Sep 20, 2008

Hall of Fame drummer Earl Palmer dead at 84

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Earl Palmer, the session drummer whose pioneering backbeats were recorded on such classics as Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin,'" has died. He was 84.

Palmer died Friday at his Los Angeles home after fighting a lengthy illness, his spokesman Kevin Sasaki said.

Born in New Orleans in 1924 and later moving to Los Angeles, Palmer worked extensively in both cities, recording with some of the music world's all-time greats on thousands of tracks.

His beats form the backdrop on Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High," Fats Domino's "The Fat Man" and "I Hear You Knockin'" by Smiley Lewis.

From his Los Angeles home, Palmer drummed for music producer Phil Spector and Motown, and his session credits include artists as diverse as the Monkees, Neil Young and Frank Sinatra.

Palmer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. According to the institution's Web site, Little Richard wrote in his autobiography that Palmer "is probably the greatest session drummer of all time."

I had a chance to spend one of the most memorable days of my life with Earl about three years ago. Chad Smith invited me along to hang with Earl, Hal Blaine, and Jim Keltner for an interview Chad was doing for Modern Drummer. Jim, Chad, and I picked up Earl and his wife and drove to Hal's house in Palm Springs. I set up my video camera and filmed about three hours of Earl and Hal reminiscing about the glory days of studio drumming. There were lots of laughs (and lots of unpublishable stories!) that day and it was an incredible treat to see these two Hall Of Fame musicians, who practically invented Rock and Roll drumming, cajole each other and enjoy each others company. Earl was in declining health but he didn't miss a beat with his warm humor and his easygoing manner. We became friendly and talked a few times after that day. There wasn't a nicer, more generous musician who ever sat down at a drum kit. If you're interested in learning more about Earl's incredible contribution to popular music and the art of drumming, check out his wonderful autobiography Backbeat. So long Earl, keep swinging!

Here's Earl on the classic Fats Domino track "I'm Walkin'"

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