The bedrock of New Orleans R&B in the late 40s and early 50s was that funky second-line backbeat that powered the records of Fats, Fess, Little Richard and the like, which got the whole world dancing. More often than not, the man behind the drumkit on those sessions was Earl Palmer. Like Fred Below‘s Blues shuffle in Chicago, Earl’s distinctive feel for the New Orleans ‘parade beat’ gave his work the signature sound of his native city. After a move to the West coast, Earl spent his later career as one of the most sought-after session drummers in LA, and this jovial, good-natured figure was always in the studio with the hottest backing musicians in the business, as immortalised in Denny Tedesco’s brilliant documentary film, ‘The Wrecking Crew’.
After many years as a ‘first-call’ session drummer in New Orleans, Earl was tempted to the West-coast in 1957 by a contract with Aladdin Records. From the early 60s onwards, Earl was part of ‘The Wrecking Crew’, a team of top LA session men who backed everyone from BB King to the Beach Boys via Dizzy Gillespie and the Monkees. He played on Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’, Richie Valens’ ‘La Bamba’, the Righteous Brothers ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ and Ike and Tina’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, and his Musicians Union log shows he played 450 dates in 1967. The Film and TV industries kept Earl busy too, with the TV themes for ‘The Flintstones’ cartoon and ‘Mission Impossible’ and films like ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ and ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’, among literally hundreds of others. Earl’s later work includes many great albums with Tom Waits, Tim Buckley, Little Feat, Randy Newman, Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt, and he is rightly honoured as one of the greatest session drummers of all time, earning a place in The Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. After a long period of illness, Earl passed away in California in 2008.