Earl Palmer, thanks for the rhythm.
September 28, 2008 4:42 AM   Subscribe

A musician passed away just the other day. In all likelihood you never knew his name. But you've probably heard him, no exaggeration, on thousands of occasions. He was drummer Earl Palmer, and some of the thousands of songs he propelled with his versatile grooves and masterful sense of time include Tutti Frutti and Lucille, La Bamba, Let's Go Get Stoned, I Don't Need No Doctor, Unchained Melody, You've Lost That Loving Feeling... the list goes on and on. Oh, and there's the TV themes he drummed on, like say, Mission Impossible. And here you can see New Orleans native Earl demonstrating how he put the beat under Professor Longhair's classic Tipitina and on Fats Domino's I'm Walkin'. He was one superb rhythmist. Au revoir, Earl Palmer.

And before all y'all start chiming in with the inevitable "what, no _______?" comments, keep in mind that I've limited myself to the original versions of all song recordings. That is, the versions that Earl Palmer himself can be heard drumming on. Even when the video images were sometimes stupid, this is about the audio, about hearing Earl Palmer. There are no doubt more clips and audio files out there featuring Earl's drumming, and hopefully there'll be some links here in the comments to more tunes that feature his solid stick work.

Coincidentally, Palmer is also credited with session work for the film soundtrack to Hud, which, of course, starred another great artist who also just passed away, at the same age of 83, Paul Newman.
posted by flapjax at midnite (31 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
You post the greatest stuff flapjax. RIP Earl Palmer.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:13 AM on September 28, 2008


I always love finding out about those great session musicians who never got "famous". There need to be more documentaries like Standing In The Shadows Of Motown to give respect to Earl Palmer and all the other great unknowns.
posted by p3t3 at 5:23 AM on September 28, 2008

posted by fixedgear at 5:42 AM on September 28, 2008

I'm pretty sure that the Mission Impossible video that you linked to isn't the original.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:43 AM on September 28, 2008

posted by mikelieman at 5:45 AM on September 28, 2008

I'm pretty sure that the Mission Impossible video that you linked to isn't the original.

I got you beat, then. I'm TOTALLY sure.

The audio, however, is 100% original.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:55 AM on September 28, 2008

Better Mission Impossible theme
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:57 AM on September 28, 2008

Better Mission Impossible theme

Way wrong, twoleftfeet. That version features a loop, made by the tin-eared clown who put the YT video together. It's a very clumsy, very poorly done audio loop. This FPP, as indicated above, is about music, and this clip, with its awkward loop, disrespects the music enormously.

Use your ears, man.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:02 AM on September 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

Another totally great post, man. For which my thanks.
posted by Wolof at 6:14 AM on September 28, 2008

wow, thanks so much flapjax at midnite for pointing out Earl Palmer's extraordinary life. My god he played with everybody! Here he is on Ain't That A Shame - Fats Domino. Cannot believe he played on Sheb Wooley's - Purple People Eater and with Ricky Nelson. What a range.

May he rest in peace.
posted by nickyskye at 6:23 AM on September 28, 2008

Way wrong, twoleftfeet. That version features a loop

I'm visual. You're right that the music in the clip you linked to is better. But the visuals suck.

None of this would matter if we could find a decent quality MP3 of the original Mission Impossible theme. I completely agree that this should only be about Palmer's drumming. The Mission Impossible theme is one very familiar example where his drumming is in the foreground. I don't want the visuals to detract from that.

Quick searching, all I can find are crappy remixes. (Unfortunately, I can't tell you when I've found the real thing.)

I wish someone could find a legal MP3 of the original Mission Impossible theme. Earl Palmer deserves it!
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:28 AM on September 28, 2008

Holy crap, flap, this discography compiled by Carole Kaye is amazing (if accurate). I'm thinking, okay, okay, I knew him as part of that incredible Fats Domino-Little Richard Band (and that's a band, with alto, tenor and baritone saxes!)... but the Burnette Brothers... Rickey Nelson... and then you get up into the sixties, and he's playing on my faves, Little Old Lady from Pasadena, and near-all-time Beach Boy Favorite, Please Let me Wonder, and I exclaim aloud, WTF? And Bobby Vee's The Night has a Thousand Eyes (recorded live with that big beautiful orchestra). Have I been so focused on Hal Blaine all these years, that I missed all this? A most revelatory post. At least for me.
posted by Faze at 6:29 AM on September 28, 2008

Great drummer, great post. Thanks, and R.I.P.
posted by languagehat at 6:33 AM on September 28, 2008

Sorry, but I just don't trust *any* discography compiled by Carol Kaye. Woman couldn't even reliably compile her own discography, how the hell can she be expected to compile somebody else's.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:52 AM on September 28, 2008

