When drummer Earl Palmer died on Sept. 19 in Los Angeles, rock music lost one of its premier architects.
Palmer's signature rock-hard backbeat was an essential brick in the foundation of the evolving sound, providing a backbone for hits that would become the No. 1 classics of rock 'n' roll: Fats Domino's groundbreaking 1949 song "The Fat Man," Little Richard's blazing "Tutti Frutti," and Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," among many others.
Palmer grew up in the Tremé neighborhood and joined Dave Bartholomew's band in 1947. He spent the next 10 years as a first-call session drummer in New Orleans, appearing on hundreds of classic early rock and R&B songs cut at Cosimo Matassa's legendary J&M Studio.
In 1957, Palmer moved to Los Angeles, where he drummed in sessions for Motown, Phil Spector and thousands of others, as well as contributing to dozens of film and TV soundtracks. Even an abbreviated list of his credits is impressive, including artists and projects such as Frank Sinatra, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Bonnie Raitt, Lee Allen, Lou Rawls, the Ronnettes, The Brady Bunch, I Dream of Jeannie, The Flintstones, In the Heat of the Night, Valley of the Dolls and countless others. Palmer continued to record into the new millennium, and even as his health was failing, returned to New Orleans to perform at Jazz Fest and the Ponderosa Stomp.
In 1999, Da Capo Press published Backbeat, Palmer's definitive biography, and released it along with World's Greatest Drummer, a CD retrospective. The following year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Palmer was scheduled to visit New Orleans last May to participate in a panel discussion on the legacy of New Orleans drumming with Smokey Johnson, Zigaboo Modeliste and Bob French at the Ponderosa Stomp, but had to cancel due to illness. He was 84