Earl Palmer
Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive

Earl Palmer

2000
Category:
Sideman

The cream of the New Orleans crop.

Earl Palmer was a first-call session drummer—no small feat in New Orleans, a city famous for its rhythm. Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt and more have all marched to the beat of Palmer’s drum over the course of his celebrated career.

Biography

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Earl Palmer grew up in New Orleans and later moved to Los Angeles, impacting the music scenes in both cities as a first-call session drummer.

From 1950 to 1957, Palmer’s powerful backbeat and mastery of second-line shuffle rhythms made him a much in-demand percussionist in his hometown. He was hired by bandleader Dave Bartholomew in 1947 after a stint in the army and recorded extensively with Bartholomew protégé Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Smiley Lewis and other New Orleans artists at Cosimo Matassa’s famed J&M studio. He also played on the seminal rock and roll recordings of Little Richard, who wrote in his autobiography that Palmer “is probably the greatest session drummer of all time.”

Lured to California to work for Aladdin Records in 1957, he has played on literally thousands of rock, jazz, R&B and soundtrack sessions over the years. From his home base in Los Angeles, Palmer drummed for producer Phil Spector and for Motown. His list of session credits includes artists as diverse as Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Duane Eddy, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Otis, Neil Young and Elvis Costello. Though Palmer’s first love was jazz—"I lived in a jazz world,” he allowed in his 1999 autobiography Backbeat: Earl Palmer’s Story—he laid the foundation for rock and roll drumming with his solid stickwork and feverish backbeat.

Inductee: Earl Palmer (born October 25, 1924, died September 19, 2008)

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Earl Palmer and Cosimo Matassa discuss Black History Month

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