Wow. That was an eye-opening read—the woman is either crazy or a stone liar. Thanks, Peter.
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on September 28, 2008

Yes, thanks Peter. That was amazing.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:29 AM on September 28, 2008

Carol Kaye now emerges as an interesting psychological case study...
posted by Faze at 7:38 AM on September 28, 2008

Love it love it love it. This is why I read this site, for posts like this. So much good stuff. It's a shame we won't be hearing Earl Palmer no more, but this is a fine way to pay tribute to the man.
posted by nola at 8:17 AM on September 28, 2008

RIP, session man.
posted by jonmc at 8:50 AM on September 28, 2008

"A most revelatory post. At least for me" Me too flap. thanks.
posted by vronsky at 9:01 AM on September 28, 2008

Sad news indeed. I was reading the obit in the Grauniad (sic) last week and his legacy is impressive:

Palmer became a mainstay of the Wrecking Crew, the group of Los Angeles session musicians favoured by the producer Phil Spector and arranger Jack Nitzsche, and, in the 1960s, he played on records by the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Mamas and the Papas, Frank Sinatra and the Supremes, as well as two wall of sound classics: the Righteous Brothers' Transatlantic chart-topper You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin, and Ike & Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High.


In the 1960s, he recorded with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Glen Campbell, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Paul Anka, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, the Ronettes, the Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson, Sonny & Cher and Neil Young.

posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 9:15 AM on September 28, 2008

Excellent post as usual, flapjax - thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 11:12 AM on September 28, 2008

I think it's now fair to say that flapjax is pretty much the king of interesting music-related posts here, if you look at MeFi over a span of time. Another great entry about another almost-forgotten studio warrior. Thanks, man.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 12:01 PM on September 28, 2008

posted by Rykey at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2008

posted by batmonkey at 12:54 PM on September 28, 2008

Wow, that Carol Kaye business is completely nuts.
posted by Wolof at 4:03 PM on September 28, 2008

Indeed, PeterMcDermott, thanks for linking to the Carol Kaye article. I didn't know anything about this person Carol Kaye, and I'm now regretting linking to that discography. It may well contain inaccuracies. At any rate, Palmer's place in music history as an outstanding and incredibly prolific session player remains firm. I wish there was a really reliable, clear and verified discography out there, but the Carol Kaye page was about the best I could find.

Palmer had several children: maybe one of them might take up the challenge and make a real discography charting their dad's amazing legacy. Details get especially sketchy in the 70's, where Earl is found on lots of records that also included one or more other session drummers, (often the great Jim Keltner). For example, Randy Newman's Sail Away, Elvis Costello's King of America and many, many more.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:25 PM on September 28, 2008

It could be argued that this man CREATED rock n' roll when he play a 'straight eight' beat on Tutti Fruitti.
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:59 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Pissy note — I have a friend who was a contributing editor at Bass Player who has interviewed Carol Kaye. Because of a brain condition, he can no longer read my emails without an unreasonable degree of difficulty.

Which is like, bum, because I would love him to weigh in on this.
posted by Wolof at 5:33 AM on September 29, 2008

Just received some MySpace mail from a fellow named Ian, who informs that Earl Palmer was his friend and mentor, and who has something to say in defense of Carol Kaye. I can't personally vouch for this person, but I'll reprint his letter here in it's entirety:


i saw postings on meta filter concerning EP.

although i couldnt post anything due to not being a member, since you seemed to be an EP fan, i thought maybe you could post something to enlighten people on some things.

earl was my friend and mentor. you can read a couple of blogs i posted about earl on my myspace.

also, i am good friends with the family and new of earls passing and spoke with family the next day and involved in some special things in tribute to earl to be released soon.

that being said, carol kayes closeness to the family and to earl is HUGE and unfounded...it is the real deal and carol recorded many many sessions with earl.

with the multitude of sessions and 2-4 sessions a DAY in the hey day of LA sessions, it was hard to keep track of it all.

carol's discography was what she could peice together at the time, a few days after earl's passing and not a complete list.

the site is RUN by the family and she knows as well as anyone what EP did and been a "part of the family" since earls early session days.

so people need to know that she is NOT talking out of her ass on ANY details concerning earl.

earl was a man whose legacy supercedes any of his musical legend with his human element.

the site www. earlpalmermemorial. com is the family run site and only TRUE site concerning earl and the palmer family.

please read my blogs to learn more about the TRUE earl palmer and some insight!

ian falgout
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:35 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Really good blog entry I just came upon, with some mp3s of early Earl, backing up piano legend Professor Longhair and others: check it out.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:06 AM on October 25, 2008

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