes of a Fool #128, #31 on Country chart
Bobby Darin Treat My Baby Good #43
Everly Brothers It's Been Nice (Goodnight) #101
Jan and Dean Drag City #10
Jan and Dean Surf City #1

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 978-1904041702. 
  2. ^ "Earl Palmer, 83, a Jazz Session Drummer, Dies". The New York Times. Associated Press. 22 September 2008. p. B7. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Perrone, Pierre (22 September 2008). "Earl Palmer Obituary". The Guardian. 
  4. ^ a b c Dahl, Bill. "Earl Palmer Biography". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Scherman, Tony (2000). Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0306809804. 
  6. ^ Noland, Claire (21 September 2008). "Legendary session drummer". Los Angeles Times. 
  7. ^ Weinberg, Max (2004). The Big Beat: Conversations with Rock's Greatest Drummers. Hudson Music. ISBN 978-0634082757. 
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Books, New York, 1992
  9. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. 

External links[edit]